I broke sound barrier in photojournalism last year. Assigned to cover a college football game, I captioned, cropped, toned and transmitted 148 photographs from my shooting position on the field. During the game. Shooting RAW files.
Sending 148 photos was incredibly cool as well as incredibly stupid. This post will be all about how cool it was. Down the road I’ll write about why it was also incredibly stupid (for those of you who don’t already feel that way).
There is no greater feeling than when you’re sitting on the baseline at a basketball game or the sideline of a football game when the second half is about to kick off and you notice that your competitors are nowhere to be seen. You’re the only photographer ready to shoot because everyone else is still back in the press room working on their photos. You are going to get some second half action all to yourself. It’s the best.
A couple years ago I was the only one on the field when a player tied an NCAA record on the first kickoff of the second half, and it was all because my workflow was fast and tight, from the field of play.
Why should it happen? We all have the same cameras, the same computers, the same software. Let me explain how to bring it all together…
Photojournalism used to work like this:
Photographers would shoot, then they would go and edit. Two separate tasks, never done together. Editing while shooting was impossible in the film days and that mentality has carried over into our digital workflow. But to be fast and efficient today, you need to merge shooting and editing into one step.
There are four steps to shooting and editing simultaneously during an assignment. Each step takes progressively more time, so you hit them as time and the situation allows. Even getting in the habit of doing step one alone will save you a lot of time going forward.
As you go out on assignments this week, observe what happens. Every assignment or event has moments where nothing important is going on. These moments are when you squeeze in some editing time. It could be during a TV timeout at a sporting event, or during a long-winded speech at a press conference. It’s when you’re tempted to pull out your phone because you’re so bored with what’s going in front of you. You and I both know it happens a lot.
When you notice these slow moments on an assignment, start doing step 1. Then when you have time do step 2, or step 3, etc. The steps are organized by the amount of time they take and how much they take you away from shooting, with the first steps being quick. You can get back to shooting immediately from step 1. Step 3 takes a little more time and workspace. With practice you’ll learn what you’re capable of.
Through it all, there is one rule you need to always follow:
You are a shooter. Shooting always takes priority over editing.
If there is a photo to be made, shoot it. The edit can wait. This is critical. You do not want to miss photos. Ignoring this rule will only bring you pain and suffering.
Okay, here are the steps to merging the shoot and the edit:
Step 1. When there is downtime in what you’re covering, tag photos on your camera.
That’s right: CHIMP. There is no reason not to. Being able to see what you’re getting immediately on location has been the biggest improvement in the history of photography. Don’t be afraid to chimp just because so many people have said it isn’t cool. Chimping is very cool, provided you aren’t missing shots. Missing shots is not cool.
Don’t chimp in a position where you can’t instantly go back to shooting. Hold the camera at the ready when chimping so you can see what’s happening around you. Don’t chimp with the lens pointed at your crotch forcing you to look down at the floor. At a sporting event, never chimp while there is action on the field. At a news event, don’t chimp when things are in motion. You will miss shots and that means you’re screwing up.
At football I’ll chimp after every play, as time allows. During a press conference, I might only need to shoot the first minute of a politician’s twenty minute speech. Look for the moments you can fit in some chimping without missing a shot. It’s a skill you can develop.
When I chimp, I’m tagging any photo that I want to see bigger on my laptop. I’m not zooming in and checking sharpness or anything like that. It’s just a quick decision – is this frame worth looking at big on my laptop screen? That’s it. If a frame is out of focus, I’ll filter it out on the laptop.
Step 2. When you have a moment, dump your cards.
If you are able to have your laptop next to you at an event, do so. And every practical chance you have, dump your cards using PhotoMechanic’s very efficient ingest card feature.
It takes me about ten seconds to start the ingest of a card:
1. Put the card into the card reader
2. Hit return when the dialog box comes up
3. Put a new card in my camera
4. Go back to shooting while the images are copied to my laptop
There’s no time wasted dragging and dropping files into folders. PhotoMechanic does this in one keystroke.
Every time I shoot around 70 photos at a football game, I’ll start ingesting that card into my laptop as soon as I have a spare ten seconds. This saves me the amount of time it takes to copy the files, allowing me to shoot 16 megapixel RAW files without worrying about the extra time copying those large files. At the next timeout I’ll be able start editing immediately.
Another thing I’ve been doing for step 2 is shooting straight into the laptop. Using a regular old ethernet cord, my photos go straight from camera to laptop as I’m shooting. I’ll post more about that workflow another time (it’s with a Nikon D4). I’ve been able to use this technique from a single shooting position (like basketball) as well as on the street covering a parade (walking several blocks). It’s a game-changer.
Step 3. When you have time, like during a longer TV timeout at a game, pull out your laptop and get to work. Go through your tagged images on your larger laptop screen and decide what is worth transmitting. You can quickly select the tagged images (command-T), preview them (command-R), and use the arrow keys to move through them, hitting D to discard the ones you don’t want to send.
Once you’ve got your edit narrowed down, add captions. I have a boilerplate caption added automatically upon ingest and for sports I use code replacements to fill in the names of the players in the photo. For a news event, I have my caption written before the event starts. Any caption that you can write before the game or event, you should. Write those in a text file that you can copy and paste from.
Step 4. When I have even more time, I do a basic crop and tone on my selects, very quickly in Lightroom, and transmit a JPEG back to the office. (I’ve added a couple tricks to my PhotoMechanic and Lightroom workflow but you can see most of it in this video: http://trenthead.com/2012/06/photo-mechanic-and-lightroom-workflow-video/)
That’s pretty much it. Four steps to bring the edit into the shoot.
A couple of closing words and disclaimers…
Don’t expect this to all work perfectly the first time. Good workflow is a process that requires constant refining. Keep at it and you’ll figure out your best version of this system.
But do start now. Get a head start on your competitors and start pushing your limits, every time out the door.
Sending 148 photos from a football game is not the goal. Delivering quality images quickly and throughout an event, where practical, is the goal.
During my 148-photo game, both teams were local, which meant that my editors would be interested in any play, any player, any coach, any fan. I also had a co-worker shooting at the other end of the field, which freed me up to stay in one spot and crank things up.
Shooting and editing continuously during a 3+ hour football game can be pretty hectic. There are no times for breaks and you’ll get a little fried.
A week or so after the 148-photo game, a colleague and I used these same techniques and we rocked it, sending dozens of photos from a late football game to our editors’ delight.
While we were shooting that game someone made a gigapan of the entire stadium. We examined it closely, paying specific attention to the sidelines. Across the field from each other my colleague and I were both pictured in the gigapan with our laptops out, working on our photos during a timeout. The other photographers around us in the gigapan, and there were at least a dozen, were all staring off into space with their cameras at their sides. Doing nothing at all.
Welcome to the future. Embrace it.
Here’s a timelapse video from a college football game, showing you how it works in real life…