When I say I took 1000 photos at an event, I often get horrified and even quizzical looks. But mostly I get a question of how do I deal with that volume. And the answer is having a workflow.
Every photographer has their own workflow. When I’m at an event, I tend to take between 500 and 1500 photos. With so many photos, there is a wide range of quality and no one, even the photographer and subject, wants to look through so many photos. Editing down is critical to have a high quality album. It’s also important to be able to do it fast and to not get stuck. So having a regimented workflow is useful to make this process manageable.
My workflow has been settled down for sometime now and I get done with a shoot in about a day or two of solid work and without much agony.
The workflow is as follows. The first step is relatively straight forward. I go through and simply reject the objectively flawed photos and make some decisions on photos that are nearly identical. I don’t spend much time agonizing over this step. If a photo looks bad at first blush, chances are it isn’t one of the best. This step is one of the most demoralizing steps because you’re looking at all the warts. I am to reject about 40% of all the photos. I usually just delete these photos and never have to look at these failures again.
The next step is to go through all of the photos again. This time, instead of rejecting the photos, I mark the best photos as two stars and the less good photos as one star. I aim to do a 50-50 split between the one and two star photos. The two star photos are now 30% of the original set.
The next phase is to do a pass through the two star photos. The better photos I upgrade to three star photos. I upgrade about 50% to three stars, which means that I’m down to 15% at this point. With 1000 photos, I’m down to 150 photos.
By this point, it’s necessary to start editing the photos to start evaluating the good from the mediocre. I first crop the photos. Over the first three passes, I’d mentally cropped the photos, but now it’s time get the exact frame down. This is surprisingly challenging. Frequently in candids there are extraneous, distracting elements in the frame that have to be delicately cropped out. After the cropping, I usually do exposure and then drop the blacks, raise the shadows and drop the whites. I pump up vibrance and clarity a hair. I sometimes adjust the individual color levels, frequently futzing with the greens and blues to bring out the green grass and blue sky. I sometimes darken the reds or lighten the reds depending if the skin is red. I tend to avoid any retouching at this stage, I just want to get the overall idea of what the picture will look like.
The next step is getting close to the final selection. I go through the edited three star photos and find the best photos to promote four stars. I aim to upgrade the about 50%. I also downgrade a few to two stars. At this stage, I’m looking for photos that catch something special. I make sure everyone in the photos are looking good, though this is a highly subjective criteria. I really try to make sure that I’m not falling in love with the memory of the moment rather than the image itself. If there are a lot of a few people, I’ll make the hard calls and downgrade some good, but not great, photos in order to maintain balance.
At this stage I’m at about 7.5% of the originals. They’ve been partially edited. It’s at this stage I do the retouching. I whiten teeth and eyes. I eliminate any pimples or moles on the face and soften wrinkles. If any more serious retouching such as liquifying. This is time consuming work and is fairly mind numbing.
I go through the photos one last time and may be downgrade a couple that are either repetitive or ones I have fallen out of love with. I make sure that I have all the content I need by flipping through the two and three star photos and promoting any necessary shots to four stars and doing the final edits. If any of the photos belong in my portfolio, I’ll upgrade them to five stars.
At this stage, I’m ready to go. From a shoot of 1000, I’m down to 50 to 75 candids or so that hopefully catch the feeling of the event. I haven’t had to agonize too long over individual photos. Most importantly, I’m proud of every shot I’m putting out. I’ve looked at each one on six separate passes. By having a deliberate workflow, I’ve reduced the decision making process to something that is standardized. I’m not spending a lot of time editing bad photos, I’m only doing preliminary edits on 15% and the time consuming final edits on half that.
Usually after I post photos, I’ll flip through the one star photos one last time, upgrade a few to two stars and then delete the rest. Realistically, these photos won’t ever see the light of day again. Later on, perhaps a month or so later, I’ll do a review of the entire album, which contains about 30% of the original. I’ll delete the two star photos. This will leave me with about 15% of the originals, which is a pretty good collection that doesn’t tax storage and is manageable to use later on.