QUALITY CONTROL YOUR IMAGE LIBRARY
Self-assessment of our own work is one of the hardest things a photographer has to learn to do
Your portfolio needs to showcase the best of your photographic ability, so follow our advice on how to periodically reassess your image database and quality control your work for commercial success
Ensuring that the images you supply to your customers are of the highest possible quality is a deceptively challenging task. While investing in professional equipment and perfecting your technique will provide more consistent results, shooting files is only one stage of the output process. Sorting an image database and isolating the best photos from a particular shoot is a skill in its own right. The working photographer has to establish that their images are fit for purpose and are aligned with the required functions expected by the client.
The first stage is to determine what the term ‘quality’ means in any given circumstance. What is desired by one consumer is not necessarily considered of utmost importance by another. While stock agencies aiming for sales to poster and magazine publishers are likely concerned with absolute sharpness and even lighting, a newspaper picture editor may place more emphasis on subject, context and timing. For a breaking news story, successfully capturing an illustrative image in the right place at the right time is more important than technical perfection. Be sure that you offer your client what they need for their current project by defining the parameters of what makes a successful image, while sorting files for deletion or archiving.
An effective strategy is to pass images through multiple stages of assessment – which allows comparison to similar frames – to make an informed decision about which is the most appropriate. At the initial stage, run through the images in a timeline view in Lightroom or Adobe Bridge, assigning a quick star rating as you go. There is often limited use in applying a scaled rating at this point; a two or three-star label won’t indicate a usable image anyway, so a better strategy is to eliminate these files from your library now and avoid a convoluted rating system. Simply star any stand-out images and delete failed
“Offer your client what they need for their current project by defining the parameters
of what makes a successful image”
shots – all other images are worth further scrutiny, or may be useful in the future.
Always make image assessments in a
‘clean room’ – a space with neutral-coloured walls (mid-tone grey is the best ambient colour) and no direct, undiffused sunlight.
This will work around issues relating to colour misrepresentation and exposure discrepancies induced by the vision of the examiner. Always calibrate your monitor in the same room as you intend to analyse and edit your work, to circumvent unexpected colour and brightness shifts. It is also a sensible idea to save multiple edited copies of your images, to give you several file choices later and to increase the chance of you having an image that matches client requests. This may relate to variances in image resolution, sharpness and composition.
Whenever starting out with a new camera, lens or computer monitor, try making test prints on different media to create a reference for future image workflows. When gauging image quality on-screen, use the printed samples to form an idea of how the image will appear to the client. This may help you make a choice between two shortlisted files. For archiving purposes, choose a lossless format such as TIFF to be certain that your qualityassessed files are not altered by compression at the final step. Finally, use a side-by-side view to compare the outputted TIFF to the original RAW, to ascertain if processing has resulted in software-induced noise and banding artefacts.
“Always calibrate your monitor in the same room as you intend to analyse and edit your work”
Left above CONSIDER CONTEXT Before assessing the files from a shoot, define the characteristics you feel will and won’t be desirable to your clients, and use these as a template
Left middle REMEMBER COMPOSITION The term ‘quality’ also refers to composition, as well as exposure and sharpness. When presented with multiple image versions, pick the file with the most usable and versatile framing
Left bottom RESOLUTION MATTERS Always provide customers with the largest files you have available, to increase their usability. Matthew Joseph uses the longest pixel dimensions of his files as a reference