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Not All Shortcuts are Shortcuts

Everybody loves shortcuts. Anything to help get the job done more quickly. But you may only be going around in circles unless you start from a solid foundation and thoroughly consider your options.

Long before you start work in Lightroom or Photoshop, you can save a lot of time by capturing a quality image in the first place. Many digital photographers make the mistake of assuming they can "fix it in Photoshop." While that may be true in a technical sense, it would rely more on your painting skills than your ability as a photographer. I suppose if you get good enough at digital artistry, you could stay home and not even both with owning a camera, but that's a topic for another day. As a photographer, there's simply no substitute for doing things right up front. Take some time to learn how to use your camera, and strive to put what you know to use when you shoot. A little extra time invested before you press the shutter release can result in less need for corrections later.

And before you open any editing software, profile your monitor. Without doing so, you may spend time correcting the color and contrast of your images, only to later discover that the problem lies with your monitor, not your pictures. A decade ago, this meant justifying a significant outlay of cash for a monitor colorimeter instead of spending that same amount on a new lens. You can now buy one for just over a hundred dollars, and it will do a better job than earlier models costing ten times more. If you've never used one, you run the software, position the device in the middle of your monitor screen, and wait a minute or so for it to finish. When it does, click "save," and you're good to go. Depending on the age of your monitor and other factors, doing this every few months will give you the peace of mind to know that the colors and brightness you see on your monitor accurately reflect what your camera captured. A word of warning: if you have a lot of images and have never profiled your monitor, be prepared to be surprised. Putting off dealing with this would only mean more images to rework once you do. Trying to take shortcuts by avoiding this could create more work for you later.

Many beginning photographers put off keywording. I know this because I was guilty of this myself at the beginning of the digital era. With only a small collection of images in the early days, it seemed easy to find what I was needed. I named all my images in ways that made sense at the time, and if that didn't provide enough clues, I relied on visually scanning the thumbnails in likely folders. Everybody said I should use keywords, but I saved some time and took a shortcut. But somewhere along the way, I realized that this process was taking increasingly more time and didn't always result in a successful outcome. Keywords help solve this problem in much the same way as an index helps find things in a book. If the tome is short, you can scan all the pages. With enough pages, this becomes tedious, and the monotony of the task can result in some references slipping through your dragnet. Putting off the job of keywording your images may seem like it saves time, but in the end, it can cost far more. There are many approaches to keywording based on the type of images you shoot, personal preferences, and so on, but the time to begin keywording is now. As your image collection grows, keeping up with keywording can become a shortcut by making things easier to find.

When you stop and think about it, there are a lot of things like this. Let's take the case of Adjustment Layers. When I first started with Photoshop, changes to hue, saturation, levels, and curves were baked directly into the layer being edited. Frequently, I found myself making an adjustment to an area, and then later dialing back the effect in at least a portion. Back and forth I went, tweaking an image to make it look as I remembered it. The combined impact of all those edits caused degradation that slowly became more evident as I worked. This, all the more so, since we worked in 8-bit depth back then. Now, as photographers have moved more toward Lightroom where non-destructive edits are the norm, I see some not bothering with learning about Adjustment Layers, believing that the increased precision 16-bit editing provides. The underlying problem, though, remains the same. It may seem like you're only making a few changes now in Photoshop, but skipping Adjustment Layers isn't a shortcut if you care about quality. A bit of time upfront learning how to use Adjustment Layers can be time well spent.

Too much trouble using a tripod? Skipping one may seem like a shortcut, and while it may save time, that savings comes at a cost. Hand holding can make it more challenging to get sharp images, so why make your job more difficult? Buy a cheap tripod, and you'll probably just end up buying a better one later. You get the idea. If a shortcut causes you to head off in the wrong direction, it isn't really a shortcut.

Date posted: July 12, 2020


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