Workflow: What Problem Are You Trying to Solve?
Austin, Texas, the eleventh largest city in the nation, finally has its first major league sports team. The Austin FC, the newest addition in Major League Soccer, began home play on June 19, 2021 and was the latest rage to sweep the city.
Many of the fans caught up in the craze knew little about soccer. The same is true of some of the photographers covering the matches. If anything, it only proves that not everyone with a camera along the sidelines knows what they are doing. I want to share a true story that brings that to light.
What Problem Are You Trying To Solve?
I was sitting in the Photographers Workroom in Q2 Stadium after a recent Austin FC match. One photographer was asking a colleague for advice: how can I simultaneously download images from two memories cards?
My colleague, who is always open to helping another, was quick to respond with the technical options. Unfortunately, he didn’t understand the underlying reason for the question.
I jumped in by asking, “what problem are you trying to solve?” The photographer replied, “I want to see all the images as soon as possible to I can begin editing.”
That reply touched upon a challenge for all sports photographers: how to quickly select the worthy images from the massive number taken, then edit, caption, and post the images in time to be newsworthy.
Whether you are chasing a deadline or not, the amount of work required to publish these images is significant. Efficient workflow is essential. This article provides advice on how to approach this problem.
The longer it takes to bring any product to market diminishes it potential value. This is especially true in sports photography when a large pay-day may be lost to a Twitter or Instagram post. Not a game goes by when I don’t have a sport writer or social media coordinator texting me for images at halftime, or when the final whistle blows. They want to be the first to publish the image and the article.
To compress this time, some photographers tether their camera to their newsroom’s computer via an ethernet cable or Wi-Fi, allowing unedited images to be uploaded in real-time. This is a sophisticated, and complex, solution involving many people. There are, however, other techniques that can be used to quickly produce images for the end user.
Flag Images as You Go
Regardless of your skill level, all photographers produce lot of images not worthy of post-processing. Either the images are not sharp-as-a-tack, don’t capture an interesting pose, or are not significantly different from other images shot in that 20 frames-per-second burst.
Sorting through the unwanted images while at your computer consumes a tremendous amount of time. Thankfully, most cameras give you two ways identify the desirable images during the game: protect the image or rate the image.
Protecting an image identifies it as a keeper and prevents it from being inadvertently erased. Rating an image also identifies it as a keeper by scoring the image on a scale of 0 to 5, with 0 being the default score. You can sort on just the protected images, or rated images after transferring them to your computer. Both methods allow you to quickly focus on the approximately 10% of images worthy of editing.
I routinely use both techniques. There are pros and cons for each.
Protecting can be faster means to transfer images to your computer. There are software tools, like Photo Mechanic, that allow the transfer (they call it ingesting) of only the protected images.
For example, if you took 1000 images and protected 100, Photo Mechanic will only transfer the 100 protected images, saving you 90% of the time in the transfer.
The downside is you now need to examine 100 images and decide which will be edited first. Remember, you only have 15 minutes during halftime to walk to the Photographer's Work Room, download images, edit images, upload edited images to the newsroom, and return to the field for the second half.
Rating images allows you to prioritize your work by quickly identifying the best images. For example, if you took 1000 images and rated 100, you will need to transfer all 1000 images to your computer, but you can quickly filter on the highest rated images. This allows you to focus your attention on the best images.
Which technique I use depends on the number of images I expect to produce. I find rating images works best for me when I need to produce 20 or more images during halftime, or expect to produce greater than 50 total images from the game. Otherwise, I will protect the images.
And there are other ways to save time.
Faster Image Transfers
Transferring images from the memory card to the computer takes up time otherwise spent editing. Transfer times can also be shortened by using either faster memory cards or faster USB connections. Memory card with higher read / write speeds save time, anywhere from 30 to 60 seconds in the transfer of images. A tremendous amount of time can be saved using computers and card readers that support the latest USB standards (USB 4) and connectors (USB C)
I use Adobe Lightroom to edit the images. Images from Photo Mechanic can be easily dragged into Lightroom to save time.
In editing I apply one standard crop size to all images at the start, using the “Sync” button. I prefer to use the 16 x 9 (1920 x 1080) frame size since most of my work is published to websites or social media. I have also created customized presets for tone, clarity, sharpening, temperature and vibrance. I seldom vary from these presets and edit an image in 15 to 20 seconds.
The most time-consuming element of editing images is the captioning. I personally feel photographers would publish more images if it weren’t for the burden of captions. Photo Mechanic is probably the best tool for quickly developing captions.
A proper caption contains three parts:
· Identifies the players, including the players’ number, and the action;
· Identifies the location, city, and state of the event; and
· Provides the date, including day of the week, of the event.
The hardest part of writing a caption is identifying the player. Photo Mechanic has a module called Code Replacement that simplifies that effort. Code Replacement allows you to identify the player’s full name just from their number using a shorthand code.
For example, typing “\aus8\” automatically becomes “Austin FC midfielder Alex Ring (8)” in the caption field. This saves you a tremendous amount of time looking at the roster and typing out the proper name. The translation is done using a text document you create before the game, or you can subscribe to a service that provides the same information.
Code replacement can also be used to create a shorthand menu for actions, but I find it easier to type it out.
I find it easier to use Photo Mechanic’s IPTC Metadata Template to identify the location, city, state, date, and day of the week because that information doesn’t change from image to image.
For example, in the caption field of the IPTC Metadata Template screen I will enter: “in the Major League Soccer match between the Austin FC and the FC Dallas played on Sunday, August 29, 2021 at Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas.” This information will now appears in the caption of every image as it is imported.
Using Code Replacement and the IPTC Metadata Template results in this caption:
“Austin FC midfielder Alex Ring (8) takes the header and scores in the Major League Soccer match between the Austin FC and the FC Dallas played on Sunday, August 29, 2021 at Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas.”
The term workflow in sports photography has broad implications. The less experience photographer might believe that faster image transfer times is the key to successful workflow. Fast data transfer is important, but more so are techniques for images editing and captioning.
About the Author
Andy Nietupski founded TTL Sport Media in 2015 after a corporate career of business start-ups and turn-arounds. TTL Sports Media helps sports organizations optimize their business results using the latest digital sales and marketing techniques. TTL Sports Media publishes thousands of pieces of content annually and curates a catalog of more than 100,000 items. On behalf of its client interests, TTL Sports Media annually publishes nearly 200 articles and makes 1000’s of social media posts.
Copyright 2021 Andy Nietupski and TTL Sports Media