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When I look back and analyze how my photography has changed over time, I see that the last couple of years were the most eventful in regards to the evolution of my photography. I see that rapid advances in technology, in combination with my attempts to simplify various aspects of my photography, gradually changed my entire workflow.
If I had to identify the key moments that triggered the rest of the changes, my switch from DSLR to a mirrorless system would be at the very top of the list.
1. Mirrorless Setup
Depending on the type of photography, the switch to a mirrorless system affects photographers differently. As a travel photographer, the effect of the change was huge for me, and even though the learning curve was steep, it was liberating from the very beginning.
The compactness of mirrorless systems was the most obvious factor for the switch. Here is the breakdown of my camera, plus lenses setup:
- Sony A6000 (344g, 12oz)
- Sony 10-18mm (220g, 8oz)
- Sony 16-70mm (308g, 11oz)
- Total: 874g (31oz)
It’s hard to believe that a high-quality, wide angle zoom lens (10-18mm) can weigh only 220g (8oz). The full set, including the camera and two lenses that cover 90-95% of my needs, weighs less than 900g (32oz). I call it freedom.
From a practical standpoint, it actually means that I can pack the entire setup into a carry-on when traveling by plane. It also means that I do not have to think about what equipment to bring when packing for a demanding hike. Instead, I bring everything with me.
The other two factors of my switch that impacted my photography were the amazing dynamic range of the Sony sensor and its EVF (Electronic Viewfinder). The extended dynamic range of the sensor allows me to reduce the number of brackets I have to take, to cover the entire dynamic range of the scene. Also, it saves me time editing, since I do not have to use HDR, and Image Blending techniques, as often as before.
The Electronic Viewfinder also allows me to more accurately assess the scene before taking the shot and, as a result, reduces the number of unsuccessful shots.
2. Changing Travel Routine
I did not expect that one small change to my travel routine would impact my photography so much. So what was the change? I simply stopped editing photos while traveling. Instead, I began concentrating all my efforts on finding interesting locations and capturing them – nothing else. This new focus makes my trips more enjoyable, reduces stress, and improves my photography in general.
Before, I always loaded all of the new photos at the end of the day to Lightroom using my laptop. While checking the day’s results, I would often start culling and editing.
Now, when I want to check if a shot is successful, I can do it while shooting, simply by wirelessly connecting my camera with my tablet. And, if it is absolutely necessary to post a couple of new photos to social media, I can edit them in seconds using Snapseed on my tablet, then easily post them online.
3. Simplified Backup System
Keeping photos safe while traveling is a big issue for any photographer. Up until recently, there was no reliable enough solution for a photographer, like myself, to go on an extended photography trip without bringing a laptop. For years, a laptop was the center of my backup strategy while traveling, which only added unnecessary bulk to my setup.
Finally, I think this is starting to change. For the last few months I’ve been testing a laptop-less travel approach, and I am confident that a new setup this year will completely replace my outdated backup system.
This new workflow is possible because of a device that was recently released: WD My Passport Wireless. The device has a variety of interesting features, but the most important one, from a photography standpoint, is the SD Memory Card Reader. When you insert a memory card into the reader, it automatically backs up all the contents of the card to the drive. Plus, it supports incremental backups, which means that it backs up only new files rather than those previously transferred.
This device makes it possible to travel without a computer. Also, it minimizes the risk of losing images due to memory card failure. Now, I incrementally backup my new images multiple times throughout the day, and by the end of the day back at the hotel, I already have all of my new images on two devices.
Another feature of the WD My Drive Wireless that excites me as a photographer, is its ability to connect to the drive with a mobile app and grab any photos (JPEGs only) for editing.
4. Rapid Editing
Lightroom is my primary photography editing tool. At some point, I realized that 80% of my editing steps were identical for every photo. This meant that only 20% of my efforts were spent on what really mattered: making every photo unique. I also recognized that if I could automate the 80%, then I could drastically reduce the time I spend in front of the computer.
The obvious choice for editing automation was Lightroom’s preset functionality. The presets allow users to record their editing steps in Lightroom for later use.
The main obstacle in developing and implementing a new system was Lightroom’s presets limitations. You have probably already noticed that it is rare when you apply one of the presets to a photo that are happy with the final results. You still have to dive deeper into the Lightroom editing tools to compensate for the level of exposure, lighting conditions, shadows, and the dynamic range of the scene.
Style Presets: The presets that establish the artistic style and reflect our creative vision. For example, a dreamy, warm look or an aggressive and contrasted style, soft black & white or a vibrant cross processed treatment.
Adjustment Presets: The presets that do affect the style of the photograph but help us to fine-tune the following parameters: exposure, shadow recovery, contrast, clarity, vignetting. I called the collection of the adjustment presets the TOOLKIT.
This is how my workflow looked after I implemented the two level preset system:
First, I applied one of the Style Presets. Then, I used the Adjustment Presets from the TOOLKIT to fine tune the image. Simple, effective, and automated. The Lightroom Rapid Editing System reduced my editing time by more than half and made my photography more consistent.
Here is a quick demonstration:
For the demonstration, I selected a photo of Niagara Falls (American and Bridal Veil Falls). The scene was somewhat challenging as the water of the falls, was much brighter than the rest of the scene. I intentionally set exposure for the brightest areas, making sure I preserved enough details in the water. It resulted in an underexposed capture, making it more challenging to edit.
First, I applied one of my favorite presets from the Landscape Collection – Natural. Second, I used the following TOOLKIT adjustments (Adjustment Presets):
- 01 Exposure +
- 08 Open Shadows ++
- 17 Clarity ++
- 31 Vignetting +
Here is the result. It took me five clicks, and no more than two minutes to complete the editing. To record my editing steps for future reference and easy sharing, I used Lightroom Rapid Editing Formula: Natural (02, 08, 17, 31).
I believe that simplification is the key factor in mastering any complex process. If you reject unnecessary complexity by drastically simplifying it, you can invest more time and effort into what really matters. The changes I listed above did not happen overnight but they were always driven by the desire to simplify my photography.