So this is one of those topics Joe and I are asked about on a very regular basis. We usually just answer these questions one-by-one, but got an interesting email from one of our readers, Jose Fernandez, a little while back, and figured I might as well just lay it all out.
Here’s why I do the post-processing, not Joe:
As a disclaimer, and to cover my ass, I’ll be the first to admit that we as a studio don’t necessarily do things the “right” way. Are we entirely satisfied with our post-production/archiving process? Not exactly. The thing is, any busy photo studio is constantly producing massive amounts of imagery, and keeping up with it all isn’t always a walk in the park. On top of that, technology is one of those amazing things that we all are challenged to stay on the cutting edge of. Computer software, hardware, camera gear- it’s all evolving so quickly, that even if you know your best option today, in another week there’s something else out there that’s potentially better.
Speaking of which, we’re happy to say that our entire studio is now archived on Drobos. We’ve had three 4TB Drobos, along with an old Apple X-Serve RAID (8TB) for some time now. Just made the move to off the old X-Serve RAID and replace it with a 16TB Drobo Pro, which is much quieter, more energy efficient, and the user interface is much more intuitive. Funny (well, not really) how five or six years ago, that old X-Serve was top-of-the-line, cost well over 10K for 6TB of storage, and we’ll be lucky to sell if for a grand now…oh technology.
As for the hardware basics, we have four workstations in our studio, which is entirely Mac-based. Each station is equipped with an Apple 30″ Cinema Display, and mine is also graced with a Wacom 21″ Cintiq. Sounds like a lot of screen space, and it is- but having all this speeds up the post-process tremendously. The Cintiq brings a lot of fun back into editing, that you never knew was there with a mouse. Once you build one into your workflow, you’d have to be dragged kicking and screaming to go back to a mouse.
I’m not gonna get into PS tutorials, color calibration, etc., as not to bore you to death, but I do hope to just lay out the BASICS of our workflow, and hopefully start a discussion with all of you- so here goes.
The Software: Aperture is the heart of our system. We organize our files on it, and shoot tethered with it in the field. Joe also does his slide shows out of Aperture. It’s a really varied program with lots of processing and organizing power.
-Whenever we can on location, we shoot tethered into Aperture or Nikon’s Camera Control Pro 2. Both are great programs in their own right, but there are certain strengths of each which dictate which one will be used in specific situations. The loupe tool in Aperture is a great quick way to double check sharpness while on the fly, and we can easily compare recent shots side-by-side (which CCP doesn’t do). Aperture also allows the camera to write to the card as well as the computer, which the current version of CCP does not. (Which can be dicey.) With that said, for demo purposes at workshops and such, Aperture’s a no-brainer, since we’ll typically shoot jpeg’s at these types of events. When it comes to RAW files, they both have issues, so take your pick.
Another occasional tool we use for quickly browsing files in the field is Photo Mechanic. It’s a really fast, down and dirty way to view thumbnails and make selects.
-We import our cards using Aperture’s Card Importer, a plugin for the program that let’s us import up to eight card simultaneously, while adding metadata.
-From there, the photos go either through Nikon’s Capture NX2, then to Photoshop, or sometimes directly into PS. Really all depends on what I’m trying to do with the photos. Each program does certain things better than another, and it’s all obviously preferential. One very cool feature in NX2 is the Color Control Point tool, and I’d suggest downloading a free trial and giving it a go- If you shoot Nikon. (Joe loves this program. He refers to it as PhotoShop for dummies. One click saves lots of potential layers in PS.)
Not to go too deep into this, but in PS, there’s a million things you can do, and even more ways of getting there. “Typically”, I start with a layer to remove any dust, minor blemishes, etc. From there, it’s on to curves, etc., etc.. We also have really grown to love the PS plug-ins made by Nik Software. Used in moderation, they help us make certain effects take minutes which would typically take much longer to do…definitely one of the most useful additions to our post prod. process as of late. For a small operation like ours’, with limited staff, time is a huge factor, and the Nik options really can cut hours out of the post process.
One important point to make is that there generally isn’t a huge amount of post done in our studio. Joe comes from the Kodachrome generation of sorts, and I’m very lucky to do his post, as he’s one of the few people I’ve ever known who consistently produces near perfect files right out of the camera, and I truly don’t mean that to kiss his ass. If there’s one lesson to learn from all this, it’s that last sentence. After all, if your photos aren’t so hot when you shoot them, they’ll probably still suck after post-processing, right? Strive to make that great frame while shooting, not in post. That’s a whole different discussion though..
-The last step in our process really comes down to organization. There’s many ways to go about this, but our weapon of choice for the past few years has been Aperture. We do all of our key wording and folder organization here, and it’s really a lifesaver. After all, part of my job is to keep track of almost 30TB of digital files. I can easily search for any file we need and output a “version” of that file, while never moving the original. There’s a handful of other programs like this, but Aperture just seems to make the most sense to us.
All of our slide presentations are also done through Aperture, and it’s great to be able to use the bluetooth Apple remote to go through it all.
Like I mentioned in the disclaimer at the start, this isn’t necessarily the “right” way do do things, and nobody can tell you the right way (sorry). As a photographer, part of your job is to find out how several people you admire work, and take what you wish from it, and I guarantee that if you walked into a room of 10 top shooters, all would have different advice.
Hope this covers most of the basics, and feel free to comment back with any other questions..