Lessons, This Week In Photography, Tsc Tempest Photography

This Week in Photography – Workflow & Post-Processing

Ok, over the last couple of weeks we’ve been spending a bit of time thinking about how to use our camera, managing the process of transferring images from the camera to the computer, exploring aspects of composition and taking a few photos. This week we’re going to concentrate more on what to do with the images once we’ve got them, that is, post-processing.
This Week in Photography
Allow me a moment to outline a typical workflow, from when I used to play with black and white film photography, mostly.The Camera
I used to have quite a collection of second hand cameras. They all used different types of film. For example, Polaroid instamatic film, 110 cartridge film, 35mm film, 120 roll film, and 620 roll film. You may not have heard of 620 film, but it was basically the same format as 120 roll film, only the spindle was thinner and it had a narrower hole in the ends – restricting it’s use to certain cameras only. So, as a first step I had to choose which camera I wanted to shoot with, i.e. what was I going out to shoot? And, which camera would be most suitable or the most fun to play with in that situation?

Having chosen the camera I would then look at what DIN/ASA/ISO film to use. Typically I’d take a look out the window and guess: It looks overcast today, maybe ISO 400; or, it’s looking to be really bright so perhaps ISO 64. At this point I’d also decide if I needed a tripod, some filters, extension tubes, etc.

Next I’d load the film in as dark as possible conditions, under the blankets, in my bed, or in the toilet with the light off, or in a closet with the door closed, under my jumper (pullover), or coat in the darkest shade of a tree or building shadow. Later I got a light tight changing bag, which made things easier.

The Shoot
Then I’d go out and shoot. Because film was kind of expensive to process, I had to be pretty frugal with my shots. This meant that I had to carefully evaluate the lighting conditions and try to make educated (well usually more intuitive) guesses of the correct settings to use. With point and shoot cameras with AutoFocus and built-in light meters this wasn’t too difficult for average scenes. With older manual cameras the range of aperture settings and shutter speeds was not very large, so again it was a choice of one stop here, half a stop there.

To improve my chance of taking a better exposed shot, sometimes I’d use a little Hanimex Sekonic Handheld Light meter, but I was far from proficient, and I hadn’t heard of The Zone System, which just didn’t feature in any of the books I was reading. Regardless of exposure concerns, I had to be highly selective of what I shot, so composition was a critical issue, along with “interest.” Yes, Is this an interesting view, shot, subject, scene, etc. So the process of critical self-expression had a defining and selective input into the choice of whether to shoot or not, because wasted frames were a waste of money, especially when you’re on a low income, or tight budget.

After shooting, I’d carefully rewind the film, remove it from the camera and store it back in it’s canister. I was not big on record keeping: documenting the location, time, and settings used on each shot; which is probably why it has taken me so long for some of these things to sink in. There is a definite benefit to being able to examine shot settings (now called exif data) and relate that to how an image has been recorded.

The Darkroom
Next, into the darkroom, door closed, curtained light trap securely in place, it was time to pull out the development tanks, measuring equipment, chemicals, and set everything up. Then grab the developing spool, lights out, pop the film out of the canister, roll it onto the spool, drop it into the tank and close it up. On with the red light – by this time your eyes have adjusted from normal light to seeing reasonably well in the red. Mix the chemicals follow the development procedure, pined to the wall somewhere, timer’s buzz, rinse water drips and after a while, it’s time to pop the top on the tank and take the film out. A final rinse, a careful squeegee, and it was time to peg the film and hang it in the drying cabinet.

So now we have our images out of the camera, they’re dry and it’s time to start looking at them. Different photographers did different things here. Some would use a light table and loupe to examine each image, others, like me, would hold the film up to the light scan through them to see what I had then cut the film into six-frame strips load them into a contact print frame, print a contact sheet, and load cut negatives into plastic storage pages, number and label the pages and stick them in a binder of some description.

I would then scrutinise the contact sheet to see what was of interest. (Oh, if I was using canister film, or colour, I’d send it off to the Kodak lab for development, and Polaroids developed themselves.) After dealing with the usual disappointment over the quality of the shots, I then select a few “good ones” and go back to the dark room. Usually I’d then pick a grade of paper for printing onto, pick a representative image and print an “exposure time” strip – basically at a set enlargement distance, with whatever filter setup, you draw a piece of card across an image moving it every 5 sec. Until you crossed the strip; develop the strip and then number it from lightest to darkest in 5 sec. Intervals. This would give a rough indication of the best exposure time, for that hardness of paper and negative density.

Unless there was an image with very strong contrast that required selective burning and dodging, most of the print development from here was more or less straight forward process work: size and crop the image, evaluate the correct exposure time, expose, and drop into the developer. For special images, once in the developer you might play with ‘flashing’ the image whilst in the developer for a ‘solarised’ effect. Sometimes you’d select several images for montaging and compositing into one image. This would require selective, custom masks so that each section of the image could be built up. The difficulty in this was getting the right exposure for detail and managing the blending – I never could quite make it work.

Photo Finishing
After developing the prints they were hung to dry and then stuck in an album. A few of the “lucky” ones would end up being framed. At this point, if you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering, “relevancy?”

As I said at the start, this was a typical workflow, for me. Many people took their shots, dropped the film into Kodak and then dealt with what came back. It’s important to understand what goes on when you, “drop your film in,” so to speak, as this is the part you are now going to wrestle with as you explore ways of post-processing your images, either for web use or for making prints.

The Digital Darkroom
The digital darkroom is your computer and an application like Adobe Lightroom. You capture the images with your camera (undeveloped film in the canister),

you remove your images from the camera and place them onto your computer in such a way that they are ready for you to work with (developing the negatives), next you examine thumbnails of your images (create a contact sheet, or use a loupe and light box) to select the images you think are worth sharing/working on. Having selected those images, you then make image adjustments, colour, WB, exposure, saturation, sharpness, etc. (exposure time sheet and enlargement) then next you output the images to the web, a slideshow or print package (photo finishing.)

Do you see the connection? A lot of people have highly polarised view about digital post processing, much of it relates to the fallacious idea the digital cameras should be wysiwyg (what you see is what you get.) In other words, what’s in the camera is true and anything else is an attempt to deceive or warp reality. That is, the camera should do all the work; all we really do is hold it and point it in the appropriate direction. ROFLMAO!!!

It’s my view that you wouldn’t be here, following this series, if the above, “truth” concept actually worked.

If you carefully read back over my old workflow process you can clearly see that digital darkroom development i.e. post-processing is an essential part of the process of creating great images. It takes a lot of work and effort and energy on behalf of the photographer to create great images. Cameras don’t take great pictures, photographers do!

In Practice
This week I’d like you to take a look at your workflow, in particularly that in wich you handle images after taking them out of the camera, that is you particular way of post-processing images. Document what it is you do with your images once you take them out of the camera.

:- Do they just sit on a hard drive somewhere awaiting “someday” development?

:- Do you just look at them and go, “blah!..blah!…blah!…” and then leave them alone?

:- Do you pop them into emails and send them to friends and family?

:- Do you put them up on Picasa, Facebook, Flickr, Myspace, Livespaces, Picture social, Tagged, or some other image sharing site?

:- Do you drop them into Photoshop and play with different filters and effects?

:- What is it that you do, and how is that failing you right now?

Here are some sites with video tutorials for the following applications. I found these sites by doing an internet search for: application name video tutorial; e.g., photoshop video tutorial
I’m sure if you favourite app is not listed here you could do the same thing.

Photoshop Tutorials Blog

Paintshop Pro Photo X2
Corel Resources
Google Video

Lightroom Resource Centre


Paul van Roekl
Geeks on Tour

The Gimp
Design your own web
Six Revisions

Lastly, here is a comparison of various Image Viewers that you might be interested in.

Best of luck this week, I look forward to hearing your thoughts and fielding your questions.

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