How to speed up your photography workflow

The last few months have been a major struggle for me. In terms of not being able to find any spare time to anything but shoot photographs. Now as a photographer thats obviously the main point of my job. But theres so much more then just taking photos for me. I like to share my work, I like to write about it, and I like to converse with other people about not only my work, but theirs as well. I want to write some new blogs, I want to create some behind the scenes content, I want to record some videos. I also want to get more personal projects off the ground. But the main factor is I'm just too damn busy. 

Or am I?

Some people may know this about me, but photography isn't the only the job I have. I also have a day job. It takes a lot of time, practice, skill and most of all commitment to make photography a better paying gig then your day job. I work 40+ hours a week at my day job, and then I spend the rest of my time working on all things photographic. I normally average about 4-5 hours a day / evening on editing, shooting, arranging shoots, answering emails etc. In this time frame its a struggle to get things done in a timely manner that I don't become swamped with a mountain of backlogged work. I can blame myself for sometimes getting easily distracted, from the task at hand. The likes of Instagram, messages, Facebook, youtube are the worst type of distractions. I pick up my phone and before I know it 20 minutes has passed by and no work has been done. I'll repeat this process at least 3-4 times, sometimes more a night. Well thats a good hour if not more wasted. All the while that mountain of work I need to get done, is still waiting patiently for me, and it just compounds the problem of not being able to do more of the things I want to be doing as well.

I want to make photography my main job. I want to be my own boss and do something that I truly love. I want to be able to dedicate as much time as I can get to it. But that means I got to work hard. To work hard, I got to up my game in the terms of my productivity. Create content that generates business and opens doors. Content after all isn't going to create itself, and its sure as hell not going to find the right people if it doesn't exist in the first place. 

So I came up with a goal. I wanted to be able to make more time for other things, rather then just take some photos, edit said photos, then deliver to my clients and repeat the process the next week. My plan was to start by switching off my phone. My phone is my number one thing that distracts me, so I started there. If its there next to me and I see a notification pop up, I pick it up instantly and then spend another 5 minutes wasting time doing nothing productive. I turn it off and no chance of it getting my attention. Simple. 

Second thing I did, I brought myself an egg timer. Yes an egg timer. I set a timer for 30 minutes and then work straight for that 30 minutes. When the buzzer goes off, I get up and do some stretches, I get the blood flowing again in my legs, I move around. I do this so I don't get bored or tired of sitting in the same position doing the same thing. In the past I would sit in my chair for a couple of hours at a time and after a while I would just slow to a crawl in my work flow, because I was either getting bored or just plain tired. Thats when the distractions would creep in again. Getting up and away from the computer for 5 minutes is a little godsend. Now when I would go back and sit at my desk and I'm motivated again to crack on with the work. I reset the timer and work for another 30 minutes, but I know at the end of 30 minutes I can get back up and move around, refresh my eyes, take 5 minutes to get motivated again. Sometimes I even use the 30 minute timer to challenge myself, I'll task myself with trying to get a certain amount of images edited in that time frame, each time trying to beat my last score. Its a little thing like that, that keeps me engaged and helps speed up my workflow. Taking 5 minutes is better then wasting 20 minutes doing nothing useful. 

Third thing I did, was create a schedule. I now break up my week into little tasks or goals and try and keep on track to ticking them off. I brought a little dry marker white board, and I detail my week out into what I have to get done, and what I want to get done. A normal week would normally consist of one or two shoots on a weekend. Maybe an evening shoot somewhere in there to. Then I have a day of downloading, sorting through and cataloging images. Then its on to picking the best of the best images and starting to play about with some edit styles and looks. The rest of the week will be a combination of working through my images and trying to edit all of the shots I have chosen. I also sometimes get some retouching work sent to me from other photographers and studios and I have to fit that into my schedule as well, and often have to work to tight deadlines with these. A lot of the time I can be working till the early hours in the morning trying to get stuff done. My own work is constantly being added to the back burner because other things arn't being done in a timely fashion. Those pesky distractions are not helping at all in this instance again. So the idea of writing down my schedule and trying to work to it the best I can has proved very beneficial so far. I now block sections of my days into bite sized amounts of time. On a given weekday, after I get home from work, after I've done the chores, and fed myself. I have a list of things I need to do. Answer emails, download, catalog, pick the best images to work on, edit, social media updates, come up with ideas, retouching jobs, website maintenance, deliver final products to clients etc. If I allocate time blocks to these tasks and try and get them done in the time frame Ive set myself then I should be able to keep on top of my work load and then in turn that frees up time for other things towards the end of the week.

I've been running with this system for the last 4 weeks and I can honestly say its made a huge difference to the way I work and my overall productivity levels have sky rocketed. So much I've even managed to shoot, sort and edit 4 weddings, 5 photoshoots and two big retouching jobs in the space of about 2 weeks, Normally that would have taken me about 6-7 weeks. Its freed up a ton of time for me, that I'm even able to write this blog post. Something that I plan on doing a lot more of in the future. Now that I have more free time.

Take my advice if you want to speed up your overall work flow, you just got to be smarter with your time. Turn off the phone, give yourself a break and schedule your time better. 


Lensbaby Velvet 85 - Review

So as of June 27th Lensbaby have announced a new lens. The Velvet 85mm.

I have been lucky enough to product test this lens and below is my honest and unbiased review of my time spent with it. but first, let me trace my history with Lensbaby products back to the beginning. 

Lensbaby Velvet 85 -  Model / Make up - Sofia Mayers

Lensbaby is a brand that I have been a fan of for quite some time. They are a creative company that helps photographers bring an element of difference to their photography. I still remember the first time someone recommended that I check out this company and the creative lens' and optics that they did for photographers. I was experimenting with old school products using screw on filters or smearing vaseline on my lens' to create a soft focus look to some of my photos. 

Lensbaby Velvet 85 - Model - Finley Alice Clarke - Make up - Charlotte Fenwick

My first lens I purchased was a composer pro with a 50mm sweet optic. This was a lens that had a focus area in the centre of the lens, that was classed as the sweet spot. You could then pivot the lens around to move this sweet spot to the desired place in your composition and then the rest of the image would gradually fall off into a pleasing soft streaky blur. It gave some really interesting results and after the first time, I used it for some portraits I fell in love with it.

Lensbaby Velvet 85 - Model - Brooke Amos

I added to my collection of optics over time for the composer line and I was still using them at least for a couple of images every shoot I did, just to add a bit of variety. But after a while, I kind of kept leaving it in the draw and nearly forgot about it all together.  

But out of nowhere, Lensbaby announced a new product that they were just about to launch and I was enthralled by the images I was seeing with this new Lens that they had manufactured. That lens was the Lensbaby Velvet 56 f1.6.

This was a lens that was capable of creating really soft velvet glowing images but also pin sharp images depending on the aperture that you were using. It was a fantastic lens, it gave me some of my favourite images to date. I won't go into too much detail about that lens, but just know it was and still is a fantastic bit of kit and I love using it. 

Lensbaby Velvet 56 -  Model - Emily Hardisty

Fast forward to April 2017 and I got a wonderful opportunity to product test the beautiful big brother to the Lensbaby Velvet 56mm, the Lensbaby Velvet 85mm. 

Lensbaby had seen my previous work that I had created with the Velvet 56, a lens that was more of an art lens and every day/macro lens. Although I had used mine for a whole host of portraits they felt and so did I, that it wasn't categorically a portrait lens. 

So they created the Velvet 85. 

Lensbaby Velvet 85 -  Model - Blue Kiss

Now for that honest and unbiased review. 

I spent two months with the lens and really put it through a rigorous test. I used it on several shoots, in a variety of different settings from natural light portraits to studio head shots. 

I’ll start with the build quality of this lens is exceptional. As with the 56mm, the Velvet 85 has an all metal body that really feels like it can withstand anything you throw at it. The focus ring gives beautifully smooth movement through the course of its travel distance and is easily found without needing to take your eye from your viewfinder. Using the aperture ring is pleasant and once an aperture is selected it firmly falls into place and stays there.  

Lensbaby Velvet 85 -  Model - Alice Neale - Make up - Charlotte Fenwick

The creative look this lens is capable of is when wide open at f1.8is that you get this very soft velvety glow that spans the entirety of the image. It looks nearly out of focus, however, it's more of a diffused look, then out of focus. Kind of reminding me of vintage soft focus lens from a bygone age. Although at f1.8 I can’t say I was a huge lover of the how soft the images actually were.  But there is a sweet spot in the centre of the lens, and as you stop down the aperture ring, that sweet spot grows bigger. Meaning that more of the image becomes sharper and in focus and the velvet glow slowly gets less. Using the lens at apertures like f4 and f5.6 meant you could have a relatively large sweet spot of focus, yet still have a pleasing yet subtle amount of edge fall off. Using this for portraits is great because it helps to draw the viewer into the image and directly where you want them to, whilst also giving the image an intriguing feel to it. 

Lensbaby Velvet 85 -  Model - Megan Hughes

As a portrait photographer, I love to use lens’ that really compliment the person I'm photographing, and using focal lengths from around 80mm -120mm have always been my go to choices. Shooting with lens’ in that range helps give great compression to facial features and makes everything look in proportion as if you were looking at your subject with your just your eyes. I found the Velvet 56mm to have a little bit of distortion, especially when trying to fill the entire frame with a subject's face at quite close distances. The Velvet 85 has no such issue, it creates a beautiful rendition of a subject's face, as any good portrait lens should. 

Seeing this is a manual lens, in terms of focusing and selecting aperture it takes a little time to get used to. Especially if all you’ve ever known or used is auto lens’. When using this in natural light environments its a lot easier to use, as when you select an aperture and focus it changes it there and then so you can see what depth of field and level of velvet effect will be, just by looking through the viewfinder or LCD screen. However, this does pose maybe one of the only issues I found with this type of lens. When shooting in poorly lit environments or stopping down to apertures in the region of f8 and higher, it becomes very hard to see your subject and get them in focus, because very little light is coming through the lens. On days when you have good light or in a studio environment if there is plenty of available light/modelling lamps this shouldn’t cause any issues though. I used this in some really dark locations and found if I wanted a nice sharp spot and keep a velvet glow look, keeping the lens in f4 I was still able to focus without any issues in finding my subject. Granted I may have taken more photos than I normally would but this was to compensate for it being a manual lens, and I wanted to make sure I covered myself in getting a perfectly focused image. 

Lensbaby Velvet 85 -  Model - Sadie Connolly

One aspect I didn’t fully test out though on this lens is the macro capabilities, I used it probably a hand full of times to try and get a different perspective of the subject I was photographing. But seeing as I like to photograph whole faces I didn’t really pursue this setting too much. I will say though that it did impress me with how close you could get to something and it be pin sharp from just9 1/2 inches away.

Creating images with Velvet 85 is an absolute joy. Using it in the region of f2.8 to f5.6 your images will have a large enough sweet spot to get a good portion of the focus area sharp. Whilst also maintaining that soft and dreamy velvet look. When working on location, combine this with a blown out foreground or background details and you get gorgeous bokeh as well. 

Lensbaby Velvet 85 -  Model - Leigh Sinden

Use it in a studio and crank it to f8 and above and you have one of the sharpest portrait lenses’ on the market today. Plus you can bring a bit of flare to your images with bringing the aperture back down to around f4 again. 

Lensbaby Velvet 85 -  Model/Make up - Sister of sinister

In short, this Lensbaby Velvet 85 is, in my opinion, a must have for any creative photographer out there. I can forgive it for being too velvety and soft at f1.8 and hard to see through at f16 in poorly lit environments. Because at the end of the day this lens is a beautiful beast that isn’t just a one-trick pony. It's a sharp, versatile, artistic portrait lens that you will love using at any chance you get. All Lensbaby have to do now is a create an autofocusing lens and then all my prayers would have been answered, and I would potentially never need to change to a different lens. 

A big thank you to all the people that helped me with these images 

Sofia Mayers, Finley Alice Clarke, Alice Neale, Leigh Sinden, Megan Hughes, Blue Kiss, Sadie Connolly, Sister of sinister, Studio Visage and Charlotte Fenwick - Make up artist.