I thought it might be useful to document some of my current photography workflow and processes. Partly because writing it down helps me to cement the process and sanity check it, but also because I’d have liked to see other photographers workflows while I’d been developing my own.

So this is the start of what will eventually be a series of posts on various parts of my photography process. None of this is new or ground breaking, I just find it useful to document each step.

To start with it’s worth considering what I’m trying to achieve with my personal system. I came to digital photography from a firmly analog background. I learnt photography reasonably seriously first with a 35mm Zenith camera, moving onto the Olympus 35mm OM system and a number of medium format cameras. I had my own small darkroom and process all my own film and prints. I later moved onto 4x5 inch large format, carrying round 11 lbs of camera kit to make a single exposure.

My whole process was slow, considered and deliberate. I used the Ansel Adams Zone system, and worked hard to have adequate control over all my materials that I could pre-visualize the end result at the moment of exposure. In the darkroom I took care to process my film and prints to archival standards, and hope that my older analog prints will stand the test of time.

My move to digital was somewhat reluctant, I felt I’d miss the darkroom, and couldn’t see how digital process could maintain to soul of an analog process (and much less the exposure latitude of good quality monochrome film). But time and space constraints meant that I was producing less and less photography and I hoped digital might open it back up to me.

So I went digital - and it’s been a revelation. I went for an Olympus OM-D EM1 - a camera that feels immediately at home in the hand of anyone familiar with the 35mm OM system. I’d feared that going digital would make me less considered, and my photography would be more snapshots than anything else. I worried that I’d lose that feeling of flow you get when you totally immerse yourself in creating something. And to start with that’s what happened.

I remembered something I read by Ansel Adams:

The negative is the score, the print is the performance

I realised what I was missing. You’ve not made a photograph until you can hold something in your hand, that true digitally too. So I got an Epson SC-P800 printer, and learnt print making again, just digitally this time. It’s taken some time but I now feel I’ve come full circle and have a process that feels as creative and exciting as my analog process was.

There are three key things I want to achieve with my digital process:

  • Control - To be able to make an exposure and have reasonable confidence that I can make a print that represents what I saw in my mind in that moment. It’s important that I know my process and materials will respond predictably and repeatably.

  • Focus - To make the most of the technology available to me, where that technology is able to enhance my process, but not to use it to replace my own human agency. My workflow shouldn’t get in the way of what I want to make, and should not be constrained by the process being digital.

  • Future proofing - The images that I make should be viewable long into the future. I want to be able to go back and explore and edit old digital negatives, and I need to know my prints will match the archival standards I worked to in analog.

Of course I also want a process that’s enjoyable - one of my great fears of going digital was being stuck behind a screen. Photography for me is a hobby, I make a living in front of screens. I don’t want a process that’s perfect, and computer based, but not enjoyable!

Naturally, what’s important to me may well not be what’s important to you. From before the moment of exposure right through to viewing a finished image, the number of technical permutations and combinations of decisions along the way are vast. This is part of what makes photography so engaging, it’s a big field with sufficient latitude that we can each execute our vision in a unique way

To achieve those three aims there are many things that need to be considered; choice of equipment, process in the field, materials, colour management, post production and editing, file management, archive and backup, presentation, mounting and storage, digital file longevity and technical obsolescence, and so on. Over the coming weeks I’ll write posts about how I’ve decided to approach each of these things.