A small change in workflow…

H51-B0021192 copy _8B40361 copy

H51-B0021289 copy H51-B0021201 copy

…can yield surprisingly major results. Think of this post as something of a continuation of the previous On Assignment; the reasons why will become apparent shortly. Over the last year or so – I think coinciding with switching to Hasselblad – my shooting/curating workflow has become quite different, and I think the shift in my output has as much to do with the change in process as hardware. In some ways, the change is due to hardware limitations – but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What I’ve always done in the past is some level of during-shoot curation; both for technical qualities (exposure, sharpness etc.) and aesthetic/ creative ones. During personal or teaching outings, I’d be much more disciplined and ruthless in throwing away what I’d consider marginal images; for client work, somewhat more relaxed – keeping doubles and variations just in case (which has proven fortuitous in the past).

What the Hasselblad changed was that review and checking critical sharpness was not quite instant; and the H5D-generation of LCD panels left quite a lot to be desired compared to say the Nikons, Olympus’s and late-Leicas. You simply couldn’t use them for anything more than confirming a) an image had been taken; b) some overall gross composition features; c) checking exposure by histogram. In no way is the preview image representative of the information contained; I learned very quickly that the only way to really assess one of those images was with a proper monitor.

Though the H5D (and later generations) do wireless tethering to an iPhone or iPad and enable viewing of full resolution RAW images, it’s just slow and not really practical outside a studio environment. Certainly not if you’re working solo in the field and have to work quickly. A lot of images I thought worked at the time of capture simply didn’t afterwards; there was a bit too much transparency and not enough ambiguity to let the idea dominate (usually, more abstract or graphic images). Conversely, there were also a lot of images that worked which I wasn’t sure about in the field, but for the same reasons: that extra layer of transparency or bit extra in dynamic range just made the reproduction close enough to reality to be convincing. Ergo: no more field curation, at the risk of losing otherwise good images in favour of perhaps not so good ones.

Between the hardware change and a shift in balance of shooting towards more client work, I seem to have organically shifted towards a no-deletion policy; I shoot, and still check exposure with the grip histogram (or LCD RGB and sharpness at focus point for critical images) – but I no longer delete in camera unless they’re really obvious misses (focus, exposure, accidental triggering/ bad timing). Restated simply: the creative curation part has now been completely separated from shooting, allowing less gap between observation periods and a lower chance of missing something. You’re no longer thinking about the previous shot and instead focused on the next one. It isn’t quite the same as what you do when you’re starting out or using a new/unfamiliar piece of hardware; in those situations, we keep everything because we’re simply not confident enough to assess in-camera. And you’re still probably spending quite a bit of time and concentration examining the screen to try to determine if something is at all amiss.

What I wasn’t expecting is that despite the H files being significantly larger than the Nikons, I’ve actually got less total data volume to go through, even though I’m curating in camera with the Nikons. It’s probably a direct side benefit of concentrating more on the next shot: less reactiveness, more anticipation, and fewer ‘safety’ shots – and no more burst gunning; there simply is no point with. Medium format cameras are really only single-shot devices, and that forces you to choose the moment of release well. End result: the whole editing process (curation, processing and final re-curation) is now much faster, despite having larger, higher quality files. And on top of that, I think the creative output is better.

Why? Because it’s not just the during-capture priorities and mindset that’s changed for me; nor is it solely because I have to concentrate on making the one shot work. Rather it’s because there’s an enforced separation between capture and curation. I’m no longer trying to assess an image immediately after capture relative to the rest of the set that I’d also just shot – I’m both focusing 100% on the next image, and also clearing my mind to ‘forget’ the image before looking at it again to assess.

There’s also one more extremely stupid behaviour I’m surprised I hadn’t realised (and nobody called me out on): firstly, it make no sense to attempt to assess an image relative to the images you’ve just shot, because you’re not going to be objective about any of them. But secondly, and more importantly, you’re also effectively trying to assess the image you just shot against the future images you’re going to shoot in the same set or job – this is clearly impossible to do until the set is complete. Furthermore, you never know which of the individually perhaps not so strong images become valuable, and even necessary, once a set is viewed in totality. So, on top of objectivity, we also gain relativity – and the ability to sequence. The only thing is it still remains necessary to periodically ‘view the take’ so that you know which images are missing from the storyline.

The reason I’ve singled out the four images above from yesterday’s post is because this set didn’t make my first pass curation, immediately after the shoot. But in hindsight, and several days later, I put them back in the final set because I felt two of them (the orange geometric ones) covered interpretations of the subject that were more abstract and unusual – and not covered elsewhere. The lobby interior with the sofa foreground proved to be much more interesting than the more standard angle including floor, or the perspective corrected angle from the floor (but with less floor). Finally, the ‘cloud hat’ is a nice interaction with the environment: tall, somewhat abstract, but with the cloud raised over the peak, still suggestive of a strong building that affects its surroundings. MT

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