How To Process Photos and Deliver Them Quickly To Clients
Mastering the art of processing and delivering photos efficiently is a crucial skill for any professional motorsport photographer. Let’s have a look at the steps you can take to streamline your workflow to ensure swift photo processing and delivery.
Only Capture The Photos You Need
It goes without saying that the fewer photos you take, the less photos you need to sort through. This, above every other tip I’ll mention in this post, will significantly speed up the process of getting your photos out to your customers.
When you are new to motorsport photography, it can seem essential to get every photo of every car all the time. However, with experience, you’ll learn that knowing who you are shooting for and the photos you really need to capture will allow you to not only streamline your time trackside but also once you get back to the media centre to process and deliver your images.
One of the biggest hold-ups in getting photos out to your customers is downloading your images once you get back to the media centre.
Fortunately, with an investment in technology and good processes, this is also the easiest area to make improvements to get your images out to your customers faster.
From a technology standpoint, this is where good-quality memory cards and card readers come into their own. In much the same way that memory card write speeds are critical for capturing the action, their read speeds are equally important.
By the time you get back to the media centre, you will have numerous gigabytes of data to download onto your computer; slow cards and readers (even the USB cables you use with your readers) can all add bottlenecks to slow down this process.
Did you know that USB 3.2 offers transfer rates of 10Gbps, but if you are using a USB 2.0 cable, you’ll be limited to just 480Mbps? That might not sound like much, but it’s the difference between transferring 10Gb of data in seconds, not minutes. But again, that’s one of a number of factors that play into how quickly you can download your images.
In my experience, I’ve found that sticking with one good quality brand for my memory cards and card readers ensures that I have consistent performance. For me, that’s ProGrade Digital. But I’m sure other people have their own brand allegiances.
Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to transfer speeds is that SSDs are significantly faster than traditional hard drives. I try to make sure that I’ve always got room on my computer’s internal SSD storage to store the day’s photos (which is harder than you think when you can capture up to 10,000 images in a day). However, to do that usually means migrating the previous day’s photos onto an external SSD at the start of each new day.
Again, there are a few different brands of external SSD manufacturers, but I’ve found that Samsung’s SSDs are the best-performing.
In addition to the technology improvements, a couple of simple processes can also streamline your download process.
I know everyone is different, but what I’ve found works best for me is making sure I have a card reader for each camera I’m carrying (usually two, but occasionally three if I’m doing long exposures or remote shooting, etc.).
Obviously, the amount of USB ports you have on your computer can limit this, but being able to download all of my cards at the same time allows me to use the time that I would be waiting for them to download them individually to quickly eat some food or grab a drink etc. Making that time a little more productive than just sitting and waiting. Those precious few minutes are invaluable if you are photographing multiple categories on a busy race program. Then, once they have downloaded, I get straight into sorting and processing.
If you are downloading multiple cards at the same time (and not formatting them once they have been downloaded, which I don’t for this reason), just make sure that the card goes back into the same camera it came out of. Otherwise, you can run into weird little issues, particularly sporadically duplicated file name issues.
Once the photos are on my computer, I open them into Adobe Lightroom Classic and apply a preset on import. I find this process faster and much more reliable using Lightroom to import the images directly. There are many other software tools out there, but for me, the balance between sorting, editing and uploading means that Adobe Lightroom Classic is what works best for me.
Adding the preset on import means that 70%-90% of my edit is already done before I’ve even started sorting through the photos, so I’m seeing what my customers will ultimately see when I’m picking out their photos. It does add a little bit of time to the import process, but it significantly speeds up the edit and upload process because the bulk of the work is already done.
When I’m sorting through my photos, I use a system of colour tags and star ratings to group photos that can be assigned by quick keyboard shortcuts as I’m scrolling through the images, and I can then use the filter options in Lightroom to focus in on those shots for the final edit and export.
For the most part, I can quickly skim through my photos and determine which ones will be best for each customer from the thumbnail preview. But that’s a skill I’ve built up over time, and knowing how I’ve captured the shots to ensure they are usable while trackside. Obviously, super slow pans and other arty shots need a bit more attention to ensure they are up to my standard, which does slow down the sorting process. But I know that when I take them.
Only Edit What You Need
As I just mentioned, with the photos I need to get out to customers sorted using the colour tags and star ratings, I can use the filters in Adobe Lightroom to focus on only the shots I need.
At this point, I can batch-edit photos to make as many additional quick adjustments as needed – at least a quick white balance and crop if required – before exporting them out for my customers.
I don’t do anything else with the other photos I’ve captured. I don’t delete the bad shots. I don’t do any additional edits. I don’t even pick out my personal favourites for social media. Nothing.
Any of that additional work waits until the end of the day (well, usually late into the evening) once all of my customers have all of their photos from the event.
Multiple Internet Connections
Once the shots have been exported, I’m done, and I can either get back trackside for the next group of sessions or head back to the hotel and get some dinner.
However, that doesn’t mean that the process of getting photos out quickly has finished. Uploading photos to the internet so that your customers can actually use them is a big part of the whole process. This is where having a choice of internet connections is crucial.
Some tracks and media centres provide internet connections, which can be great. However, at the end of the day, when everyone else is uploading their images (or worse, videos), this can (and usually does) slow down dramatically.
On the flip side, having your own 5G wireless hotspot can be great. However, this is reliant on mobile coverage from the provider, and there is a big crowd who are also using the mobile network this will also slow down (and become unusable) until that crowd disperses.
I’ve found the best thing I can do to ensure my photos upload quickly is to have a choice of internet connections that I can use depending on what is working at the time. Sometimes, at particularly big events with large crowds, that means leaving the venue before the photos have been uploaded. A 30-minute drive can potentially save hours of upload time depending on what is happening at the circuit, particularly when there is a post-race concert.
Sending Images Directly From Camera
Alternatively, to expedite the delivery process, you can consider sending images directly from your camera.
Back to my opening point, getting images out quickly is often more important than the overall quality of the photos, especially in a world of instant social media updates and editorial websites.
With that in mind, most modern intermediate to professional-grade cameras have some sort of inbuilt ability to wirelessly transfer your photos to or via a mobile device. What that ability is and how you can use it will ultimately depend on the camera that you have.
And while Lightroom and Photoshop exist as mobile versions, this method won’t really allow you to edit the images properly. There are also a number of other limitations to consider (like internet speed and access, as I just mentioned). However, in terms of your customers not having to wait all day to get images from you, this can be a very good stop-gap solution.
How do I do it? I send smaller, unedited jpeg versions directly from my cameras to a website via FTP to allow my customers to securely access my images while I’m still trackside. This is especially handy if I need to cover multiple categories on the same race weekend, taking the pressure off to get back to the media centre.
To facilitate this, I use PhotoShelter, as it is the only reliable service that I have found that meets my security and FTP upload requirements.
In the fast-paced world of motorsport photography, the ability to process and deliver photos quickly is an essential skill.
If you, too, want to streamline your workflow and impress your clients with prompt image delivery, I would strongly consider adding some of these elements to your workflow.
I've been working as a motorsport photographer in Australia since 2012, building up my business InSyde Media. I am very fortunate that I have been able to work at all sorts of motorsport events including Supercars, F1 and WRC all over Australia and New Zealand. Also, check out my personal website where I document my travels and a few other things.
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