Traveling Light - Part II

August 06, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

We’re off to a bike race. We’ve got the minimal DSLR kit – two bodies, two lenses, one flash, one spare battery for the cameras, two sets of rechargeables for the flash – and a pile of assorted memory cards.

Much as I love the robustness of Compact flash and the promise of XQD, I’m hoping that the D5 has dual SD slots – it’ll save on weight, space, cost and car readers. Speed is of the essence when dealing with large files, so I currently use Lexar’s Professional Workflow hub with a range of plug-in card reader modules. The hub holds four modules, but after the experience of losing three days work along with my laptop and lenses) at the World Cup in Cali in January, the fourth one now holds a 500Gb solid state drive which is the first of three (or, bandwidth permitting, four) backups. That means the other three will have some combination XQD, CF and SD readers, depending on the workflow I’m using.

Given that that’s what this post is about, I should probably tell you what my base workflow is. It varies a little depending on the client and the type of event, but I’ll cover the main variations as we go.

•    I shoot with up the three bodies and, although the camera body is in the EXIF data, I use the filenames to identify the event and the body – mostly because if I use the same three letter event code there’s a real danger that I will and up with files from multiple cameras with the same name. At the World Championships, the codes might be WC8 for the D810, WC4 for the D4 and WCS for the D4S.

•    I always shoot RAW+JPG. How they’re set up depends on how quickly I need to get them out and how many pictures I’m going to shoot. Typically, it’ll be full-fat RAW – 14 bit, uncompressed – and skimmed JPG – Small, Basic files with size optimization. I will shoot –bit small RAW files on occasion and large, fine JPGs optimized for picture quality. And, whenever I can, I set the camera up to save JPGs to CF cards and RAW to XQD or, in the case of the D810, SD.

•    At a relatively short event where I don’t need to deliver pictures until the hours after the shoot or the day after, the JPGs are purely a backup – and two stage backup, at that. Primarily, they’re a second source of images should I lose, break or accidentally format a card with RAW files on. And, yes, I’ve done all three – XQD cards are very fragile. But even if I don’t lose the cards, I have known – very rarely – RAW files to get corrupted. As copying both to the PC doesn’t take much longer than just copying the RAW files – or, relatively speaking, take up much more space – I always copy both across (eventually).

•    If time is of the essence and clients want small files for web use, I’ll put two CF card readers in the hub and copy and edit those initially – copying the RAW files over later. That presents a slight issue in terms of the workflow, which I’ll cover shortly.

•    The next stage is to actually get the pictures across. Here I use Photo Mechanic 5, initially, for three reasons – it copies quickly, it handles multiple card readers and multiple cards swapped in and out of each reader well, and I can pre-prepare IPTC templates for the event – or for different sessions in the event – and have PM5 add the data as it copies them. It’s set up to copy one version to the second SSD in the Chillblast Photo OC laptop and a second copy to the module in the Lexar hub. At the end of the import, that copy goes in my pocket. I then start a copy from the PC to a second PCI-E SSD drive, which will be kept in a different bag to the laptop.

•    What happens next depends on a number of variables. If I have a report to write as well as the photos to deal with – and I have the results – I will import RAW and JPG and point Lightroom at the folder PM5 imported the pictures too and start them importing while I work.

•    If it’s really time critical and I only need a couple of shots,, I’ll import the JPG files in to PM5, find the shots I need and edit them individually in Photoshop. For large quantities to a deadline, I’ll import the JPGs only and use PM5 to rate and code them.

•    My rating system used to be more complex – now I really only use 3 settings (occasionally 4). 5 is a keeper, 1 will be deleted; 4 is a technically good shot, but similar to an existing 5 – I keep those largely because I have some clients who don’t like to have exactly the same shots as certain other clients... Occasionally, I’ll rate something 3 which, at this stage, means that it might be possible to turn the RAW file in to a decent shot, but the JPG’s under or over-exposed or the white balance is further out than is fixable with a JPG.

•    The next thing is to colour code them by client – at which point I may re-rate some of the 4s. For my own sanity, I tend to try to code them with something vaguely logical, but it’s not always possible – red for the Swiss federation, green for Ireland, gold (OK, yellow...) for medalists. If I have more than 5 clients, which I often do, I have to be creative – and if I have two clients in one picture, I hope that there’s a 4 I can up-rate!

•    In a rapid workflow, once they’re all coded, they get imported to Lightroom and I do any twekss that are required there. Each client has a Dropbox folder allocated to them and I create Smart Folders in Lightroom so that all the 5 star folders in a certain colour with that date get published semi-automatically to those folders. This is the biggest improvement in workflow for a long time as the pictures are exported rapidly to a local folder and synched in the background – things don’t grind to a halt every time I need to upload photos – and they don’t have to be done so systematically.

•    A good point to remember – preferably before this stage – is to synchronise the time on your bodies – and set them to local time. Ending up with photos from the same day with different dates can cause problems if you import them into folders with the date as the folder name and if you use Smart Folders for export.

•    This is the slight wrinkle with Lightroom... If you import RAW only, edit them and then import the related JPGs (which I rarely do, but have done on occasion), synchronizing the folder will add the JPGs to the catalog without affecting the edits. Import the JPGs and add the RAW files later and synching will discard all the edits and overwrite the IPTC data with the data from the RAW file. There is an add-on which (usually) gets round this problem – ADDON by THINGY. Thoroughly recommended!

•    A slight variation on this workflow is to import the JPGs in to LR and rate/code them there. It’s not much slower than doing it in PM5 but over a large number of images it can be significant and you have to wait for the LR import before you can start doing anything, so I rarely do it that way.

•    What I do often do in Lightroom is keywording. In Library, I first filter by colour code and add the client name to the keywords. If I’ve had to double up on colour codes, this is gives me a way to separate clients with the same code. Then I’ll select each race and medal ceremmmony and keyword them. Finally, I’ll go through with the results alongside me and keyword medalists. Now i’m ready to work through the list of client requirements.

•    If I have a client who won a medal, race and podium shots of those medalists are done first (I’ll also do versions of those for editorial clients). Next I’ll do the remaining medalists for the editorial clients and finally I’ll work through the individual client teams. That can take hours at a major event, so I tend to rotate through them session by session so nobody’s always last in the queue.

•    The last thing I do is to start a backup of the LR catalog with all the edits and another of all the day’s photos to a spinning-rust device which stays at the hotel. In the safe. If the bandwidth allows, I’ll also do a backup of all the JPGs to Dropbox when I arrive at the track the next day – it rarely does – and is never enough to allow the RAW files to be backed up, but full size JPGs are (marginally) better than nothing.

•    Typically, at about 4am, I then fall in to bed, ready to start again the next day! 

That’s the heavy workflow – and it’s not going away – but I’ve always wanted to have a rapid way of doing things that takes some of the pressure off after the event – and gives clients a better service. I haven’t got there yet, but in Parts III and IV, I’ll talk about what I’ve learned and what I’m now able to do.



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