Having a solid base for knowing how to judge where we are and for where we are going is critical not only to reach our destiny successfully, but also to do it efficiently. In this article I intend to help you lay the foundations for a better and faster workflow, improving the decisions you make and consequently in the way you work. I will not address retouching in particular as this is a subject requiring a separate article. I’ll just suggest 7 practical tips covering the different stages of the creative process and its execution.
01. Know your art
It may seems basic but the truth is that we do not always have the knowledge that should be present when we begin to define ourselves as artists. It’s also true that sometimes we go on our own path but for the most part there is already an artistic, historical and cultural route that can help us build our own style. Even when we want to be different from the rest, to know the work of those who have been before us and of those who are our contemporaries can only be seen as a good thing. Let me give two examples. I like particularly of Rembrandt’s lighting and it’s something I use a few times in my portrait work. Knowing the techniques behind this style not only facilitates my work but also makes it more fluid and creative. I also like black and white photography so I believe I should know some of the greatest masters of this art or know what the Zone System is. It’s impossible to know everything but this basic knowledge can help a lot in making the right decisions to achieve things faster.
02. Know your tools
This is another aspect that may seem essential but is often neglected. Back in the 90’s when I started taking the first steps in image editing I heard the opinion of a “teacher” saying it was impossible to know and use all the features of Photoshop. He was right because each artist has his own needs and uses his tools in a particular way. In the case of Photoshop you also have lots of features to satisfy the needs of different artists, so each one uses it differently. So you can say that multiple paths can lead to the same result. However, when I choose Capture One as my RAW editor, I’d better learn how it works and how I can get the most out of it in my work context. Knowing our tools also allows us to shape them to the way we work, which also makes us more efficient.
03. Choose the right tools
Not always we have the opportunity to have the tools we would like. But when that’s possible we must choose them properly. This principle applies to both photographic equipment and accessories as well as to the software we use (in the context of this blog). Regarding the equipment, this is a delicate subject because of the amount of tools we can find, the difference between photographers and personal styles and also by the diversity of jobs and their own requirements. While suggestions may be given, it is up to each one to assess which tools suit them best. In terms of software nowadays we can test almost everyone before choosing what is best for us. Features, ways of working and results are conditions to take into account. Finally, I want to share a personal example regarding this topic. One of the tools that influenced my work in recent years was/is a Wacom tablet. For some time it was part of my list of priorities, I knew well the impact it could have on my workflow, but for various reasons I was delaying the acquisition of it. Today I can only recommend over and over to consider using one for the entire image editing process. I chose the medium size because I think it’s the best compromise.
04. Judge correctly
I have a characteristic that occasionally can become a problem, being a perfectionist. I say this because many times what happens to those who spend a lot of time editing images is to edit more than necessary. How? It’s easy to understand when we know that the retouching needs of a photograph is different when its going to be used in a social network, magazine or billboard. A correct evaluation of the purpose for which an image is intended can save us a lot of time. Being a perfectionist sometimes causes me to forget this rule and edit to the smallest detail when no one will see that stray hair. Here comes an important tip, always edit non-destructively. More on this in an upcoming article.
When we work on a regular basis in a certain type of work, we see ourselves doing systematic tasks repetitively. This is specially truth when it comes to editing and retouching images. Nowadays a good part of the programs give us the possibility to automate several of these processes. In Capture One I like to save styles and presets to use countless times even when they are just a starting point for a totally different result. In Affinity Photo I use Macros (actions) where the range of possibilities is much greater. From the simplest functions to the most complex effects and styles, whenever it’s possible I save a Macro for later use. What sometimes took a long time to create is now a click away. Use and abuse this feature.
06. Take a break
Overwork is not a good friend of perfection. When we spend too much time working on an image, normally one of two things happen, or we begin to edit details that didn’t needed to be edited, or we lose our way and we go over the ones that needed to be corrected. Ideally, we should take short breaks of time or interpose what we are doing with other tasks. The time between periods of work and rest depends but normally after an hour we begin to loose focus. This suggestion seems counterproductive but believe me that it’s a principle worth putting into practice.
One of the ways to be more efficient is to maintain a working methodology for all stages of our project. The consistency and repetition of procedures makes us faster and more objective. From the renaming of the photographs to the attribution of keywords and their classification, to the way how we edit them, everything helps to create a routine. Let me give you another example, in Capture One I have the tools on the workspace organized in the order in which I edit an image. This way its an automated process allowing me to stay free for more creative issues.
Simple procedures and decisions can make a big difference, in this case time. Usually it’s the little things that contribute to great results. I hope some of these tips can be useful in the same way they are for me.
Some points discussed in this article will be the subject of further development in upcoming articles.