On-Location Workflow

by James Duncan Davidson

I've found that I use two different kinds of workflow in Aperture: the kind that I maintain for my permanent library; and the kind that I use on-location. The reason for using two distinct workflows is that the demands of working with images during a shoot--typically handing off intermediate copies of good photographs as I go, or even just showing them off to friends via Flickr--doesn't give me the time to fully caption and keyword my work for my permanent library on my office Mac. Instead, I'm almost always in run-and-gun mode. I'll shoot for a few hours, pull images to my MacBook Pro, cherry pick the best, apply some adjustments, and then I'll go back out to shoot some more. Needless to say, I don't have the time needed to fully keyword, annotate, and super fine-tune the images as I want them in my permanent library.

At the same time, I don't want to make a complete mess of things on-location which would necessiate starting over ranking my images when I'm back in the office. I'm still working on my personal process for this, but right now here's what I do when on-location:

  • Pull the images from CF into Aperture into a project for the shoot.

  • Pop Aperture into full screen mode and make a pass through the images, immediately rejecting any obvious loosers. I'm looking for photos that are unusable due to focus problems or simply subject issues such as closed eyes and the like. These images need to hit the bit-bin as soon as possible.

  • I then make another pass giving a star to any image that I want to keep. An unstarred image means that I'm undecided about it. Typically I'll reject a some more of the images during this pass. It's also during this pass that I'll group similar pictures together into stacks and select an initial pick for the stack.

  • After the one-star pass, I perform another to add a star to any image that I would be happy for a client to see. This lets me keep outtakes as one-star images and bump client-worthy images to two stars. I'll do some basic processing to these images to pull in levels, correct white balance, and tweak contrast.

If it's a rapid fire event, I'll stop right there and dump out the two star images to hand off before going off to shoot some more. If I've got a little time, I'll perform one more pass for images that I'd recommend the client use. These are the ones that I consider worthy. An event client will typically get both 2 and 3 star images at this point.

You'll notice that I'm only using up to 3 out of the 5 stars that Aperture lets you rank with. That's because the on-location workflow is just an initial cut. After an event, I'll export the project from my MacBook Pro back to my desktop G5 and import it into my permanent library. Then, as I have time, I'll sort through and perform a slower sift through the project. It's during this slower evaluation that I might award a 4 or 5 star ranking to an image. But while on-location, things are just too hectic and preliminary to award these ranks which, in my own system represent the "best of shoot" and "best ever" rankings. The goal of the on-location workflow isn't to find the cream of the crop. It's to weed out the obvious loosers and get to the point of handing off respectable work in as short a time as possible. And, to do this, I only need 3 stars. The rest can be awarded later.


Daniel Mendez
2006-11-07 11:46:28
A question on the 'After the one-star pass, I perform another...' section. On this new 'pass', do you only look through the one star images only or still through the unrated and one star images?

If the outtakes are the one star? what do you do with the unrated images? Are they also deleted and when?

I wonder how much time it takes you and how many images do you import and preview. Would it not be better to keep shooting if the event is still happening? What type of events are you talking about?
Thanks James. Very informative post.

James Duncan Davidson
2006-11-07 12:46:45
Daniel: I should have been a touch more clear there. On the second pass, I just look at the one star images to award the second star. The unrated images will get slushed through again after the event to determine if I should kill them or if there's a use for them. But, if they didn't get at least a one-star rating during my first pass, there's usually little hope for it unless I just miss a real gem in the rough.

I'm getting pretty fast at this. This really describes how I approach conferences, which is curretnly the bulk of my event shooting. Typically I do these sort and review cycles during breaks and other downtime, eating lunch, that kind of thing. At some conferences where things are running non-stop, I'll do the bulk of the work at night, cutting into sleep time. Sometimes I do it while in the conference rooms waiting for the next speaker to come on.

As far as numbers of shots, usually I shoot several hundred images a day. Sometimes close to a thousand.

I'm currently on location shooting the Web 2.0 Summit implementing this workflow. You can see the Flickr stream here.