Image Capture

Studio and location photography are high-pressure and time-sensitive processes. Aside from the coordination and creative direction involved in capturing talent and products for a shoot, there’s the handling and manipulation of captured image files for successful execution—these are often unsung background tasks. This article dissects the steps involved from shutter-release to final retouching and gives advice on how to revamp your existing setup to improve both efficiency and final image quality.

Defining “image capture”
The term “image capture” refers to the process of collating, enhancing, and converting digital images. It generally involves a high quantity of images captured from digital SLR cameras shooting in raw format. Collating includes copying source files and organizing them on a local drive. Enhancing and converting includes interpreting each raw image file, adjusting the exposure, colour, and sharpness—either globally (across the whole image) or locally (in small samples of the image)—and exporting them to a sharable format.

Downloading, storing and collecting image files for output can be daunting tasks depending on the resources you have available to make the work flow. Converting, correcting, and adding that extra “pop” to images can also pose challenges depending on your technical prowess and the calibre of your software. Paying greater attention to both asset management and image manipulation can improve both your output quality and bottom line.

Getting your work flowing
At its core, converting raw image files to workable and shareable images involves using one or more “demosaicing algorithms”. Conversion is a fairly standardized process, thanks to the effort that has gone into defining device profiles. So, the features that differentiate a solution typically lie outside of conversion; they include processing speed, imaging workflow, image analysis, and output options.

Processing speed
The methodology behind how software handles your files contributes to overall speed. The difference is noticeable when dealing with large quantities of photos, especially if those photos are cycled through numerous times during the preview stage.
Amadou Diallo of Digital Photography Review (http://www.dpreview.com/) tested processing speeds for two major software solutions. He found that Capture One was able to import and generate high-resolution previews of images a lot faster than Adobe’s Lightroom. Lightroom was able to recall high-resolution previews from its cache a lot faster than Capture One. In this case, the choice of software relies on your requirements.

Imaging workflow
There are two types of file organization. Cataloging software makes copies of source files and organizes them independently. File browsing, on the other hand, accesses source files directly, and previews are stored in a temporary cache. It’s similar to opening and manipulating files with your operating system’s file browser. Catalogue organization tends to be the preferred method, as it’s faster, though requiring more local storage.
Metadata image tagging is a must in a studio environment. A number of variables need to be captured so files can be sorted and collected for output. Client, product SKU, talent, location, and photographer are some examples. The more information that’s recorded, and the more consistently that information is formatted, the more efficiently you’ll be able to sort, collect, and share.

The use of non-destructive editing is another major feature among image capturing applications. Adjustments made typically involve exposure, colour saturation, skin tones, lens distortion, and sharpness. These edits are non-destructive, in that no permanent changes are made to the image’s pixels themselves; rather, mask layers are created using a markup language (e.g. XML) to define which changes the program should apply upon image preview. Even if images are exported to a final format, raw files are still stored separately, and can be recalled if needed.

Analyze, reveal, and share
Some image capturing applications are able to analyze the type of image you’ve imported and offer a default set of corrections based on the conditions the image was captured under. This is a great timesaving feature that saves operators from having to start from scratch.

A detailed level of image manipulation can occur with modern software engines. Enhancements like noise reduction for photos taken with high ISO are a big plus for photographers. Crisper photos can be taken at faster speeds and more detail can be revealed with better light interpretation.
Finally, you might need to quickly share your photography, whether for an urgent client review, for an RFP you’re working on, or for final output. Most applications offer a number of ways to easily share your photos, including through online galleries, cloud storage, slideshows, and file collections.

What’s trending among the pros?
Built-in Wi-Fi capabilities are now widely offered among new cameras. They can now be integrated right into your image capture application through the process of tethering. With a live view of your shot, feedback on exposure and composition can be given on the fly. Most solutions also come with preview apps for tablets and phones; this means you can get instant feedback from clients and other stakeholders working remotely. Tethering also eliminates the step of transferring photos from camera to software in separate batches. It ultimately speeds up turnaround time by allowing concurrent activities to occur.

Solutions to consider
Capture One Pro from Phase One, Lightroom from Adobe, and Optics Pro from DxO are among the leaders in image capture software solutions. All three are Windows and Mac compatible. Alternatively, a full-featured open-source solution is darktable. It’s known for combining the best features of existing free raw converters and image management tools into one solution. You can check it out at
http://www.darktable.org/.

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