Photography in Isolation, Part 3: Workflow 2

From all the comments and suggestions, the number one thing you want me to write about tackling while you're in Stay at Home mode is workflow.

First things first: I've had quite a long article on workflow—ironically labeled Workflow 101—on the site for some time, and late last week I worked on bringing most of it up to date with my latest thoughts and recommendations. If you haven't checked that article out, please do so. It's rich with information. I'm sure it will raise questions in your mind (again, I'll answer all the questions I get via email).

But that article won't answer the question of what your workflow should be. The article only deals with the things I do, and why. So let's tackle the subject from another angle.

Technically, workflow starts before we leave the house/office with our gear and extends all the way to the point where others see our image(s). This is one of the reasons why workflow is such a commonly requested topic, and why you'll see such a variety of ways of discussing it. 

  1. Workflow is a huge topic.
  2. There's not one "right" way to do it.

So let's break the topic down into more manageable pieces. Here are the pieces:

  • Gear Preparation (complete, see below)
  • Shooting (coming soon)
  • Ingesting (coming soon)
  • Processing (coming soon)
  • Presenting (coming soon)

Today I'll tackle the first, and every other day—I'm trying to also get through some tough sections of my upcoming D780 book this week—I'll tackle the next. 

Gear Preparation
You probably didn't expect this topic in a discussion of workflow, did you? There are also two sub-topics that come up, as well: Gear Transportation and Gear Storage (the latter happens after the shooting, obviously). 

I've long had short sections in my camera guides that step through the do-once, do-before-shoot, do-after types of situations that come up, but it's probably a good idea to work through that with a different slant here.

You have an upcoming shoot. Maybe it's just taking photos on a business trip, maybe it's a full out vacation—boy will we be happy when those return—maybe it's a shoot for a client's event, maybe it's a photo workshop, or (please say you do this) maybe it's just one of your periodic "practice" sessions, where you try to keep and improve your photographic skill sets.

Does it matter what type of shoot it is from a workflow standpoint? Yes and no. Most of you treat the more casual stuff, e.g. the vacation and pleasure shooting, well, casually. The minute your reputation (or money) is on the line, you'd better be approaching it more than casually, though. But I'd also say that when you approach things casually, you're going to get out into the field shooting and discover that you left something behind, so maybe casual isn't such a good idea. 

Consider the following checklist.

bythom checklist

This is a very simplified checklist, but reasonably sufficient for most of my shoots. 

As I plan for a shoot or a trip, I start filling in the checklist. As I pack, I go through each item, verify that it's in the gear I'm actually taking, and check it off (check boxes at the left). Sometimes at this point I realize that I left something off my planning checklist, and add it in.

Why the serial numbers? Basically for police reports, should I ever have to file one due to theft, fire, or some other unexpected catastrophe. Take your list with you on your trip (but not in your photo backpack!), and you'll know what was lost and be able to report it specifically. 

So your first workflow-related task to do while in self-isolation is this: build out a gear checklist. Not all the gear that you own (though that might be useful, too), but rather a checklist you'll reference every time you go out on a shoot to make sure you don't forget anything. If you're anal like me, that would include things like allen wrenches and hot shoe covers and much more. 

If one of you reading this want to tackle the do-all, be-all checklist (Excel form, please), by all means send me a copy and permission to post it on the site so others can see other examples and maybe use them.

There's more to just ticking off boxes on a checklist when you're getting ready for a shoot, though.

Here's a short list of other things you need to consider at the Gear Preparation stage:

  1. Is the image sensor clean? Inspect and clean it if necessary. This brings up another related topic: how did you store your camera? Best practice is face down. Second best practice is upright. Worse practice is on its back. Why? Because dust is dust. It will fall onto the image sensor if you store your camera on its back. It might attach via surface adhesion if the camera is stored upright. It probably won't attach to the sensor if the sensor is pointed down (camera face down). 
  2. Are your batteries charged? Nikon DSLRs are notorious for powering the viewfinder overlay while turned off. While this is a very slow drain, it means that in 30 days of storage, you likely have a dead battery. Most lithium batteries don't lose charge very fast or easily when not in a device, but I've still been surprised a few times when a battery I thought should have held charge didn't. So before you head out, make sure all batteries are topped off.
  3. Are your cards empty and properly formatted? If they're not empty, did you actually ingest all the images from them, or did you forget (because your post shooting workflow wasn't good)? The proper formatting is done in camera, not on your computer (it's a rare instance when you'd need to do low-level card formatting on your computer). And don't be swapping cards between cameras if you can help it. At a minimum, this proliferates folders in the DCIM folder. At worst, some camera makers deal with exFAT or FAT differently. 
  4. Is my camera bag clean? What?!?! Yes, this one is important. I drag my gear all over the planet, and my camera bags pick up a lot of dust, dirt, mud, pollen, you name it. If I don't start with a clean bag heading out, all I'm doing is making my camera gear dirty from day one, and I'll be fighting that each and every day on the trip, too. Basically, the cleaner you start, the easier it is to keep things clean. Remember, dust has this nasty way of finding ways into your gear. So a dusty, dirty bag is just asking for that to happen.
  5. Does my gear even work? Don't laugh, bad things happen, and they turn out to be really bad things when you brought something far from home only to find out it no longer works as expected. I try to give everything I'm taking on a trip/shoot a quick basic check to see that it's working as expected. This also sometimes leads me to discover that I left something set (like Exposure Delay) that I shouldn't have ;~). (Lest you think that gear doesn't "just die," consider this: water exposure sometimes doesn't seem to be an issue. Your gear got a little wet, you cleaned it off quickly. But if water got into the camera and got to the electronics, it will corrode and damage electronics eventually. But this is a whole 'nother topic for 'nother day.)
  6. Do I really know what gear I'll need? The paranoid among you deal with this by packing everything, and backups to everything, and even alternatives should things really come to a head. You should be a little paranoid, but you should channel that energy correctly at this stage of the workflow: think carefully through what you might encounter and what you might want to shoot. Consider what gear that would entail and see that it's on your checklist. If not, add it. (Yet another article for the future is a better planning article. Galen Rowell used to research the heck out of any location he was traveling to—and this was before the Internet made that easy—to the point of driving everyone crazy. I'd find him on a trip with a stack of copies of images that others had taken, and he wanted to try to find those and see what that photographer had to work with and whether he would have done something different. Plus he had the topo map for the area, too. He and I spent an entire day once trying to find all the places where images had been shot before a mudslide buried a town. I'm pretty anal, too. Those who've been on my workshops know that I've been providing very organized Lightroom keyword files for pretty much anyplace they'd step and anything they'd see. Well, other than plants. I don't do plants. Probably because they make me sneeze and I'm doing what I can to get back at them ;~) 
  7. Is there new firmware? Then update it. Not everyone agrees with this item. I'll make one exception: if you use a Nikon body and use third party lenses. That's it. Nikon has a way of tripping up the companies doing reverse engineering of the mount when firmware updates roll out. But for everyone else, I can't really think of a reason you wouldn't update your firmware to the current version. That's because there tends to be small fixes/changes that aren't documented in Nikon's camera firmware updates. And I personally want a product that has "all the fixes." 

Okay. You should be doing your Gear Prep workflow assignment now. Take your time. Do a complete job. Test your checklist against past trips. In a couple of days, we'll move to the next stage of workflow, so don't fall behind.


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