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The McNally Workflow..

Oct 20

In Computer Technology at 6:28am

So this is one of those topics Joe and I are asked about on a very regular basis.  We usually just answer these questions one-by-one, but got an interesting email from one of our readers, Jose Fernandez, a little while back, and figured I might as well just lay it all out.

Here’s why I do the post-processing, not Joe:

As a disclaimer, and to cover my ass, I’ll be the first to admit that we as a studio don’t necessarily do things the “right” way.  Are we entirely satisfied with our post-production/archiving process?  Not exactly.  The thing is, any busy photo studio is constantly producing massive amounts of imagery, and keeping up with it all isn’t always a walk in the park.  On top of that, technology is one of those amazing things that we all are challenged to stay on the cutting edge of.  Computer software, hardware, camera gear- it’s all evolving so quickly, that even if you know your best option today, in another week there’s something else out there that’s potentially better.

Speaking of which, we’re happy to say that our entire studio is now archived on Drobos. We’ve had three 4TB Drobos, along with an old Apple X-Serve RAID (8TB) for some time now.  Just made the move to off the old X-Serve RAID and replace it with a 16TB  Drobo Pro, which is much quieter, more energy efficient, and the user interface is much more intuitive.  Funny (well, not really) how five or six years ago, that old X-Serve was top-of-the-line, cost well over 10K for 6TB of storage, and we’ll be lucky to sell if for a grand now…oh technology.

As for the hardware basics, we have four workstations in our studio, which is entirely Mac-based.  Each station is equipped with an Apple 30″ Cinema Display, and mine is also graced with a Wacom 21″ Cintiq.  Sounds like a lot of screen space, and it is- but having all this speeds up the post-process tremendously.  The Cintiq brings a lot of fun back into editing, that you never knew was there with a mouse.  Once you build one into your workflow, you’d have to be dragged kicking and screaming to go back to a mouse.

I’m not gonna get into PS tutorials, color calibration, etc., as not to bore you to death, but I do hope to just lay out the BASICS of our workflow, and hopefully start a discussion with all of you- so here goes.

The Software: Aperture is the heart of our system. We organize our files on it, and shoot tethered with it in the field. Joe also does his slide shows out of Aperture. It’s a really varied program with lots of processing and organizing power.

-Whenever we can on location, we shoot tethered into Aperture or  Nikon’s Camera Control Pro 2.   Both are great programs in their own right, but there are certain strengths of each which dictate which one will be used in specific situations. The loupe tool in Aperture is a great quick way to double check sharpness while on the fly, and we can easily compare recent shots side-by-side (which CCP doesn’t do).  Aperture also allows the camera to write to the card as well as the computer, which the current version of CCP does not. (Which can be dicey.) With that said, for demo purposes at workshops and such, Aperture’s a no-brainer, since we’ll typically shoot jpeg’s at these types of events.  When it comes to RAW files, they both have issues, so take your pick.

Another occasional tool we use for quickly browsing files in the field is Photo Mechanic.  It’s a really fast, down and dirty way to view thumbnails and make selects.

-We import our cards using Aperture’s Card Importer, a plugin for the program that let’s us import up to eight card simultaneously, while adding metadata.

-From there, the photos go either through Nikon’s Capture NX2, then to Photoshop, or sometimes directly into PS.  Really all depends on what I’m trying to do with the photos.  Each program does certain things better than another, and it’s all obviously preferential.  One very cool feature in NX2 is the Color Control Point tool, and I’d suggest downloading a free trial and giving it a go- If you shoot Nikon. (Joe loves this program. He refers to it as PhotoShop for dummies. One click saves lots of potential layers in PS.)

Not to go too deep into this, but in PS, there’s a million things you can do, and even more ways of getting there.  ”Typically”, I start with a layer to remove any dust, minor blemishes, etc.  From there, it’s on to curves, etc., etc..  We also have really grown to love the PS plug-ins made by Nik Software.  Used in moderation, they help us make certain effects take minutes which would typically take much longer to do…definitely one of the most useful additions to our post prod. process as of late. For a small operation like ours’, with limited staff, time is a huge factor, and the Nik options really can cut hours out of the post process.

One important point to make is that there generally isn’t a huge amount of post done in our studio.  Joe comes from the Kodachrome generation of sorts, and I’m very lucky to do his post, as he’s one of the few people I’ve ever known who consistently produces near perfect files right out of the camera, and I truly don’t mean that to kiss his ass.  If there’s one lesson to learn from all this, it’s that last sentence.  After all, if your photos aren’t so hot when you shoot them, they’ll probably still suck after post-processing, right?  Strive to make that great frame while shooting, not in post.  That’s a whole different discussion though..

-The last step in our process really comes down to organization.  There’s many ways to go about this, but our weapon of choice for the past few years has been Aperture.  We do all of our key wording and folder organization here, and it’s really a lifesaver.  After all, part of my job is to keep track of almost 30TB of digital files.  I can easily search for any file we need and output a “version” of that file, while never moving the original.  There’s a handful of other programs like this, but Aperture just seems to make the most sense to us.

All of our slide presentations are also done through Aperture, and it’s great to be able to use the bluetooth Apple remote to go through it all.

Like I mentioned in the disclaimer at the start, this isn’t necessarily the “right” way do do things, and nobody can tell you the right way (sorry).  As a photographer, part of your job is to find out how several people you admire work, and take what you wish from it, and I guarantee that if you walked into a room of 10 top shooters, all would have different advice.

Hope this covers most of the basics, and feel free to comment back with any other questions..


74 Responses to “The McNally Workflow..”

André Weigel says:

on October 22, 2009 at 5:04 am

Absolutely right! Post-processing… the less, the better!

Fortunatas says:

on October 22, 2009 at 10:30 pm

Nice post as usual :) I’m kind of workflows collector since Peter Krogh’s intervention and it was really interesting to know the way Joe is maintaining his digital assets. Well, not “well” but “WOW!” 30 TB of data… it’s a biggish warehouse

ken cave says:

on October 23, 2009 at 6:57 am

Love to read the posts, but do not usually leave comment, but the workflow issue is always an issue. I too am looking for a way to edit using (Lightroom/Aperture) and NX2. Typically use Lightroom to organize then edit as TIFF in NX2 or find the RAW file and Edit in NX2 save as RAW and TIFF and then import TIFF back into Lightroom. Of course I can never see the RAW edit.


Michael Erb says:

on October 23, 2009 at 10:10 am

You mentioned that you like some of the Nik plugins. I just wondered which ones you found the most useful? Also, have you found that the Nik interface, and specifically the way you select areas, makes color correction faster than Photoshop’s basic tools?

Thanks for sharing some workflow techniques. It is very helpful.

John says:

on October 23, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Drew – thanks for this post. Like some of the others who have commented, the part I’ve never sorted out is how to keep integrity with respect to ability to “see” my NX2 edited raw files if using LR or Aperture… It sounds like you really use Aperture for sorting, culling, tagging, and archiving, but not for editing… If you edit a NEF in NX2, how is that archived and “viewed” with aperture – or is it only TIF or JPG that you archive with Aperture?? Thanks for any further insight.

Nikon freak says:

on October 23, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Nice workflow. See here’s the thing. You guys did lots of photoshoot on location, travel teaching and educate photogs on Photoshop, plug-ins ect. In you blog, you mentioned abt. “Aperture”!? Aperture!? Are you guys forgetting about Abobe Lightroom? I see, you prefer to use Aperture against Lightroom? Hey Scott! Am I missing something here?

Mick Stetson says:

on October 26, 2009 at 12:22 am

Thanks for the update on Joe’s workflow. I was wondering about how you organize the images on Aperture. Joe’s a generalist, therefore his work is going to fit into a lot of different categories, sometimes making it quite difficult to locate certain images in a 30TB systemt. So what’s your global approach — do you first organize by geographic location or by clients (i.e. magazines, corporate, workshops, etc.) or by some other general orientation? Because, as a generalist, it seems that you have to be able to retrieve images from a variety of different avenues in order to get the selects as accurately and quickly as possible. Relying solely on detailed keywords of a particular image is probably not going to work. So what’s your approach?

Alex says:

on October 26, 2009 at 6:46 am

@Nikon freak..
? Really ? what about Lightroom?
It sounds like they don’t use it… is that surprising somehow?


On the subject of Nik plugins..
Id really love it if you could apply ColorEfex and SilverEfex procedurally rather than having to bake out dirty big 16bit TIFs.. just totally blows out your library size.. But thats the fault of the API, not Nik..

What stuff specifically are you using from them? The Film Effects stock simulations?

chris heurich says:

on October 27, 2009 at 1:26 pm

Thanks for sharing Drew.

I have a followup question for ya. Btw, I’ve been committed to Aperture since it rolled out in 2005. Still digging it, lots.

Once images are brought into Aperture, either in the Library proper or as referenced files at what point, how and when do you move images (out) yet manage to keep track of them after they’re not needed for current work or day-to-day in your particular workflow?

Ralph Daily says:

on October 29, 2009 at 7:45 am

Great post, agree with all the questions in the comments, would be interested in the answers. Maybe you could write a book. really.

Rosanne says:

on October 30, 2009 at 9:33 pm

You have changed my life! Nik Software is my salvation.

I have done a bit if a comparison on my blog…

Thank you!

Florin Coter says:

on December 3, 2009 at 3:31 am

Well… I am sure Ansel Adams produced A LOT of sweat in the dark room. This was ANALOG postprocessing. Why is DIGITAL postprocessing so bad? What is the difference, except for the tools? Anything, but anything is there, to increase creativity. Don’t forget that photography is about creativity, not a contest on who is using less processing.

marc m says:

on December 4, 2009 at 12:55 am

thanks for the post but like ralph, curious about some replies ;-)
coming from oldskool kodachrome as well, i can vouch for capture NX as the choice ‘dummy’ approach for post-processing, not to mention its quality and faithfulness to the ‘original’. and nik filters have been the same sort of revelation for me as tiffen graduated filters were back in the day.
one issue i have with the aperture/lightroom suites is the lack of camera/nx (nikon) rendering in the previews. i find this absolutely frustrating (shouldn’t they be using nikon’s engine?!) which is why i’ve been relying on expression media and photo mechanic for my cataloging needs :-(

Brian Spriggs says:

on February 23, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Joe, just finished HSD and it was almost as awesome as I had hoped it would be. I shoot a lot with a speedlight or three and your insite and experience is incredible. I enjoyed this book about as much as humanly possible, the only thing that could have been better was to have more Mongo drawings to help us poor neanderthals to better understand your setups. I have watched enough of your videos online though to sort of “get you” and the way you work Truly Mongo exists but you have a way of pulling of “THE” shot when it looks hopeless. Please do not stop giving us the speedlight treatments along with your fabulous elinchrome high dollar stuff as well. Remember the old guy that helped you when you were getting started, becoming a “man” in the newspaper trade? Well, now you are that “old man”. And I as the young kid, thank you more than I can ever show!!!!

Nathan Chadwick says:

on March 6, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Hi guys, I’m buzzing from the past few days at GPP in Dubai – Joe many thanks for imparting your wisdom and inspiration on everyone that attended your classes including me. Chris Hurtt mentioned that you use Aperture together with Ps and I’m keen to understand a couple of specifics of the workflow process if it’s not too tedious to explain to me – ironically I didn’t want to ask this qn in a room of 50 people and yet here I am putting it on the web!:
- where should I save my photos if I want to use Aperture together with Ps? When I started using Aperture I imported my library into Aperture, but now that I’m using Ps there appears to be a flaw in my workflow: when I use Bridge to find photos for editing in Ps, I can’t access any photos in my Aperture library. As a work around, I’ve started dragging photos from Aperture to my desktop and then editing in Ps, then import it back into Aperture when done, but there must be a better way
- Assuming that better way is to save photos outside the Aperture library, does this have any other drawbacks I should know about (eg reduced functionality in Aperture/ other Apple apps)?
- Does Aperture support .psd files, or do you have to flatten to .psd before importing back into Aperture?
- Is there any way I can have photos edited in Photoshop import directly into Aperture when I save them?
- Does Photoshop have an add-in for Aperture (or vice versa)? (wishful thinking I assume given that Aperture competes head-to-head with Lightroom)
Many thanks for any advice you can offer, and keep up the inspirational work

Anthony Ferrar says:

on March 10, 2010 at 2:50 pm

No doubt that Apple Apertures are the way to go for any serious photographer. Excellent article.

Jack Thompson says:

on March 12, 2010 at 12:08 am

Can you do a post on the actual filing workflow? I know it’s boring, but i’m currently in the predicament of filing

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