Ramblings on digital photography and workflow

by Michael Clark

This week I was reminded of my old workflow when I first started shooting with digital SLR cameras. I was late to jump into the digital game - starting with a Nikon D70 back in 2003. I dipped my toes into the digital pond with a healthy sense of skepticism. The biggest pitfall with digital back in 2003 was the workflow. It was painful. Editing my images took days, not hours or minutes as it does now. I processed images one at a time. It took me six to eight months to become comfortable with digital imaging and the workflow.

My first workflow used Nikon Capture and while it produced very nice results it was so slow that I just couldn't get into the swing of things with digital. I moved up to an Adobe Photoshop CS2 and Adobe Camera Raw workflow when I saw the results were on par with Nikon Capture. While it was a huge improvement in the workflow it was still sluggish. And with the release of the Nikon D2x the image quality of digital capture improved significantly. I jumped in with both feet and while I still shoot some film it is the exception rather than the rule.

Then Lightroom came on the scene and well, you know the rest of the story. I marvel at how many days it used to take me to caption, edit and process images just a few years ago and how quickly I can do the same tasks now, usually in just a few hours for medium size shoots where I capture 300 to 500 images. So what is the point to all of my ramblings here? The point is if we have come this far in just a few short years; imagine how much faster and painless dealing with digital images will be in another few years.

There are still many issues to be ironed out in the new digital world we live in. Color management has got to be the biggest issue that holds digital back from all it really can be. I still see many images reprinted quite poorly in even the biggest magazines. This has always been an issue - even with film - but with digital it has become a much larger issue. Lightroom, along with Photoshop, has given more control to the photographer than we have ever had before but along with that control comes a minefield of hazards. I have worked with a professional retoucher on a few images in my career and watching him at work shows me that while I may know Photoshop fairly well, I have no where near his expertise.

I have been saying for many years now that we are in the infancy of digital imaging. Ten or fifteen years from now I am certain that we'll all be joking about how we created images back in early digital days. The latest batch of new digital SLRs from Canon and Nikon are a prime example of just how much better the tools of our trade can get. 14-bit processing is perhaps the biggest upgrade for any camera you can now purchase. Someday we might be working with 24-bit or even 36-bit cameras that have incredible exposure latitude and see just as our eyes do. In fact I have heard from several camera manufacturers that their real goal is not just making better cameras but cameras that can automatically reproduce an image just as our eyes saw that scene.

Now imagine how much different the image editing and processing experience will be in another ten years. Never the less, still photography is still about light, timing, composition and hard work. No matter how good the technology gets, photography is still about the image. Better digital cameras don't suddenly eclipse the talent of Henri-Cartier Bresson or Robert Capa. Hence, we've come a long way with the technology of photography but is still the same as it was a hundred years ago just with new tools.

That's it for this session. See you next week.

Adios, Michael Clark


2007-12-03 14:27:11
I really liked these "ramblings," Michael. Thanks for sharing!
2007-12-03 14:30:22
To expand upon my thanks for this post, I totally agree with you that a) photography is still very much dominated by the eye and the newer and more advanced cameras and software are only tools that can aid us in making images. We still need to be able to see photographs. And b) I certainly am very glad that LR was around when I started shooting heavily at the beginning of this year and have a hard time imagining or fathoming how difficult it must have been before LR. I have a feeling a lot of pros owe a lot of gratitude to the simplicity LR has brought to their workflows.
Gary Lester
2007-12-06 17:03:33
Very sensible post and perspective!
Recognizing which technology to skip over is at least as important a decision as choosing the right tools to use.
Look forward to hearing more!
Good luck!
Chris Ridley
2007-12-11 05:17:57
Lightroom is the step forward in workflow I have been looking for, the speed at which I can work has vastly improved! Love it.

Chris Ridley - 11thStudio Photography