Thursday, October 20, 2016


...Forethought: Careful consideration of what will be necessary or may happen in the future..

I'm pondering the importance of forethought in photography today and thought I would put down a few thoughts around this idea and how it applies to my work in a few easy to understand examples.

When I am out in the field shooting, before every click of the shutter button, I give some thought to what will come next with the image I'm about to take.  

     - Will I be able to process the image to my liking?  Perhaps the dynamic range is too high or the sun too bright or some other limitation that I might need to account for.

     - Will I have the tools to achieve what I want to do in the "digital darkroom"? 

     - If it is a challenging scene, is there anything I can do in taking the picture to help be confident in the above questions?  Using filters, change exposure settings, change composition, etc..

If I can't be confident that I will be able to develop the image successfully, I may not take the image.

     - Based on the scene and strength of the image, what do I think the end use of the image might be?    Will I print it or just display it online?  Will it perhaps make the cut and be posted on my commercial site?

I know it's impossible to know exactly how  you will use an image before taking it, but having an idea of what you "think" you might do with it may impact how you execute the image in the field.

File Management
Another use of forethought in my photography is in how manage the thousands of images and how I chose to store and back them up.   Asking the question, "how much impact would there be if my hard drive crashed right now?".  Or, "how many images would be lost if my external hard drive stopped working right now?"

These questions are about thinking ahead, future outcomes or consequences, and granted these are scary thoughts.  But by planning ahead to prevent any loss, I have build a redundant backup system for all of my raw and edited images.

Workflow and End of Year
Every year I collect and curate an assortment of images that I've created during the year and transform them into a printed book for myself.  Printing a book brings my work out of the digital realm and puts something solid and substantial in my hands that I can enjoy again and again.  Printing your images is one of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself.

To pull out an Ansel Adams quote, "The negative is the equivalent of the composers score, and the print is the performance"  

As I shoot and process images throughout the year, the most common output is that I would save the edited .psd file and then create a .jpg file that is reduced in size and quality to be posted to various websites. The trouble for me in the past was when the end of the year was upon me, I had to go back through all of my .psd files and create high quality .jpg files for inclusion in the book.  It was a very time consuming process.  

Nowadays, after giving it some thought, I have added a step to my normal workflow that relieves the pain and suffering at the end of year and produces a more consistent output. 

As I finish editing an image, I still save the edited .psd file for future needs.  Then I created a new step, with easy one-click action, to resize and save a high res .jpg off in a new folder for the yearly book.  Then finally, create the low res version for posting online.

There are many more examples of forethought and planning in the photography world, these are just a few that I'm musing on today.  Evaluate your own techniques and workflows, is there anything  you can do in your photography to think ahead achieve better results?     


  1. John, you have a very methodical approach to photographing and reviewing. Impressive! I have plans to do more, but my life is too full of multitasking. One of the things I need to do is create a second Lightroom catalog that contains only my best photos. But I’ve been wanting to do that for years.

    Your book (April post) looks fabulous. The photo books I’ve made have been gifts for friends; I rarely do a compilation for myself.

    Instead of a book per year, I assemble a photo calendar every year. A bunch get printed and sent out as Christmas gifts to friends and family. During the year while I’m shooting, I consider whether the scene would be a good one for the annual calendar. It’s not quite as flexible as your approach, but there are some similarities.

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  3. Thanks for the comments Amy. I hear ya about not having enough time in life to do all of the things we want to do. I struggle with that as well. Photography is one of those things I've evaluated and have found to be a big part of who I am and for me, it's almost mandatory that I somehow make time to do the things I need to do. Could I spend more time on it? Sure I could, however, I need to also maintain a balance in my life.

    Calendars are a great idea to summarize the year AND a great gift idea. I have used my year end books as gifts to family similarly. I hope you keep a calendar for yourself to perhaps look back at your photographic progression/journey.

    Regarding Lightroom catalog, what i might suggest is to just create a "collection" inside the existing Lightroom catalog. Easy to add images to a collection as you're going through them selecting them for the calendar. I've got several collections going right now to collect images for different projects. I have one titled "Serenity" for my most serene images that I will write some poetry against. I've got another project going for "circles" so I'm collecting all my circle images for a later date.

    Above all else, have fun with your photography!

  4. Oh, I have plenty of collections within my Lightroom catalog... it's just that my catalog is too large to be replicated and portable. I've been with Lightroom (and in the early years Aperture) since the beginning... and in those early versions the catalogs would get too large and the database would get corrupted or collapse or become to slow to use. I have over 90k images in my current catalog, and although everything is backed up, the catalog would be a pain to reconstruct. I'd like a small version of just the good stuff so that it's easier to propagate backups / extra copies.

  5. Hi Amy, gotcha, that makes sense.

    One of the things that has evolved for me over the years is a practice of "ruthless editing" of images in my catalog. I do keep a ton of images, but more and more I'm deleting files I know I will never process. It's a yearly purge over the winter that I do. I know I will only process maybe 10% of the images I take and of those, maybe 2% will ever be printed. I do like to keep images, however, if I'm never going to do anything with them, then why keep them? Its a constant process I go through.

    1. There actually is a reason I don’t delete unselected images. I believe there was a post at The Online Photographer about this at one time, but I have no idea how I’d locate that post again. All that post did was confirm my own experiences. I’d already established my reasonings before the TOP post.

      Even in my vast amount of unselected images, each image has some value. There’s a reason I took each picture. When I curate and do post processing, I’m in a certain mindset and looking for specific kinds of things. The stuff I don’t select don’t meet that criteria. Yet if I go back 3… 5… 10 years later, I’ll pick out a completely different set of images – and process those completely differently. Looking at those photos with a different eye and with different experience under my belt, I make new discoveries and create new art. So for me, it would be counterproductive to cull my images and discard some rich veins of material.

      Also I have some ideas for photo montage art… and what might not work for a single image could be valuable for a component of a larger work.