Workflows can be tough. If you have multiple disparate stages of carrying out any task, then you have a frankly excessive amount of questions to answer. What method is best? Which is quickest? Can I combine any two stages? Can I cut out any stages? How does this one affect that one? What’s the simplest and cleanest and most efficient?
Answering these questions has played a large part in fuelling the software development industry, and it plays a major role in the marketing and advertising of virtually every product out there. All products seek to enhance our lives, and in business we are constantly sold on similar enhancement messages: greater efficiency, the freeing up of more time, reducing operating costs. Speed is always one of the biggest selling points there is, because it can equate to serious profit and routinely does in financial environments like the stock markets.
Here are a few pointers to honing workflows, in photography and general business.
In photography, constantly advancing technologies mean we’re rarely comfortable with workflow answers for very long. Something else will come along claiming to make your system several degrees easier: a sleek new laptop with outrageous specifications, a connected camera, a smart app, some smooth software upgrade.
Whether it actually does or not, it can still instil a degree of paranoia, because you won’t know for sure until you’ve tried it. It’s much like basic smartphone envy; you NEED this shiny flashy thing the latest iPhone has that the last one didn’t. Some of the time you might. Most of the time you don’t.
In a fiercely competitive business like photography where you’re always seeking an edge, it’s more important to be aware of things that could help. So don’t shut yourself off.
When processing any volume of images, several to several hundred, you can always have a niggling voice in the back of your head asking if you’re doing it quickly enough. “FASTER!” the voice yells like an impatient child, regardless of how fast you are actually going. “Look at him over there! He’s working SO much faster than you! Come on! What’s taking you so long?”
This voice grows louder if you’re on a deadline, racing other internet-hungry photographers alongside you, or if you just want to leave the side of a freezing cold football pitch as soon as possible. It’s hard to silence it completely, but you have to try and concentrate.
Capturing images is just the start. Then comes transmitting them to your laptop, selecting the best ones, processing, resizing, captioning (what’s his name?! The one with the…), transmitting them out of your laptop to wherever you’re going. All of that needs your laptop and various software programs to behave. That’s before you’ve even tackled the issue of connectivity. You had it fine a moment ago, but now it’s flickered away into the ether and you have to go to your back-up solution.
4. Consider Your Photography Workflow
Take a step back and think about what you currently do. Write it down on a pad of paper, take it to pieces and put it back together again. Can you reorder it to make it quicker? Time yourself doing it one way, as opposed to another way, using Lightroom Vs Photoshop or Photo Mechanic Vs Adobe Bridge. These things can take trial and error.
A basic, simplified photography workflow
TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS -> IMPORT IMAGE FILES TO LAPTOP -> SELECT IMAGES -> EDIT IMAGES -> SAVE IMAGES -> CAPTION AND SAVE IMAGES -> ACHIEVE WIFI OR 4G SIGNAL -> SEND IMAGES
Similar questions arise with the workflow of offering any service as a freelancer or small business. And similar rules can be applied. You’ll get a lead, offer a quote, have a quote accepted, do the job, deliver work to the client; but it’s never complete until the final stage of getting the payment. And that can sometimes be the most testing stage.
In fact, it’s often the case for smaller businesses.
Even if you play everything professionally and by the book, researching a bit about the client before engaging, drawing out contracts and agreements, having a perfectly smooth working relationship while you’re doing a job, promptly and professionally invoicing afterwards, patiently waiting out the payment period in your invoice; even all that’s no guarantee of getting paid.
A fact of small business life is that you sometimes have to chase and make a nuisance of yourself in order to get paid and complete a workflow. And even then, there’s a chance that you might not. We British are often too reserved, shy, dithering and indirect when it comes to issues of money.
Qualify a rate before any job. Even if you’re at an early stage, prepared to do a favour or are unsure if it’s paid or not, just ask the question without revealing any cards, and you might be surprised by the answer.
If that payment remains outstanding after the period given, politely chase, first by email. Then advance to the phone if needs be, maintaining a light professionalism at all times. It’s definitely annoying, but sounding annoyed won’t help your cause. And even if you do all that, you’re not immune to being stung. This itself can teach us things about our overall workflow, how loose and overly casual cogs might be tightened up and improved.
Today the internet allows a great many people a platform to rule what is the best way of doing something and what is not – in photography and in general business practice. Thanks to the web there are more thought-leaders, gurus and evangelists than we ever thought possible. But equally, there are fantastic resources available, and genuinely brilliant people who are generous with their experience and knowledge.
All the same, it’s easy to get bogged down by what other people think and how they work. So don’t.
A truth is that most photographers and most people do things slightly differently, and you have to figure out ways that best suit you, and which you’re comfortable with, and which work – at least for the moment.
With photography, today’s tech and dizzying array of options, there are almost infinite ways of reaching the same result. Honing a workflow comes with a lot of trial and error, making mistakes, getting frustrated; but gradually, stage by stage, getting quicker.
You might even need to ease up on yourself a little. If you feel it’s working ok for you, although you know it’s far from perfect and could be better, that’s fine. Don’t beat yourself up. These things can take time to get right, and everyone takes a slightly different path.
But don’t get cocky. However confident you do ultimately get, never be closed to the idea of improving further. Finding the balance between knowing and being comfortable with where you’re at, and knowing and being comfortable with what could be improved; that self awareness is vital in working towards a perfect workflow.
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