There are several different methods for tethering during a photo session and there are multiple methods for organizing one’s archives. But my gradual progression to a Capture One driven universe has immensely streamlined my photography process and boosted my business.
I spoke to you previously about why I shoot tethered and why my laptop has become as essential an on set tool as my camera and lights. Well, maybe the camera is still the most important tool. It is a photographic set after all. Today, I’d like to talk about my slow transition to a Capture One universe and how that specific product has allowed me to propel my procedures and save me hours of time I had previously lost due to an effective yet patchwork process.
First, a quick description of my workflow prior to Capture One. I’ll make this quick since I went into far more depth in my previous article.
Upon getting a chance to work on larger productions, I quickly began to learn that tethering wasn’t so much an option as it was a necessity. Because I already had Lightroom on my PC, my first attempts to tether were using Lightroom on a PC based laptop. Whether it was because of Lightroom or a lackluster laptop, that process just never really took hold. The images didn’t load fast enough, it didn’t feel quite stable enough, and there wasn’t enough added benefit to invigorate my process. That all changed the moment I began using Capture One.
I’d always known about Capture One. I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to assist for some of the best photographers in the business. And, without fail, they were using Capture One software on their tether stations. Being both cheap and quite less technologically adept than a wet rock, my initial inclination to try and duplicate that process through Lightroom was motivated by the fact that I’d already been using Lightroom as my catalog for years. Why not keep it in the family? Still, the larger and larger shoots I began to come in contact with, the more and more I saw digitechs working with Capture One. I knew there had to be something special about the program that inspired such loyalty.
Willing to try and overcome my technical deficiencies, but still, well, cheap, I decided to jump into the tethering process head first. Or, maybe it was more like tippy toe first. I went down to the local Apple store, waded past all the cool kids in line for the latest iPhone, and headed straight for the MacBook Pro with the smallest price tag. All those digitechs on set seemed to be using Mac systems, and knowing I was striving to run a professional set one day, I figured it was a good time to learn the system for myself.
I took it home, downloaded the Capture One software, connected my camera via a brand new bright orange Tether Tools cable, and took a couple shots. I sat back in my chair, looked at the rudimentary shot of my dog lying on the couch now displayed big and bold on my screen and slowly said “Holy Moly.” Actually, I didn’t say “Moly” but rather another four letter word starting with an S, but as this is a family site, I thought it more prudent to edit my discourse.
As I already said, I am not someone who got into photography out of a love for technology. My ability to appraise a technology’s benefits are more in line with the procedure of a common eye exam when the ophthalmologist holds two lenses of varying strengths in front of my eye and asks simply “A or B.” But looking at these first images passed through the Capture One raw converter was a revelation. It’s not like Lightroom does a bad job of processing raw images. But something about those identical raw files being processed through Capture One just, well, they just looked better. I’m sure there are people in the world who can do a better job of explaining why that is down to the particular algorithm. There are likely also those who prefer Lightroom’s treatment. But to my eyes, Holy Sweet Mary those files looked good.
Perhaps even more important than that, they appeared on screen instantaneously even when attached to my entry-level laptop. Much faster than I’d experienced trying to tether to Lightroom. it may have only been a matter of seconds, but when I’m on set firing off dozens of images in rapid fire succession, this fractional addition in speed really adds up.
But the real selling point to me for Capture One was the color adjustments. Yes, you can work in the Develop module in Lightroom to create color adjustment presets. Yes, you can export each of those images individually to manipulate curves in Photoshop. But the ability to fine tune color adjustments through Capture One is simply ten times more powerful. The interface is also remarkably intuitive and even the least technologically adept person can be color toning in minutes.
As someone who makes subtle color adjustments a major part of their creative process, I’ve spent hours creating a variety of color toning presets in my system. Capture One allows me to apply those presets to all incoming files before they pop up on screen. As a result, the clients hovering around the tether station are seeing exactly my vision for the final result right there in real time, rather than me having to give them my word that I will make it look cool in post. If they aren’t so keen on my vision, I can make additional tweaks right then and there and apply it to all the images going forward. So now the client and I are on the same page and when I walk off of the set I have an entire session already color corrected and already meeting with the client’s approval. All I have to do is kick out files for the client to proof and make their selects and then I can get to retouching.
Of course, old habits die hard. For several years, I maintained a dual system. I would shoot tethered to my Capture One loaded MacBook Pro. I would then spit those images out with the adjustments as TIFFs so that I could move them over to my PC and into my Lightroom catalog. Then do final edits in Photoshop. Then re-import into Lightroom. Then export from Lightroom to my eight standard preset file sizes that I find most useful.
If you’re thinking to yourself that this process seems cumbersome, you are right. If you’re thinking, there’s a better way to do that, well, I’m getting to that.
As has been my pattern of behavior since I was a little boy being taken to the local YMCA for my first swimming lesson, I began my Capture One journey by simply dipping my toes into the water. Once I realized how good the water felt at the base of my feet, I dove in head first.
The key to being able to finally leave the safety of the diving board was in a more thorough exploration of the catalog workflow in Capture One. For those of you who don’t know, there are two ways to work in the program: catalog or session. The session is intended as a project-based approach. You tether to a session. You shoot into the session’s Capture folder, move your best shots to the Selects folder and the rejects to the Trash. Then, you export the finals into the Output folder using your export presets, which Capture One calls “recipes,” and you’re all done.
This is my preferred way of working when initially acquiring the shots that will comprise an assignment. It creates a self contained session with the raw images, a sidecar file (list of instructions that contain any adjustments you’ve made) as well as the final outputs. I can then just locate the parent folder for the session on my hard drive, send that where it needs to go, either to a client or a backup drive, and “boom,” I’m set.
The catalog approach is similar to the Lightroom catalog. Its main purpose is to allow you to keep an accurate record of your entire image archive so that you know where all your files reside and are able to access them when they are required. Since my own Lightroom catalog just recently topped a quarter million files, this is that part where I was most hesitant to rock the boat.
So what changed? Well, three things really. One, as my PC began to slow, I chose to replace it with an iMac. Because my on-set workflow had become so ingrained with tethering to my MacBook, it seemed logical to keep the desktop and laptop in the same family.
Two, once I got my Mac as a desktop, I loaded Capture One to that system as well. Capture One does work on a PC, but since my process was already segregated, I had been using it exclusively on my laptop, then finishing the second half of the project the same as I always had on my PC with Lightroom and Photoshop. Illogical? Yes, I admit, change can be a process. But when I acquired my iMac, I could now simply unplug the external drive containing my session from the MacBook running Capture One and plug it into the iMac running Capture One, open the session file and voila! I can pick up exactly where I left off.
And three, I discovered an incredibly thorough series of free tutorials posted by Capture One to YouTube that gave me a better understanding of working with a Capture One catalog. Previously concerned that working with a Capture One catalog might be limited as compared to working with Lightroom, I quickly realized that not only did it provide equal capabilities, but in many ways exceeded those capabilities relative to my workflow. Those same raw conversion techniques and color adjustments would now be available to my entire archive. Additionally, by keeping it all in the Capture One family, I could simply import the entire Capture One session, including all the adjustments and subfolders, into my Capture One catalog without having to export any additional files.
Oh, and speaking of exporting files, this is probably the moment to highlight the biggest time saver I’ve found to be the result of the new process. As I mentioned, previously, I was doing final adjustments in Photoshop and exporting files from Lightroom. Personally, I have eight standard file types I use to export the final selects for every session. These range from huge TIFF files for clients all the way down to minimally sized low res JPEGs for the Copyright Office and everything in-between. True, I could just wait to make all those exports when they are needed, but I like to keep them on hand so that they are easily available without any additional work should I need them in the future. I also back up these files in triplicate in separate locations, so that if anything were to happen to the drive containing the original raw files, worst case scenario I have the completed files safe and secure at a separate physical location.
I do have all of these set up as presets in Lightroom. The only thing I’ve never been able to figure out, perhaps someone here knows the proper way, is how to export all of those eight presets simultaneously. By that I mean I previously had to export the TIFFs. The come back an hour later and export the JPEGs. Then come back to export the web versions. And so on, and so on. This works, but it’s time-consuming and requires me to keep walking back and forth to the computer. Or, at a minimum, I have to physically present to start each export individually. In Capture One, I’ve built identical export presets, but I can select all eight of them at the same time, hit “process,” and all of those different file types will be spit out into separate subfolders all in one go. It still takes a while to complete, but I only have to hit the button once, then I just come back when the entire process is complete. It’s like the George Foreman grill of exporting. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but that little function saves me hours by not having to manually monitor the export process. And, because the images have never left the Capture One universe (aside from non-destructive round trips in and out of Photoshop), I am always working closest to the source material which allows me a better exported file as well as easier flexibility should a client have a last second change of heart and want me to go back to the drawing board.
Capture One is also something of an industry standard with regards to commercial photography. Because of that, most of my larger clients are already using it as part of their own workflow. With this standardization comes increased portability. For example, I am often asked to come and shoot on location in other states or even other countries. In these scenarios, I am usually not tethering to my own MacBook, but rather tethering into a digitech’s workstation hired for the shoot. At the end of the shoot, the files often go directly to the clients without ever making it back to my office desktop for perusal and further editing. It is literally a hard drive handoff. But rather than wait for the client to make their selects or wait on sending images back and forth either online or through a messenger, I can instead plug an external drive directly into the digitech’s workstation at the end of the day, have them copy the session folder onto my drive, and hop my flight back home. Once I get back in front of my desktop (or laptop in the next hotel room), all I need to do is plug it into my system running Capture One and the session will open up exactly the way it appeared on set. So now, if I need to go back and make adjustments or provide additional files, I have everything right at my fingertips ready to go while the client has a duplicate session with adjustments available for their in-house team.
The benefits of keeping my workflow inside the Capture One universe are far too numerous for me to adequately summarize in a single article. And having used Lightroom myself for over a decade, you won’t find me using many unkind words towards its own abilities. But simplifying my process by slowly migrating to a process contained within Capture One has allowed me to improve image quality, communicate more efficiently with my clients and creative team, save time (and thus money) in post-production and processing files, as well as reduce my delivery time while simultaneously making it easier to address last second alterations.
For someone not technologically inclined, my evolution to this way of working may have been exceedingly gradual. But now that I have surrendered to simplicity, I am able to move at the speed of light.