Workflow questions #1.1 – Taking notes in the field

This post considers the options in response to question 1.1 posed in my earlier post: the questions you should be asking yourself about your workflow.

The question was:

1.1 What are you going to do about taking notes that will help you process your pictures correctly later?

This is something I confess hadn’t occurred to me at all until Scott Bourne, wildlife and landscape photographer, recounted an anecdote while being interviewed about workflow on the popular This Week in Photography podcast.  In particular it was episode #62.

Scott was talking about a student of his who, on examining his images on the computer after a day’s shoot, spotted a series all of the same subject where all but one were clearly over or underexposed.  So he deleted all but the correctly exposed one.  Only when it was too late did the realisation hit him that he had destroyed a sequence he had intended to combine into a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image.

Scott mentioned he sometimes writes the letter “H” on his hand and takes a photo of it to remind himself that the following sequence of exposures are for blending into an HDR.

There are photographic situations like that, when you will not be able to process some of your images correctly without reference to contemporaneous information about conditions, circumstances or intended use.  If you are going to be taking a lot of pictures in a single shoot, it may be dangerous to rely solely on your memory, especially if you might not get an opportunity to process your images for some days.

Another example: it might be helpful to record information about ambient lighting (eg indoors under tungsten bulbs) to help you set white balance later.  Or you might have decided to deliberately underexpose because you wanted to preserve highlight information, but with the intention of correcting later.

Before considering the options, we need to think about the criteria we will use to assess them.  These are the criteria I will use in this post, and in other posts which address questions about workflow:

COST

CONVENIENCE

RISK

QUALITY

(I’ll use a RAG colour coding system)

There will inevitably be a balance to be struck between these.  The choice you make for yourself will most likely reflect the compromise which makes most sense in your own circumstances.

Suggested options:

a) Don’t bother – rely on memory

This is fine if you rarely take large numbers of images between processing sessions, don’t indulge in “special” shots (where the processing has to complement the camera settings), or are blessed with an eidetic memory.

COSTCONVENIENCERISKQUALITY

b) Use a notepad

Make sure you have one in your camera bag and a supply of pens or pencils.  Record the date and location, and any pertinent info about shots you’re taking.  You can go into detail if you need to. The drawback is relating your notes to specific images.  You really need to check your camera for the relevant image file numbers, which can be a nuisance.  And don’t lose the pad.

COSTCONVENIENCERISKQUALITY

c) Write on your hand and take a photo as per Scott Bourne

Great for something simple like introducing an HDR sequence. Not so good for intricate notes when you’re doing something complicated.

COST CONVENIENCE RISK QUALITY

d) A voice memo device


There are small dedicated voice recorders available and many mobile phones support voice memos.  It may though be hard when back at the computer to find info about a specific shot if it’s in the middle of a recording.  And, as with the notepad, you need image file numbers.  Some (expensive) cameras support voice memos which at least takes care of associating each voice memo with the corresponding image.  Applications such as Adobe Lightroom are starting to support camera-recorded voice memos.

COST CONVENIENCE RISK QUALITY (dedicated device / mobile phone)

COST CONVENIENCE RISK QUALITY (camera voice memo)

These are just my thoughts.  Please suggest any solutions of your own.


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