Evernote for Photographers: Part 1

I’ll admit this right off the bat: I am an Evernote addict.

I use Evernote to keep track of all aspects of my personal and professional life, but the real life changing aspect of Evernote is how I’ve learned to use it to keep track of my photography business. As any photographer knows, running a photography business is more than just making beautiful images. For every photo shoot that I get hired for, there are hours, days, and weeks of administrative work that goes on behind the scenes, whether it is my day to day accounting and marketing tasks, or the coordination of large scale production shoots.

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Spring Potting Shed Photo Shoot – Feast Magazine

Each month I am luckily enough to shoot a column for Feast Magazine called What We’re Buying. The column focuses on a variety of products from a variety of different manufacturers that tie-in together as a theme. In the April issue, the focus was on spring and gardening, so the art director and I set about creating a quaint country potting shed … in my downtown urban studio.

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Backups and Archiving for Photographers (Part 2)

In yesterday’s post, Backups and Archiving for Photographers (Part 1), I talked about how I make multiple backups of my data on a daily (and sometimes hourly) basis. A large part of my daily backups include cloud backups, which give me multiple copies of every file in several locations. This means that in the event of a catastrophe, my data will be protected. As prices for cloud storage go down, this gets easier and cheaper to do.

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Backups and Archiving for Photographers (Part 1)

One of the biggest challenges as a professional photographer these days is managing all of my digital assets … in other words, my photographs. I shoot thousands of frames each year, particularly now that I’m shooting a combination of 35mm and medium format. The amount of hard drive space that I need gets larger every year. Since 2010 I have seen my space requirements increase by at least 50% over each previous year. But having enough space to store all of your current files and archive all of your old ones is only the beginning. Because you don’t simply need space for each one of your files. In reality, you need space for three copies of every single file.

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Website Refresh and PhotoShelter Integration

I usually try to update my website every year or so to adapt for the way that my career and life has evolved. Last year when I updated jonathangayman.com I was more focused on marketing towards my corporate clients, but in the past year my work has started to slide more towards the food and lifestyle side. I had two main goals when putting together this site refresh: simplify the design for a more professional look that would really focus on the images, and to have an overall light theme rather than a dark one.

I have been using a combination of WordPress and PhotoShelter for years, but with this iteration of my site I decided to integrate PhotoShelter a lot more. I have been a PhotoShelter subscriber for several years, but I have never taken full advantage of the website features that they offer. WordPress is a great content management system for blogging, and while they have decent image management for the casual user, they just don’t have the kind of image heavy processing ability that I need. So I turned to PhotoShelter to handle 90% of the image galleries, portfolios and image distribution/sales.

Give it a look, kick the tires, let me know if anything is broken…

Office Buildout: DIY Tables

The last couple of days I have been working my hands to the bone building out the office in my studio. After much consultation with my father, I designed and built two large worktables/desks in my office. One for me, and one for Xina when she chooses to work at home. Let me just say that I enjoyed the planning stages and the phone calls with my dad much more than the actual construction. Since I wasn’t able to build the tables with my dad in his well outfitted woodshop, I had to build them in my studio. Don’t get me wrong, I am certainly grateful that I have enough space to build an 8 foot table in my studio, but lacking power tools, it was a challenge.

I purchased the wood for the project at a local lumberyard rather than going to a big box store as I’d originally planned. The wood itself was slightly more expensive, but they didn’t charge me to make all of the numerous cuts that I was unable to do at home. The other advantage was that the location was much closer to my apartment than any of the big box stores. My little Subaru isn’t quite large enough to hold an 8 foot piece of plywood tabletop, so I had to stick it out from the back and drive veeeery slowly and carefully back home.

I’d figured out all the dimensions and the pieces needed with the much needed help from my dad. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this on my own – my own plans were really terrible and dad was able to help me design something that actually worked. He even took the time to send me some notes. If you need DIY table plans, this set of instructions should be all you need (along with some math skills).

Instructions for how to design a DIY table

Once I had all of the individual pieces back home, I set up a camera, planning to do a time lapse movie of the project. After the first 20 minutes of frustration and anger I realized that the pressure of the camera watching me screw up was adding to the stress of the project so I turned it off. So sorry, no film. Construction essentially consisted of taking the pre-cut lumber, making some cross-cuts by hand and assembling all of the pieces. Here’s what I learned about myself during this process: no amount of careful measurement, combination squares and fancy Japanese pull saws are enough for me to make a straight cut. Seriously, as anal retentive I am, I was completely and utterly unable to make straight cuts with a saw. Each cut was consistently at a 2-3 degree angle from plum. Which made everything very difficult. One day I’ll buy a circular saw and be done with it.

Day one was the larger of the two tables, and day two was the smaller one. By day two I thought I’d figured out some of what I did wrong on day one, so set about the second table much more deliberately. While I was able to correct the mistakes from the first table, I realized that everything else that worked for the first table was apparently luck, and luck was not with me on the second table. Despite the 4x4s fighting me (one in particular had a grudge against me apparently because it was a complete pain in the ass) I was able to get the tables built – they are stable and feel very solid. Both tables are done and functional, and don’t look that bad mainly due to the nice birch plywood tabletops which cover up most of the mistakes. And let me tell you, going for and 8 foot table versus a four foot table is very liberating. Eight feet of lovely workspace!

I am exhausted, my entire body is sore and my hands are covered with blisters. But on the upside, I now have a usable desk/worktable in my office. I think I’ll wait on building a cyc wall until I can afford to hire a carpenter or maybe convince my dad to come visit. Here is what the larger of the two tables looks like all set up like a big boy office:

The office is starting to feel official finally. We even have a conference table! Which is our old dinner table, re-purposed as a work table. But I can, you know, have conferences! Have I mentioned lately how much better this it to my former cubicle existence?

Post Production

This photo of Avedon’s instructions to his printer has been bouncing around the interwebs recently, and although I think I’ve discussed this before, I think it’s worth mentioning again: Digital post production is no different than chemical post production in a traditional film lab.

There is always the caveat of course: bad photoshop is still bad photoshop. Just the way that bad physical retouching is still bad physical retouching. To be good at intensive digital retouching you need to have control, subtly, creativity and knowledge of how things are supposed to look. This is why there are professional retouchers to offset every other schmo with a copy of Photoshop Elements.

I am do not use photoshop a lot these days. In fact, the more I shoot the more I want to do everything in-camera. Why? a few reasons. First, I’m impatient. I want the image to be as close to final when the shoot is over. Second, I find it much more fun to figure out how to make that perfect (or near perfect image) while working on the set, rather than sitting at my computer. I’ll nudge around pieces of black foam core for hours on set rather than try to photo shop out an unsightly reflection. And third? I’m not that great at retouching, so I try to avoid it.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I don’t do retouching at all. Like anyone else, I spend time removing blemishes and softening age lines and wrinkles. Note that I said softening, not removing. I do everything I can to not “remove” wrinkles. Wrinkles are character and there is a certain amount of photographic honesty involved here. In fact, I like wrinkles. I’ve never been a fan of the space alien completely flawless look. I’m usually not shooting beauty and fashion shots after all (at least no yet).

90% of my post production is done in Lightroom these days, which is a tool that has become invaluable to my workflow. Here is a quick run down of my post production process for most shoots:

Rough Selects: I do a first pass through the entire shoot, flagging picks. This is what I call rough selects and I flag everything that seems like it is worth saving. I generally don’t use the Reject flag at this point because I never like to throw anything away.

Selects: Next, I take a second pass and narrow down my rough selects further to a minimum number of shots that I feel are the best. This usually means that the cut goes down to three to four images per setup (this could be more or less depending of course on the project).

Develop: I shoot in raw, so that I can to develop those images similar to the way that film would be developed in a lab. I need to adjust the saturation, contrast, exposure and color balance. Lightroom makes it easy for me to make these adjustments to one of my selects and then sync the settings with all of the rest.

Minor retouching: Light room has some simple retouching tools for things like blemishes and spot removal. I use these tools minimally to take care of easy to remove problems.

Share with the client: Once I’m happy with the selects, I share these to the client. These days I’m using Photoshelter for this process and I love it. More on that in another post.

Final retouching: When the client gets back to me with their choice(s), then I do a final pass of more detailed retouching. It is at this point that I do the more intensive retouching that is necessary like removing copyrighted logos from a subject’s t-shirt or taking out an unsightly lamp that got into your shot somehow. Again, I’d like to mention that I do everything I can to make sure that all out removal is kept to a minimum in my shots. Depending on the final use I also make test prints to make sure that everything looks the way that I want it.

Image Delivery: Once the images are complete and ready to go, I make the high res images available for download (again via Photoshelter).

That’s it. I think my process is really no different than it would be if I was shooting film. The only real difference is that I can all of the steps at my desk instead of a lab, and I can do the whole process in one day if need be.

Mobile Fotos App for the iPhone

Mobile Fotos Screen Shot Mobile Fotos Screen Shot Mobile Fotos Screen Shot

As I mentioned last week, I’ve been utilizing my iPhone a bit more lately for scouting, idea capture and in general, just another way to boost my creativity a bit. One of the challenges that I’ve faced with the iPhone, however, is how to get my photos off the phone and onto my computer in a reasonable fashion. The problem lies in the fact that I sync my iPhone to my home computer (a Mac) and spend most of my day working on a PC at work. I don’t want to connect my phone to my work computer, so this means that if I snap a photo on my iPhone during the day, I can’t really access it to post on my blog or on Flickr unless I email it to myself, wait for my email sever to hiccup a few times, and finally get it through.

So I’ve been looking for an app that will easily and reliably allow me to upload photos from my iPhone to Flickr. Surprisingly, Yahoo doesn’t have a native app for this. You would think that they would at this point, but they don’t. So after some research through forums and the iTunes store, I narrowed my decision to two apps: AirMe and Mobile Fotos. Both allow you to take photos on your iPhone and post them to Flickr directly from the app.

I tried out AirMe first because it is a free application and I’d read good things about it. Almost immediately I came across some obvious problems. First, with AirMe you can only post photos that you take using the AirMe camera interface, which is poorly designed and covers way more of the screen (in this case, your viewfinder) which makes composing more difficult. You can’t post photos from your camera roll, only from the AirMe camera interface.

The first time I tried to upload the photos, it worked great, and I was prepared to deal with the other problems, because the price was right. After my third upload, however, the app started to crash. I’d take the photo, would choose “Use Photo” and then watch as the app cranked for a minute, then crashed. This resulted in losing the photo. On one particular occasion I was really excited about a shot I’d pulled off, only to lose it seconds later when AirMe crashed. It ended up being a waste of time and effort.

So I ponied up the $1.99 for Mobile Fotos and so far everything has been golden. I can upload directly to Flickr, I can add title, description, tags, create or add to existing sets, and set privacy levels for my images, and best of all I can use the regular iPhone camera and pull images from my Camera Roll. So far I’ve uploaded images without trouble using the Edge network as well as when connected to WiFi. Mobile Fotos also has a great interface for browsing your photostream on Flickr which caches thumbnails to make subsequent viewings go faster.

I’ve only been using Mobile Fotos for a day or so, but so far it’s been a great compliment to my iPhone.

Keywords and Metadata

Since I don’t have much in the way of interesting visuals to show off this week (damn, I need to get away from my cube so I can shoot more!) I’m going to do a few brief posts about my workflow for those of you who are curious.

I tend to shoot a lot, probably too much really. I tend to get caught up in the moment and bang away a few too many identical frames, because honestly, I just love doing it. I love the act of making photos just as much as seeing the results. But when I go to unload my cards, there are usually many many images. This means a big library, which is difficult to maintain. When I started shooting professionally and the amount of images in my library started to increase, it because imperative that find a better solution to organize everything.

Then I found Adobe Lightroom. As I think I’ve mentioned before, this is my photography software product of the year two years running. When I started looking for a software to organize my photography, I compared Lightroom with Apple’s product, Aperture. In the end, my decision to go with Lightroom came down to three things: price (lightroom was cheaper), speed (lightroom performed better, even on my Mac) and platform (I could run Lightroom at home on my mac and at work on my shitty PC, therefore enhancing workflow). I’m not going to get into a long discussion about Lightroom at the moment but suffice it to say that I love it and couldn’t work as smoothly without it.

So here’s my workflow tip of the day: keyword every photo as you import it. Don’t wait and do it manually after the fact, do it immediately. Lightroom has an option to batch add keywords in the import screen: take advantage of this. Here’s why I do it:

In the past, I’d merrily skip past the import options and then painstakingly add the keywords afterwards. This works pretty well and doesn’t take a whole lot of effort. But as I started shooting more and more, my schedules got tighter, and I’d get distracted and wouldn’t actually go back and do it. The result? 18k photos in my library without keywords. This is a big problem.

Here’s what I do now: for every shoot, I choose at least one or two keywords that apply to everything that I’m importing. Most of the time it’s the person’s name, if it’s a portrait session, or an event name, or a project name. Obviously if you’re shooting more than one person you don’t want to apply everyone’s name in bulk. So I add a general set of keywords that work for all the images, and the do specific keywords later. This way, even if I procrastinate and never make it back to add those specific keywords, I have the ability to at least narrow down my search with some general terms.

Believe me, adding keywords every time I import has been a huge help. This also applies for metadata. Set up some basic information about you that applies to all your photographs – your name, your URL, your location, your contact information etc. Apply this to every photo you take, that way you won’t have to go back in and do it later. There is no better way to make sure that your name stays with a photo than metadata.

Was any of this helpful? I know it seems pretty basic, but it was a bit of an eye opener to me when I figured it out.