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The Art of Automation

There was a time when every automobile was built by hand.

Today, there are only a handful of manufacturers that put their cars together one at a time, but those cars are so ridiculously expensive that few of us will ever sit in one, much less own one.

The reason we can all afford a car today is because of automation. Automation is also the reason that there is incredible consistency in the quality of any line of cars. There are too many wedding photographers who want to build their photos one at a time, the old fashioned way. They want to create perfection in each one, but that kind of old-fashioned thinking leads to either unsustainably high prices, or unacceptably long turn around and absolutely no consistency in the quality and style of the product.

Learning lessons from manufacturing mavens.

Automation saves on labor costs and creates consistent results. Of course, you’re an artist, so may be thinking, “what a horrible thing to say about my artistic process. I could never treat my photos like widgets on an assembly line! Where would they get their soul? How would I inject life into them?” And that is where the challenge begins.

The Art of Automation

As wedding photographers, we are tasked with the challenge of delivering a large number of beautiful works of art to our clients. We can’t simply run them through an assembly line because they would no longer be art (at least that’s how we may feel), but we also cannot feasibly Photoshop every single image to perfection because we would never deliver them to clients on time. So we must somehow automate with artistry!

Automation doesn’t mean lack of customization and control.  

Adobe Lightroom allows photographers to artistically adjust handfuls or hundreds of photos simultaneously, and it also enables the use of presets, which apply complicated styles to photographs at the touch of a button. You can buy presets or you can build your own presets, but the success of your photo factory depends on the types of presets you buy or build.

Many presets on the market cost photographers time because they are built with too many items or changes in each individual preset. Many photographers buy “one touch does all” presets and are forced to tweak photos after the fact because, as we all know, one size does not fit all.  Beware of “one touch does it all” presets or actions. They can’t and won’t save you time. Furthermore, all inclusive presets make all of your photographs look exactly the same, which means they look less like unique, perfected pieces of art.

Your Automated Assembly Line

Instead, let’s look at an automated assembly line as an example of an artistic (and productive) photo factory. Notice that one robot lowers the engine, while another bolts it in, and a different one puts on tires and yet another secures windows. Each robot has its job and performs only that one simple job, and performs it very well! Presets should be like robots on an assembly line. Each one is small and targeted to do one specific thing. This way, when we decide that this particular photo should look a certain way, we can – with three clicks – ask three little photo robots to make the desired adjustments. For example, turning a photo to black and white, then adding some sepia tone and the placing a post-crop vignette on the photo. With this kind of automation, each photo looks unique and yet the process is automated down to the a few clicks.

Automation Requires Engineering

Customizable, targeted automation requires forethought. It requires engineering when setting up the factory. The car factory requires smart folks to design robots and program them in the right way and train handlers to operate them. Your photo factory must also be designed correctly. Each preset must be thought out and told to do its job and only its job. Presets must be organized logically so that they are simple to locate. I organize my presets not by what they do, but how they are used. For instance, after I add black and white to an image, I may add a split tone to it, so the sepia tone preset is next to the black and white preset. And the sepia preset does not add black and white and the black and white preset does not change the sepia tone style. Each preset is targeted to do one job and one job only.

Predetermining Presets

By organizing and targeting presets, we create a photo factory where we can efficiently add effects in various combinations to create unique styles on each image without spending time manually adding effects to every photograph. Smart automation is the key to faster turnaround times, consistent quality, and the ability to customize each image as a unique, stylized masterpiece!

You’ll need more in-depth training to design your presets in Lightroom 4. That’s why you should join hundreds of other smart photographers on April 4th to discuss automating your post-production in Lightroom 4 at ‘Office Hours,’ my FREE online webinar.

About Jared Platt

Photographer Jared PlattJared Platt is an Arizona based wedding and portrait photographer and instructor. He teaches workshops and lectures accross the country. To learn more about his workshops and lectures, go to www.jaredplattworkshops.com.

The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!
The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!