Workflow #2

Published by MJR on May 27th, 2008 in Technique | Comments Off

Keep it simple.

Pre-game

This really only applies to my film workflow, as digital is basically set from the moment you turn it on. I always have two film bodies on hand and a stack of film at the ready. This way, when I click off that 36th or 16th frame a fresh camera with a new roll can be handed off immediately, with the spent roll being replaced by a new one and ready to go. This principle also works with digital, although a second body is really unnecessary given the speed with which one can swap CF cards. I shoot tethered, so this isn’t an issue.

Film

Once everything is souped and ready to roll, my process begins at the light table. There’s something about the feel of being huddled over a spread of chromes with a loupe and grease pencil that, for me, is really hard to let go of. Once I’ve made my selects, I scan both my 35s and 120s using an Epson flatbed photo scanner which, while not quite as nice as a slot-scanner, does a beautiful job for my needs. The largest my work prints is usually 11×14″, so the difference is negligible if not entirely unnoticeable. After everything is turned into zeros and ones, I archive the film in binders for easy access as well as the digital files on both my working drive and my RAID array.

Digital

I always shoot tethered as the ability to see the captures on a large calibrated display the moment they’re made is an absolute boon to the entire team. I shoot directly into Capture One PRO, where quick adjustments can be made to the RAW processing on the fly and retained for the remainder of the session. For example, if I were shooting a set destined for black and white reproduction, I could capture my full color RAW files but have C1 display them as tweaked black and white images as they’re transferring. I don’t use Capture One for my actual processing, however, as its algorithms have been far surpassed and version 4 is still three years late. After the shoot has been wrapped up, all files are archived on the working drive as well as the RAID. Next, the session is loaded into Lightroom where I can quickly run through, make my selects, and export them for retouching.

Retouching

After the captures have been archived, all of my retouching is done in Photoshop with the aid of a WACOM tablet. The only third-party plug-in I use is Alien Skin’s Exposure, and only very sparingly. Nothing more than a quick conversion to T-MAX 100 (my favorite black and white film stock, which it does a startlingly good job of emulating) or an overlay of Kodachrome 25 crunch for a bit of contrast before the image goes out to print. Beyond that, it’s all just a lot of gentle coaxing and an even greater amount of experience. I will be going into more detail on this subject in future posts, and will be sharing a lot of my personal knowledge and techniques. Once everything is press-ready, all files are archived to the RAID array.

Printing

Depending on the image’s final destination, I’ll either print from Photoshop to a large-format Epson inkjet or send the files out to be run on a Noritsu. While the Epson does a really incredible job, especially on my beloved premium gloss paper stock, you just can’t beat the astounding quality of a top-end lab machine. Once everything is on paper, a set of prints is archived (seeing a theme here?) in light-tight boxes and the rest are dropped off or FedEx’d out to wherever they need to be.

Parting Thoughts

I wouldn’t trade my film process for anything. While most people simply abhor souping and scanning, I see it as a labor of love. The tangible aspect of it all is what really makes it special. You can’t hold a RAW file in your hands.

The digital side of operations could use some help. The software just isn’t there; it’s made by engineers who make a living selling software, not technicians who make a living selling a beloved film stock. We choose a film for its characteristics and quirks. As Pascal said in his recent interview with the New Yorker,

“Photography as we knew it, meaning film and Kodak and all that, was a very subjective process. With film images you had emotions. You used to go out and buy film like Fuji, because it was more saturated, or you liked Agfa because it gave you a rounded color palette.” With a ten-dollar roll of film, he explained, you were essentially buying ten dollars’ worth of someone’s ideas.

Software is much more objective and flat, focusing more on the features than the funk. This is likely due to the fact that features are what sells software, and those of us who really demand the quality fit into a fairly small market. They have to make money, and the general public is where that’s found.

This brings me to the battle between Aperture, Lightroom, and Capture One. Truth be told, I’d much prefer to be using Aperture for both my capture and processing. The interface fits my way of thinking and working (do anything at anytime from anywhere) very well and the processing as of version 2 is superb. Until they pick up support for Phase One files, though, I’m afraid I’ll be delegated to the sectioned-off, machine-like world of Lightroom. This is not to say that Lightroom is an inferior product, I just don’t like having to switch panels and do things in the prescribed order. Keyboard shortcuts make life easier, but after using Aperture it’s always in the back of my mind. Capture One is thus a necessity for tethering Phase One backs, as is Lightroom for effectively sorting and processing them. Word is that Capture One PRO 4 will have some great and long overdue features, but we’ve been hearing that for years now. We’ll see, and here’s hoping for some very pleasant surprises.

Finally, I can’t stress the importance of archiving your work as much and as often as possible. We’ve all lost work to faulty technology; if you haven’t, you will. Make sure it’s secure, and if you’re running out of space, buy more.

No excuses.

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