contact sheet

Customising your Photo Mechanic IPTC interface

This could very well be the single most “niche” blog post that I have ever written but I found it incredibly useful and so I thought others might too. If you aren’t a Photo Mechanic user already, bear with me because it might just convince you to have (another) look at what, for me, is an indispensable piece of software.

When you open up either a Stationery Pad (best for bulk captioning) or click on the IPTC Info tab (best for editing a single caption) the default views show dozens of fields. Most of those fields will have little or no use for basic image captioning and some of them will have very specific uses for very specific clients. Recently I’ve been doing a lot of image editing and I have found that different clients have very different needs and because of that I want the IPTC interface to look different for each client. The great news is that in Photo Mechanic you can customise the interfaces to a very high degree. You can choose to:

  • Hide or remove fields
  • Change the order in which they appear
  • Group them in any way you wish
  • Change the labels on the fields
  • Change the size of the boxes of some fields

Once you have set up your custom ‘look’ you can then save that look and swap between any number of looks depending on the work that you are doing. You can, at any time, swap back to the Photo Mechanic default and create new versions of the interface.

So where does all of this magic happen? If you go to Preferences/Accessibility/ you should see this screen:

You then have two different options:

  1. Customize IPTC Info which will let you change the interface brought up by the “i” icon on a contact sheet.
  2. Customize IPTC Stationery which will let you change the stationery pad or Cmd+I on a Mac or Ctrl+I on a PC.

I have found that having a stripped down IPTC Info option has made amending the captions for individual images much slicker. If I can only see the fields that I’m interested in then I don’t have to continually scroll around to find the right fields every time. By clicking on Customize IPTC Info you get this window:

Which allows you to edit names, drag the relevant fields into the order you want them to appear, enable and/or make fields visible and edit/remove group labels. Once you have it looking the way you want it all you have to do is click on the small lightning symbol in the bottom left corner and Save the set up with a name that you will recognise. As I said before, you can go back to the default simply by clicking on “Restore Defaults“. If you want to make further changes to a saved interface then you can overwrite the file easily.

Deleting saved interfaces is a lot tougher. I have no idea how to do it on a PC but on a Mac you have to go into your Hard Drive/Users/User/Library/Preferences/com.camerabits.PhotoMechanic/CustomizeIPTCInfoDialog and remove the relevant .snap file from there.

If you want to create/remove a custom interface for the Stationery Pad it’s a very similar process – the Customize interface looks slightly different but, in essence, they do a similar job.

Do you do corporate head shots?

headshots_header

I had a phone call call this morning from a potential client who had found me via a web search. That doesn’t happen very often and when it does the calls are normally from people trying to sell me something rather than commission me to do some work for them. The very pleasant lady who had called asked me if I did ‘corporate head shots’ and when I replied that I do and that I have done lots of them over the years she asked why there were none on my website. Wow… she’s correct. There are no easy to find samples of one of the most basic and important parts of my professional work on any of my folio sites.

During the call I promised to stick fifty varied images into a gallery and send her the link. I also explained that head shots weren’t the sole preserve of the corporate world and that some other sectors used them well and that the gallery that I’d prepare would have teachers and actors and other professionals too.

The way that I like to approach head shots is simple: concentrate on the person, make sure that the light on them is as good as it can be and have a sympathetic background. Where sets of pictures need to work together I want to discuss that with the client, their designers and anyone else who needs to have input. I often supply white backgrounds and sometimes I add a coloured light to them.

I love a good out-of-focus office, bookshelf, tree or cityscape and I’m not averse to a jaunty angle where it works. Colour works well and black and white can be very effective too – head shots is a wide ranging topic. They can be as simple as nice passport pictures and they can be half length – potential clients need samples – I completely get it and I have done just that… Here’s the gallery

Revisiting my workflow

It is impossible to work digitally without having some sort of workflow. Most are a bit better than adequate, some are good and some are blindingly awful. I think that it is important to have a look at the way you do things every once in a while to make sure that yours is as good as it can be and achieves the four goals of being;

  • Efficient in terms of both time and memory
  • Repeatable so that the purely functional bits can be done almost on auto-pilot
  • Non destructive so that you don’t lose valuable RAW files or save changes to Jpegs shot in camera
  • Able to be short-cut for jobs where time is even more of an issue

I’ve written about my workflow before and I often teach workshops based on the “photographer’s twelve step plan” – a process with 12 distinct stages from camera to client including backing up and having a coffee! In this blog post I’m simply going to go through my basic workflow with a few hints and tips as I go. I normally use Photo Mechanic to import, sort, caption, rename and export my files and Adobe Photoshop CC to convert RAW (Canon CR2 most of the time) files into the required format. The whole process is colour-managed and I do as much as I can in-camera to save myself time when editing. I work on either a MacBook Pro, a MacBook Air or a Mac Mini depending on where I am and what the job is. Anyway, let’s kick off…

pm_preferences

Before I insert a card into the card reader I launch Photo Mechanic. This screen grab shows the “general” preferences for the application including what I want to happen when I load a memory card. I have checked the box “Open as contact sheet(s)” which means that as soon as the card goes in I see the images in a standard window. In the past I often used “show ingest dialogue” but I have found that ingesting every single frame doesn’t suit me and that it slows the whole process down drastically. Typically I only want between 25% and 35% of the images and so I go through them using the “tag” function (cmd T on a Mac or ctrl T on a PC) to identify those that I’m interested in or those which have unique content.

Once I’ve been through that card and tagged the images I want I use the “copy” function (cmd Y on the Mac and ctrl Y on a PC) and copy those tagged files to a new folder. I use a simple formula YYMMDD-jobname-RAW for those files and then repeat this process with every card used on that job. Photo Mechanic can be set to automatically open and update a new contact sheet with the copied files. I always eject the cards without deleting anything just in case there are problems during the process and put those cards to one side to be deleted later.

pm-preview

pm_contact_sheet

The preview and contact sheet windows are extremely easy ways to look at and select pictures. Once I have my first edit done I apply a generic caption using the Photo mechanic stationery pad (cmd I or ctrl I). At this point I’d like to mention two enormously useful features of Photo Mechanic (available on some other applications too).

The first is variables. These are simple ways of automatically adding information to your captions or filenames. Many are derived from the EXIF data applied in the camera. These include time, day and date as well as other shooting data. Some cameras allow you to set copyright information in the camera and others apply GPS location data too. Other variables might include camera serial numbers, original filenames as well as items that you can add yourself from pre-loaded drop-down menus. I have every county in the United Kingdom loaded as well as a large number of towns and cities and I also have some specific locations where I work regularly pre-loaded. By choosing a specific city from one drop-down menu you can use variables to add it to relevant other areas of the IPTC automatically. You can see some examples of variables in the caption below.

pm_stationery_pad

My main caption starts with {city}, {state}. {iptcday0} {iptcmonthname} {iptcyear4} which will then become something like Brighton, East Sussex. 12 December 2013 if I have all of the right information ready to go. If there are more details to add to the generic caption it is easy enough to do those in batches using the stationery pad.

Variables can also be used in the renaming of files.

pm-rename

This requires you to add the IPTC caption before you rename the files because using the {headline} variable automatically includes the headline you have used in the filename. I find this to be very useful and very good for saving time. In practice Photo Mechanic will sequentially rename 100 files in about ten seconds using this method.

The other really useful feature that Photo Mechanic has for helping with captions is code replacement. The idea is similar to variables except you create your won shortcuts. Sports photographers use this a lot and it saves a great deal of time. Imagine a football (that’s soccer to everyone in north America) team with 22 squad players – many of whom have unfamiliar and difficult to spell names. Using code replacement you can preload a text file with the teams before the game using shirt numbers. The England team, for example, would have numbers from EN01 to EN22 with the names of the players set against those numbers. Using code replacement you would type \EN08\ and the software would immediately recognise that as 8 Wayne Rooney or whatever you have set it to say. I use it for political figures so \dcam\ automatically becomes The Rt Hon David Cameron MP. I can add a second part to that if I so wish \pm\ would add Prime Minister.

I also use code replacement for shooting musicians and bands. It is really easy to create a text file with the names of all of the band members and then use the shortcuts to add the relevant people to each frame. You select the shortcuts yourself and the long versions yourself. Once you get the hang of code replacement, it becomes a central part of your workflow.

At this point I’ll often do a second tighter edit. I’ll keep all of the RAW files that I have copied over from the cards but only convert and send the best to the client. For some news jobs that is only 6-10 images and for other editorial assignments anything between a dozen and thirty. Some of the corporate jobs I shoot end up with a couple of hundred files and working on those proves the efficiency of this workflow because it is scaleable and repeatable.

Once I have my RAW (CR2 or RAF) images selected, captioned and renamed it is time to highlight them all and open them in Adobe Camera RAW in Adobe Photoshop. There are a number of great RAW conversion options out there and whether you use Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, Capture One or any of the others you need to make sure that the one you use doesn’t strip your carefully added caption information during the RAW conversion process.

acr-window

This is what the Adobe camera RAW window looks like. You can select a number of images from the strip down the left hand side and apply the same adjustments to all of them. I don’t want to run a complete ACR tutorial here but I would like to mention the straighten, sharpen, crop and lens correction adjustments as well worth learning. Of course those are secondary to the basic correction options such as colour temperature and tint, exposure, contrast, highlight and shadows etc. I find that I rarely need to open an image into Photoshop itself simply because all of the things that I’d normally do to a picture can be done right here in Camera Raw. Every few frames I will highlight those that have been corrected but not yet saved and save them. A decent computer with enough RAM will happily save the adjusted RAW files into whatever format you choose in the background whilst you continue to work on the rest. Once I have hit the “save” button on the last files I then click on “done”. Most of the time I am saving files at their default size as high quality Jpegs with some sharpening into the same folder as the RAW files. Photo Mechanic then updates the folder to show the RAW and Jpeg files together (you can separate them if you wish to) with a thumbnail from the newly saved Jpeg.

One of the best improvements between Adobe Camera RAW in Photoshop CS6 and Photoshop CC is an improved and expanded “save” dialogue window. You now have the option to set a target size, target amount of compression and apply a set degree of sharpening. With modern cameras producing pictures of over 60 megabytes and many of my clients wanting their photographs to be considerably smaller than that I am now using the target size more and more. My default setting is 4800 pixels along the longest side and with a maximum compressed file of 3200 kilobytes.

acr-save

Once I have my images all saved I return to Photo Mechanic and copy the Jpeg files into a new folder ready to send to the client. More and more that folder is a Dropbox one and I will give the link to the images to the client. For news jobs I can simply FTP the images (having saved them at a smaller size) and for some commercial clients that means burning the pictures to a DVD or CD. However they are delivered, the images are correctly sized, nicely prepared from the RAW files and properly captioned and renamed. All of this is done quickly and efficiently without damaging any originals.

When the urgency of the edit is over, I copy the files to a RAID drive in my office, to a portable drive that lives in my car and to a third drive which is away from my office ‘just in case’. I might then treat myself to a coffee…

Philippa Gregory – the contact sheet

© Neil Turner/TSL. Philippa Gregory, October 2004

© Neil Turner/TSL. Philippa Gregory, October 2004

I haven’t done one of these contact sheets for a long time and I thought that this set was an interesting example. I submitted this set of sixteen pictures and they are all landscape in orientation. That’s because the slot they were shot for was across two pages and always a squarish landscape image. As I said in the previous post, the whole thing was done in ten minutes on a dull Autumn (fall) day in Hyde Park. That time included setting up and breaking down the Lumedyne light and chatting to the subject. Note that she is clutching her novel in the opening frame. I find that it’s always a good idea to do that if their publicist insists so that you can then go on to get the pictures that will actually get used.

Fearne Cotton – The contact sheet, October 2004.

Back in 2004 Fearne Cotton was enjoying a very rapid rise in her profile and her career was really taking off. The TES Magazine had done an interview with her for their “My Best Teacher” feature and I was sent to a studio in west London to shoot a portrait to go with it.

©Neil Turner/TSL. October 2004, London.

It turned out that it was a hire studio where she had been shot for a BBC magazine earlier in the day and they were (rightly) less than happy about another photographer coming in and piggy-backing onto another shoot. In the end we reached a deal where I shot using all of my own lights in the main studio and in the dressing room as long as I was in and out in twenty-five minutes. I think that the shoot in the studio was over in less than ten minutes and the whole job was completed in fifteen. Fearne had had a long day and the weather outside was dreadful. Neither of us wanted to prolong the job and, even at an early age, she was such a good professional that it was a very successful shoot.

These portraits were shot using a Canon EOS1D camera with 16-35 f2.8L, 24-70 f2.8L and 70-200 f2.8L lenses and lit using a single Lumedyne Signature series flash kit with a 24×32 inch Chimera soft box. The job was shot in the days when I was happy to shoot JPEGs straight out of the camera.

BMX Rider: Contact Sheet

©Neil Turner. Ringwood, Hampshire. 2011

©Neil Turner. Ringwood, Hampshire. 2011

This was a set of pictures shot on location as part of a “how to do it” technique piece for Photography Monthly magazine. The idea was simple – use flash to make something very cool from some sort of active sport. I was put in contact with the tier, Keegan Walker, through a young photographer that assists me from time to time on commercial shoots and we arranged to shoot at the skatepark near where they both live which is about ten miles from my own home.

I used a couple of Canon EOS5D MkII cameras with 16-35 f2.8L, 24-70 f2.8L and 70-200 f2.8L IS lenses as well as the excellent Elinchrom Ranger Quadra flash system supplemented by a couple of Canon 580exII Speedlights with Elinchrom Skyport receivers triggering them. There were plenty of clamps, gels and light modifiers in use too – including my rather lovely modified beauty dish and the equally great Chimera 24″ x 32″ soft box.

The sky at dusk is my favourite backdrop for all kinds of shoots and the May evening sky provided us with something special to work with. Keegan is pretty good at what he does and I had to ask him several times to actually get less height from the ramps so that my pictures looked better! Two hours on a nice evening messing around and shooting pictures is a pretty good way to make a living. The unfortunate part of this particular commission was that I had to write the words that described exactly what I had done and how I had done it. One day I will get around to reproducing the whole piece for you.

Reina Lewis – The contact sheet, June 2006

One of my favourite sets of portraits that I ever made was of a lady by the name of Reina Lewis who had just been appointed to a new post at The London College of Fashion to become Professor of Cultural Studies. The pictures were shot at her home and I could see when I got there that she was definitely aware of how important some good pictures in the right newspaper could be. We shot a range of images from some tight head and shoulders against a plain wall to some full-length sitting ones in one of the elegant chairs that she had.

©Neil Turner/TSL. London, June 2006.

All of the pictures that you see here are entirely uncropped. They were shot on a pair of Canon EOS1D MkII cameras with 24-70 f2.8L and 70-200 f2.8L lenses and lit using a single Lumedyne Signature series flash kit with a 24×32 inch Chimera soft box. The Canon CR2 RAW files were converted using Adobe Camera RAW in Adobe Photoshop CS3.