In the subjective world of picking the "better" photo, I…
Jaren Wilkey is the Manager of Brigham Young University’s Photography office. He works full-time shooting BYU’s athletics, events, news – and running the BYU Photo Store. BYU sports teams have an active following on Facebook and Twitter, so Jaren is under a lot of pressure to deliver and post images as the action happens. To deliver images in real time, Jaren set up an automated wireless photography workflow. Here’s how he does it.
In the 2012 football season, I had students who ran CF cards full of photos up to the press box in our stadium for processing after every quarter – but it still took 10-15 minutes before the photos were edited and posted online. At basketball games I’ve kept my laptop with me on the sidelines, but I’ve missed many great plays because I was cropping a photo instead of taking one.
I needed to figure how to efficiently deliver high quality photos to BYU’s social media networks while maintaining my focus on photographing the event. So since January I’ve been experimenting with a wireless workflow that seems to have solved the problem.
Here’s how it works:
- I take a photo
- I look at the photo on my LCD Screen
- I push the “set” button on my camera
- 30 seconds later the photo has been automatically posted on Twitter and Facebook, as well as emailed to a group of social media managers.
Sounds simple right? Of course there is more to it, but once you’ve set up a wireless workflow, it’s a piece of cake (scroll to the bottom of this post for a video demonstration).
Let me explain what is happening:
- My Canon 1D-X is shooting in RAW/JPEG mode, so it is capturing a RAW file and a small JPEG of every photo that I take. The JPEG is set to a quality of 6 on the “S”, or small setting, which is still 2592 pixels wide.
- I have a Canon WFT-E6A (wireless file transmitter) plugged into the side of my camera, and it’s connected to a wireless network that I set up with an Apple Airport Express base station. When I push the “set” button on my camera, the camera transmits via FTP the small jpg of my choosing to our server back in the office.
- That photo lands in a “watch folder” that has a folder action attached to it. Once the folder recognizes that the photo has arrived, it triggers a script that sends the photo to a Photoshop droplet, which sizes down the photo, applies our branded watermark, and finally emails the photo to any number of social media managers for the event. It also posts the photo automatically to Twitter (via an email address we set up with Twitpic.com), and Facebook (via our post-by-email address).
- Once all the emails have been sent, the photo is moved to a finished folder, and the process starts all over again when a new photo arrives.
I’ve been working the bugs out of the system during our Men’s Basketball season and Men’s Volleyball season, and our social media managers and fans has been thrilled with the results. The big test came a few weeks ago at the NFL Draft in New York City. Ziggy Ansah was a graduating senior member of the BYU Football Team and projected to be a top 10 pick in the draft. BYU wanted to get a photo of him holding his new team’s jersey with Roger Goodell as soon as possible.
I plugged in my wireless router with an Ethernet cable at my assigned workspace on the floor at Radio City Music Hall in NYC. Within 30 seconds of Ziggy Ansah holding up his Detroit Lions jersey, the photo was on the BYU Photo’s Twitter. Our social media manager posted it to the BYU Facebook page within a minute or two.
I’m certain that I beat almost every media organization in getting that photo out of the building. While the other photographers were downloading the photo off their cards, I kept shooting our athlete until he was whisked out of the room to start his round of interviews. That night I sent out about 40 photos documenting the evening in real time, all without powering on my laptop.
This system works best if you have a dedicated wireless network for your camera to connect to, but you could also use an existing wireless network provided it doesn’t have a splash login screen. This has been the problem for most of the venues on our campus, so we usually just take a router and plug it into an Ethernet jack to create our own network. This summer I’m looking into installing permanent private networks at our sporting venues to simplify the process even more.
A few important items to remember:
- You can send all the photos you take, but that would be overkill and could slow down your transfer, so I just send the selects. Typically I send 20 to 30 images during each basketball game.
- When you are shooting in RAW+JPG your buffer will limit you to smaller bursts than if you are shooting just in RAW mode. With my setup I can fire off 19 photos in RAW+JPG before filling the buffer or 33 photos in RAW only mode. You can use faster CF Cards to mitigate this problem.
- Using this workflow, you will not be able to edit or crop the photo before you send it out, so make sure you have a good exposure, the photo is in focus and your composition is dead on – because what you see is what they will get.
- You can enter a caption or credit/copyright data into your camera so that it will be transmitted with the photo and show up on the caption. Another option is to add this information to your photo as part of your Photoshop droplet action.
- If you have an SD slot in your camera (the 1D-X does not), you can also use an Eye-Fi SD Card to send the photos via to your FTP site using a local wireless network. It is a lot cheaper than the Canon WFT-E6A, but nowhere near as robust. Check out this review of what the Eye-Fi can do.
- If you have a Canon 6D, the wireless capability is built in. I hope all future pro level cameras has built in wi-fi.
- Nikon users can use either their Wireless Transmitters or the Eye-Fi card. Here is a recent review of the Nikon WT-5A Wireless Transmitter.
So there you have it. We call this our push-to-post method and it’s done wonders for our social media usage. For those of you who would like to see the guts of our setup, below are a couple of guides that will help walk you through the details.
Setting up the camera for FTP:
Let be honest, Canon’s user manuals are not all that user friendly. In fact they’ve made many a hardened photographer weep openly. Here is a simple PDF that walks you step by step through the settings needed for your camera to FTP the photos via the Canon Wireless File Transmitter: WFT FTP Transfer – BYU PHOTO.
Setting up the Server Watermark Action:
This looks intimidating, but it really isn’t. You need to have a public folder on a server with FTP enabled. Two folder actions customized with Apple Automator and a Photoshop droplet handle the rest:
The first folder action triggers when a new photo arrives in the public folder. It grabs all the image files in the folder and opens them in our Photoshop droplet. Since a folder action triggers each time new files are added to the folder, we finish this part by moving the images out of the “watch folder” so that old photos aren’t re-processed when new ones arrive.
A Photoshop droplet is basically a pre-packaged action. First, the file containing our watermark is opened, selected and copied over on top of the image. The transform step positions the watermark in the lower right-hand corner. After a few adjustments (re-size, profiling and levels), the watermarked image is saved in a second “watched” folder.
The second folder action triggers when watermarked images arrive from the Photoshop droplet. This action grabs all JPEGs from the folder, and attaches them to a new message in Apple Mail. With a few more commands the message is sent to our Facebook page, Twitter feed and social media managers. Finally, the images are moved out of the watch folder.
Here’s a video where I show all the above working in real time: