Every photographer has a unique way of doing things from planning via developing of images until some form of archiving. Everyone has habits and a general way around the basic principles of photography. Some may have rather simple workflow like casually shooting on vacations and than upload them to a computer, burn it to a CD or share them on Facebook. Others (like myself) may prefer extremely complicated and ritualistic approach to do essentially the same thing.
In this article I would like to share the basics of my photographic pipeline, hoping that some of you will get some good ideas by reading it or even better give me feedback of how to improve it. I have to emphasis that although my workflow is a result of a long evolution it is still way far from complete or being perfect, so feel free to write constructive comments. Also this writing is only a general overview of my methods, and in the case of interest I will extend this post into the entry point of related articles where I will explain each individual steps in more details.
I will try to show my most preferred and complicated workflow which is black and white film photography and I will derive the other pipelines such as color film and digital photography from the flowchart of it.
1. Taking photographs
This is the most obvious step. You have to push the button at some point to take a photograph. In my case this step is often proceeded by a stage of planning and preparation, while other times I just go for a walk and shoot spontaneously.
Of course all of my shoots about cameras and lenses are planned carefully, and for some others I had to get prepared mentally like the street portraits where I had to ask people to allow me to take a photograph.
At this stage there is no real difference between the different materials (film/sensor) although with film cameras I often need to measure light separately which makes the process slightly more complecated. For now let’s suppose I used black and white film.
2. Film development
As I was shooting film at the first stage I need to get it developed. In case of B&W films I always develop at home in the bathroom. I use the simplest development tank ever manufactured and I usually use commercial developer like Kodak D76 or Forte universal developer. Since film is not cheap and my photographs are very precious for me I don’t risk to ruin them because of some own receipt.
I always follow the descriptions when I mix the chemicals and I always take into account of what is written on the box of the film. It has to be said that I have got some really good books recently, so I am going to make my own chemicals for the sake of economical operation. It supposed to be cheaper if you buy the ingredients and re-create the factory composition of them.
I usually develop 2-4 rolls one night as the chemicals works better when they are fresh and also I can limit the time distribution of the mess in the bathroom. I don’t use stop bath, instead I wash the film before I fix it. In fact a light solution of vinegar and water can be used as stop bath, but so far I could live without it. I have got a life-stock of Agfa fixer from my uncle as he used to work at a company which tested pipe-weldinns with X-ray photography.
The whole process is not a big deal:
- Mix the chemicals and check temperatures
- Load the film in complete darkness into the tank (the rest of the process can be done even in daylight)
- Apply the developer and follow the instructions (moving the film periodically)
- Remove the developer and apply stop solution (or simply wash the film with water)
- Remove the stop solution and apply the fixer
- Remove the fixer and wash the negative
- Hang the negative and make sure there are no water drops remained on the surface
- Let it dry
In the case I shoot color negative I give it to the local lab to develop it for me. In fact the C41 process is not much more complicated than the B&W so it can be carried out at home as well, but for now it is enough to work with and store only a restricted sort of chemicals in my home.
I always scan my negatives by my own, because this is the fastest, cheapest and easiest way to get them visible. This allows me to investigate which photos are good enough for prints and also I really like to process my film photographs digitally. Many things can be corrected in the darkroom during enlarging, but that needs a lot of experience which I lack. So it is often easier and more convenient to me to process images digitally at the first place. I would like to merge the best of the digital and analog word of photography and get the most out of both. Of course, I try to get the most out of my photographs at shooting time, but sometimes post processing is inevitable as often you want to achieve something beyond the original scene.
I have an ancient Canonscan 9900F flat-bed scanner, which works only with legacy operation system (32bit windows XP) therefore I must use a virtual machine on my computer to be able to scan. The bright side is that this scanner is capable to scan 35mm, medium format, framed dia and 5×4 inch large size films which is really cool as I frequently shoot medium format film as well.
Scanning is also a form of art as many times you have to overwrite the default settings of the software, or make tricky things like scan negative film as slide and reverse it in Photoshop in order to achieve the best results. It is because just like any automatic exposure device the scanner tries to get a balanced average exposure and sometimes your intention was different.
Of course a professional scanner is capable to produce the best results, but that could be pricey too. For me this solution is good enough keeping the balance between expenses and quality, although this is a very time consuming process. Usually a scanning session of 2-3 rolls burns up a complete afternoon especially if I scan color film.
4. Archiving the film
Right after the scanning process I always put my film slides into appropriate paper made film holder pages. One page can accept 1 roll of film and it is available for both Leica size and medium format film. In case of Leica size 35mm film, I have the roll cut into 6 frames pieces already (because the scanning) and this is the suitable format for the film holder sheets too. I can write notes to each page (EXIF and GPS data in a meaningful way) and I can put the sheets into a holder, so I can turn pages just like it were a big book of negatives.
These holder sheets are available in many variations using different materials such as transparent or matte plastic but I prefer paper as it is the most natural and also the cheapest material. This way all my films are archived physically, tagged and labelled and if the book is stored properly it can last literally forever.
5. Digital image processing
The next step is to review the photographs on the computer and sort them out in sense that I delete those which are surely mistaken ones. The pipeline splits at this point according to the operation system I use. Most of the time I am a Windows user but also I am passionate fun of open source, so I am trying to develop a nice Linux workflow in parallel. Unfortunately Linux is handicapped in many ways when it comes to (professional) image processing, but I am sure it will mature up soon. For every day image-processing for web consumption Linux tools are just fine.
This time I overview my Windows habits and I mention some worth to look at Linux software and if there will be a need I may go into the topic deeper in a separate post.
I keep my photos in a Lightroom catalog and I use this software for most editing tasks too. Lightroom is just brilliant in many ways. It helps you being organized if you use the tools properly so you will be able to find things in your catalog. In addition you can do most of your photo editing at the same place in a non-destructive way. So you can roll back any changes at any time if you were changed your mind.
In fact Lightroom is nothing revolutionary, it is simply a combination of existing tools fine-tuned for support photography. For example you can find tone-curve tool in barely any image editing software, but Lightroom gives you sliders to manipulate it on a higher abstraction level. You can adjust shadow, dark, light and highlights areas using the sliders while you actually playing with the curve tool which is traditionally hard to use otherwise.
All in all, you can do pretty much the same with other software in composition (F-Spot, Rawstudio and Gimp on Linux) but Lightroom and similar workflow applications are making this process a lot more compact and easier.
Photoshop and Gimp
Even though Lightroom solves most of my problems, sometimes I need to do editing beyond it’s capabilities or worst I have no idea how to do these actions in LR. In such cases I use either Photoshop or Gimp. Most of the time I use these software for inverting images (negative to positive) and for retouching badly damaged parts of old negatives.
When I use Linux I do everything in Gimp what I used to do in Lightroom in terms of editing since Gimp is the most powerful free editing application on Linux. On the other hand most of the times I don’t do much with my photos.
- Tone adjustment
- White-balance adjustments
- B&W conversion
- Spot and dust removal
Another great thing in Lightroom is that it allows you to copy your changes and apply them on other images even in a batch. This can be very useful for many who needs to deal loads of images. Since I don’t shoot great quantities, the individual editing is also acceptable.
Even though I do it very rarely, I do have the full amateur labor equipment for enlarging black and white negatives both 35mm and medium size format.
I have no big experience and I have no much time nor room to do enlargements, yet for me it is the real magic. When you see the final picture appearing and evolving in the bath, that is truly a touching experience.
Now I am planning to start again to play with enlargements and make nice prints up to A4 size, so you can expect posts about this experience as well.
7. Archiving physical prints(enlargements)
So far I have a couple of envelops where I keep my self-made prints (mostly experimental). As soon as I will make bigger ones I will probably buy some frames and hang them on the wall. Maybe I will get some kind of photo album as well.
8. Archiving digital files
For me the biggest problem is to keep my digital files secure and organized. Honestly this is not really solved and I am struggling to find the best option.
Until now I wrote everything to DVD-s. While these disks are doing their jobs of freeing my hard drive, they are very vulnerable and extremely hard to keep track of their content. Therefore I have many things duplicated and I have a complete mess in my head of which album is located on which disk.
I had an idea to store all my images on Flickr a couple of years ago since they give you unlimited storage if you go for the pro account. This way, you can have everything on the same place, you can avoid duplicates better, you can search and share more easily and last but not least the storage is not your problem anymore.
BUT, it is slow to browse, you cannot upload raw files and since you have no control over the storage, you cannot do anything if they mix up something which is very unlikely, but it did happen in the past.
I also have other services in use such as Dropbox and Google Drive to store images, but the capacity of these are not big enough (free account) at the time of writing for me.
External hard drives
I think the best option could be an external hard-drive for me, where I could store even my Lightroom catalog. I would go for a mirrored solution where each file is duplicated to a secondary disk as well. In case of disk 1 dies disk 2 still keeps your records.
The only trouble is that the price of these solutions are not the best nowadays, but eventually I will probably go to this direction.
9. Online publishing
While this step is not necessarily belongs to the photographic workflow, I would like to mention it, because on one hand many photos are taken for the blog as (in my opinion) it is important to communicate and share my work and on the other hand it is another way to archive.
I use Flickr, and Dropbox as primary online storage facilities and I link the images from there into my blog. I also use Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr to promote.
If you have comments to this post because you have found a mistake, have different opinion, suggestion or want to read more about this topic or any sub topics, please leave a comment. If you were interested in more details in any steps, I could write a post about them separately like how is the development, enlarging or Lightroom editing look like for me.
The icons I used came partially from Token Dark icon-set by EVAN BROOKS, while the rest (enlarger, camera, tank) was created by me.