I have been shooting for over quarter of a century, 20 of the last years have been for some of London and New York’s best graphic design agencies.
Before this I had two years with The Guardian and then six with the Observer in London. With great reputations for photography these two papers taught me to understand a story visually, to work quickly and to seize opportunities.
"The world is ephemeral, always moving, I am operating instinctively, in a continuum."
My shoots are now mostly for big businesses who are changing their visual identity. The design agency will choose a photographer to match the client. Recently there has been a big shift away from stock images toward reality. During the ‘90s recession in the UK there was a big push by the stock agencies to monetize the design business and this did impact photographers’ incomes.
But eventually it ebbed away when the big discounts began to disappear, the clients realised their images might not have been very exclusive to them, and there needed to be more of a tangible connection between their business and their employees and the images they used to illustrate their commerce.
Honest images of a business proud of its people
This is what I do: capture every-day life, in offices and out on the street. The genuineness of the moment is key to me, I want to reflect the client’s culture honestly, I want to find images that help locate the client in a certain geographic or cultural position. In the cities I have to be sensitive to the environment, picking up the subtlest of indicators of where I am. People are becoming so much more aware of the world they inhabit, and how to distinguish between cultures, so we don’t need to be heavy handed with imagery anymore and that allows me a lot of creative freedom.
Much of my work is overseas on shoots that can last several weeks, travelling to numerous countries and cities. I work alone so I’ll often need to send back images to the agency for review, that’s a big ask at the end of a day shooting three or four hundred images. So it is critical to have a dependable, fast and logical workflow if I’m going to get the job done (on time).
The editing process starts early. I shoot with very fast Canon lenses wide open, ergo a tiny depth of field, so I’ll periodically stop for coffee and check for sharpness, this is easiest done in the camera. When I get back to my hotel I’ll download the cards through Capture One Pro 7 which lets me back up to a separate hard drive. I will have set up an import preset based on discussions about the grading of the shots and add my usual style adjustments. So I know once loaded into Capture One Pro 7 they are already in a good place, thereby speeding up the initial edit.
"For delivering high quality finished images, I don’t think there’s another software application that can give me such a good conversion engine and a suite of controls that allow me to work quickly."
I’ll rate the images based (firstly) on how much the shot resonates with me, and then how appropriate it is to the creative brief, if it falls at the second test then I’ll turn it into a ‘personal work’ folder. I’ll continue this process until I get down to a couple of hundred shots, I’ll then switch to ‘sort by rating’ at which point I can concentrate on the entire frame and start thinking about the next level of refinement. Around now I’ll order my room service meal.
The reason I use two stars (instead of the logical one) is that while browsing with the arrow keys at my right hand, my left hand hovers over the 1 and 2 keys. As I shuttle back and forth it is very easy to rate a shot, rate another, go back, compare, re-rate, then move quickly on. It comes with practice. The good shots pop: they leap up at you. I still get a huge sense of delight when something jumps out at me. Even though I pushed the release button it’s never obvious the shot was good. The world is ephemeral, always moving, I am operating instinctively, in a continuum, so most of the critical analysis has to wait until the edit.
Workspaces, a lifesaver
I’ll now have maybe 120 shots rated and I know this will comprise the core of the edit. With Capture One Pro 7 you can set up the interface the way you want it and then create a “saved workspace” to suit your job. I have a saved workspace with most of my common tools held under the Quick tab. Starting at the top with the curve dialogue box where I’ll get the image looking good in terms of exposure, saturation and contrast, I’ll then work slowly down through the menus: colour temperature, then exposure -- looking mostly at contrast, saturation and brilliance.
I’ll then recover the highlights and maybe pull back a little from the shadows. I’ll then move to the clarity settings, mostly in ‘classic’ mode as it’s quite subtle and works well for me. I’ll also see if vignette needs work; always something you have to pay a heed to with fast lenses wide open, although Capture One Pro 7 does such a good job of eliminating this (and other lens aberrations) I often have to dial some back in.
"Capture One Pro 7 is so intuitive and the power and control of the adjustments is so comprehensive I have, without compromise, eliminated all other software from my workflow."
A real help with these adjustments is the ability to copy them and apply them all, or just some, to another similar image. This is incredibly useful in the early stages and can get a whole series of images looking great with a simple copy/paste. This can be a huge time saver when dealing with several images that need basic changes.
I will then do another edit, so I’ll get to about a hundred shots and it’s time to finesse with local adjustments and framing. The local adjustments tool is the star act for me, it has had such a profound effect on my workflow that it has almost entirely negated the use of Photoshop, taking hours off the editing process. The controls can really bring the shot to life, allowing you to layer different adjustments, giving you complete control. I’ll work mostly with the customisable brush and graduated filter tools building several layers for key areas where I want to make improvements, working up the image to its full potential without the need to bring in other software applications, thus simplifying the workflow hugely.
The final step is framing and compositional corrections: while I never crop an image (the frame as shot is sacrosanct), sometimes I do not have time to get my horizontals exactly parallel, so I’ll use the rotate and keystone tools to get the frame perfect. I might look at some minor cosmetic issues, like splats of chewing gum on the pavement (a pet hate) and if it’s limited I can deal with these and other niggles with the spot tool.
Dinner... And delivering images.
By this time I have images I am happy to send to the art director and my food has arrived and I can eat while the images process out as high resolution TIFFs to a hard drive, and the low resolution JPGs which get transmitted over the agonisingly slow hotel broadband while I sleep.
Capture One Pro 7 is so adaptable you can hone your workflow and integrate the most commonly used tools into a logical order. When dealing with many images, after a tiring day, it’s important to have systems you can rely on and Capture One Pro 7 offers the degree of flexibility that will allow me to work easily, but can be adapted so comprehensively that it’ll work just as well for a studio photographer who only produces one shot every day.
For delivering high quality finished images, I don’t think there’s another software application that can give me such a good conversion engine and a suite of controls that allow me to work quickly through my images without torturing me for hours.
"Capture One Pro 7 is so intuitive and the power and control of the adjustments is so comprehensive I have, without compromise, eliminated all other software from my workflow. Without doubt, I’d be truly lost without it."