Thursday, September 27, 2012

My Workflow

First, let me apologize for the formatting. I tried to copy/paste, but just couldn't figure out how to get the formatting right for the outline, without recreating the whole thing.

A while back, Paul Pulley presented a workshop to the Boise Camera Club on photo workflow. As a result of the information he gave us, I decided I should clarify - for myself mostly - the workflow I use. I usually do about the same thing every time, but not exactly. And I think the variations come from not having defined for myself what needs to happen.

So here’s my workflow (post picture taking):

1. Import into Lightroom

a. Photos are sorted by Date: Year-Month-Day (e.g., 2012-05-20)
i. I don’t add names to the file folders, preferring to use Smart Collections
b. I’m still considering whether converting to DNG is worthwhile or not. I’m hesitating for now figuring I can always convert in the future, but going back to CR2 is more difficult.

2. Rate Photos

a. Rate “1” for any photo I like
i. I go through the day’s photos as quickly as possible. Anything I like, even if the photo isn’t                   good, gets a rating of 1.
b. “X” for rejected photos (blurry, severely over/under exposed), then delete
c. Rename to Date_# (e.g., 20120520_00005)
i. Continuous numbering for the year. Before 2012 I used 4 digits because no year has 10,000+ photos
ii. Starting in 2012, I’m using 5 digits because I will probably take more than 10,000.
d. Keyword remaining photos
i. I like Smart Collections because they update automatically. I have a smart collection for each star rating, and a smart collection for BCC submissions.
e. When I have time, I review all the 1s, choosing those photos that I think are worth doing some work to. These get rated “2”.
f. After I work on a photo, the rating gets moved to “3”.
i. When I process photos, it’s mostly focused on 4 things:
1. Crop - experimenting with different formats to see if I can improve the photo
2. Exposure - hopefully just fine tuning because I got it right in the camera
3. Contrast - SOOC the photos often seem flat, so I bump up the white and highlights, drop down the blacks and shadows, and work to improve the histogram
4. Clarity - bump it down on portraits, or dreamy scenes, bump it up on others than need sharpening, but whichever direction I move, it’s usually subtle
5. There are other things I really like in LR4: vignettes (the subtle ones for me), gradient filters, spot removal (when I’ve neglected my sensor), and more and more I’m working with B&W. Some photos that I envisioned in color take on a new character in B&W. I’m learning to try every photo in color and monochrome just to see which works best.
g. The best of the photos I’ve worked on get rated “4”.
h. The best of the best, get rated “5”.
i. Currently I have about 15,000 photos in my catalog.
ii. 1 Star: 1680 photos (about 12%)
iii. 2 Stars: 136 (about 1%)
iv. 3 Stars: 184 (about 1%)
v. 4 Stars: 28 (about 0.2%)
vi. 5 Stars: 2 (about 0.01%, a photo has to be really good to get 5 stars)

3. Export if needed

a. I export JPG files only when necessary, for example when I’m creating photos to upload, or send in for BCC projection night.
b. Once I’ve taken the appropriate action (uploaded, submitted, or burned a cd for someone), I delete the JPGs, keeping only the raw files.

4. Backup

a. I backup the whole catalog every couple of weeks. My collection of photos isn’t very big, so my 1TB external HD will hold a lot of backups. When it gets full, I’ll get a new one, because by then external storage will be really inexpensive.
b. The external HD is stored in a fireproof safe.
c. I also upload the best photos to my google drive, and include them in my other cloud-based backups, as space permits.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Here Come The Judge

Since I’ve been a judge on a few print/projection nights, I thought I’d talk about how I use the Boise Camera Club (BCC) scoring system.

The first category of judging (for me anyway), is Impact. According to the guidelines BCC is using, Impact includes:
* Striking color.
* Unique subject or lighting.
* Unusual camera position or tilt.
* Depiction of motion.
* Unusually high or low key subjects.
* Close-up or macro.
* Story-telling elements.
* Strong mood elements/emotional impact.
When I judge Impact, I use my immediate reaction, and there are 3 possibilities;
  • The photo makes me immediately say, “Wow!” It elicits an emotional response of some sort (either positive or negative). Photos like this score a 3. For a photo to score a 3, in my judging, it must contain an emotional aspect.
  • The photo makes me immediately say, “What?” It elicits no emotional response - in fact, often it elicits (nearly) no reaction at all. Photos like this score a 1.
  • Everything else scores 2. Photos like this might be great photos, outstanding even, but if they don’t contain any emotional characteristics, then it’s not good enough to score 3. For me, emotion can come from seemingly emotion-less photos. For example, I saw a photo of a rose bud - an inanimate object. And yet the subject matter was lonely (it was a solitary bud), and hopeful (the petals were just beginning to emerge).

The second judging category is Technical. According to the guidelines BCC is using, Technical includes:
* Proper color balance was used throughout the scene.
* Color was used to create a high or low key image.
* Color adds impact or tension to the image.
* If the depth-of-field causes sharpness to the entire scene.
* Selective focus is used to create mood or feeling in the image
* If the depth-of-field is used to blur or mute an unbecoming background.
When I look at photos, most of these characteristics are either/or decisions.
  • Either a photo has good color, or it doesn’t.
  • Either the pic is in focus, or it’s not.
  • Either it’s printed well, or it’s not.
  • Etc.

This is not to say there is only one “correct” color, or focus, etc. I’ve seen some B&W photos that because of the printing turned out having a greenish hue. But because the of the subject matter, I thought the greenish hue added to the photo. If a photo hits all the technical aspects, it scores a 3. If it hits none of the technical aspects, or one aspect is so poor it distracts from the rest of the photo, it scores a 1.

The third judging category is Composition. According to the guidelines BCC is using, Composition includes:
* Strong elements were used, such as (leading) lines, curves, circles and angles.
* Center-of-interest is balanced with the other elements.
* Elements were properly placed in the scene.
* Good use of foreground and background to provide spatial relationships.
* Negative elements have been eliminated.
Whereas the first two categories (Impact and Technical) seem mostly objective to me, this third one is much more subjective. When I see a photo, either there is immediate impact, or there isn’t (to state the obvious: it has impact for me, or it doesn’t. I don’t claim to know whether or not it will impact anyone else differently than me). The photo is either technically well done, or it’s not. Composition, however, is a matter of choice and personal preference.

First, I look for intentionality in the composition. I think accidental composition hurts what could otherwise be a good photo. For example, if a photo has a horizon that is off level by just a few degrees, it looks accidental, even if it was done intentionally. I think it detracts from the overall effect. It looks lazy too, as if the photographer couldn’t be bothered with correcting that small error. If, on the other hand, the horizon is 20° or more off level, it looks like an intentional choice. I may not agree with the choice, but at least it was intentional.
Likewise, I look at the compositional choices. Did the photographer use the Rule of Thirds? Or did they decide to break that rule? I’m fine with standard photographic rules being broken, as long as it’s an intentional decision, an artistic choice. Did the photographer crop the photo cutting off the model’s legs right at the ankle or knee? I see that as a big mistake. Did the photographer make a decision to include only half the face? I like those decisions, again, if they’re made intentionally.

Lastly, I think about how I might have composed the same photo. If the photo seems awkwardly composed, it can’t score a 3. If a better composition seems obvious to me, the photo will score either 2 or 1, depending on how far it is from the “best” composition.

Sometimes I think I might have composed it differently, even on perfectly composed photos. But my composition wouldn’t be any better - just different. Photos with perfect composition score 3, even if I think I might have composed it differently.

One last thing, the average score, according to our BCC guidelines, should be 6. When I think of the average photo on print/projection nights, I consider the average compared to club photos, not against all the photos on facebook or flickr. I think our average BCC photo should be above average when compared to the snapshots of most people; and they are. Our average photos are often really good. First, we’re better photographers than most of the people out there. Second, we judge our own photos, looking for the best of what we’ve taken. Third, we process our photos trying to bring out the best in that particular photo. The result is: Projection night receives the best of the best, and therefore, the standards should be high.

One other last thing (which makes two last things), I’m always open for critique, even critique of my critiquing skills. Just as I’m trying to improve my skills as a photographer, I’m trying to improve my skills as a judge/critiquer. I’m working to better understand why I like someone’s photo, why a particular photo impacts me, and why some seemingly good photos miss the mark - in my opinion. I want to be able to express my thoughts, not just praise a photo with, “That’s a great photo.” And I don’t ever want to say, “That’s not a good photo,” without being able to explain why I think that, including suggestions for how I think it could be improved.

Monday, September 24, 2012

I Hate Red Tape!

It seems that a majority of young people these days aren't willing to accept responsibility for their actions, and their lives. But this post is not about that. Turns out, I'm not sure I can blame them. Governmental agencies seem to have set the precedent.

August 30th we were informed that the city no longer liked my address, because it included a "½" in the address. The letter indicated the change was immediate, and that I was to inform everyone ASAP! So I did, including completing the online USPS change of address form, which cost me $1.00 to verify my identity. Every account I have now has my new address. Every bill I get is sent to my new address. Turns out following the instructions of the all-knowing City of Nampa was a big, big mistake!

My young friend, Shelby, has been sending me postcards all summer, from wherever the family was visiting. Shelby's mom, Kathy, and I went to high school together, so it's been a super way to reconnect. To return the fun, I ordered some postcards online. Per the official letter, I gave them my new address. I tracked the package online, all the way to Nampa, where the USPS decided it was "Undeliverable as addressed." What!!

This morning I went to the post office to find out what happened. In my most polite voice, I asked the man behind the counter to explain to me how this could have happened. He went back to another computer, printing out the same tracking sheet I had printed. "Without seeing the actual package, I can't tell you why it wasn't delivered." He referred me to the postal annex here in Nampa, where they handle the physical letters/packages.

Out to annex I drove. A very nice man, coincidentally named Chris, tried to help me. He didn't know why the package was rejected either, but when I told him about the recent address change, he said, "I remember writing a note about that address to the carrier. Let me check something." So I waited, in a prison-like anti-waiting room; nowhere to sit, very small, gray.

He came back a few minutes later. "I called the Canyon County Assessor's Office. They said your new address doesn't exist. The address is still your old one." WHAT!?! What do they mean it doesn't exist? He told me that until the post office received official word, they can't just create an address. So everything  addressed to my new address would be automatically returned to sender, some of it not even making it to Nampa.

So I drove down to the city - they made the change, and sent the official letter. Apparently the address-guy's last day was Friday, and the new guy wasn't in, and wouldn't be in until tomorrow. I said, again in my most polite voice, "I want to speak to someone, in person, and I'll wait until someone comes in."

While waiting, I decided to make some calls. First I called the assessor's office. The first person I spoke to checked her computer and told me that my new address was already in the system. So who did the USPS guy talk with? I have no idea. I asked her to call the post office.

Next, I looked through the paperwork from the city, and discovered that an email had been sent to the Nampa Postmaster. I called him. He said he would have to check if he had received official notice from the city. "I know you've received it because I'm looking at the official notification email, with your name on it. Plus, I let you know when I changed my address online. You were happy to take my money for that." He said he'd "check into it." I'm pretty sure that means, "It's not my problem and I'm not going to do anything at all."

By the time I got off the phone with the postmaster, I was getting more and more frustrated. However, I had made the decision to keep my polite demeanor throughout the whole ordeal. I noticed there were two new men in the city office, so I went back to check if there was someone to talk with. The right person wasn't there, but the old (three or four back) address guy was there. I explained the issue to him, pointing out the deficiencies of their system. For example, if my new address isn't going to take effect for a month, why does their letter say I should contact all my people and change the address immediately? It should have said, "This address change is effective immediately. But don't take any action changing your address with billers for at least a year, because it will take that long before all governmental agencies will be notified and accept the change."

While it may be true that it takes time for "everyone" to know about the new address, the Nampa Postmaster knew about it August 30th, via an official email. The package I was expecting made it all the way to Nampa. Even if nobody else knew about it, he knew. I should have that package in my hands right now. But I don't because someone (the postmaster) dropped the ball.

For a brief moment, I regretted the email I sent to the USPS. After finding out how inept they've been, I'm glad I sent it. I was polite, but firm. After explaining the problem, I finished the message: "I expect my dollar refunded. I expect to be reimbursed for the additional shipping. I expect apologies from the USPS, the Nampa Postmaster, and my mail carrier."

Now, I'm waiting for return calls and emails, which I'm not much expecting. And I don't expect anyone to accept responsibility for what they've done. No one is going to say to me, "I dropped the ball. It was my fault and I'm going to make it right." This just confirms that I will avoid the USPS whenever possible! There are great people working there, but the system is ridiculous - in my opinion.

I hate red tape.