James Conkle Blog

Commercial Photographer - jamesconkle.com


My first year of college is over! Looking back it was a great experience and has left me with many frames. Many frames. 

Digital asset management, DAM, hasn’t ever been a huge priority of mine. My standard workflow was putting everything in one Lightroom catalog and sorting things by date when I needed to find something. This worked well for a while but at University a typical week would bring in upwards of 800 frames taken with cameras such as the D800 & a Mamiya medium format system. All these large files in one catalog really hampered my 2009 iMac’s performance. 

I dedicated the past month to devising a DAM system that would not only be able to handle years at University, but – hopefully – be able to handle a professional workload. 

I started off by switching from the old iMac to a new 15 inch Retina Macbook Pro + 16GB of RAM. The sheer speed of the solid state drive was mind blowing! Startup would take less time than waking up the iMac. 

With only 15 inches of screen space it took some time to get used to editing, but it was nothing inching my chair a few inches closer couldn’t fix. 

There was only one real problem; the 250 GB drive. After all the programs were installed I was left with about 180 GB of free space which would easily be chewed threw in a matter of a few weeks. 

I went on a hunt for a new hard drive. Having been satisfied with G-drives in the past I looked there first, but was disappointed with their selection of drives with thunderbolt connectivity. Coming in at $700 for 2 TB the G-Drive PRO was out of my price range. 

Looking at similar products I eventually happened upon the LaCie d2. Sporting USB 3, Thunderbolt, and 3 TB of storage for only $280 it was an easy choice. 

So how do I take advantage of the speed of the rMBP and the space of the LaCie d2?

I keep all my programs such as Lightroom and Photoshop on the solid state drive for quick access. ALL other media is stored on the LaCie which is backed up onto an old g-drive everyone now and then acting like a mirror for when the LaCie fails (which will eventually happen to all hard drives).

I sort each shoot into a folder that contains the media, weather its photos or video, the Lightroom catalog data and any other files such as model releases or notes that would accompany that shoot. Basically; I imitated the file system that Capture One uses but in a Lightroom setting. 

By no means is this a complete system, and might only make sense to me. But that’s the neat thing about DAM; everyone’s different but they all seem to work.


For the past few years I have been in the mind set that there is only one way for me to shoot; with strobes. Having learned off camera flash soon after I figured out the ins and outs of my first camera, using flash was natural for me.

It came to a point where I wouldn’t consider leaving for a shoot without all my lighting gear. Obsessively checking to make sure all batteries were charged, and worrying that the large octa would topple over in the breeze I would hardly have time to think about what was in my frame.

It was my obsession with being technically perfect that I now see as being my weakness.

I didn’t recognize this as a problem until I came to Ohio University. Most everyone else had little to no experience with lighting yet they were capturing light that complimented their subjects perfectly. I would often ask my peers how they manipulated the light to fit the scene and they always seemed just to be able to find natural light that fit the scene.

For a good part of my first semester I still lugged around my suitcase of lights up and down the bricks of Athens, Ohio. Only to arrive to the shoot and replace all existing light with what I could fit in that suitcase.

Until one day, lacking any will power, I left the light bag at the dorm. I continued to shoot like I normally would and feared looking at the back of my camera’s LCD because what I was seeing was less than stellar. I completely bombed the assignment and wound up reshooting the assignment as a still life – saved by my makeshift studio and lighting.

It was only when I was shooting with my good friend, and amazing photojournalist, Brien Vincent that I realized that I need to look for the good light and take full advantage of it once found. The “crisp crisp” -or- the golden hour sunlight began to dictate the hours of my photoshoots. No longer would I try and recreate the beautiful light with inferior strobes when I had the sun along my side.

I’m certainly not abandoning artificial location lighting all together. No, it’s too valuable of a tool to pass up. I just found a new way of approaching it; as a supplement. Now I take cues from the existing light and replicate that with the artificial. This keeps the light and mood consistent - thus natural - throughout the frame.


Above is a perfect, recent, example. The photograph was taken about 7:30pm - an hour or so before dusk - with some crisp light that was intermittently peaking through the clouds. I set up a flash unit so that it would simulate the natural sunlight (bare bulb with a cut of CTO), but positioned it to create more wrap around the subject. This brought out detail in the subject, but doesn’t make the scene look like there was a flash present.

In my mind that is the key to making a successfully lit photograph.