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Do You Have A Shooting Workflow?

Discussion in 'Micro 4/3 News and Rumors' started by flash, May 2, 2011.

  1. flash

    flash Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Apr 29, 2010
    1 hour from Sydney Australia.
    So you’ve got your new GH-2. Panny 20mm 1.7 is strapped on the front. You’ve read the reviews and the manual (hopefully). You’ve mastered off camera flash. The 6,253,426 photos you’ve take of brick walls confirm you have the sharpest cleanest sample of this camera/lens combo ever made and that the AF is accurate to .000000001 of an inch. But your photos are still boring. Technically perfect rubbish.

    Who has given any real thought into having a photographic workflow BEFORE you take a photograph? A lot of us have a workflow after we fill our memory cards (copying and backing up files - presets and software we use etc.), but a lot of newer photographers don’t have a workflow for taking a photograph. A workflow, here, is a defined set of steps that leads you from the point of seeing something of interest to the point where you press the shutter button. It’s a tangible way of turning a vision into reality.

    Many moons ago I read a National Geographic Article from a photographer who discussed his thought process when he approached an image. I can’t remember who it was, but I stole it and adapted it for my own use. I though it might be interesting for me to share the thought process I go through when putting a photograph together.

    Now, before there are any arguments, I want you to know that this is MY process (I stole it, so it’s mine). It works for me and maybe useful to others. But it’s not the only way to skin a cat and, I invite you to share your shooting workflow so we have a repository of great ideas for others to use and learn from. It’s also not necessarily comprehensive. It’s just the major things I always take into an image. Every image is a bit different and some times other stuff needs to be considered.

    Flash’s Photo Workflow:

    1. Identify the REAL subject.
    What's exciting me?
    **** What am I falling in love with?
    What moves me?

    Often, we stop and think, “that’s pretty cool, I should take a photograph of that”. The trick is to identify the very specific thing we want to photograph. And much of the time that thing is an emotion, not a physical entity. You know. The thing that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Joy, sadness, empathy, anger, well being, power, strength, frailty, emptiness, contentment, love etc. These are my subjects. The people/places in my photographs are the physical demonstration of my subjects.

    Is it the mountains? Or is it the way the light plays across the mountains? Or is it the feeling of warmth that the low sun brings, when it reflects off the mountains? Is it the pretty girl. Or is it the sparkle in the eyes/the smile. Or is it her smile is making you smile? Be as specific about why you have had a reaction. What are you feeling? The rest of the workflow is dependant on this. If you can’t specifically identify the emotional subject of an image then how do you ever hope to be able to communicate that with others? Stop, take a breath and think about what it is you feel and what makes you feel that way.

    2. Identify what it is physically that shows the subject.
    What is this place about?
    What's going on here?
    What is the focus,the subject?
    Isolation, texture, shape, flow, movement,detail etc.

    So, what is creating this feeling? This is the physical aspect of the subject. Is it how the light and shadows play with each other? Is it in the eyes or smile of the model? Is it in the colour or lack thereof? This gives me the focal point of my composition. Then it’s about concentrating the physical aspects of the image to emphasise that focal point.
    3. How do I enhance the focus and get rid of everything else?
    Get closer?
    In context or isolated?
    Camera position?

    Now we’re getting to the camera bit. If we’ve identified our emotional and physical subject then now we use the tools of camera lens and light to lock in on that subject. Is the best way to convey what we want to convey by having the subject in context or isolation. In my DOF article I said photographers are like sculptors (I am anyway). Well now I’m chiseling away at anything that de-emphasises the message I want to give. I’m thinking and looking at how making choices impacts my image. Anything that gets in the way of that message, goes.

    Camera position will affect the perspective of an image. How do I want my subject seen relative to the other objects in the frame? Am I cropping? Stitching? More 2D or 3D? (Making a 500mm lens look really 2D is difficult, say compared to a 20mm. It’s relative to position only, OK?). Portrait or landscape orientation? Do I lie down or climb a ladder? I often walk around a bit looking at angles and backgrounds. If you have the time it makes a huge difference.

    I’m also making compromises. I may not be able to get closer. Stepping back may send me off a cliff. How do I deal with these challenges and still get my message across?

    4. Lens choice & position?
    Check background.

    Now I have decided on my perspective and position I can concentrate on optic. What is my angle of view going to be (how much background do I want in the shot)? Do I want lots of DOF or real blurred backgrounds? Is DOF more or less important than shutter speed? How does this affect how my subject is portrayed?

    5. Colour & Liqht?
    Colour or black and white?
    Filters? Contrast,sky,saturation?

    How is the light representing my subject? Does my camera have the dynamic range to capture what I want, or do I need to consider additional lighting/filters/reflectors/HDR photography? What about white balance? Exposure?

    So there it is. Now, I don’t always do this in order. I bounce all over the place. But you need to do no. 1 and 2 first. And I definitely don’t always do it well. I can shoot garbage just as well as the next guy/gal. Sometimes I think I’ve nailed it and my wife goes “I don’t get it”. That’s OK. I learn from it and move on. Anyway, she has no taste. She's with me after all.

    One last thing. Earlier I said there’s more than one way to skin a cat. That applies here too. Often there’s more than one way to convey what you wanted to in a single physical subject. So after you take the shot, get up and move around to see if there’s another angle/lens/position combo you can use.

    But if you’re struggling trying to get what you want to say transferred to pixels, having a shooting workflow is going to help you improve your success rate.

    Anyone else have a shooting workflow they use?

    • Like Like x 17
  2. When it is broken down into elements like this it is amazing to think of how short a period of time it takes sometimes for all these processes (or individual variations of) to occur. This might all be the work of seconds or less, which is why knowing your equipment and how it will work at a certain setting in any given situation is so important.
    • Like Like x 1
  3. hanzo

    hanzo Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 22, 2010
    I like my photography to be fun.. I use shoot and pray process :rolleyes: 
    • Like Like x 1
  4. kevinparis

    kevinparis Cantankerous Scotsman Subscribing Member

    Feb 12, 2010
    Gent, Belgium
    • Like Like x 1
  5. Iconindustries

    Iconindustries Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Interesting reading Flash. Informative and practical, just the stuff I need.

    I remember showing my mum a picture one day and she said "it looks nice but does it tell a story". It never occurred to me like that before, so now I as I go through my pictures i try to pick out the pictures that 'tell a story' as it were.

    I will put your workflow method in practice and I'm sure in time it will pay off. To take a picture the way I want it and not trying to find a picture that 'tells a story' out of a whole bunch.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this.
    • Like Like x 1
  6. Adubo

    Adubo SithLord Subscribing Member

    Nov 4, 2010
    very informative flash, really great read thanks for posting this :) 
    • Like Like x 1
  7. iliakoltsov

    iliakoltsov Mu-43 Regular

    Aug 7, 2010
    Flash great description thanks for the post , the only little thing you say 1 and 2 are crucial i would say 1, 2,3,4 are crucial and five is the fun /effect one ( even though still very important ). I am always a bit picky :)  , but this is a great post.
    • Like Like x 1
  8. heyduard

    heyduard New to Mu-43

    May 7, 2011
    For further reading, one may try to find a copy of Photographic Seeing by Andreas Feinginger. Though dated and film centric, its focus is on why the picture captured by the camera is different than what was in the mind's eye when the shutter was tripped, and how to work to get the mind's eye view. This is still a valid point today. Some of it is obvious to a seasoned photog, but it can't hurt to review. :smile:

    Much of the workflow described is mentioned in one form or another in the book. So great minds must think alike. :biggrin:

    that said, sometimes that great shot is caught by mere happenstance.
    • Like Like x 1
  9. photoSmart42

    photoSmart42 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 12, 2010
    San Diego, CA
    My workflow:

    1. Scout locations for interesting shots
    2. Pick a camera/lens/medium combination for a given time/day/location
    3. Go out and shoot
    4. Rinse and repeat
    • Like Like x 1
  10. dko22

    dko22 Mu-43 Regular

    Jul 26, 2010
    Stuttgart, Germany
    excellent original post, Flash, particularly 1. which is the critical starting point. It matches my photographic credo exactly --only trouble is that all too often, I fail to stick to it and the result is usually rubbish
    It's possible occasionally to take really good pictures by mistake but it's not worth gambling on it!
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