It’s an essential and great question, “What’s your workflow?” My goal is to be out behind the camera and not the computer so I have streamlined my workflow as much as I can possibly make it. I use my workflow also to take advantage of the blessing of digital to learn from my own photography, instantly. So over the years, I have refined my workflow with these goals in mind. As my boys like to say, I’m just a machine because I power through my images so bloody fast. How fast? For example, a 4000 image air-to-air photo mission shot in the afternoon will be edited, tagged, played with, shared, filed, renamed, and backed up by the time I put my head on the pillow.
How do I do it so fast or a more importantly, with such efficiency? There are two main factors, the first and the most important one is, I only take those images I like. This is really, really important. Two, I use computers to do what they do best, sort data. The entire website is about how I take only the photographs I like. Here’s how I go about dealing with images and thoughts you might consider incorporating in your workflow.
The workflow starts at the camera. As I mentioned, I only take those photos I want and like. The camera is set to capture raw files, Nikon Nefs. Those photos I do capture, are captured as “right” or as finished as possible at the time the camera goes click. Exposure, white balance, B&W or color, and Camera Preset, are all selected and used so the photograph is captured as finished as the camera and I can create. These basics are not left for post-processing to do. Most importantly, all the arranging of the elements and “cropping” is done in-camera through physical placement and lens selection. I wrap this all up in one word, craftsmanship. This makes the workflow so much faster and more rewarding. This is because I don’t have to “previsualize” what the photograph “should look like” later, I can see it right now while sorting. The speed in my workflow starts at the camera than in my case with the Z 9, Z 6II & Z30. Inserted in them are ProGrade 1TB CFExpress cards & ProGrade Digital SDXC UHS-II V90 300R which speeds up both the capture and then next, the ingest.
At the end of a shoot when I’m back at the computer, I do a number of things. First is launch Photo Mechanic Plus and begin the Ingest process (my ingest settings are to the right). Photo Mechanic Plus is the fastest DAM on the planet, period! It will Ingest (upload) the Nefs and display accurate thumbnails (based on the Raw file & Instruction Set) so I see instantly exactly what I captured. Currently, my reader of choice is the Delkin DDReasder-54 CFExpress reader. It’s the fastest and smallest I’ve found. I want small as it travels in my briefcase along with my computer and drives. Second, I put the batteries from the camera in a charger. Lastly, I check the camera sensor and if needed, I clean it. By the time I’ve all of done this, Photo Mechanic has long finished ingesting all the photographs, formatted the CFExpress Card, and unmounted it so I can reinsert it back into the camera ready to shoot.
I’m a Mac guy with a MacBook Pro M2 16″ for on the road and an iMac M1 back in the office. Both machines are loaded with the same software (Photo Mechanic Plus, NX Studio, Bridge, Photoshop) with the same settings. They have the fastest hardware available so they go as fast as a computer can go with the task at hand.
It’s now time to sit down and go through the ingested photographs. What you see at the top of this page is the Photo Mechanic Plus (PM) light table and what it will look like when I’m finished (files renamed and tagged). I get there starting with the images that were ingested into a folder created by PM on ingest (folder name is the day’s date). The folder PM creates is created inside the folder Moose Shoots that’s on the root (a folder I created prior to ingesting and always use) folder. When I am all done at the end of the day, the Moose Shoots folder will be empty. I have created a video with all my Photo Mechanic Plus settings. These aid me in going as fast as I can while sorting the images. My default is having PM sort the light table thumbnails by Filename (that’s not the PM default). If I’ve shot with multiple cameras and/or I know the camera created a new folder when I was shooting, I manually change the sort from Filename to Capture Time (I make sure the camera’s time and time zone are all in sync for this reason). I start by selecting the very first image (top left corner), hit the Space Bar, and then hit the F key twice. This makes the workspace fill with just the image, having maximized the preview on the computer. I want to see the image full screen and none of the text or filmstrip. Those elements distract the eye from the image. With the workspace all set, the sort begins. For me it’s real simple, if the image is sharp I keep it and if it’s not, it’s deleted. I’ve already decided at the camera I like the image so during the sort it’s just the mechanics asking if it’s sharp. With my right hand, my index finger is on the delete key and the thumb is on the right arrow key. As fast as I can I hit those two keys sorting through all the images.
As I go through the Nefs, I often take a moment to finish an image or two. I encourage folks to do this. I might finish an image to see if I have a huge dust issue to deal with (normally an air-to-air shoot) or apply the finishing approach I thought about when I took the photograph. I will hit the ESC button (image was full screen, this brings PM back to light table) and with that image still selected, I hit Cmd+E (Ctrl+E) which launches Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) where I do the lion share of my finishing (you create this keyboard shortcut in PM Preferences). If I finish an image and save it as a PSD, in PM I will hit the 1 key which gives the image a Red Tag. While going through the images and I come across images I want to finish later, I hit the 2 key and tag it with Yellow. When I’m done with the entire sort, I can bring up just the tagged images in the light table (see illustration to the left, bar found top-right corner of light table, clicking on rightmost box displays all tagged files) so I know what I have finished and what I need to finish. Once all the images in that folder have been finished as PSDs, I tag all the files in PM by hitting the Cmd+A then Cmd+1 (Ctrl+A Ctrl+1).
When I’m sorting through my aviation images, I do one thing I don’t do with any other images. When I’m done with the sort and before I finish them, I go back and keyword all the aircraft. Whatever the model is, that’s what the file receives for a Keyword. For example, a DC-3 is labeled DC-3 and a C-47 is labeled C-47. This is for many reasons, the main one being taking care of clients fast and being accurate. There is a difference between a P-51c & P-51D and I can do a quick search in PM and Bridge for a particular aircraft model. Otherwise, there is no keywording of any of my other images. You can see an illustration of my Bridge sort here.
I save all the finished and unfinished Nefs and all PSDs. I save all my Nefs in which PM keeps organized in the folders I’ve created on external drives. All the Nefs are organized into their assigned folders and each individual image has a unique Alpha Numeric number assigned to it which carries through from the Nef to the PSD. All the Nefs are stored on their own separate drives and those drives are all backed up to other drives. The PSDs or the “Gallery files” are stored on to their own, different drives and those backed up to other drives. Finished PSDs are organized into their own folders such as Birds, Locations, Products, etc (Nefs are organized much more succinctly). To sort through and select my finished PSDs I use Bridge (not PM). Bridge by my default is set to sort the folder by Keyword which will sort alphabetically by keyword and then by file name. I do this for many reasons all coming down to speed. Workflow for us is not only about getting the images captured, sorted, and finished, but also getting them out to clients and you. Bridge is a fast portal to Photoshop for all that is needed, be it for the web, editorial, prints, and to the client fast.
At the end of the shoot and before I finish for the day, the drives are all backed up using SuperDuper. I have moved to using Samsung 8TB SSD drives on the road for my storage. The primary drive resides in my briefcase. The backup drive resides in my camera bag. Since the camera bag never leaves my side, I know that all those images I’ve captured are with me sorted, filed, numbered, and finished. When I get back to the office, the primary drive is plugged in and the Nefs and PSDs are moved over to the main library which is backed up and the end of the process. And that’s my basic workflow. Hope this helps you and your workflow!