After the Shoot

Brian worked as Prince's world tour photographer in 2011.

“If I was giving advice to somebody who was just starting out, I would say: number one, always import your card immediately after you're done shooting,” he said.

Ach goes a step further and always goes back to his studio to process everything unless he needs to do it on-site. “The faster I get it done, the faster I can go home and eat. I don't do what a lot of people I know do: shoot an event that ends at 9:00 or 10:00, then go home and fix something to eat. Maybe they would download their images, then work on half of them and send half of them up. By then it's midnight. The next morning they get up at 9 o'clock and do the rest of the images. I never want to do that. How can you sleep knowing that stuff is still there? What happens if your computer crashes? What happens if a card is corrupt?” he said. “That doesn't work for me. You're not a professional if you have to call your client and say, ‘I lost all the images.’”

He imports his images using Photo Mechanic by Camera Bits, a media browser designed for quick ingest and tagging.

Ach renames the images and copies them to a new folder during the import step.

Applying metadata—a task a lot of photographers bypass—is crucial when shooting these types of events.

“This step is important because Photo Mechanic lets you apply IPTC information to every shot you're importing,” he said. “My archive from 2000 for probably every photo I've ever shot is captioned. Everything. And once you get used to it, it takes you about 10 seconds to enter that information. Some people say, ‘Well, I can do that in Lightroom.’ I'm sure you can—seriously, it's totally up to you. However, I'm faster with this than you are with Lightroom.”

Metadata is applied at the ingest stage in Photo Mechanic.

In addition to the speed advantage, this step makes it easy to locate anything quickly. In Photo Mechanic, Ach renames the images, and applies captions and other essential data in the IPTC Stationery Pad, which get applied to all imported photos. “Once you have the information embedded in the photos, it's amazing,” he said. “I can type ‘Tom Cruise’ and search, and every photo I've shot of Tom Cruise will come up for the last 15 years. It's worth its weight in gold.”

He added, “It's hard to tell new people who haven't shot a lot of photos how important it is from the very beginning to correctly archive your work, because they don't have that many photos. I have 14 terabytes of photos."

Unlike Lightroom and similar apps that manage photos in a catalog, Photo Mechanic browses directories on the hard disk. Ach stores image files in folders he creates in the Finder on a RAID disk attached to his Mac.

As part of the import process, Ach creates folders based on the date the images were captured, with subfolders for the subject of the shoot and for specific uses.

“My mom calls me and she says, ‘I updated the Google-whatever or the Apple OS and all my photos are gone. Where are they?’ I don't know how it works, so then I have to look it up and figure it out. I don't like that stuff,” he said. “So all of mine is on a RAID. It's all nested in folders by date and that's how I find everything. I use Apple’s Spotlight search, and [the result] will come up by keyword or by name, or location. If I want to see everything I shot in Spain, I can type ‘spain’ and all the photos I shot in Spain will come up. I've basically never not been able to find anything.”

Pattern Recognition

Efficient software only goes so far when faced with processing hundreds or thousands of images after an event. With experience, Ach has learned how to quickly refine the collection into a set of keepers.

“Let's get on a red carpet,” he said. “I'm looking at fifteen hundred images. I will narrow that down to my hit rate, [which is an] average of one out of ten. If I'm shooting really good, it's like one out of eight. So I'm looking for 125 pictures, roughly, and I'll add that in three minutes. I know what I'm looking at. I also know what I shot. I know where it is, and when I get to it I just click the box [in Photo Mechanic] to tag it."

Photo Mechanic is an excellent tool for fast image sorting and tagging.

It’s not just a matter of looking for good technical qualities, though. “Really what it comes down to with editing is, it sounds lame, but it's pattern recognition," he said. "I know what a good shot is, especially on a red carpet. There's not much leeway—it's either right or it's not. There are the artistic shots where you're like, well, that'll sell in France, maybe. But really, you're just looking for pattern recognition. Do I have eye contact? Is it a half length? Is it a head shot? Is there something interesting happening? So with a red carpet, it's just easy. It's very quick.

“I think the two hardest things to learn as a photographer when you're starting out are composition and editing. I've seen hundreds of websites—people ask, ‘Can you look at my website?’ and I look at it, and technically it works. You know technically this girl is really good. She knows what she's doing. [But] she's got 120 images on her website. Like, that's crazy. That's too many. I could edit that down into a great selection of what she does best probably in 20 minutes.”

On a red carpet, that photo walk is the focus of the assignment, but Ach also stresses the need to find a story to tell with every photo shoot. He finds behind-the-scenes work especially interesting.