First some background…
We are stock shooters that work specifically for microstock agencies, so unlike traditional RF Stock Photographers, we tend to be able to submit more images to more agencies than what was previously possible. That means, we need to look for the best images in a shoot as opposed to THE BEST IMAGE (single shot) But we also need to keep consistency so that clients can buy shots of similar colour ranges and tonalities for their projects. Unfortunately, we do not specifically edit all the chosen images at once… so there is a bit of a catch there. As for the rest of our client shoots, the Image Quality demands of stock has pushed us to use very similar workflows for our clients. As we get into the nitty gritty of it all, you will see the overlaps with the same action, but with a different goal.
On any given shooting day, whether models, travel, food, or any other type of imaging, we will shoot between 20-60Gb of RAW files of main subjects/object or locations. Along with that, we will shoot filler images of textures and backgrounds in the same lighting conditions to use as sky replacements or texture maps. so there is quite a bit of data to work through at the end of the day.
Lets take it step by step:
Step 1 is to actually go out and generate images. That is the easy part! Depending on the shoot and how critical the shoot is we will just shoot to a few 8gb and 32gb CF cards. We shoot everything in 14bit RAW at maximum resolution with no compression.
If we are traveling, and we shoot items, people or places we are not likely to access again soon, or easily, then we will back these up to external hard drives (we use 2x 320gb Hyperdrives for the task) if it’s critical work (Make-up, Models, Wardrobe and hired location) we will have a second backup on a ruggedized Lacie 500gb drive. Again, in such a scenario, we would also have at least 1 but more often than not two 17″ Macbook Pro notebooks on hand that an assistant will run to check that cards have not corrupted and that everything is hunky dory with the data.
The Notebooks are calibrated on the day of the shoot in the location they will be standing so that we can also have a good idea of what is happening to colour and exposure on the shoot. Any lighting change or location change, and we first do a few test shoots to make sure exposure is good on all elements… this gets double checked on the notebook screens (not by sight… we check the exposure levels, as well as the Red, Green and Blue channel levels to make sure no clipping and blocking happen on any one channel)
Once that is set up, we shoot control images with an X-rite Colour Chart to be able to do colour matching on the various images later. People do not realise that our eyes automagically correct errors in or vision. if you know that bottle is green, then your mind corrects it to be green in all circumstances and lighting scenarios… but if you shoot a model in three different lighting situations, and you do not have a constant to correct to (in this case the colour chart) you can in no way re-create consistent skin tones or product colours.
Right… the shooting is done, we are completely wasted and need to get to bed, but there is no way you can sleep unless you have chimped a bit, and made sure all the cards downloaded fine, and you didn’t make a complete stuff-up. So while that is going on, we are copying everything over to a Drobo for backup (that is our third initial backup)
When we are traveling, we do not have the luxury of the Drobo, so we actually carry six rugged Lacie 500gb firewire drives with us for that purpose.
On the Drobo, which is our main working drive (simply because of the sheer volume of images that we need to work on) we have a Three Directory Structure:
1. RAW – To Process
2. TIFF – To Edit
3. DONE – To Backup
Initially, on the first copy of the images to the Drobo, (we keep a copy on the Lacies) we will create a new directory under the RAW, TIFF and BACKUP main directories wtih the same Folder name. This is so that we can easily correlate files. and find what we need if something was missed or need to check.
For Example: I have a series of shoots relating to stock images of dancers for different danceforms, specifically the execution of certain positions or steps. So I have a Main Directory called: DANCEKIDS
Underneath I have split it into directories for the types of danceforms, AS WELL AS the days they were shot on (This makes model release management easier for me at the end of the day) So I will have directories named
BALLET – Day 1 April 2009
BALLET – Day 2 April 2009
BELLY DANCE – Day 1 MAY 2009
BELLY DANCE – Day 2 MAY 2009
TAP, etc, etc
If we take the RAW directories, to start off with, you will see we have a subfolder called DONE, and one for our RAW Converter (CaptureONE v5 Pro) Apart from that, all the RAW files is in that directory, relating to that shoot.
If we take the TIFF Directory, we will have a DONE subdirectory, but on the same level, we have all the TIFF files that need to be edited.
If we look at the BACKUP Directory, there will be nothing there until we have completed editing the whole shoot, but then, all the RAW files will go there, nothing else. The reason we do not move the RAW files there as we complete them is that sometimes we just want to quickly move back and check, find or redo a file, and it’s easier if the remain together as we regularly empty out the BACKUP folder onto DVD’s for offsite storage.
After getting everything into their right directories, we will start a sorting process using a few tools. There are no hard and fast rules here for us because some applications just work better than others for different jobs. Typically we will start by getting rid of junk… test fires to see if the lights are working, dud frames, double taps (shooting to fast before the lights have had time to recharge) etc. This can be done really fast in your ordinary Finder(Mac) or Explorer(Win) windows.
From here the next step will depend on the type of shoot it was and how fast the client want to see results (if it was a client shoot)
Scenario 1. Client/Expert selection
The Dance shoot is a good case in point… Although I have some experience with ballet as a danceform, I have no idea when a position is technically correct. So, in this case I will do my initial sorting with C1v5Pro. The Pro version has a mask option that shows you the where the focus “most likely” is in a shot. In the dance shoot, I doubled up on everything, so I would now switch on the mask and do a complete selection, REMOVING from the selection obvious out of focus shots or shots with focus points too far removed from the optimal location. I can do these selections in the tumbnails, thanx to the mask, so I do not have to see enlarged versions of the files.
Once that is done, I simply mark all the selected files (star or colour-tag) and start a low quality render to a 640px JPEG file. These I upload to an online gallery I have set up under my website, and give either the client, or in this case, a professional teacher access to. They then make selections. Clients and designers can choose images that would best suit their planned designs, and for the stock, my ballet/dance expert choose the images that displays the highest degree of technical accuracy.
These I then get back, make a final selection and do a final TIFF render.
Scenario 2. Stock Shoot – Own Selection
For this, again we will start in Finder or the File Explorer and simply remove obvious dud shots. Then, we will typically either use the Finder’s CoverFlo function or the Adobe Bridge “Review Mode”
Both of these allow us to see low res, half-screen size versions of the images to compare and tag. We would like this functionality so that we can see which has a better facial expression, which has a better angle, and which shots just didn’t work (we can also root out closed eyes, people walking in the background, etc) from there we simply select and render to TIFF in the RAW converter.
Scenario 3. Stock Shoot – Critical selection
Many times the first and second scenario will also end up here… that is when we are stuck between a few good shots and need to make an assesment as to which one to choose. Typically this is done in the RAW converter, at 100% (actual pixels) view and we check for focus/sharpness, noise, dust, etc. The best image gets tagged, and gets edited.
Post Processing: The RAW converter
Selections made, we now get down to the nitty gritty. We start of with first bulk balancing colours, WB and exposure for every lighting setup we did. This is generally done through the Colour Chart we shoot at the beginning of every lighting or scene change. All the changes are made to the one control file, and then copied and pasted onto all the files for that setup. wash, rinse, repeat…
Once that is done, we have more or less accurately coloured and exposed base files where we can work from. If it’s images destined to be deep etched (cut out, white background stuff) then we queue them all and go and make coffee while the software runs the few hundred files to 8Bit TIFF files. If the files need to have more attention (like location or client shoots) we will start a one-by-one process for small adjustments, increasing contrast, slight (or heavy) colour changes, selective skintone changes, etc… this process will just depend on what the end result needs to be.
It’s much easier to start with a good photo than with a bad photo, and similarly, it’s easier to start your photoshop post processing on a perfect file, or one that closely resembles your final required result, than with a straight file. These files typically gets rendered to 16bit TIFF files… the extra colourspace helps with better tonalities and gradients.
The RAW converter automatically renders the TIFF files into the “TIFF – to edit” directory and as the processing completes, I move the files already processed into the local “DONE” directory. The RAW converter also Renames the new TIFF files into more descriptively titled filenames, for example: Dance_Ballet-24042009-001.tif (the main category, the subcategory, the date of the conversion, and a number) Doing it this way, I know I can never have a duplicate filename. I know some people prefer to put the date of the shoot, but then you might end up with two files with the same end number, and accidentally overwrite an important master file.
Only once we are done with all editing of the shoot, do we move the RAW-files into the BACKUP directories, and delete the TIFF and RAW directories
Post Processing: Keywording
We now move to the Tiffs in the “To Edit” folders. At his point we switch to Adobe Bridge to do our major keywording for the files. Adobe Bridge allows a bulk keywording feature, so we can imbed all similar keywords, titles and descriptions in one go. We start of with major keywording on all files (All generic. in the deep etched ballet shots, it would be keywords like: Ballet, dance, dancer, performer, deep etched, white background, etc, etc) then we will make smaller and smaller selections, adding things like gender (man, male, etc) right down to the point where we select all Pointe Shoes or all Ballet slippers. The last end would be to go through very small batches and add the final keywords which would be the position or step displayed.
If for some reason the copyright and contact information was not imbedded in the image when imported to the RAW converter in the beginning, then we make sure it’s added here now.
Post Processing: Photoshop
The TIFF files are moved in batches onto our computer’s main drive now. Because of the file sizes a big edit can generate, we do not want those to run through FireWire or USB (although, in a crunch, it can) so we move a few files to a local EDIT folder, work on them, and move them to our MASTER disk. Everything happens in TIFF. If the final product is for stock, The last step before final save would be to convert the TIFF to an 8bit colourspace. The simple reason is that non of our agencies accepts 16bit tiffs, and with all the editing done, we don’t really run a big risk of damaging the file. The second reason is that most agencies want JPEG files (which only run 8bit in standard format that can display on the web. Nobody currently uses JPEGPro or JPEG2000).
If, during the editing, we think of extra keywords or better descriptions for an image, we will also imbed it on the file at this point.
Once the TIFF files are done, we go back to good old Adobe Bridge for some bulk file creation and sorting. This can be done by writing an action in Photoshop, but it’s already a function in bridge, so why bother? We simply select the Tiff files and through the Image Processor do a bulk save to JPEG. During this action we also specify a dedicated upload folder.
Once this is done, all the edited TIFF files are moved to a MASTER TIFF Folder for stock, or a dedicated folder for client work. the client folder is self explanatory. These files needs to be written to DVD or copied to a hard disk and sent to the client for their own backup or large format designs (another copy goes to our Backup Folder to save with the RAW files). The MASTER TIFF folder we store the stock images in is just a tiff backup folder of all of our active stock images.
The JPEG files in the upload folders are also split. If for Clients, then it gets uploaded to the Client’s FTP server, and then the local copies gets moved to the client folder to send along. We do not save backup JPEG files of client work because we can simply recreate new ones from the tiff files, and if we need to make an adjustment, depending on the size, we will restart from the RAW file, or use the Master Tiff file instead. A JPEG file NEVER gets reworked and re-saved
The JPEG files for stock gets uploaded to our offsite file server hosted by Photoshelter. From there we can bulk FTP to our agencies and also sell the files directly. For South Africans this is a major saving. We typically move about 90gb of files in a month to international agencies and buyers. If we had to do it one by one, with local bandwidth, it would make us to expensive to compete. Right now we do not store our TIFF files in offsite “cloud” backups (internet server somewhere) simply because of the cost involved but I am sure this will change in the future.
The JPEG files now gets moved to the Master JPEG folder on the MASTER drive (along with the MASTER TIFFs) where they sit and wait. Why do we keep them? because if we need a local copy of a JPEG file for a client, we can quickly fire one off, but mainly for uploading to new stock agencies that doesn’t have server to server (xFTP) capabilities or small upload limits. We simply make a complete copy of the folder, and rename it with the stock agency name. As files gets uploaded, we delete them from the folder. That way, we know that whatever is in the folder, has not gone to the agency for review. if the folder is empty, they have everything.
This is by no means a perfect system but it works for us. It allows us to be mobile and away from our “main” storage drives for months at a time. Our offsite backup solution still needs work, but the only way to get that sorted is by throwing money at it, and right now, it’s just too much money for the return. This will undoubtedly change, and we look forward to that day.
This is what we are running on right now:
2x Macbook Pro’s 17″
1x Drobo FW (4tb usable space)
2x 320gb Hyperdrives
6x Lacie FireWire 800 500gb HD
My MASTER drive contains 480gb of files
My RAW and TIFF files (To edit) is just over 40,000
My Backup DVD collection is currently just under 18tb
It feels like a lot, but to put it in perspective, that is more or less the amount of files generated by a busy wedding studio in a year. (makes you re-think that “part time” wedding business, doesn’t it!)
by Sean Nel
All images copyright Sean Nel
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