Digital Photography Workflow: Fine Art Photographyby Michael Ezra, July 2008
Digital photography requires a solid workflow, allowing for professional preparing of digital photo files for the web and print. For the Digital Photography Workflow series, we consulted with a number of experienced professional photographers who are also stellar photo.net members and frequent contributors to the Photo.net Digital Darkroom forum, to walk us through their specific digital photography workflow. In this article, Michael Ezra discusses his unique digital workflow process tailored to meet the needs of his professional fine art photography career, the set of software and tools he prefers to use, and goals he accomplishes with his digital workflow. The article is enhanced with illustrative figures and screen shots, and includes examples of fine art photography from Michael Ezra's portfolio. Whether you are just entering the world of digital photography and needs some tips and advice on how best to post-process your images, or are a seasoned pro, the insights shared here should be helpful with your own digital photography workflow and fine art photography postprocessing.
Contents1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. Pre-capture Capture Computer System Organizing Editing Exporting Archiving/Backing up Conclusion More Example Fine Art Photography
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Introduction: Challenges in Digital Photography Workflow
Effectiveness and efficiency are often hailed as the defining corner stones and driving forces behind the progress of the modern age. This holds especially true for the world of photography, particularly for its execution and processing aspectsan invisible mechanism behind the final works of art. Introduction of digital technology into photography had a double-faced effect on the field. On one hand, it undoubtedly brought some groundbreaking changes to the effectiveness of the photography as a complete art medium. On the other hand, its contribution to efficiency may be considered less certain given that by introducing better tools digital technology unlocked a flood of new possibilitiesa flood that often threatens to overwhelm even a more experienced photographer. This article comes as a result of years invested in researching and analyzing the ways to do photography better; not the artistic fine-tuning, but the actual tools of the trade -technologies underlying digital cameras and backs, powers of RAW processing, pitfalls of post-processing, preparation of output for printing, etc. My motto is simple: efficient process allows concentrating on art while proper processing allows bringing that art to life; and I offer this article to those readers who are looking to explore the possibilities offered by digital technology in the studio workflow and to master the aspects important for achieving a greater efficiency in this field to propel their progress. Solving the puzzle of establishing an efficient photographic studio workflow is similar to solving any other problem for process flow: it is possible to arrive to a solution efficiently only when requirements for the end result are well defined. Envisioning and understanding the end resultsin our case, it can be fine art prints in a particular size, images for the web galleries, etc.drives the selection of proper tools while the sequence and efficiency of their usage comes with experience. Bottom line: a good workflow should allow achieving desired results repeatedly, reliably, and with consistent quality. In this article I would like to overview and share my studio workflow specific to producing fine art photographic prints of studio nudes. From the technical point of view, the utmost important aspect of the end result in production of fine art prints is their quality. Fine art prints should truly be very fine; therefore attention to detail in every step of the process is critical. My workflow is tuned specifically for this aspect as the highest priority.
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Figure 1: Photography Workflow
From A to Z, the workflow is defined by the following key elements:y y y y y y
Where you shoot: Studio space How the image is formed: Lighting setup How the image is captured: Photographic cameras How the image is stored and retreived: Computer system How the image is prepared: Various software packages How the image is outputted: Photographic printer
As we go down the list, I will describe each key element individually and also in relationship with the other elements. But before we begin, here is a very concise look at the entire workflow (Figure 1: Photography Workflow). This diagram lists all steps highlighting when and what kind of results are produced, along with recommendations for storage and back-up, and it can be used as a quick reference as you move through the article.
I. Pre-captureThe preparatory steps described in this section do not necessarily take place during every single photoshoot. As a matter of fact, a lot of the decisions here are made once, and then they become just another integral part of your routine.Studio space
Studio space is customized based on individual project requirements. This includes selection of specific backgrounds, lighting support, props, as well as setting of a comfortable room temperature. Remove all unnecessary objects in order to free the working space and to be able to move unhindered, especially in the capturing area.Lighting setup
The primary lighting setup in my studio consists of a set of strobe lights (constant lighting would not work because models are not perfectly still subjects, and the smallest shake or movement will affect the sharpness of the final image). Personally, I prefer using monolight strobe units for the following reasons: they are independent light sources and accidental breaking of any one of them would not influence the others; each monolight can provide a substantial light output; they require less cabling. Depending on the image in mind, each of the light sources can be individually set to specific power levels and can be outfitted with light modifiers, such as softboxes, beauty dishes, grids, color filters, etc. Reflectors can also be used to assist in proper distribution of light in the studio and on the subject and to achieve the desired light painting effect. I found proportional modeling lights very helpful in previewing the light pattern, which will be produced with flash lighting. A traditional light meter can be used to measure the light distribution in the setup but81850969.docx
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nowadays digital cameras provide an easier way to preview the results of the lighting setup, substantially simplifying the task of achieving desired lighting.Triggering
Monolights are usually equipped with photo slaves. Therefore, if at least one flash fires others will immediately respond in unison. If simultaneous firing of all flashes works for your projects - like it does in my case - then the setup is very straight-forward. You can trigger the "leading" flash via either a wireless trigger or a cord. If using a cord, just connect it to the flash unit closest to you to minimize tangling and to keep it out of the camera view.
For the purposes of this article, we will focus on digital technology. Any professional-level digital photo studio should have in its arsenal two or more cameras. Technical difficulties do happen with even the best-in-breed cameras, and they should not be show stoppers. My own experience taught me that having a back-up camera is not just beneficial but can be a lifesaver.
Figure 2: Photography Equipment
If your priority is the ultimate image quality and not necessarily the speed of capturing, a medium format digital camera or back would typically be a better choice for your studio. They are slower but produce images of superb quality. In my studio, I use a Mamiya ZD medium format digital camera (Figure 2: Photography Equipment).
645 Systemy y y y
Mamiya ZD Mamiya 55mm f/2.8 AF Mamiya 80mm f/2.8 AF Mamiya 150mm f/3.5 AF
35mm Systemy y
Fujifilm FinePix S3 Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8D ED-IF AF-S
6x7 Systemy y
Mamiya RZ Pro II Mamiya 110mm f/2.9 MF81850969.docx
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Lighting Equipmenty y y y y y y y
Speedotron Force F10 monolights Quantum trigger Radio Slave 4 Wein HSHS B - Hot Shoe Safe Sync Slave Speedotron beauty dish Photoflex HalfDome2 medium Photoflex 7-feet Octodome3 Kodak 18% Gray cards Sekonic Light Meter L-508
Printing Systemy y y
Epson Stylus 7800 24" printer Epson K3 Ultrachrome Inks Crane Museo Max paper
Figure 3: Workstation
Computer System Tools and Utilitiesy y y y y y y
Eye One Display 2 (monitor calibration) Adobe Photoshop CS2 Adobe Bridge SilkyPix (RAW conversion and editing) Adobe Camera RAW Wacom Intuos3 9x12" Tablet SameDir (freeware tool for backing up large amounts of photographic data)
Checking the camera for dust
Regardless of the format of the camera you choose to use, prior to the photoshoot you should inspect its image sensor to determine if cleaning is required. To do so, set a lens aperture to the highest setting (typically 22), point the camera to a white image displayed in full screen on a clean computer monitor, defocus the lens, and take a picture. Review the picture on the computer monitor at 100% zoom. What you see is what you will get in every image captured (dust specs will appear softer with wider aperture settings). When deciding to clean or not to clean, be aware that opening the camera body always carries a risk of introducing additional dust specs. If you decide that cleaning is not necessary even though some dust specs are present, still save the dust reference image as it can be used either for faster manual locating of dust spots in the subsequent images or for feeding into dust removal software (some cameras have this feature built-in). If cleaning is required, follow the manufacturer's guidelines.
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The choice of a lens is determined by the desired field of view, the available studio space, and the nature of your project. Focal length of the lens affects depth of field, focusing distance, and visible proportions of the objects at various distances from the lens. Fixed focal length lenses are generally the sharpest, while quality zooms offer quick versatility. Speaking about quality, it is important to realize that all lens manufacturers have their great, good, and not-so-good lenses. Hence, it is important to know specific performance characteristics (and weaknesses) of the lens when deciding on using it (or even better, purchasing!). There are several great online resources that can help you in this regard.y y y
www.slrgear.com www.photodo.com www.dpreview.com/lensreviews
II. CaptureCamera settings
I recommend carrying out studio capturing with a camera set to either manual mode or, if present, a special "X" mode, designated for photographing with strobe lights. In either case, the shutter speed should be set to the highest value of the sync speed supported by both the camera and light units. Take a test image: if any part of the frame looks darkened, it may indicate an incorrect setting of the shutter speed as shutter itself is being captured in the image. If you are using a wireless trigger, the darkening can also be caused by the latency in the triggering mechanism. To troubleshoot this, trigger with a cord.Michael Ezra
If your project requires freezing a motion (e.g. jumps), then you should go for strobe lights with a shorter flash duration and a camera system with a higher sync speed. In all other cases, a more or less standard sync speed of 1/125 of a second is sufficient. Shorter flash duration will always lead to sharper images. But keep in mind that on some light units shorter flash durations are achieved by reducing their power output (less light). After you lock the shutter speed, you can control the exposure setting of the camera with the aperture dial. Considering that aperture influences the depth of field, I first decide on the aperture based on the look of the image I intend to capture and then adjust the power setting of the strobe lights to provide a correct exposure with the selected aperture. A camera's LCD display can provide a quick and informative feedback on the capturing conditions. I find the histogram to be the most important feedback of the digital camera as it allows to analyze exposure conditions in detail. While some cameras provide individual histograms for R, G and B channels, the majority display the luminance histogram, which is derived from the relationship of captured R, G and B channelsa white balance. Thus, a correct setting of the camera's white81850969.docx
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balance prior to capturing makes the displayed histogram meaningful and, thus, has the direct impact on the accuracy of photographer's judgment on exposure. In the studio workflow, I recommend to measure and set the custom while balance for each photo session using a gray card (follow camera-specific manufacturer's guidelines). In addition to histogram display, some cameras are equipped with a feature of blinking those areas of the preview in the captured image that exceed threshold levelsthose which are over- and under-exposed.Addressing noise
The exposure settings during capture have a direct impact on an unavoidable and thus important factorimage noise. Noise inherent to a digital image is introduced in two stages: during the image capture process and during image recording process. Firstly, you can minimize the capture noise by increasing the amount of light being captured. This can be achieved by a) increasing the light output of the strobe lights; b) opening the aperture of the lens to allow more light in; c) increasing duration of capture (not really applicable when strobe lights are used). Considering that studio environment provides full control fover the light used for image capture this part is usually not an issue.Michael Ezra
Secondly, you need to ensure that your camera is tuned to measure/record the maximum information. Keeping the camera at its lowest ISO setting will enable it to operate at the maximum of its capability. This setting will permit the camera to capture the widest possible range of brightness in the scene and, subsequently, record it with the least amount of noise. Due to specific design of the image sensors, the medium format digital cameras are particularly advanced in capturing wide dynamic range. The only lower-end professional DSLRs that can currently compete with them in this territory are Fuji S3 and Fuji S5 models. This excellent wide dynamic range capability of medium format digital cameras in the studio environment can be put to a good use through purposeful careful overexposure of the captured images by about 1-1.3 f-stops in order to ensure the capture of...