The BYU Workflow: An Automated Wireless Photography Workflow

By Jaren Wilkey, Jon Hardy and Marcos Escalona/BYU Photo

It wasn’t that long ago that I would spend a long day on Saturday shooting a BYU football game, go back to the office and set the 20 or so rolls of exposed film on the counter and go home. On Monday I would send the rolls into a lab to get processed, and I wouldn’t get the first look at the slides until Wednesday or Thursday. It may have been a simpler time, but it is also ancient history. Now whenever a great play happens on the field I instantly have somebody in my ear asking me if I got the play (of course I did) and how soon they could get it to post on the Football Team’s Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest account (ok, maybe not the last one). In this new era dominated by social media, time is a luxury we can’t afford. The sooner that you can get your photos out into those social media channels, the better usage you will get out of them.

In 2011 the Super Bowl had 3.1 million social media interactions, that is 3.1 million people said something about the game on a social media network while the game was going on. In 2012 the number jumped to 17.4 million. This year, that number skyrocketed to 52.5 million. (Source: Trendrr) 27.7 million comments were posted about the game on Twitter, and only 2.8 million were posted on Facebook (Source: Bluefin Labs) 88% of the social media chatter was uploaded via mobile devices; presumably people interacting with their tablet or phone while watching the game.

What can we learn from this? Well, first of all I see that people interact with social media while the event is going on, not after. If we wait until the game is over to put our photos up, we’ve missed a huge opportunity to interact with the majority of the online social media audience. Secondly, if we can provide high quality brand accentuating photos to this audience, they will share them within their social media circles, thereby greatly extending our reach.

Last season I had students who ran CF cards full of photos up to the press box in our stadium for processing after every quarter of a football game, but it still took 10-15 minutes after the runner picked up the cards up before the photos were edited and posted online. At basketball games I’ve kept my laptop with me on the sidelines, and I’ve  missed many great plays because I was cropping a photo instead of taking one. The question remains: How do I efficiently get high quality photos delivered to my social media networks while maintaining my focus on photographing the event?

Since January I’ve been experimenting with a wireless workflow that seems to have solved the problem. Here is how it works:

  1. I take a photo
  2. I look at the photo on my LCD Screen
  3. I push the “set” button on my camera
  4. 30 seconds later the photo has been automatically posted on Twitter and Facebook and it has been emailed to a group of social media managers.

Sounds simple right? Well of course there is more to it, but once you’ve set up a wireless workflow, it’s a piece of cake. Let me explain what is happening.

My Canon 1D-X is shooting in Raw/jpg mode, so it is capturing a RAW file and a small jpg of every photo that I take. The jpg 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. It is connected to a wireless network that I set up with a 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 an 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.

In other words, all of this can be done without taking a laptop or iPad to the event.

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 that was projected to be a top 10 pick in the draft, and our people wanted to get a photo of him holding his new team’s jersey with Roger Goodell as soon as inhumanly possible.

At Radio City Music Hall I plugged in my wireless router with an Ethernet cable at my assigned workspace on the floor. Within 30 seconds of Ziggy Ansah holding up his Detroit Lions jersey, the photo was on our BYU Photo Twitter feed. 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 was able to keep 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.

The 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 in to to 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.

There have been instances where I have not had access to a network or been able to create one. The BYU Men’s Basketball team recently made it the NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden and I couldn’t get a useable network connection for the router. Whenever this happens, I send the photos to either my iPhone or iPad with the wireless file transmitter, and then use the Shuttersnitch app on my iPhone or iPad to email photos out during a time out. This is a lot easier than dealing with a laptop on the sideline, yet you still can get the photos out very quickly.

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. 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. Testing 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 a sd slot in your camera (the 1D-X does not), I believe you can also use a 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. This workflow has done wonders for our social media usage. For those of you who would like to see the guts of our setup, here 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:

wf1a

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.

wf2a

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.

actiongrab1

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.

Jaren Wilkey is the Manager of BYU University Photography. You can see more of his work on the BYU Photo Homepage or follow him at @jarenwilkey.