Text & Images by Dan Harlacher
I've never met a photographer who started his or her studio without underestimating the time and space needed for production. Production always seems to be relegated to a closet-sized space or unfinished bathroom somewhere under the stairs.
Those same photographers today will tell you that production is the heart of their operation and, if they had it to do again, they would make their production rooms two to three times their current size.
It takes years to develop a production system that works just right for a studio. And I have never met two photographers whose production methods were identical.
TIME TO RETHINK
Now that we're dealing with a rapid transition to digital, we need to rethink our production workflow once again. The digital studio can be a frightening place for a seasoned film photographer, with all those megapixels and memory cards. Luckily, the production still follows many of the same steps. I think it is very important to sit down with your staff and talk through a digital workflow. By putting your heads together you will be able to develop and write down a procedural manual for your studio. What follows is a sample digital workflow that I recommend to many photographers. It's designed for speed, efficiency, and maximum data integrity.
SAMPLE DIGITAL FLOW
Digital production can be broken down into four phases: 1. Capture; 2. Downloading and archiving; 3. Proofing and sales; and 4. Order preparation and fulfillment.
The capture, or shooting phase, is the easy part. However, there are some important things to remember. I always recommend shooting in RAW if your camera supports it. Many people maintain this is not necessary. But the difference, and the magic of shooting RAW, is the extra latitude afforded by shooting with high-bit data. Most professional digital cameras shoot RAW images at 12 bits per channel, giving you the ability to adjust your exposure and color balance with much more power and less posterization.
I recommend using several smaller memory cards rather than one big one. Using large cards is like putting all of your eggs in one basket. If that card fails or is lost, you may lose 100 images rather than 30 or 40. Number your memory cards and keep track of them.
It is also a good habit to format your memory cards every time you put them into your camera. This keeps the file allocation tables clean and helps prevent card errors. Always take twice the number of memory cards and batteries that you think you'll need. It is also very important to use a custom white balance for every location and to frequently put a gray card or Macbeth color checker in a frame for reference.
Well, you're back in your studio and it's time to start the downloading and archiving stage.
Use a fast card reader (firewire or USB 2.0) to download your images to your computer. At this point, your data is the most vulnerable it could be. It is on several memory cards that have not been backed up yet, so make sure this computer has a battery backup in case of a power outage. Once you have downloaded your RAW images into a common folder, sort them by date and time, and rename them with the job name.
At this point it is also wise to register your images with an asset management program, like Extensis Portfolio. This allows you to catalog and search your images, even on offline volumes, in the months and years to come.
Once your files are safely backed up, it's time for proofing and sales. Most of today's digital cameras allow you to extract low-resolution jpegs from the camera's RAW image files. Use this feature to create smaller jpeg copies of your images, which you can use in a program like Kodak's ProShots or Fujifilm's StudioMaster PRO.
Using these smaller images is faster and takes less space on your computer system. You can even dump the RAW images off your system at this point. Remember: you still have them on CD in the client's file.
There are many ways to proof and sell your digital images. You can create beautiful presentations to show in your studio, and even put the same presentations on a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM for your customer using software such as eBook's FlipAlbum 5 or Apple's iDVD. You can upload them to an e-commerce website, or (gulp) even make paper proofs.