How Can You Reduce The Amount Of Time Spent Post-Processing?

March 8th, 2016

TourVendorsRobert recently asked:

I am wondering if there has been a discussion about ways to improve post processing workflow and reduce the amount of time spent in front of the computer. I typically shoot 30+ photos for each of my agents’ listings and I find it takes me about 2 hours to edit/process a shoot (and that’s after I have Enfused the stacks). While that’s only 4 minutes per image, I’d like to cut that by 1/3 to 1/2 and spend no more than 60 – 90 minutes on processing. I use a few preset for shadows, highlights, clarity, etc. but every image needs some tweaking and that takes time. As the discussion a few days ago about hourly rate so accurately pointed out, the less time I spend on each job, the higher my effective hourly rate becomes.

What advice would you or your readers have to cut my post processing time without sacrificing too much quality.

Yes, this discussion about is it faster to get it right in the camera on-site or is it faster to shoot and process brackets is a classic tradeoff. There are two schools of thought:

  1. The Scott Hargis school of thought: Scott hates spending time at the computer so he invented his now famous technique of using small flashes to quickly get interior images right in the camera on-site. You then only have to do minimal post-processing work. 47.75% of PFRE readers use some variation of this technique.
  2. The Bracketing school of thought: This approach is used by people that want to avoid using small flash techniques or claim that using small flashes takes too much time and equipment on-site. 36.51% of PFRE readers use some variation of this technique.

Here is a PFRE reader poll that shows the split between these techniques. Notice that the majority of PFRE readers use #1. The trick is that #1 takes some work so you can learn to set up small flashes quickly. My experience is that once you learn how to do it #1 is in fact, faster overall because it takes almost no post-processing time.

I have to agree, spending 2 hours of time on 30 images AFTER the brackets have been processed with Enfuse seems to be too long for real estate quality photography. I’m thinking perhaps Robert is being too compulsive about how perfect his images are (after some discussion Robert agreed that he was indeed being too much of a perfectionist with his post processing). This is a potential issue in real estate photography – you need to match your level of effort with the level of quality demanded in your market. Many real estate agents may not be able to appreciate the level of quality you deliver!

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33 Responses to “How Can You Reduce The Amount Of Time Spent Post-Processing?”

  • Hold on there — I invented NOTHING.

    Using strobes to light interiors is what all photographers did prior to the advent of digital. We have to remember that there was very, very good photography being done for decades before Photoshop was invented.

    I personally prefer working with cameras and lenses and lights much more than computers. So I shoot in a way that allows me to spend more time doing what I love — photography — and less time doing what I dislike, which is sitting on my butt staring at a screen. But everything I do is, by definition, “old-school”!

  • I found (#1 Hargis school of thought) to be a huge time saver, and with far superior results. I am so thankful that I stumbled onto this blog, which pointed me that direction.

    It’s interesting to me that although Scott hates spending time in front of the computer, he acknowledges in his book that the ‘higher up’ you go in photo quality the more time is generally spent in PS (dispelling the myth that a great interior photographer somehow just pops finished work out of his camera).

    And I wonder; might Larry’s mention of matching your level of effort with ‘quality demanded’ be a dangerous strategy? Is the typical brokers’ perception of photo quality static? Or do they develop an eye for a better photo? Do better marketing results garner credit, catching other brokers’ attention? …Or, am I wasting my time trying to over-deliver every day?

  • Thanks for the share on this one. Interesting.

  • I spend taking pictures about 1 hour at the home. Take about 60 to 80 pictures. After that I spend about 2 hours behind the computer to edit/modify after selecting the best ones. An average of 30 pictures are then copied to a cd for my client.

  • OUTSOURCE IT!

  • @Scott – Yea, sure I was using a Nikon SB-26 on my Nikon 6006 film camera back in the late 80’s and early 90’s and I read everything I could find on lighting interiors and no one ever talked about how to use multiple small flashes to light rooms until I met you and Tomas Gruba in Seattle in 2008. Before that everyone said you lit interiors with 3 or 4 hot lights. I claim before 2007 or 2008 there was absolutely no information available about how to light interiors with a few small flashes. And David Hobby wasn’t talking about it either. Maybe you didn’t invent it but you and Thomas were the first I ever saw talk about it (https://youtu.be/vXDoI7JyISk).

  • I prefer using flash over Exposure Fusion because it can take less time overall with a little practice. An EF workflow hits an efficiency wall. I spend more time on-site and less time at the computer. Customers notice my time on-site and don’t notice anything else I do. It’s in my best interest to do most of my work where I can be seen so they always feel they are getting value for money.

    I still use EF especially when I want to capture a large space and it would take more time or flashes or hiding places than I have. Small spaces such as bathrooms and secondary bedrooms get to be a slam dunk using only 1 or, occasionally, 2 small flashes.

    Some good ways to speed up a EF workflow is to buy the most computer you can. If you are on a Mac, it’s the MacPro. Yep, it’s $3K, but if it’s saving you 40 minutes per job and you have steady work, the investment pays back PDQ. Always shoot from a tripod so you don’t need to have “auto-align” turned on. Perform a quick inspection of your images before you stack them and send them into Enfuse. Often times you can throw out the most overexposed or underexposed (or both) frames. The fewer exposures you feed in, the faster they come out. Always shoot RAW. Sometimes it’s not necessary to EF a sequence. There may be a middle frame close enough to finish with the Highlights and Shadows sliders in LightRoom.

  • I strongly believe that Photographer should spend his time taking Photographs in the shortest amount of time (30 min for condos and small homes and up to 60 min for very large (over 8,000 sq. ft.) homes. We provide up to 30 Photos and for our Extended Photo Shoots (over 4,000 sq. ft.) up to 45 Photos.
    This way Photographer can shoot up to 6 Properties in a day and…. still have personal life and busy RE Agent loves it as well.
    How to do it…. we shoot bracketed Photos, which makes it very quick at the property and then our Processing Department, which by the way, will be available to other Photographers for Photo Processing very soon, as long as they are NOT in the same area as we are (MA), spends about 2.5 to 3.5 hrs processing our Photographs for the best looking Real Estate Photography in our area.
    (If you are not in our area and are interested in our Post Processing services, which can save you so much time, let me know).
    Our biggest problem for most of the year is that we have more work than we can handle, and in the winter months…. we are still getting orders.
    The reason is that we work with so many agents, that although most of them do not have much business in the winter…. some still do…. it is a numbers game.
    For this reason we never compete on the quality of Real Estate Photographs, which makes us so popular in our area and I don’t spent any time in front of computer…. I let this be done by my Photo Processor.
    Also our turn around time is quick, as we have them done by Next Business Day by 2:00pm.
    Agents actually use our Top Quality Photos to get listings…. as they compare at the time of Listing Appointment our Photos to Agent and also other RE Photographers.
    We are just about to hire some additional Photographers and they’ll spend their time doing what makes them most money and is most fun, and we’ll do ALL Post Processing for them.
    Being originally from Europe, I have set up my Processing TEAM office there, so we have 6 hrs advantage…. so we can have Photos ready by 2:00pm next day (most of the time before Noon).
    The cost for Photographer is be about $50 for Post Processing. Our Photo Shoot fee starts at $200, which means that I can save myself about 3hrs of Post Processing work for 1/4 what I charge for 1 hr or less.
    Those Photographers that do not use others for Post Processing, will either do only 2-3 Photo Shoots per day and work until 10-11pm and have no life or…. do more Photo Shoots and deliver low quality Photos which then… they have to fight for jobs.
    I gladly pay my fee for Post Processing (I do not use China or other Post Processing companies as I did try in the past and quality for far from what I consider excellent). I have trained my own TEAM that are on my payroll and they do excellent job for my shoots.

  • Ups… I forgot to add important point that the high quality photos we create for RE Agents and quick turn-around allow us to be selective in which agents we work with.
    We choose not to work with difficult agents, those that don’t appreciate our work or those that don’t pay us right away.
    I believe that beggars can’t be choosers, but those that provide exceptional quality work (applies to ANY contractor), can choose who they work with.
    This gives us a lot of satisfaction and pleasure in what we do.

  • Taking the time to use flash on location truly makes your life easier and less time in front of the computer.
    Before getting involved with this wonderful blog years ago (Thank you Larry for all your help) and reading Scotts post about small flash units, I was using my large AC monolights and Lumedyne flash units with umbrellas, which was a pain in the neck to carry and set up. Now, I use a few speed lights and the pocket wizard (over priced) radio units. I’ve still not mastered pulling in great window detail, but much better after being involved with PFRE. But getting it right in camera, can be much faster than fixing it in post.

  • What ever happend to Thomas Grubba? I remember meeting he and Scott in Phoenix where they did a joint workshop. At the time he had about 7 SB-80’s in his bag. BTW – that was a great workshop, I went home, got some SB-80’s on eBay and haven’t looked back since (now I’m using Cactus V6’s).

  • Yep, put me in camp #1 as well. I like to get them right the first time and do almost no post-processing. One thing that has sped me up in the field is to use a CamRanger outputting to an Ipad, which is mounted on its own tripod. Outputting to a big screen like an Ipad makes it much easier to know when you hit the bullseye, or which way to make an adjustment if you need one. I’d say it’s cut my field time by about 30%.

  • I have been bouncing light off the ceiling since the 1980s, but I didn’t invent it either, I learned it from someone else who’d been doing it for at least a decade.

    Speed of processing is about Lightroom recipes, and actions in Photoshop. Learn what you do repetitively, and turn them into recipes and actions. Most of the time spent that is wasted is about extra keystrokes that are unnecessary.

  • For my Real Estate Photography services, I use Exposure Fusion and Lightroom. I started out using multiple small flashes (Old School method), but it honestly took too long on-site and the agents and home owners didn’t like the 1-1/2+ hour shoots. Exposure Fusion lets me go into a home and get the shots I need and be out in about an hour or less for an average sized home. Larger homes do take longer, but I can still do a 5000+ sq ft home in about 1-1/2 hours (I have one this weekend actually). I batch process all my stacks and then fine tune them in LR afterwards. I spent about 1-2 hours post-processing, but I can walk away from the computer while the stacks are enfusing and then go back to them later. I don’t mind the computer work after the shoot, and my clients love the results. The “Old School” method may produce better quality light and is favored more in the PFRE contests and Flickr Group, but I think the EF method serves a great purpose for my business and allows me to provide high quality images in a timely manner.

  • Yep, the recipe idea is a great one as well. A lot of the work I do is repetitive (condos with identical floorplans). Now and then, when I really nail a shot, I take note of all the settings and put them into a Notes document in my Ipad (which I always have with me). That way, then next time I am in a similar situation, I can just call up the notes, re-create the settings, and voila, instant magic.

  • I’m surprised that nobody has mentioned a third option.
    That option being a mixture of small flash and multiple exposure Fusion.
    I use this technique occasionally, but most of the time I’m in the group that uses multiple exposure fusions. The advantage of the third option is it allows you to get the colors just right on those difficult (mixed lighting) situations. The first image is shot with off camera flash, and the rest are shot with the flash turned off.

  • I think you have to match your methodology to your business model which in turn needs to be worked out based on your market and what it wants.

    For those who determine the best business model is to shoot as many properties as possible and their clients are not that demanding, Scott’s approach is ideal. If you do it as well as he does, it is ideal quite far up the quality level of client expectations. It might take a bit more time in the set up but that is more than offset by reducing post considerably or not at all if you outsource the post. After all, you make more money but shooting than slaving over a hot computer.

    But if you are establishing a business model based on high end properties, it is more likely (but not guaranteed!) to be working with clients who do want quality photography commensurate with the quality of the properties they are selling. And remembering that a higher percentage of the photography is used to attract other owners to list than actually selling any one property. So this model requires individually processed images that meet or exceed the expectations of the agents you are working for.

    So there is no one answer to this question. Tools have to be matched to your market expectations and your business model.

  • Easy enough to answer, do the work “in camera.” My day job is being the digital marketing director for a small company and I hate sitting in front of my computer. Why someone wouldn’t want to do the work “in camera” to minimize post time is beyond me. I whip out my six strobes and go to town. I spend the time on site to get it right which in turn allows me for a quick delivery of the final product to the client and paycheck in hand.

  • Great post Larry. How old are those statistics from that poll?

  • @Russell – I always consider Enfuse hybrid and HDR hybrid (where you use a single flash while shooting brackets) just a variation of bracketing because you have to process brackets. Yes, if you are going to bracket the hybrid approach is the best way to shoot brackets.

    @Caleb – The poll I link to in the post is from 2014 and as you can see in that post I compare the 2014 poll to the same poll I did in 2011 and the trend is towards using small flash (#1). The reality of the polls are that the dates shown on the polls are when I first put up the poll and people continue to take the poll for years after it goes up so the poll doesn’t represent a single point in time.

    @Don – I believe Thomas is still in business in the San Francisco area (http://www.tgrubbaphoto.com/)

  • All of these solutions (treatments)–whether pre- or post-processing or some combination of the two–share a common problem, viz., current sensors’ ‘low’ dynamic range (DR)–with the exception of wanting a certain kind or direction of lighting within a shot. Even the mentioned exception could (will) be handled during post-processing, given a file with sufficient RAW information and the software to faithfully simulate diverse lighting situations. I suspect it won’t be too long from now that high DR sensors will permit taking just one shot that can be easily and quickly post-processed to realistically simulate almost any lighting condition.

  • While I understand and appreciate Scott’s method, it’s just not feasible for me. I’m currently working every hour of sunlight available to me and processing at night. I shoot LR Enfuse/flash and the average home takes 45 minute to and hour and processing is the same. My goal with every assignment to keep the whole thing at about 2 hours (on site and in post). Clients not only love my work, but appreciate that I do my work quickly, so they can get back to selling homes.

    So back to the original post…

    I’m not sure why you are spending 2+ hours in post for one location. First, I NEVER promise a set amount of photos unless my client insists on it. I tell them that I will provide enough photos to “tell the story” of the home… usually 16-25 photos. (I have some clowns in my area offering 40-50 photos for $100!) In post, I have a standard adjustments that I do to all my photos and created presets for both interior and exterior images. This gets my photos in the ballpark, then I quickly do color corrections and photoshop edits as needed. The whole process including Enfuse processing and Photoshop edits (including sky replacements) takes no more than an hour. So my advice… Presets!

  • I did not see the use of Photomatix brought up in these posts. There are several folks that send bracketed shots to that software and lover the results. I am not one of them. I use Capture One Pro 8 for Sony. I bracket 5 to 10 shots per room and cherry pick what looks best for lighting the room. If there is window blowout, I paint the window, bring down the exposure, alter the kelvin if needed, sharpen and saturate but not very much and then clean up my mess with the eraser. Every one swears that the shots are HDR. It takes about 2 to 4 minutes per shot. I always provide over 25 shots to my agents but I’ve got it down to 90 minutes per session.

    I also get how flash can really speed things up but I’m new to it so I pick my use of flash carefully. I only have one but i bought a remote and hand hold the flash into a corner behind me if I have one and set it for 1/8th power. I always have to get the blue out buy altering the kelvin but not mush else besides what I have described above.
    Nice topic
    PM

  • Hi

    Im about to start this business and am learning off camera flash and doing HDR merge in LR. is enfuse a much better product for bracketing than the merge?

    I Too want to lessen post, so,would love any comments to my question. Thanks.

  • @Sharon – The quality of HDR merge in Lightroom is quite good but the problem it has is that it currently doesn’t have a way to run in batch mode. Both LR/Enfuse and Photomatix have a batch processing mode that allows you to process brackets from a whole shoot in batch mode which can be a significant time saver. LR/Enfuse (http://www.photographers-toolbox.com/products/lrenfuse.php) is a good product and is donation ware.

  • @ Gary E Karcz –
    “…Even the mentioned exception could (will) be handled during post-processing, given a file with sufficient RAW information and the software to faithfully simulate diverse lighting situations. I suspect it won’t be too long from now that high DR sensors will permit taking just one shot that can be easily and quickly post-processed to realistically simulate almost any lighting condition.”

    While I admire your optimism, I think you’re in for a long wait. It’s certainly possible right now to create excellent renderings from scratch (just pick up an IKEA catalog and try to figure out which images are photos and which are rendered) but it’s a totally different thing to do that with a physical location.
    I used to think that HDR and all of it’s cousins were going to be the big thing – that so long as you didn’t care about the quality of the light, we’d be blending our way to the dynamic range we wanted. Turns out I was wrong. If the only goal is to boost the shadows and pull back the highlights to a point that they can be displayed on a screen, then a single, intelligently-exposed RAW file is more than sufficient in all but the most extreme situations (at which point two RAW files will suffice). Today’s RAW files and software are hugely powerful — you can get more from a single exposure than you can with all the recipes and automatic software in the world. All you have to do is take a stroll through the PFRE Flickr pool, looking at the HDR/Blend images — blown highlights, clipped shadows, and utter lack of midtone contrast is the rule: EXCEPT when conditions were already great.

    But lighting things is about much, much more than dynamic range (if that were it, I doubt if I’d carry any lights at all). It’s about this:
    http://blog.scotthargisphoto.com/why-we-light-things/

  • @ Scott Hargis

    “…I admire your optimism…”

    My ‘crystal ball’ statements are not rooted in optimism, but reflect the likely outcomes of the geometrically-progressive evolution and refinements of current software and hardware technologies. My one-shot, hypothetical scenario was bi-conditional: 1) A high DR sensor, and 2) “…the software to faithfully simulate diverse lighting situations.” One could certainly merge two+ files now to approximately achieve our vision’s ~24-stop DR. However, we’re still stuck with ‘unintelligent’ software for the post processing. I think we’ll be seeing AI-infused software which can intelligently and faithfully manipulate the lighting conditions (not merely a function of DR) as one could actually do on site. To get a slight hint of what I mean, take a look at Oloneo PhotoEngine’s HDR ReLight:

    http://www.oloneo.com/en/page/products/photoengine/hdr-relight.html

    Now, run this AI-infused, post-processing software on a quantum computer and I think we’ll be able to easily replicate just about any lighting conditions we want, being limited only by our imagination after leaving the RE shoot.

  • Is there something wrong with my computer, or this thread? The lower case i (I) is missing from everyone’s posts. LOL. Bizarre.

  • @ Gary,

    Uh huh. Well, these posts are date and time-stamped, so we’ll just have to figure out what reasonably constitutes “[not] too long from now” and see when your vision comes to fruition. If we live that long… 😉

    FYI, the human eye/brain can resolve about 14 stops, not 24.

  • @Roy
    I noted that as well…. Just try to compose your post and not use any lower case I’s.

  • @Scott Hargis

    “FYI, the human eye/bran can resolve about 14 stops, not 24.”

    “We have already seen that the total lux levels the eye can accommodate is about 30 stops of light – or 1,000,000,000:1 from white to black. This ratio is called the Static Contrast Range of the human eye.”
    “The dynamic range of the human eye is about 20 stops, or 1,000,000:1.”

    From “Notes by Dr. Optoglass: Dynamic Range of the Human Eye” at http://wolfcrow.com/blog/notes-by-dr-optoglass-dynamic-range-of-the-human-eye/

    I used ~24-stops (i.e., approximately 24) since it’s close to the median value of 20 and 30 mentioned above, and because it’s cited elsewhere, e.g.: http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/dynamic-range.htm

  • @ Larry, There is kind of a batch process in LR. Place your bracketed images in stacks, select the first stack and use the keyboard shortcut Shift->Control->H. Move to the next stack and use the same shortcut. The Merge to HDR feature in LR runs in the background. Once the images are merged LR places the merged image right next to it’s stack.

  • Whilst I respect the techniques other photographer prefer, my way of producing photos lies on the quality of equipment I use. I found that by using a decent PC with latest i5 CPU + 32GB of RAM I can reduce the time of post-processing significantly. My stacks are processed by HDR software much quicker. Filters can be applied much faster, etc, etc

    I prefer a technique with 1 flash + lots of retouching. I tried using 2-3 flashes for a while but there is too much hassle for me if my job is to only take photographs of a house. I simply love retouching at home and after being a property photographer for 3 years I figured out a nice technique that delivers photos my clients are satisfied with. Basically that’s what I do:
    – I only use HDR for externals or rooms that have large windows to save time (for internals I take 1 shot), but before I shoot I quickly tidy up the room, remove large objects
    – I use AV mode on my camera to have all photos exposed the same
    – then at home I work like a maniac and retouch all the photos in the same way using Lightroom/Photoshop

    I don’t say I am a guru of property photography and in fact I still learn new things, but I found that the more experience you have the quicker you process your photos as you simply know what to do and how your photos should look like.

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