Workflow – Step #1, Image Capture

Where it all begins….

It’s obvious that without capturing a digital image there is no need for a digital photography workflow. That said, let me ask you –

Do you shoot often & regularly – ideally daily? Do you take you camera with you – always – when you go out? If your answer is NO then you need to go back to workflow step zero which is take more pictures. This is the most fundamental thing that you can do to improve your photography – it’s called practice.

Now, we return to our regularly scheduled show. This discussion of Image Capture is not about how to make a well crafted image. There are over 50 posts in the Craftsmanship section of this blog covering all that you need to know about topics such as exposure, focus, color, etc. I’m going to assume that the image you capture is the one that you want and discuss how to proceed from there in terms of workflow.
I’m going to discuss just two things in this step, both of which have potential ramifications further downstream in your workflow –

  1. Memory Cards
  2. Image file format

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Memory Cards

There are several topics related to your choice of memory cards – brand, size, and speed (I’m assuming that the  “type” – CF, SD, etc. – used by your camera is a given). Normally decisions made here aren’t showstoppers in the big picture, but you should be informed of the possible implications.

  1. Brand – go with a leading brand and you shouldn’t go wrong. Beyond that, your camera’s manufacturer may have a list of tested & approved cards either on line or in your owner’s manual. Googling will give you what you need – for example if I Google “Nikon approved D300 memory cards” I get over 300,000 results with two from Nikon at the top of the list. Note – the fact that a card is not on the list does not mean that it won’t work and work well – it just hasn’t been tested by the camera maker.  ‘Nuf said.
  2. Size – you might potentially run into problems if you choose to “go big”. It’s akin to putting all of your eggs in one basket. How many images do you need for your card to hold before changing cards? The answer varies depending on your personal usage, but for most of us it’s not “as many as possible”. Several misfortunes may befall you –
    1. Lost card – too bad, but better to lose part of a day’s shoot than all of it.
    2. Faulty card – all may not be lost if you have a memory card image recovery program. You should have one on your computer. It’s not if, but when it will be needed. I use this one but there are  several available including some free. Although rare, these cards do fail. Usually though they will outlive the camera for which they were bought.
    3. Accidental deletion of images or reformatting. The same type of program recommended in #2 above will save your bacon here as well.
    4. I use a card that will hold almost 300 RAW images – and that’s really overkill, about 1/2 that size would suit me better
  3. Speed – as with size,  the proper card speed depends on your needs – and your camera’s ability to actually utilize higher speeds effectively. If you typically need to fire off a long burst of frames (assuming your camera supports this) then faster is better.  On the other hand shooters like me, who may take 10 minutes or more getting a shot “just right” don’t need an ultra high speed card (usually).
    1. Recognize that card prices go up quickly as you go faster. From B&H today – 16GB: 60MB/s = $125; 90MB/s = $220 or nearly $100 more for a 50% increase in speed. Increasing the 60MB/s from 16 to 32GB (100% increase in size) adds 50% to the price.
    2. If you need it then you need it, but otherwise……
    3. I use Costco sale items and currently am using SanDisk Ultra 8GB 30MB/s ($27 on sale in March 2009). That’s plenty fast for my shooting style and even allowed me to fire off the bursts needed to capture images like this –


One final thought – memory card speed does have impact on the next step of your workflow, downloading your images. Generally, the faster the card, the faster the download. However don’t be carried away by this. Consider the fraction of total workflow time from download to print that is consumed by download – it’s minuscule. So – what percentage savings in your TOTAL workflow time do you get by cutting minuscule by 1/2? You get the idea – don’t let this factor having any bearing on your card speed decision. Start the download and go have a cup of coffee – and if you’re still concerned then make it decaf 😉
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Image File Format

What’s this all about? It’s about whether or not you are making one of the biggest and most fundamental image capture errors possible – NOT shooting in RAW format. Unless you have a good reason for not shooting RAW you are making a HUGE MISTAKE  (not knowing how is not a good reason; event photographers who need processed images “yesterday” for on-site point of sale may have a reason because of a longer image processing time – how much longer varies but gets shorter by the day with new software). I’m not going into details here. I’ve written lots about the subject in other posts and will discuss it later as it has an impact on other workflow steps.
If you’re really wedded to JPEG then at least shoot RAW+JPEG if it’s an option with your camera. This provides an insurance policy in case the shot didn’t “come out” right. It will also give you the equivalent of a film negative to use next year or the year after when you realize that the image needs to be “developed” better than that JPEG default.
Let me make an analogy before leaving the subject of RAW. Equate the digital photography workflow to a Julia Childs’ recipe. The image capture step corresponds to the list of ingredients at the top of the recipe. The remaining steps correspond to combining, cooking and serving these ingredients for a culinary masterpiece. In these terms you’ve substituted cheap cuts of meat and, more importantly, thrown away some of the ingredients before even starting. Imagine the resulting dinner – that’s about what you’ve potentially done to your image. Now this isn’t true for every image – some made with JPEG will come out fine BUT do you know at the moment of capture, as you press the shutter release, which category this image will be. You don’t but if you shoot RAW it won’t matter. And just as in cooking where great pots and pans won’t save your butt if you messed up on the ingredients, the finest camera, computer, software and printer won’t help if you didn’t start your work flow with an image file containing all of the needed data. GIGO.
PS – if you shoot Nikon, there is a JPEG embedded within the RAW which can be extracted and saved without shooting RAW+JPEG. There is a free program that can extract that JPEG. Other cameras may have similar features.
PPS – If you can’t stand not knowing the specifics about why you should shoot in RAW, check the next workflow post.

2 thoughts on “Workflow – Step #1, Image Capture”

  1. Ok…My next capture will be in raw! Guess, it’s simply a matter of changing my camera setting; the download/post processing might me something else on the learning curve. Have been postponing this for a few years. Very scarry
    Praise the Lord. Another convert, I see the Light! Russ

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