Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The never-ending challenge.

A while back I posted this picture on my personal blog.

So Tuesday last week we returned from an 8 day trip to Israel, during which time between 2 of us we took around 2500 pictures, and I'd say this meme is very close to true - there's probably 8 to 10 great images, plus another 30 I like. The thing is, this is not new territory for me, and in the last 3 holidays I've returned with 1500-2000 images each time.

What to do with so many images?

The first time we went away and I tried to seriously photograph stuff was 2014 in Canada, but back then my science business was running down, and I was actually happy to have the processing work to keep me busy while things were quiet and I was deciding what direction to take next. After our 2015 trip to Andalucia I had full time employment, and made a really determined effort over several weeks to select and process the images. It felt like a mammoth task, and I was really glad to have finished it.

However last years pictures from Turkey were a different story. A combination of crisis of friends, personal busyness, a desire to take fresh images and a little disillusionment with image quality from a crop-sensor camera means that our 2016 holiday pictures are half sorted & half processed, still waiting for completion. It felt like the never ending challenge in the title of this post, and an almost insurmountable obstacle.

This year I selected and processed all our travel pictures within the first week of returning.



There's no magic answer, no 'do these 3 steps for instant satisfaction', but there were a few key things that made all the difference. Here is a quick look at them:

1) Get it right in camera.
When I see this said on web forums it makes me groan, however there's some truth in it. A big problem for me with many landscape travel pictures that I have generated is that the sky is too bright and the landscape too dull. At the same time I utterly abhor the crude use of graduated filters that darken hill tops and vegetation that sticks up into the darker part of the filter. For the photos I took in Spain I actually developed 2 graduated filter settings in Lightroom called Spanish Landscape Boost and Sky Recovery, and they were very carefully applied to almost every landscape shot I took, which takes lots of time.

However I do have a polariser.

This stayed attached to the main lens of my camera for the duration of the trip, being carefully adjusted for almost every shot to balance sky and foreground. The bright conditions and decent sensor of the Nikon D610 I used meant that I could run at ISO400 all the time in normal daylight while using an aperture around f11 and still getting a useful shutter speed to stop blur. Occasionally I'd use a different lens (like the shots around Ein Gedi - 21-35mm Sigma) and for these I sometimes had to break out the graduate presets in post processing.

The result of this was less time needed to process each image, less careful, slow fiddling about.

2) Get it right in camera.
I nearly missed repeating that until I remembered the extra preparation I put in before we went. The camera had not been behaving exactly as I wanted, so I did a reset and then went through the camera menu, sorting out and resetting variables as I wanted them. Nikon's menu system isn't intuitive, and I discovered that when I'd though I had set spot metering previously, actually I had 12% centre weighted. So I went back and set spot metering properly, because that's how I work best, knowing that I'm choosing what the camera meters from instead of letting it best-guess. I also set exposure compensation 1/3 under to reduce blown highlights and gently bump shutter speeds up.

This meant fewer badly exposed images (still happened sometimes) and less work in post.

3) Apply basic setting to every image.
When I processed the Spanish images I took the view that each image needed individual treatment. Perhaps, but those few extra seconds multiplied by 1000 add up to a lot of time and energy. A professional acquaintance from the online world uses Capture One instead of Lightroom, because it has fewer sliders and settings, and the default processing of an image is more nearly 'right' instead of presenting the user with a lot of powerful options and a blank canvas. The advantage is that it allows him to get work to the client faster, saving him money and time.

So I know with the D610 that there are certain lightroom adjustments that *almost* every image will need, so after importing all the pictures from one camera I selected a 'typical' landscape shot and made my basic adjustments to make it look OK: Chromatic aberration, noise reduction, sharpening, highlights and shadows, clarity. I did the same thing for Chris's Olympus E-M10, though using different values tailored to a typical image from her. Now instead of going though the lens corrections and detail sections of the develop module, I can go straight to the basic section, and some of the sliders there are already where they need to be. Much time saved, and less laborious fiddling on each image.

4) Cull anything not interesting.
I shoot lots of stuff 'just in case', often because it's looks good through the viewfinder and sometimes because if I don't then it will be too late, because I'll never be there again.  Just because it looks good in the viewfinder doesn't mean it will be great as a photograph on screen. If it can't justify itself as a record shot (slightly dull or poorly composed but a useful reminder) then it goes. I also shoot the same scene lots of times because I shake a bit. Multiple shots of the same scene all of similar merit? Pick the first one that's sharp.

5) Set aside the 'arty specials'.
There's a bunch of pics that I want to do some special processing on. They just got bashed through as normal, ready for me to come back at a later date and spend the time needed to do a good job. Throughput is the name of this game.

6) Try to avoid the need for any other special processing.
If the image doesn't NEED tone curve adjustment, straightening, extra noise reduction, extra sharpening, split toning, manual lens correction etc then DON'T DO IT. Process as fast as reasonably practicable.

7) Get your head down & get on with it.
It probably took around 15 hours, possibly more, to sort and process down from 2500 to around 1000 images. I didn't visit forums where I would read & chat, didn't watch movies, DID work to midnight a few times, spent several hours on both Saturday and Sunday, worked through lunch breaks too, just to finish another 20 or 30 pictures extra.

The only way to do it is to do it - and the longer it gets left, the less enthusiasm and energy there will be to process a bunch of stale, out of date pictures.

Anything else?

It's been interesting processing images from the Olympus with its tiny M43 sensor alongside the D610 with full frame sensor. Now that I've sorted out the quite terrible shutter shock problems with the E-M10 (that's another post) then images that had been correctly exposed in bright sunlight were sharp & clear and often hard to tell apart. That's a big credit the Olympus, although I was using the D610 at ISO400, which does boost the noise a bit. However if shadows needed lifting much or high ISO values were needed then the little Olympus lost out noticeably.

Now I seem to have some images of The Flying Scotsman to process. :-)