One of our favorite places to be while traveling is behind the lens of our camera, capturing the people we meet and the colorful landscapes we ride through. Nearly every day on the road, we take anywhere between 50 and 300 photos.
For us, the shooting, editing, and viewing of our pictures is a daily ritual that helps us solidify the events of each experience in our memory. As well, the results often form the foundation of what we choose to focus on in our writing.
With rare exception, we process the results of our photographic efforts each night before we go to bed. Here is how it works, as of today.
Importing & Organization
We start by importing our photos into Lightroom under a folder name matching the current day count. For example, the pictures we took today (featured in a journal entry tomorrow) belong to day #575 on the road. This handily matches up with the day in our database, making some automated processes (which I won't write about here) possible.
The First Pass
This is the pruning stage, in which one or both of us quickly flips through every photo we've taken for the day, deleting those that are obviously bad (out of focus, un-salvageable exposure, poor framing, lacking a subject, etc).
We spend less than a second looking at each shot during this pass. Apart from the technically failed photos, if a picture doesn't evoke some kind of emotional reaction, or document something we care about, it gets deleted.
The Second Pass
Next, we page through our pictures once more, this time looking at each series (multiple photos of the same scene). Generally speaking, for each final image, we've picked the best from two or three different compositions. Usually, one stands out for some reason, and we delete the rest.
This step involves a lot of lively, sometimes heated, banter, as we often have differing ideas about what makes a photo worth keeping. If we can't agree, we move on and return to it during the next pass.
The Third Pass
This is when the post-processing takes place; now, we go through each remaining picture to tweak it slightly. We'd rather be taking photos than editing them, so we usually spend just a minute or two on each one. Adjustments to white balance, exposure, contrast, vignetting, sharpness, crop, etc, are the norm.
Over the last year we've created a collection of our own presets in Lightroom that work well to quickly produce results in our style (which is ever-evolving). With these in place to speed along a well-oiled workflow, we can process hundreds of photos in an hour or two.
The Fourth Pass
With editing complete, we go through once more, forcing ourselves to be objective about the final product. Trimming the fat even further, we delete the ones that haven't turned out well enough. We often remind ourselves that we have something like 10,000 photos in our library these days; we don't need to keep the bad ones!
Sometimes, there are mediocre pictures that one or both of us feel a fondness for. So, we either do a trade, "I'll delete the one you hate if you delete this one!" or agree that we don't care if it is bad. The longer we shoot, the more picky we get, or so it seems.
Now for the best part: we view a slideshow of the day! As we watch the photos go by, we try to think about them in terms of telling a story. In doing so, we often notice redundancies, or shots that just don't make sense in the context of what we want to record. After we've seen the slideshow once or twice, we might remove one or two more.
Once the final edits are in, it's time to upload. From Lightroom, we export the photos into a folder on my desktop entitled To Upload. If we have a good connection, we'll post them immediately. If not, they may collect here for a week or more.
We generally upload via wireless connections at hostels/hotels/coffee shops etc, but we've also done quite a few sets via 3G/UTMS/EDGE connections on cellular networks with carriers like 3 Mobile (UK/Italy), SFR (France), Wind (Greece), Vodafone (Romania), MobiCom (Mongolia) to name a few.
Basically, any time we arrive somewhere with an internet connection, and we're not caught up, the laptop is on, uploading photos. Like so many other tasks on our bicycle tour (find food, find water, search for a good place to sleep), this has become second nature. We barely give it any thought.
A Brief History
Before this trip, we had no prior photographic experience. For the first year, we shot in JPG with a Nikon D60 and the 18-55mm/f3.5-5.6G kit lens. We processed our photos with Picasa, and generally had absolutely no idea what we were doing.
By the start of year two, we'd begun to form a solid experience-based grasp of the fundamentals of photography. Wanting to challenge ourselves further (and feeling constrained by the poor low light performance of the D60), we bought our friend Ian Meyer's Nikon D700, a pair of prime lenses, and one telephoto zoom. We had this kit shipped to Greece (and receiving it was a nightmare).
Around this time, we also started doing all of our post-processing in Adobe Lightroom. Intially, the flood of new photographic possibilities due to these changes was extremely overwhelming. After six months of daily use, we are finally beginning to feel confident with our tools.
On the day of our arrival in Southeast Asia, we made the transition to shooting in RAW. We would have done it sooner, but we had to wait until we could purchase a more powerful laptop to handle the volume of photographs we create.
This is our current photographic armament, all carried comfortably on the back of my bicycle, thanks to our great Digital Holster carrying case.
Camera: Nikon D700
Lenses: 50mm/f1.4D / 14-24mm/f2.8G / 70-300mm/f4.5-5.6G
Flash: Nikon SB-600 SpeedLite (rarely used and as yet, poorly understood)
Case: ThinkTank Digital Holster 40
Adapters: Nikon BR-2A Lens Reversal Ring (used to turn our 50mm into a 1:1 macro lens)
Software: Lightroom 3.2
Shooting Mode: Lossless Compressed NEF RAW
A few days ago, our 20mm/f2.6D lens stopped auto-focusing after a sharp blow to a rock at Khao Yai National Park. We've replaced this diminutive wonder with a massive 14-24 ultrawide zoom, and are currently wrestling with learning how to use it effectively. Due to the backdating of our daily journal entries, this information comes from the future!
It has been roughly two years since we took our first serious photograph, and though our skills have improved by leaps and bounds, there never really seems to be any less to learn! We're going to be at this for a very, very long time.