Photographers Workflow: Tom Bricker
One new feature on the site is we will be sharing the post processing methods of different contributors on the site. Today we start with Tom Bricker who shares his workflow method.
As we develop our photographic prowess, not only do we develop signature shooting styles (I’m told mine is big picture ultra-wide angle photos), but we develop signature post processing methods. This is not to say that we don’t step outside our comfort zones and photograph or process images in manners different from our signature styles, but for the majority of the shots, we use our own unique style.
Recently, I’ve received many inquiries asking how I achieve the processing results in my images. Although most inquiries do not center around my organization–there’s a decent possibility my organization system is not the best–I’m including it anyway. Heck, if it’s sub-par, maybe someone will alert me of a better system.
On an average trip to Walt Disney World, I can take anywhere from 3,000 to 9,000 photos. Many of these are burst-duplicates are throwaway shots, but in the end, I edit roughly 500-1,000 photos per trip. I use Adobe Bridge to organize my photos, giving each photo a different number of stars based upon its categorization. One star photos are photos that I collect for TouringPlans. Two star photos are food photos. Three star photos are portraits for my trip reports. Four star photos are static shots of the parks without us in them for my trip reports. Five stars are reserved for shots of the unique bathroom signs all over property. I really like bathroom signs. (Just kidding, they’re for “Flickr-worthy” photos.)
Since I don’t have nearly enough free time to thoroughly edit each of these photos, I use presets in Adobe Camera Raw. I have presets for each lens, and each category, plus some miscellaneous presets. Everyone once in a while, I will apply my “Daytime Pseudo HDR preset on a photo of Sarah, and show it to her just for kicks and grins. (Important note: much like photographing your female significant other at the edge of an ultra-wide angle lens, you should never apply HDR processing to her.) I pull up only one category (star-ranking) of photos at a time, narrowing it by lens in Bridge, and I then open that batch of photos in ACR, and apply the given preset. I then scroll through the photos and determine if any fine-tuned adjustments need to be made to any of the photos. These adjustments are usually crops and white balance. If so, I make the adjustments, and save the batch. For the 1-4 star photos, editing is usually 30 seconds or less per photo.
Substantively, these presets generally consist of adjustments to contrast, blacks, fill, brightness, vibrance, sharpness, and lens distortion. All of the presets increase fill to at least 30 initially. In the case of non-portraits, this is an even higher number, sometimes as high as 75. This is, along with the blacks increase, is probably the most identifiable characteristic of my photos. The fill increase opens up the shot, and coupled with an increase to the blacks, it gives the shot a glossy, almost “magazine-like” (for lack of a better term) appearance. It is important to be careful not to “over-fill;” this is especially true for portraits and shots with shallow depth of field and darker backgrounds/bokeh. In portraits, it can make the subject’s face look odd, and in shallow depth of field shots, it can produce harsh lines between different elements of bokeh.
The next step is increasing the blacks. All of my presets go to at least 7 on this. I usually go higher, depending on the shot and how much I increased the fill. Often, my black levels are in the 20s or 30s. Contrast similarly increases to around 40 for most presets. I usually sharpen to 50 or 60 in ACR if I won’t be opening in Photoshop, and lens distortion removal is automatic based on the lens I’m using. Vibrance is usually increased to at least 30, with individual adjustments made after that. I often find myself pulling back the saturation of the reds, yellows, and oranges, specifically.
White balance is the one thing that I typically adjust on every photo (or I control+click to adjust it for a series of photos with similar lighting. It’s just too difficult, for me at least, to develop a preset that accurately adjusts the white balance. Maybe someone more intelligent than me knows of a good way. I don’t mind adjusting it on each photo, though. Besides, I view white balance as an artistic decision, and often the technically correct white balance isn’t the best looking white balance. After I adjust the white balance, I do a quick fist pump and cheer “yipee” (yes, after every photo) and proceed to the next shot.
This sums up what I do in ACR, which is where I make my most significant changes. Ironically, I spend significantly more time editing a photo in Photoshop (that 30 seconds increases to around 30 minutes on average), but the changes are far less substantial. There, I use adjustment masks, the shadow/highlight tool, and a whole host of plugins and other tools to give the photos that little extra pop.
Now that I’ve shared some of my secrets, I’m curious to hear the methods you all use to achieve your own signature styles. Share some tips in the comments!