Digital Photography Workflow: Wedding Photography using Aperture
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, Bakari Chavanu discusses his unique digital workflow process tailored to meet the needs of his professional wedding 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 example images from Bakari’s portfolio. Whether you are just entering the world of digital photography and need 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.
Pre-capture and Capturing
A smart and constantly refined workflow for nearly every aspect of wedding photography is essential for getting a job done in a timely and efficient manner. Having a strong workflow also insures that you will profit from the work you do, and that your clients will not be waiting months to see their photos.
Even the pre-capture stage is an important part of a photographer’s workflow. The simplest part of this workflow for me is keeping and maintaining nearly all my equipment in one place: my LowePro roller bag. If equipment is not properly maintained and kept in one place, it is easy to leave behind something you need while on a shoot. Some equipment, like a diffuser, a small ladder, a tripod or two, and a change of clothing can remain in the trunk of your automobile at all times until needed. I also got the idea from another photographer to have a toolbox of items, such as duck tape, scissors, digital cables, camera cleaning equipment, cleaning cloth, that might be needed for any given shoot.
I bring along 8 media cards to each wedding photography gig. About half of them are 2 GB high speed CF cards and the other half are 1 GB. I don’t like putting all my eggs in one basket, so I don’t capture on 4 GB or higher cards. Some photographers will differ on this, but it really depends on what you feel comfortable with. Each media card is numbered and labeled with my name and phone number. My cards stay with me in a pouch attached to my belt at all times during the shoot. I keep empty cards face up, and filled cards face down. During a lull in my shooting, I set up and copy my digital files onto my Epson P-2000 media storage viewer. This media viewer, though expensive, provides me the confidence that my photos are all backed up even before I arrive home (the
I do take along a laptop computer and sometimes prepare a slide show of the ceremony photos I take at a wedding, but I rarely use the laptop as a storage device. My backup system includes the RAW files on the Epson P-2000, the internal drive of my Mac Pro, as well as a vault backup (saved on a separate drive) created through Apple’s image management and editing software, Aperture. I export and archive JPEG copies of photo shoots on DVD, but I have yet to develop an offsite backup (Figure 1: Equipment Bag).
canon_eos30d canon_rebelxt-black canon_70-200/2.8L canon_85/1.8 canon_50/1.4 canon_50/1.8 canon_17-55 canon_28-105/3.5 tamron_11-18_canon canon_580ex canon_430ex Canon BG-E2 Battery Grip (30D) Canon BG-E3 Battery Grip (XT) Canon CPM-E3 Battery Magazine
- Canon CP-E3 Battery Pack
- 2 Sto-fen Omni Bounce diffusers
- White balance Expo disc
- 3 sets of rechargeable batteries
- 5-in 1 Reflector 40"
- Lens cleaning kit
Gary Fong Lightsphere
- Motorola T6500R GMRS / Two-Way Radios
The night before a scheduled photo gig, I charge all my batteries. Currently, I use 15-minute chargers, but they’re lousy. I plan to switch over to Maha Powerex batteries and chargers. Many great photos can be missed when you’re using nearly drained batteries, so a battery pack or two is essential for any wedding assignment. Charging batteries the night before or even the day of the gig insures better results.
When preparing for a gig, my camera settings are largely based on the itinerary of the day. Nearly all my professional jobs are captured in RAW mode. There’s lots of discussion and debate concerning capturing JPEG vs. RAW, but with applications like Lightroom and Aperture, processing RAW photos is not a huge issue in my workflow. I keep my cameras set to RAW most of the time. I’ll talk about RAW processing a little later.
My other camera settings for a wedding session depend on lighting conditions. Arriving at least thirty minutes before the shoot is contracted to begin affords me time to scope out the areas where photographs will be taken. Using an Expo disc, I set a custom white balance for the main lighting condition I’ll be photographing under. If it looks like I’ll be frequently switching between different lighting conditions, I’ll use automatic white balance (WB) just so I won’t forget to change the settings. Because I photograph in RAW, I can fix WB issues if need be, though it’s always best to get settings correct during capture rather than wasting time (and profit) fixing things in post.
I mainly capture in Aperture priority mode because I can quickly control the depth of field this way. I try to maintain ISO as low as possible because I’m not comfortable with the high noise levels in my shots, only raising the levels when absolutely necessary. My default settings are Aperture Priority, ISO 400, and Auto WB.
Finally, in terms of equipment, I recently started strapping a Lowepro Rezo 170 AW Camera Bag around my shoulder to hold just my frequently used lenses and an external flash (Figure 2: Lowepro Rezo Camera Bag). I find this bag very useful in situations (such as the bride’s hotel room) where I need to change lenses without having to run back and forth to my larger camera bag, which is typically stored in a safe area. I usually keep three lenses in the smaller bag: a Canon 50mm f/1.8, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L USM, and the Tamron 11-18 f/4.5. Attending WPPI for the first time this year, I got my hands on a similar bag called a Boda dry lens bag (href://www.goboda.com.) This bag is worn like a small pouch attached to your belt or shoulder strap. Depending on the size of the bag you get, you can keep up to 4+ lenses (including a 70-200mm zoom lens), media cards, and an external flash in it. While you might not want to carry this bag around for an entire wedding, it’s great for times when you’re photographing in diverse situations where you need to change lenses frequently without having to go back and forth to your larger camera bag. It’s much more expensive than the Lowepro Rezo bag, but well worth the money.
Post-capture: Organizing using Aperture 2.0
My post-capture workflow is mainly done using Apple’s Aperture, recently upgraded to the 2.0 version. I realize Adobe Lightroom is now one of the most popular and widely used digital management and enhancement systems, but as a dedicated Apple user, I find Aperture more fluid and faster in helping me get jobs completed. Furthermore, I see Aperture as not only a management and enhancement system, but as a nearly all-inclusive workflow for post-capture work (Screen Shot 1: Aperture 2.0).
I can easily access all my photos organized in Aperture using the media browser in the Apple creative suite of applications, such as iDVD, Keynote, Pages, and iMovie. Furthermore, because I use and maintain Apple’s dotmac hosting site service (now called MobileMe), I can maintain my business website site with the use of Aperture, in addition to trying out Aperture’s gallery and book making features as well. SmugMug, an online printing and custom store front printing service also provides a plug-in for Aperture, which enables me to upload my client images directly to the site. I just switched over to this service, so I can’t vouch for it fully.
Aperture 2.0 and Post-capture Workflow Setup
1. First, be sure to do your post-production digital photography work using the fastest computer you can afford. Add memory, internal and external hard drives as you can to make it even faster. Doing my post-production work on a Mac Pro with 2gigs of RAM has helped me tremendously. Build a Dream MacPro Aperture Computer by Scott Bourne was a perfect guide for my current setup. Previously, my PowerBook G4 and MacMini added about 5-6 hours of work to my workflow because they were simply too slow for managing large amounts of image data. Getting the Mac Pro pretty much pays for itself.
2. Automate, automate, automate. When you find yourself performing repetitive tasks on your computer, find a way to automate those tasks. For example, if you have a set of computer folders you use for each client project, you should simply duplicate a set of empty labeled folders for each project rather than creating a new set of folders.
Also, use email templates, word expanders, such as TextExpander for Mac, and automation scripts for redundant tasks. Apple’s AppleScript and Automator programs are very useful for this. I’m sure there are similar programs for Windows.
Find out all you can about setting up keywords, metadata templates, color correction settings, and export settings. Use every feature of your management program to help get work completed.
3. My batch processing begins on the shoot. I try to delete really bad photos as I photograph. When there’s some down time during the wedding, I go through files and delete what are clearly poor files—files that can’t be saved by any program.
Also on the job, I import my files into my Epson P-2000 so that I have immediate back-up before I get home.
After uploading my files to Aperture, I let them sit overnight. I need some time away from them. My first task in batch processing is rating all the images with 3 stars for a job. As I work through my images, I will further rate and re-rate them as rejects or 5 stars. All the rest remain 3 stars. I don’t waste time with 1, 2, and 4 stars. Rating your photos will help in separating the wheat from the chaff.
I then keyword photos based on different parts of the wedding day: preparation, ceremony, details, bride and groom portraits, group portraits, first dance, dancing, toasts, etc. In Aperture, a default set of keywords for wedding photography comes installed with the program. One of the major purposes of keywords is to search, retrieve and group images together. You may want to work with the default list of keywords a few times, and then after a few jobs delete ones that you’re not using. Use keywords sparingly and for specific purposes (Screen Shot 2: Keyword Control Panels).
Various keyword control panels can be created in Aperture, which makes applying keywords to images very easy.
Internet Slide Show
Next, I go through the folder looking for about 40-50 images that I will include in an Internet slide show for my clients. I like to get the slide show posted up within 48 hours. I also rate those photos with 5 stars. I used to use David Jay’s Show-it Web for my Internet slide shows, but have recently started using Aperture’s web gallery feature. The web gallery does not include music and image panning options found in Show-it Web, but overall it saves me more time because I don’t have to export photos out of Aperture in order to create the slide show. Unless clients want to pay for the extra time for a music-based slide show, I don’t think I’ll continue doing them. Most people just want to see their photos and share them with family and friends. Aperture’s web gallery feature could be improved (such as the ability to watermark images before they’re uploaded), but for now it’s a good time saver while also being pretty efficient (Screen Shot 3: Web Gallery Preparation).
I then create Smart Albums for each of the keywords I’ve use. These smart albums automatically collect photos based on their rating and the keyword(s) assigned to them. I use a 5-Star Favorites smart album to collect all the best photos. Each of my keywords also gets a smart album. Albums are created for the ceremony, bride and groom, group portraits, first dance, dance reception images, etc. The rated 3 images remain in these albums, while the rated 5 favorites are all put together in a separate folder (Screen Shot 4: Smart Albums).
Editing and Batch Processing
Because all my photos are grouped according to the time I captured them, I can make exposure corrections and enhancements to several photos simultaneously that share similar exposure settings and lighting conditions. I don’t view this batch process feature as simply a copy and pasting of image adjustments. I do go through each photo and check for needed editing. I use a mouse plug-in tool called SteerMouse to help me with my three most used keyboard shortcuts. With SteerMouse, copying and pasting adjustments really speeds up the process because I don’t have to take my hand off the mouse in order to hit keystrokes.
Image Editing in Aperture
In Aperture, image editing process can be followed by the way editing tools are arranged in the Adjustment Inspector. I start off as needed with editing WB, often making photos a little warmer. Next, I move on the Exposure and Black Point settings. I have a few presets I use in the Levels tool section and I try those first before manually changing the settings at each level. Level adjustments affect the luminance (the dark and lights areas) of an image and not the color. I prefer these level adjustments over the simple brightness and contrast adjustments of Aperture (Screen Shot 5: Aperture Adjustment Panel).
In Aperture 2.0, two new adjustment setting were added, Definition and Vibrancy, which I use on nearly on all photos. These two features help with contrast and fine tuning color in photos.
In this cake photo, nearly all of Aperture’s main editing tools were applied. I didn’t want to use a flash to photograph the cake, which was photographed in shaded outdoor light. Aperture 2.0 provides a way to increase the exposure, recover some of the highlights and blacks, and sharpen the details (Editing Examples 1 and 1.1: Cake Photo before and after). Opening up the edited photo in Photoshop, I simply duplicated the background layer and changed the blend mode to Soft Light in order to make the photo a little more contrasty and vibrant (Screen Shot 6: Soft Light Blend, Editing Example 1.2: Cake Photo PS edits applied).
For a while I struggled to find a Black-and-White conversion I was happy with in Aperture. Eventually, I developed one that has the right amount of monochrome mix and sepia toning that I like. These settings may vary for each Aperture user, but basically after making needed exposure adjustments, I use the following Monochrome Mixer settings: Red 24%, Green 72%, and Blue 15% (Screen Shot 7: My Aperture Monochrome Settings). I then add Sepia Tone, making the Intensity 0.2. I have saved these settings as custom presets. I also simply copy and paste these same settings from a previously converted image (Editing Examples 2 and 2.1: B&W Conversion before and after).
I might go back and forth between Exposure adjustments and the Highlights and Shadow adjustments to work with areas where the image is too dark or lacking detail in the highlights. I also make might make specific color adjustments, such as strengthening or de-emphasizing the green in grass scenes or bouquet or the blue in the sky of a photo.
Lastly, I apply sharpening to all my photos, and may do further sharpening in Photoshop particularly for wedding detail photos like the cake, ring shot, and floral arrangements.
As I make all these adjustments, I copy and apply them to other photos that share the similar exposure and lighting conditions. I also decide as I edit which photos will be re-starred as a 5 for the favorites folder. Note: favorites are not always based on what I will include in my own business portfolio. They also include photos I think the client will want as favorites. Most “favorites” will never make it in my portfolio.
Image Editing in Photoshop
While I love learning as much as I can about Photoshop CS3, I try to do nearly all my editing in Aperture. Photoshop is not a good program for batch processing photos. I use it to enhance well-done and top favorite photos. I mainly apply selective softening and use blending tools to create a stronger contrast in selected images. What I know about Photoshop I learned from Photoshop gurus like Scott Kelby, Matt Kloskowski, and Dave Cross. This “dream team” of Photoshop teachers keep me pretty current on the latest Photoshop techniques and tools.
When business is slow, I use the extra time to learn more. The most powerful use of Photoshop for any photographer is learning to use Photoshop actions. Turning small and large tasks and techniques into actions can greatly reduce time and make you more efficient. There are many talented photographers, like Kevin Kubota, who have produced amazing Photoshop image effect actions that you may find useful for your particular style of photography. Before you spend money on actions, make sure you learn to develop actions for yourself (Screen Shot 8: Sample 3rd Party Action).
With Photoshop, it’s important to learn about layer masks, blending and adjustment layers, dodging and burning, and smart layers. If you’re new to Photoshop, I strongly suggest that you start with Matt Kloskowki’s book
Exporting and Output
Your photo output is largely what you will do with your photos once they’re processed. Will you be making prints? Designing a wedding album? Uploading them to a web gallery or printing lab? Will you copy them to a CD or DVD for your clients? How will you archive them? Again, applications like Aperture and Lightroom try to provide a way for you to complete many of your output needs right within the applications themselves.
In these applications, you can create slide shows, build web site pages, email photos, export images into different sizes or image types, and in the case of Aperture even design books. The output options of these applications, of course, may not always be ideal or consistent with your needs as a photographer. While Lightroom can help you create image galleries for posting on the web, their design might not fit your current web site design. While you can design books in Aperture, the actual style of publication of the books themselves might not be to your professional liking. There are trade-offs. However, the more you can get done within a single application, the better (Screen Shot 9: Aperture Web Gallery).
For example, I recently chose SmugMug, the online printing site, because they developed a plug-in for Aperture that enables me to export and create an image gallery of my digital files directly from Aperture into my SmugMug account. This is a nice time saver (Screen Shot 10: Smugmug Gallery).
With Aperture 2.1, you can now create custom layouts (albums, cards, posters) for your photos and save each page as an image file to upload to the printer of your choice. I’m in the process of using this feature to produce a 10×10 book that will be printed by Asuka Book. So far, laying out a book in Aperture is much less time consuming than doing the same work in Photoshop or Adobe InDesign. While there are certainly more advanced programs on the market for book layouts, having this album feature in Aperture not only saves time but is also a more affordable option (Screen Shot 11: Aperture Album Creation).
The digital photography revolution has impacted nearly every aspect of the photography industry. It has enabled more people like myself to learn the trade. It provides many more options in what we can do as photographers, and it has created challenges that we need to face in order to work successfully. The digital photography revolution is still evolving, so even a year to five years from now, how we process and output photos will be impacted by new technology and ideas. Staying current on new software, image production and post-production techniques, and the various ways to grow in the industry is essential for success.
Bakari Chavanu is a Sacramento, CA-based wedding and event photographer who was a high school English teacher for 12 years, and has been developing his business, on a professional level, as a self-taught photographer for the last four years. He leads workshops in digital photography, writes freelance articles about Apple related products, and has occasionally blogged about Apple’s Aperture for O’Reilly Media. If you ask him about his future goals, they include working in the field of travel photography and learning whatever he can about Apple computer programming.
Example Images from Bakari’s Gallery
Text and photos ©2008 Bakari Chavanu.