Efficient Workflow=Better Photographs

Professional photographers talk about getting photographs efficiently.  They want to capture the commercial images as efficiently as possible, with little fuss.  If they can capture the image in one shot, why would they want waste time taking more?  Instead, they should be off to do another job or get the images ready for the client.  A particularly important aspect of capturing images efficiently is working with the tools of the trade without expending time and energy thinking about where to find gear and accessories, messing around in a complicated set of bags or boxes, fussing around to assemble the equipment, or trying to remember how to adjust camera settings.  For landscape photography, this means being able to get tools out of the bag and ready to shoot quickly and efficiently.  When the light conditions are ideal, you need to be able to start capturing the images quickly because the best environmental conditions may be fleeting.  It is also important to be able to break your kit down, move to a new location, and get set up again quickly, efficiently and correctly.  This process is your in-field workflow.

When you have developed the process for unpacking and assembling your gear with a workflow that works for you, it is critical to practice; do it over and over again until it is absolutely ingrained in your hands.  You will notice I said hands not head.  Getting ready to shoot should come from muscle memory.  A landscape photographer should be able to get their gear out of the bag, get it set up and be ready to shoot in the dark.  We attended a Master Photography Class from Randall J. Hodges last spring.  One of the exercises was getting the gear out and ready to shoot images in less than 2 minutes.  Furthermore, this timing should be the goal for all environmental conditions, including when it is raining, snowing, and blowing.  Frankly, weather often contributes to the most dramatic and unforgettable images.   So if you are serious about capturing impressive pictures, you need to be able to put your gear together efficiently under inclement conditions.

There are many ways to develop your in-field workflow.  It will depend on the type of gear you have, where you are shooting and you may need to alter it for different weather conditions.  Here is an example based on a recent shoot in Death Valley.

  1. Before leaving home or camp: 
    1. Check camera is working.
    2. Put camera back to “Standard” settings.
      1. Aperture Priority
      2. ISO 100
      3. Landscape Mode
      4. Aperture at f/22
      5. Spot metering
      6. Exposure compensation at 0
      7. White balance at 6000k
      8. Autofocus – off
      9. Stabilization – off
      10. Long Exposure Noise Adjustment – off
    3. Take a minute to ensure that the camera bag has no holes.
    4. Confirm all the batteries are charged and at least one spare is packed.
    5. Check for the memory card and confirm there is at least one spare.
    6. Check that the necessary lenses are clean and packed.
    7. Confirm the shutter release cable is packed.
    8. If appropriate, check that the suitable filters, filter holder, and appropriate adapter rings are in the bag.  At a minimum, there should be a polarizer in the bag.
    9. Check that tripod is in good working order.
    10. Pack appropriate snack and drinks.
    11. Check that all appropriate clothing is ready when needed (e.g., warm gloves, etc.).
    12. If hiking, make sure hiking poles are ready and in good working order.
    13. Confirm you have maps, and/or GPS, and a small medical kit.
  2. Packing the bag: 
    1. We pack our bags the same way every single time.  We can find any piece of gear in the bag by feel.  This accomplishes two functions.  We know where every piece of gear is located.  We are much more likely to notice the absence of gear.
    2. Check and double check the time to arrive at the shooting location and confirm time required to travel from camp to the location (by vehicle if necessary and for any planned walking).  Ensure everyone knows the departure time.
  3. Departure:
    1. We plan to arrive at the location about 30 to 40 minutes before the anticipated optimal light conditions. Since, the light and clouds can be difficult to predict, we often want to allow enough time to evaluate several compositions at a location.  If necessary, we can adapt our position quickly in case the light develops better in a slightly different direction (e.g., northwest versus west).
  4. In the field camera setup (Shawn’s method): 
    1. Remove tripod from backpack, fully extend the legs, and place on level ground.
    2. Remove camera and attach it to tripod.   Make sure the camera is secure before starting any other step.  A dropped camera could end your photography trip!
    3. Attach the shutter release cable to the camera.
    4. Attach polarizer (if necessary), or attach filter ring and holder (if necessary) and place filter bag on hip.
    5. Check camera settings (see 1b).
    6. Check lens for dust and clean if necessary.
  5. Taking the photograph: 
    1. Adjust the tripod placement and height for the anticipated composition.
    2. Compose the shot in the camera
    3. Level the tripod/camera
    4. Turn on Live View (I use live view to compose, focus and evaluate image)
    5. If using a telephoto lens, adjust the focal length
    6. Focus (use 10X magnification button to confirm accurate focus)
    7. Evaluate the composition and make necessary height and angle adjustments
    8. Adjust picture style setting if necessary (e.g., landscape, standard, monochrome)
    9. Modify aperture and ISO, if necessary
    10. Modify white balance, if necessary
    11. Modify exposure compensation, if necessary
    12. Check composition again
    13. Refocus
    14. Take a deep breath
    15. Take the shot
    16. Evaluate the shot on the LCD screen with a loupe and using the magnification button.  I may make one or more minor adjustments (e.g., exposure compensation) and then take an additional shot.   Then I will determine if there any changes required to the composition.  For any change to the camera height, angle, or focal length, I will then go through these “b” steps again.  Generally, I delete my test shots once I have one I want to keep.
  6. Putting the gear away:
    1. Finished for the day/night on a lovely morning/evening
      1. Take filters off, clean, and put them away
      2. Remove shutter release and put it away
      3. Change camera back to standard settings
      4. Remove camera from tripod, put on lens cap, and put away
      5. Take down tripod and attach to camera bag
      6. Take out head lamp (if necessary)
      7. Adjust camera bag and walk back to camp or vehicle
    2. Finished in poor weather conditions
      1. Take filters off and put away; clean back at camp
      2. Remove shutter release and put it away
      3. Leave camera settings to modify back at camp
      4. Remove camera from tripod, wipe lens, put on lens cap, wipe down camera if wet, and put away.
      5. Take down tripod and attach to camera bag
      6. Take out head lamp (if necessary)
      7. Adjust camera bag and walk back to camp or vehicle.

When we are shooting for several days, I like to have my camera bag ready to go for the next outing as soon as possible.  So, I once back at camp, I’ll change to a fresh battery and swap the memory card immediately.  This is especially true if we are going to be getting up early to shoot a sunrise.

A good exercise is to write out your own in-field workflow.  If you have trouble, it is probably because you don’t have one.  This is easy to correct.  In the comfort of your living room practice putting your gear together.  See what works and what doesn’t.  Once you have a system that works for you, practice it over and over until it feels completely natural.  Once you have a comfortable workflow, you will have less stress in the field, you will take better photographs, and most importantly, you will have the time to enjoy the wonderful experience of being out in beautiful, natural surroundings.

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Published by

severn89139

Avid hikers, boaters, and photographers

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