July 29, 2016

Post Production 1: Culling

There are multiple stages to post production, and while they are seldom carried out in isolation, I've decided to blog about each one separately, to provide some insight into my personal process, and how it's being applied to the 10,000 images created during the Ingrid portfolio project.

By far the most important step in the post production process is culling - the act of getting rid of surplus images, and identifying the images to be retained (the best ones, usually).

My first step upon returning to Canada was to copy all the images onto my desktop computer, and add them to my Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Work-in-Progress catalogue. Once this was completed (and while the catalogue was busy making 1:1 Previews and Smart Objects for all 10,000 images I created in Ireland) I made a Collection for each day of the project, added the images from each day to each collection, and then pressed the Sync with mobile box next to each collection. This added the daily folders to the Lightroom Mobile app on my iPad Pro, and created proxy files (Smart Objects) on the iPad Pro for each image...sadly, this is a slow process that took more than 48 hours to complete.
The outcome of this process, however, is quick and convenient access to all the images I made in Ireland on my iPad Pro, without having to be sitting in my office at my desktop computer, and without the significant time delay that working with the original RAW files introduces. Even on my high performance desktop, with 32gb of RAM, every time I click on a new 50mp image, there's a several second delay before the full resolution preview of the file is loaded...on the iPad Pro, I can flip between images as fast I wish, without lag.

With all the images on the iPad Pro, I began the process of separating the images into two piles - Picks and Rejects. On the first pass through the photos (and it takes some time to work through 10,154 images), I rejected junk - test exposures, obvious mistakes, botched compositions or seriously flawed poses. Without an careful reflection or time spent on minutia, this eliminated close to 300 images in a relatively short time.
 The next step was a little slower; again using the iPad Pro, I went through the images a little more carefully, and rejected any photographs with more subtle issues - bad expressions, subject motion or botched compositions. Again, this was a relatively quick process, and lead to another 800+ images being rejected. Already I had culled more than 10% of the project images, and I had yet to spend any time on individual images!
With the first two passes completed using the iPad Pro, the real work begins. This is done within Adobe Photoshop Lightroom on my desktop computer; after filtering out the rejects, I proceeded to continue culling - this time weeding down duplicate images to the single best image.

One of the reasons I made so many images over the two weeks of working with Ingrid was that I believe in taking advantage of technology; when working with a subject that doesn't move (like architecture), I tend to be very methodical in my approach - checking as much as possible (focus, composition etc) after making an image, before moving on. As a result, I seldom delete more than 30% of the images made under such conditions.

When working with a model, even in an ideal environment, the above approach is a little more challenging as it seriously slows down the process (just ask Steve Richard). When working in new and unfamiliar locations, checking each and every image after making it is even more of an impediment to a fluid workflow, so instead, I tend to make a handful of images at at time, using volume to provide a number of options for each composition.  When this approach is combined with low light (such as the images above, created in a dimly lit room in an abbey), I tend to make even more images. With standing poses it is challenging to stay still during a 1/6th of a second exposure, so to ensure I have something sharp, I make 9-exposures,  which usually ensures I have at least one without blur. Thus in the screen capture above, of 72 separate exposures, there are actually only 6 actual compositions being created...leading to 66 of 72 images being culled, and eventually deleted (in this specific example, almost 92% of the images are culled).
The easiest way to cull down the groups of images to the best one is using the Compare View in Lightroom; multiple images may be selected before entering the Compare View, but only two images are displayed at any time, with the view synced, so you can zoom in, and move around at 100% magnification, to check the focus, motion and other details, before culling an image. Even with 1:1 Previews made in advance, this can be a little slow, with a couple of second spent loading each image; still, after a couple of focused sessions working at culling down duplicates, I managed to eliminate close to 5,000 images, moving them into the Reject pile.
The other reason for the high image count is because of some of the advanced multi-image processing techniques I use; while I do fewer multi-image stitches now (with 50mp cameras there are few times I feel I need more resolution), I still use multi-image techniques to deal with high contrast subjects (what many photographers call HDR imaging, and what I refer to as Exposure Blending). I have several hundred source files for exposure blended images, with the average resulting image using 6 source files to make up the final photograph (thus 300 source images make up 50 final photographs).

After 10 days of working on the images from Ireland, I have 2 days of work fully culled and mostly edited, and a good dent made in the other days. I still have close to 4,000 images to work through, though I suspect close to 50% of them will end up in the reject pile.

Below are screen captures of the original catalogue numbers (left) and the numbers remaining after 14 days of culling images in the Work-in-Progress catalogue. Only the first two dates (June 25th and June 27th) are finished.

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