Long Odds – Photography by the Numbers

A mountain of imagery to edit

I knew going in that the Tour for Kika project was going to generate a lot of images. For the past ten days I've been working my way through the shoot, discovering some surprises I missed in my machine gun nightly edits and pushing the limits of my software and hardware, not to mention my eyesight.

Twenty four days of shooting in the Netherlands, Belgium and France netted 23,344 RAW images that consumed about 650 GB of disk space. My MacBook Pro's 500 GB internal drive wasn't large enough and I needed redundancy, so I took two 500 GB external G Drives and a 1 TB notebook drive along for nightly backups. My basic workflow was to copy images from my cards to the first of the 500 GB G Drives (till it was full) and make a second copy on the 1TB drive. With two copies of the images safely on disk, I'd catalog the images in Adobe Lightroom, make a quick selection and export web resolution comps for the Kika site. Provided our hotel had an internet connection I'd upload those images to drop.io, a service which hosts my client files and which I prefer over ftp. With that done, I'd clear the cards, turn out the lights and get a few hours of sleep before doing it all again the next day.

Daily totals ranged from a low of 600 images to a high of 1200. I like to think I shoot with some discretion and look for the decisive moment but when it comes to action the 1D MKIV's frame rate (10 fps), even when exercised in short bursts, really adds up

There was no time to make final editing decisions on the road. Post and pre-stage transfers made sure of that. So with the entire shoot and Lightroom catalog safely transferred to my home desktop it's been interesting to see a consistent pattern of keepers and selects emerge. I've dedicated an external eSATA drive to the collection ($120 for a 2TB drive and $45 for the enclosure) but to avoid archiving thousands of superfluous images and their alternatives I decided to do one comprehensive edit.

Using 1000 as a daily average, I've consistently kept 250 and deleted 750; one out of four. Many of the images discarded are from high-speed sequences, and there's little point in saving eight frames of a particular rider or grouping when one or two will do. Regardless of whether they are sharp or not, I keep only the best. Within the 250 keepers, only half (125) are given a star rating; meaning my selects are one out of eight or 12.5%.

Next week I'll begin layout of the Kika book, which at approximately 100 pages, will accommodate at most 200 of the 3000 selects distilled from all stages. Long odds indeed, less than 1% (.6% to be exact) will make that cut.

And the refinement doesn't stop there. As it stands there are perhaps two or three standout images for me. The best of the best, two or three frames out of 23,344. These are the images that inspire me to shoot and improve. Ultimately these rare images are my personal measure of my work.

Workflow Update

Sean asked about my Lightroom workflow. I've included a basic overview below.

On import I apply my basic meta data template (copyright etc) and a preset with minimal sharpening, noise reduction and clarity. This time I decided to get a lot more disciplined about deleting images, in the past I merely concerned myself with rating the images I liked, but now that I’m shooting all the time I can’t necessarily afford to archive thousands of rejects. More important than the wasted archive space, is the noise factor when it comes to searching for images later.

So I move through the shoot hitting X on the keyboard to flag (reject) the ones I’ll throw away, and rating the selects (one or two stars). During that process I try to stay in Develop mode, only moving to the Library to add keywords on the rated images. I don’t like Lightroom’s quick edit panel at all, so unfortunately I can’t do both steps in one mode. Lightroom really needs to lose that quick edit panel or give us the option of using the one with sliders from Develop. Scott Kelby had a post about features he’d like to see in v4.0 and that one was on the list.

Rating the images and choosing which ones to reject often involve applying a development preset, tweaking those settings then applying that treatment to each subsequent image or batch applying it via the sync button. I make use of keyboard shortcuts to copy/paste the current setting to the keyboard (shift + C / shift + v) or apply the setting from the previous image (control + alt + v). This “styled” evaluation of many images consumes a lot of time. Given the changes in body position and bike angle on almost every shot it’s not always easy to pick a clear winner without that extra work.

When I’ve processed all the images in a folder, I go to the Library and find all the rejects and delete them. Next step is to update all the meta data to the sidecar XMP files. I have turned off the preference to auto save this data, and make it a manual step at this juncture. Cmd + S. I may look at moving to the DNG format to avoid the extra XMP files floating around, but both solutions are preferable to having that valuable data reside exclusively inside the Lightroom catalog file.

13 Responses to Long Odds – Photography by the Numbers

  1. Josh says:

    Can’t wait to see your top 2,3 frames!

  2. BR says:

    I need a nap after reading this. Looking forward to the book.

  3. Sean O'Brien says:

    What’s your workflow for each image? How much post-processing, cropping, color correction, etc. do you do one each image? Do you have several go-to presets?

    • Hi Sean,

      Here’s a very brief overview, at some point I may post something longer on the blog, but workflow still seems to be a moving target that I’m always tweaking. On import I apply my basic meta data template (copyright etc) and a preset with minimal sharpening, noise reduction and clarity. This time I decided to get a lot more disciplined about deleting images, in the past I merely concerned myself with rating the images I liked, but now that I’m shooting all the time I can’t necessarily afford to archive thousands of rejects. More important than the wasted archive space, is the noise factor when it comes to searching for images later.

      So I move through the shoot hitting X on the keyboard to flag (reject) the ones I’ll throw away, and rating the selects (one or two stars). During that process I try to stay in Develop mode, only moving to the Library to add keywords on the rated images. I don’t like Lightroom’s quick edit panel at all, so unfortunately I can’t do both steps in one mode. Lightroom really needs to lose that quick edit panel or give us the option of using the one with sliders from Develop. Scott Kelby had a post about features he’d like to see in v4.0 and that one was on the list.

      Rating the images and choosing which ones to reject often involve applying a development preset, tweaking those settings then applying that treatment to each subsequent image or batch applying it via the sync button. I make use of keyboard shortcuts to copy/paste the current setting to the keyboard (shift + C / shift + v) or apply the setting from the previous image (control + alt + v). This “styled” evaluation of many images consumes a lot of time. Given the changes in body position and bike angle on almost every shot it’s not always easy to pick a clear winner without that extra work.

      When I’ve processed all the images in a folder, I go to the Library and find all the rejects and delete them. Next step is to update all the meta data to the sidecar XMP files. I have turned off the preference to auto save this data, and make it a manual step at this juncture. Cmd + S. I may look at moving to the DNG format to avoid the extra XMP files floating around, but both solutions are preferable to having that valuable data reside exclusively inside the Lightroom catalog file.

      • Sean O'Brien says:

        Michael,

        Good stuff. Thanks!

        Of course, you’ve just exposed the very tip of the iceberg, but your info is very helpful. Suffice to say I’d love to look over your shoulder as you work through your two-star stack. Lots of inspiration here — as usual. Thanks again.

  4. Tim says:

    Big Mike,

    Just got back from holidays, I’ve now officially visited every part of the french republic! Had a wonderful time with Anne.

    Seems like you’re still working hard. As an eyewitness and instigator of your nightly sessions, I apologize and pay my respects. Your work is wonderful and I know it doesn’t come easily. Perhaps that are the properties of a true artist’s life.

    With that said, I thank you for all the work you’ve put into this untill now. I’m really to see the gems you’ve dug out of the french soil!

    • Hope you had great time Tim… we all needed a little break to recover. It’s just about midnight and I’m still working on the images. If you can believe it, I’m only half way through the comprehensive edit. It’s going to take just about as long to edit as to shoot. Amazing. And then there’s the book layout. I’m really pushing to have the book done before I hit the road with Specialized on the 15th, but it’s going to be tight.

      ::M

  5. Gavin says:

    I’ve been using Lightroom since v.1, it’s an amazing program, especially when you get everything set up to streamline the process.
    I have an import preset set up for each of my different cameras [5D, 5dII, 1DIII, S90, iPhone] that usually gets me pretty close to the ‘final’ image right off the bat, and I put in general keywords and of course copyright info at import as well. Everything that I do except for the iPhone is shot RAW, so those I have turned to DNG at the import stage also, saves me that step later and removes the possibility that I’ll forget to save the metadata to the files before backing up or closing out Lightroom.
    Once everything is in, it’s reject/1/2-star rating time. I don’t really delete much, except the really bad out of focus or otherwise totally useless stuff. I then back up the DNG files to 2 external 1TB drives, and once a week back up the catalog to those drives.
    My main drive on my iMac is only a 320GB drive, so it seems to fill up pretty quick and I remove older files from it as necessary, working from the backup drives if needed – usually only have 2-3 months of recent past files on the machine.
    There’s always a new tweak to the workflow.

    Cheers!

    • Nice music photography Gavin, really captures the performance energy of the bands.

      The workflow is a moving target isn’t it. I think I’ll follow your example and move to DNG in 2011. I was actually using the format a couple of years ago and for whatever reason stopped doing it. Interesting how you go with 1/2 stars, I’m totally with you on that. One star is a select, two stars is a “best” image.

      Wonder if you make any use of the quick develop panel in the Library module. Per Scott Kelby’s wish list for Lightroom 4, I’m with him on that panel… I never use it. Instead I’d really like to be able to peel off those panels and set up a custom work space combining the best of Library and Develop. It’s really annoying not to have full develop control along with meta tagging in one mode. I don’t know about you but many of my rating decisions are processing dependent. I may work several alternatives and then decide which one to star. I hate having to switch back to Library to keyword the keepers.

      • Gavin says:

        Thanks!
        Dead right on the quick develop, waste of space. Custom workspaces would be great.
        Similar to your process, I often do alternate versions; a color and a b&w, sometimes a different color treatment like a cross-processed film look. Really enjoy doing b&w versions with slight tones to the shadows and highlights, plus the grain control that came in LR3 is nice for that as well.
        Kelby’s books and website are great, as are Martin Evening’s Lightroom books.

        I’m hoping to do some video really soon, lots more to learn there…
        Should be fun!

  6. Elke says:

    Hi Michael,

    I am looking forward to the TfK book. How are you? I can imagine that is very difficult to select the pictures from all those beautiful pictures. I could not do it. Where do you start?

    Elke

    • Hi Elke,

      I’m well thank you. The editing is taking longer than I thought with so many alternatives from almost every location. Sometimes the best photo is obvious, other times I’m trying to anticipate the overall balance of the book and I always want to keep the best photos of all the riders for the web galleries (and potentially individual prints). It’s a big challenge but I’m enjoying it.

      This task is like eating your vegetables when you’re a kid. The book layout will be dessert. Hope everyone is happy and still enjoying the glow from Paris.

      ::M

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