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My complete workflow

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The question of how to manipulate and store all the data acquired in a shoot is an extremely important one. There is a large number of steps involved in downloading, cataloging, processing and backing up the images, most of them rather repetitive. It really pays off to be disciplined and careful about the whole process, as you will ultimately gain time, will be able more easily to retrieve the good images from any session and will ensure that no image can be irretrievably lost.

Workflows are very personal and I doubt two photographers use the exact same process. They are also constantly evolving, as software or hardware gets upgraded and as new ideas are discovered, tested and eventually discarded or retained. So for some inspiration, here is my personal workflow, from start to finish, in the middle of 2010:

  • I shoot with my D90 on 4GB SD cards (less capacity means less exposure to disastrous hardware failure). As soon as the card is full – or the shoot is over, I download all the images on my main portable hard drive, the 250GB Hyperdrive Colorspace UDMA, with all the safechecks activated.
  • If this is only a dayshoot and I know that I will go back to a computer before the 12GB total capacity in cards is completely filled, then I simply store the card in the camera bag and switch to a new one. If I forecast needing to use the card again, I will download it first to a secondary hard drive, an older 160GB Hyperdrive Space. This way, I always have two copies of my images at all time, one on the main drive and one on either the card or the secondary drive.
  • As soon as I get home, I plug the main drive and use Adobe Lightroom to import all the photos, choosing the option to copy the files to my main external 1To drive. At this stage, I have three copies and can afford to format the memory cards. I only use minimal keywording for location, relying instead on dates to find old images.
  • When the import is finished and all the previews are generated, I go through all the files quickly in full screen mode. I use only three labels at that point: red (6), yellow (7) and reject (X).

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  • Rejects is for the obvious garbage only: out of focus, grossly over or underexposed, face hidden by a telephone pole, blinking eyes, etc. The only exception is for high-speed bursts of extremely similar photos, of which I only keep one or two copies. The percentage of rejects varies a lot, but it is usually pretty low for landscape and street work, and much higher whenever action is involved.
  • The red label is for the best pictures which will demand my attention and need to be processed quickly. I try to limit how many red labels I apply, usually 5% or less on an average. Whenever several versions of a same scene seem about as good, I don’t try and make the final decision of which is the best one right away and tag them all with red.
  • The yellow label is for photos which show some potential but don’t have as much impact as the red ones. I will often dig into yellow images once I’ve exhausted the red ones. They can represent 30 to 50% of a shoot.
  • Finally, unlabeled images are just that: they are being spared the garbage bin but they show little potential and only when I grow quite desperate of finding an image will I go through them again.
  • Once I am done with this initial pass, I will delete all the rejects (CTRL+Backspace) and, if needed, export high resolution jpgs of the red and yellow images to email to people who were with me on the day of the shoot.
  • A few hours to a few weeks later, I will then revisit the catalog looking for an image to process. I usually decide on a day first, then activate the red filter or, if not enough is left, the yellow one. I will quickly review the different choices in fullscreen mode, then make my choice and go to the develop module.
  • I always use the same sequence for processing inside lightroom: crop (if needed), select a camera profile, set white balance, set exposure, set vibrance, set clarity and finally fine tune colors and brightness if needed. At this point, I am either done with the image or I need to do some more work (localized adjustments, black and white conversion, etc), in which case I open the image in Photoshop.
  • I work non-destructively in photoshop, never touching the background layer and using adjustment layers as much as possible. One I am done, I save the final .psd file and use an action to export a low-resolution jpg file (the steps of the action are: duplicate the image, flatten the layer, convert to 8bit mode, convert to sRGB colorspace, resize to 900×750, apply smart sharpening and finally save as jpg).

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  • Back in Lightroom, I now have a new .psd file stacked with the original .nef one. I put a blue (9) label on the original, meaning that it should be stored in the database but is not to be used for any other purpose than redoing the processing from scratch.
  • I then put a green (8) label on the final image, either a .nef or a .psd depending on whether it received additional photoshop work and, if needed, export it as a low-resolution jpg for web use.
  • Finally, every few months when I go abroad to visit either my family or a good friend of mine, I sync my external drive with their copy of my complete catalog, thus ensuring I have an off-site backup, if slightly out of date.

I do not doubt that there are many points that could be made more efficient, but this process is relatively simple, redundant and allows me to find the photos I am looking for fairly quickly. Don’t hesitate to comment and give me feedback, though!

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Blog

“Remote Exposure: A guide to Hiking and Climbing Photography”, status update

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You might remember that last December, I announced I had gotten a publishing contract with Rocky Nook for a book on hiking and climbing photography. Well, I haven’t been idle since then, but I realized I haven’t talked much about it. So here’s an update on where things are.

  • As you can see at the top of this blog entry, a title has been agreed on, and a cover designed. I really like the wordplay in the title, and the gorgeous design makes me very hopeful that RE (as I’ve nicknamed it) will double as a coffee table book.
  • The first draft of the entire text is more or less finished. It is just missing a couple of small sections on safety and a proper introduction. This was the hardest for me, and I can now start the much more enjoyable process of editing and rewriting. This would be akin to postprocessing a photo, I guess, and that’s where the magic happens, turning something good into something really beautiful.
  • I already have all the photos I need, but since the deadline is September 1st, I am hoping to bring a few more from some Alpine trips this summer. It was a good thing I did so much climbing during the spring, as I was a bit lacking in rock climbing images.

So what about the content itself? Here’s a small rundown of each chapter:

  • Introduction: A foreword by Cory Richards followed by a small motivation of the book and a discussion of who it is designed for.
  • Gear choices: It is hard to take photographs if you don’t have enough equipment, but hard to climb if you have too much… This chapter discusses cameras, lenses, bags, batteries, filters and the rest.
  • Shooting: All the considerations revolving around the shoot itself, including how to care for your gear, when to take pictures and how to properly expose in the mountains.
  • Creating a compelling image: Knowing how to operate your camera is only the easy part, finding out what to shoot is much harder. Vision, composition, quantity vs quality, storytelling and practical tips are all discussed.
  • Discipline specific: hiking, camping, rock climbing and mountaineering all have different requirements, discussed separately here.
  • Advanced techniques: Night photography, HDR, panorama stitching and Video are all advanced topics briefly touched upon here.
  • Closing thoughts: A few more pages on ethics, photomanipulations, safety and environmental considerations.

Publication is scheduled for March 2011, and I can’t wait!

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Blog

Be ever ready

There is one message I keep repeating more than any other when asked how to create good photography: the most important thing is to always have a camera ready, no matter how inconvenient it may be to stop and take a picture, as you can never know when the next great photo opportunity will appear. But rather than just repeat this somewhat abstract piece of advice, let me give you a concrete example with my last trip.

Last weekend (that would be around June 18th), I was in Chamonix to do some alpine climbing with James Monypenny. We had hoped to try the Frendo spur on the north face of Aiguille du Midi, but recent snowfall and poor weather forecasts changed our plans, and we headed up to the cablecar station and did the relatively short (120m) Rebuffat route on the Éperon des Cosmiques, finishing on the Arête des Cosmiques, my very first alpine route two years ago. We then slept in the station and were hoping to try a rock route on the south face of the Pointe Lachenal on the next day, but wet snow fell all night and the weather was terrible, so I finally decided to descend and go visit my family in Lyon instead, as the hopes of getting any proper climbing done during the rest of the weekend were almost nonexistent. Before leaving, just for fun, we climbed from the Cosmiques platform to the top of the station on the central pillar, thus bypassing the 3€ fee for the lift, a short mixed climb equipped as a via ferrata (though we tried to avoid cheating too much) in full Scottish condition.

All in all, I stayed 24h at altitude and took about 150 photos, all of them with my new 16-35 f/4 (I had brought the 70-300 but ended up not taking it out of its bag at all). Though I haven’t processed them all yet, I already know I have four great images and a few more good ones. Let’s take a look at when and how they were taken:

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  • The first one I expected: we had just topped out of the rock route on the Eperon des Cosmiques, I was belaying James after leading the pitch, so I had free hands (with my Reverso used in autoblock) and I could show his face instead of his butt. The weather was good but still interesting with a few clouds and the composition shows both our climb and a more distant snow covered Mont Blanc du Tacul. Finally, James is in a good position, just before the belay ledge and with obvious verticality below him. I was expecting a good photo opportunity since the moment I set up my belay and wasn’t disappointed. This was an easy one.

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  • As we proceeded on the mixed climb of Arête des Cosmiques, the weather took a definite turn for the worse, it started snowing and visibility dropped dramatically. Moreover, we were alone on the ridge, so things appeared rather hopeless for photography. But since it wasn’t snowing too heavily, I knew my camera would be safe in its bag without the rain cover, and I kept it with me, just in case. I did well: as we finally reached the last section, and while James was leading away, I heard voices behind me and had the good surprise to see two Japanese climbers belaying a few meters back. The weather was worse than ever, but it actually made things a lot more interesting, since one of the huge gendarmes (giant granite pillars in the middle of the ridge) barely showed through the fog in the background. I just had time to take a few shots of the other climbers in this special atmosphere before James called for me to follow. Had I stowed my camera in my backpack, I would never have had the time to capture any of this.

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  • On the next day, for our joke climb to the central pillar, we took no backpacks and no gear beside a couple of quickdraws and slings, since we weren’t planning on taking more than 20 minutes and could retreat from any point on the short climb. The conditions when we departed were awful: it was still snowing, we had a good 10cm of very wet and sticky snow from the last night, and visibility was barely a dozen meters. Since we were going light and the weather hadn’t given any sign of changing since morning, I very nearly didn’t take my camera at all. And yet, as soon as we left, the snow stopped and the sky (sort of) cleared. It allowed me to take the third good image, of James climbing ahead, with a bright red jacket in a black and white landscape gorgeously lit.

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  • Finally, the fourth image, or rather fourth series, was the view from the top platform. We were just above the lower layer of clouds, but still had overcast skies which gave a very special post-storm light on the snow plastered mountains all around us. Combined with the clouds, this gave one of the most beautiful mountain views I have ever witnessed, and a very different one from what I was used to seeing from the cablecar station. Taking pictures here was like shooting fish in a barrel, but I wouldn’t have been able to get any of this if my camera had stayed in my bag, several floors below.

That’s the final score: out of four images, three would never have existed had I not decided to keep my camera ready despite the odds. And furthermore, at least two of those are more unique and original than usual. Conditions may be more forgiving in less extreme endeavors, but it makes no doubt that having a camera ready at all time is one of the surest ways to bring home good and original photographs!

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(Yet another) photography blog is born!

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This will be a short entry, but it would be a shame to have this shiny new blog start completely empty… Anyway, I have been working behind the scenes for the past couple of days to bring you something I have been wanting to create for a while now: a blog! You might object that it would have taken me a couple of seconds to create one on blogspot or wordpress (and you would be completely right), but I was aiming for a nice design and complete integration with the rest of the site, which necessitated some advanced dotclear wizardry. Obviously, some problems are going to remain, so please do let me know if you find anything out of place, broken or even simply badly designed. This might be a perfect opportunity to try the beautiful new comment system :)

Anyway, I will use this blog to talk about (surprise…) photography, and especially in the context of climbing and big mountains, but not only. I’ll see how successful and time-consuming this ends up being, but I’ll do my best to post several times a week. Obviously, any feedback will be invaluable!

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News

Summer discount on prints!

Despite what England may look like at the moment, summer has almost arrived, which for me will mean serious alpine climbing (and of course, photography).

To celebrate, I am offering a 50% discount on all prints ordered from this website before July 15th! All the details are on the Fine Art Prints page, and don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, of course.

In other news, there are three new images from last weekend climbing trip in the Peak district, now in the rock climbing gallery, my image “Climbing Frog” won the first prize in the photocompetition organized by Reportages Photo on “Ecology”, and all three of my entries were awarded bronze awards in the Epson international panorama awards.

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Revamped galleries

It was time for some spring cleaning in the galleries… They have now been reorganised to show a clearer focus in image mountains, with Climbers split in Mountaineering and Rock Climbing, while Urban and People get merged into a single Other category. A new gallery for less extreme endeavours, Hiking, also makes an appearance.

This also means lots of new images (and some old ones gone, of course), so go check the new galleries out!

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