Originally published a little over 2 years ago, a group blogging effort about editing and workflow was very popular at the time and is well worth revisiting.
As many people know I spend a considerable amount of time photographing events. These events cover the gamut from folk festivals and kayaking competitions to wooden boat festivals and car racing. What all these events have in common is the accumulation of thousands of photos in a very short period of time, for instance, I came in from the Islands Folk Festival this year with 5,500 photographs to sort and edit while the car racing shoot described below contained 3,315 images.
Ask 10 photographers about their editing and workflow techniques and you will likely get 10 different answers. While this might surprise you at first, every photographer develops his/her own style based upon their personal preferences and their shooting style, in fact; personally I have a few different workflows depending on whether I am shooting large quantities of photos for events ot perhaps shooting landscape images.
Three of us have written articles describing how we go about our business. The first of these, Self-Editing to Concentrate Your Workflow is by D. Travis North, describing how he shot and edited a shoot in his home town of Philadelphia. The second is located below and describes the editing and workflow techniques I use when shooting thousands of photos during an event and the third is by a very talented landscape and wildlife photographer Jim M. Goldstein, located in the San Francisco area. His article, 3 Critical Criteria Of Any Image Selection Workflow discusses how he evaluates images and determines which photos will make the final cut.
The full set of articles in this series:
Modern cars with only a few exceptions are boring copies of each other, all designed for a few specific tasks; good aerodynamics, low price and great safety. Did I forget good fuel mileage as well? Car designs used to be art and fortunately a few manufacturers still hold true to this idea. Older racing cars were purposeful but at the same time very artistic, they worked along the lines of “if it looks fast, it must be fast”. Fortunately many of these cars still survive today and for many of us the romance still exists… heck, I just bought a 47 year old wooden boat and have a 1967 MGB parked in my driveway.
Two weeks ago I attended the Portland Historic Races. While I was purely doing this to appease my childhood fantasies, as a photographer I often find it hard to leave my camera at home. The weekend also provides an interesting look at my workflow and how I determine which images will make the final cut and which ones will not. For the exercise I’m going to pretend that these historic car racing images will become part of a magazine article as this method produces a nice selection of images with a variety of formats (horizontal and vertical), styles, views etc. This is also the way I tend to work on most of my assignments but at the same time can even make your “personal” images better. If you don’t enjoy car racing hang in there with me, it’s the approach that matters, not the subject. The next wedding could be surprisingly similar!
Before I even begin shooting I create a list of photo styles that are of interest to me. Often this list can be quite long and contain surprisingly detailed ideas, for instance I might make a notation that I’m looking for night shots that contain movement and have some fill flash. Other times the list is a little vague, containing only basic ideas. In many ways this is the way I prefer to work if I really don’t know what the situation will be during a certain event. For the Portland Historic Car races I had a very basic ideas list in my head only. Here it is:
So with this vague list floating in my mind I went to work. Three days, good weather, good company, beautiful racing cars and burgers from the Trackside Cafe, can’t get better than that!
After returning from any shoot I immediately load the images onto my main computer and re-number them. They are then backed up to a second hard drive. This is a completely mindless task but I attempt to not take a sneak peak at this point to see what I have. What I prefer to do is think about what I have shot instead as most of the time after shooting for a weekend I have a good idea which photos are going to be the strongest and what didn’t work as well. Is this step required? For my shooting style it is. While in Portland I shot 3,315 photos of which 80% can likely be deleted but sifting through a quantity like this can take days and generally photographers don’t have the time before deadlines to really work through the collection. By visually assessing my images in my mind I know where to look for what are likely the best photos. For many people that don’t shoot as much this step can likely be dropped. You might ask whether 3,315 photos were really needed or do I just get out of control with my trigger finger? The answer depends on a number of factors including; do you require good images of all the cars or do you just require a few? how far are you willing to push technique (panning at higher shutter speeds produces more keepers than low shutter speeds but the results are not as pleasing), do you shoot burst of images or single images, how many different “types” of photos do you desire and probably most importantly, what is the reason for the shoot, are you working or are you purely shooting for the fun factor?
To give some order to the Portland Historic Race photographs I decided to split the 3,315 images into folders that would allow smaller numbers of images to be dealt with. Most events and subjects can be broken up; deciding how to do it can be difficult though. In the case of the races, the cars are split into groups by the years and engine size so I just used what the organizers came up with, Group 01, Group 02 etc. with additional folders for “other” images.
The next step is where the fun begins. What worked for me, what images am I excited about. Most images you see of auto racing are of the cars on track and this is what most magazines are interested in publishing. As I think about photos for this segment of the collection I went back to the different “types” of photos I shot and thought about where they were located. Bare with me, this likely will turn into a 2 or 3 part series! Here’s my shoot list again.
As you can see from this list there are many different images available and these were on my list of “photos to shoot” before I even started the job. I’ll run you through my process of pulling out photos from these broad areas.
I quickly scan through each folder of images looking for the photos that excited me when I was shooting. Many times these images are quick to locate and I wear a pleasant smile as I know that what I saw and what I captured are the same. Other times the images don’t live up to my expectations and I quickly move on. Any images that are of interest I apply a Photoshop rating to, generally on a 1 – 4 scale. I reserve 5 for only the best images that are fully processed.
Editing gets a little more complicated once the initial screening is done. I open all the folders in my browser and locate the images that have been tagged for additional work or study. Generally I will start with the higher ratings but this isn’t always the case depending on what I’m looking for. If I’m looking for detail shots for instance, I may find that I haven’t rated enough images and will spend a little more time sorting through them. In reality, a large number of photographs like this will likely never get completely viewed, part of the reason I tend not to delete. I can come back at a later stage and start fresh if needed.
Let’s take a look at a few of the subjects in my list.
Head on shots: These photos are in some ways the most difficult to get due to the long lenses required to bring the subject in close unless you are fortunate enough to have track access. Even then because of the high speeds involved you may be situated quite a ways from the action. Another factor which I played with a little was using the high heat and the corresponding heat waves to get an interesting water colour look.
These are three of the images that I shot with the water colour idea in mind. The three of them are very different although the images were all show within a second of each other. I easily discarded the 2nd image due to the outhouse located behind the car. I know that in many ways this isn’t a really big deal but I do find it a little distracting. Between the 1st and 3rd images I decided that the 1st was my favourite with a better sense of heat and a more graphic feel. A larger image is below.
While shooting some “head on” images I thought it would be interesting to try different angles and see what the results were like. The following photos of a gorgeous Brabham BT 18 are a result of this exercise, which do you prefer? My preference is the first photograph. I should add here that these images are from the same frame and have just been cropped differently. If there is one good reason to have a high megapixel camera this is it, the added flexibility of cropping at a later stage. I do shoot images at strange angles but with moving subjects this is actually more difficult than it would seem! In the second image note the white spots, these are out of focus cottonwood tree seeds. My first reaction is that it gives it an old “dust on the negative” look that suits the era of the cars but note in the top image I removed a few of the larger spots. Is this OK? I’m sure there are many different opinions!
I knew I wanted to shoot some “close-up” photos before I even arrived in Portland and as part of a selection for publication images like these would be important. One of the first that came to mind was a selection of somewhat graphic images of a Lotus XI LeMans with vibrant red colours reflected on the aluminum bodywork. These are the images that I shot of this beautifully restored Lotus XI. Among the 3 of them I prefer the image with the flying horse but overall I could see using all of them if needed. When I submit photos to publications I’ll often put 2 similar images together, possibly a horizontal and vertical to give the designers options when it comes to layout.
Another old racing car caught my attention, a beautiful 1956 Lotus that has what would be considered the real British Racing Green colour scheme. In the modern era we look at Kevlar and nylon as normal but back in the 50’s good ole stainless steel and leather were considered prime candidates for holding a racing car together at high speed. I thought the bonnet clamp system on this car was very picturesque. As I normally do I move in for the “shot” slowly, working from a large area to more and more detail. While the first few images in this series were OK I kept on thinking that I was dealing with a few images, the reflections, the flag, the clamps. My favourite of the bunch is enlarged below, for me it gets rid of any excess luggage.
Panning can be a really hit and miss affair. It is also the photograph that everyone shoots at car races and most of them just look… boring. By far the most interesting photos are the ones shot at surprisingly low shutter speeds. While this produces a beautifully blurred background, the actual “successful image” percentage is very low. One advantage of shooting digital is allowing one to try slow shutter speeds and immediately review the results. Also, due to not having a film budget to work with it’s easy to shoot hundreds of photos to get the result you are looking for. In many other posts I have discussed my technique of shooting bursts of images. With slow shutter speed panning I have found this to be a very useful way of increasing your chances of a sharp image. Typically one image will be quite sharp while others are somewhat soft. In this case I picked the first image for a number of reasons, the car was the sharpest and I like the red curbs and simplicity of the background.
On my list of potential photographs to shoot I felt it would be interesting to photograph a number of the cars from the back. This proved to be a little more difficult than I imagined as it was important to pick up the car from the side and follow through until the rear view became available. While this sounds easy, many times I only had a fraction of a second to locate the car and within a few seconds the potential image was gone. Of these three images my favourite is of the Cooper Porsche with the somewhat graphic background of fencing and bleachers. It gives more of a sense of what the driver would see and feel. The other two images are more of the “chasing down” variety and convey a very different feeling.
I’ll often shoot a few short bursts of images separated by a fraction of a second. It’s easy to hold your trigger finger down and shoot off a bust of 12 or so images but quickly you learn that the 3,000 plus images becomes 5,000 plus images and also that your camera will sit in paperweight mode as the images load from the buffer of the camera to the memory card. I’ve mentioned previously that I tend to use cheap memory cards and one of the consequences is that my camera is in paperweight mode longer than I would like. If I were shooting sports professionally I would likely upgrade a little. These following images were shot in 2 bursts during a period of about 1.5 seconds. This gives a really nice selection of images to work with, in fact there are likely 2 or 3 that are entirely useable but at the same time different enough.
Being there at the right time at the right place holds true for almost all types of photograph but especially sports. Some of the finest sports images you see are due to careful planning, meticulous technique and perfect timing for the shutter. While high frame rates on many of the modern cameras have made life a little easier, many of these images are due to the photographers’ skill… and maybe a little luck. Then you get the images like this that while your average NASCAR fan will love them in vintage racing it kind of brings a sick feeling to the stomach. Running your 1.5 million dollar 1965 Shelby Cobra into a one off Greenwood Corvette is kind of frowned upon in vintage racing. Fortunately these folks seem to have money to burn!