Professional photographers talk about “workflow,” the process of capturing an image, bringing it to the computer, editing it, and outputting it to the desired final product. Streamlining and refining this process can be extremely important, since a professional photographer may deal with literally thousands of photographs from a single assignment.

One of my many jobs as the ODAA (Other Duties As Assigned) NCO is doing any kind of weird image editing or manipulation that any of the senior officers or NCOs cook up for their pet projects. Case in point: our facility manager came to me with a sheet of paper one day and said, “hey, can we add some color to this map of the building?” Being the can-do buck sergeant (and all-purpose electron-pusher) that I am, I said, “yeah, no problem.”

You want to talk workflow? Check this shit out:

Obviously, before I could colorize the map, I needed a digital file to work with. Naturally, we didn’t have one, so we produced one – by scanning the map on the copy machine (which can create a TIFF file and send it to your email). This gave me a suitably crappy starting image that would only get worse as the process dragged on.

Next, I needed to edit the image. The state J6 (the information systems management organization) doesn’t allow us to have any software on our computers that isn’t strictly necessary for our narrowly-defined military jobs, so right from the start, I didn’t have the right tools for the job – I had to work with MS Paint. Getting anything new installed on your computer usually involves the thumbs-up or thumbs-down of a full-bird colonel whose main job is to put his feet on his desk while staring at the plasma TV on his wall that shows his minions groveling for permission to buy some trivial item. (I’m told this process is called “Lean Six Sigma” and is supposed to improve organizational efficiency, but the trickle-down effect to us is mostly frustration, long strings of swear words, and calling the colonel names behind his back.)

Anyhow, I was able to use MS Paint to add some colored regions to the building map, but of course the regions in question were originally a gray-to-white gradient and became all pixelated when it was scanned in, which resulted in areas that were partially colored and partially a muddy gray mess of pixels. However, as I tell myself whenever I’m given a task for which I’m ill-equipped, untrained, or both, “if they wanted it done right, they’d have given me the right tools/hired somebody competent to do it.” This goes right along with “it’s good enough for government work,” which in this case, it was. I was hailed as a savior and a master of technology.

Of course, time passed, and the new facility manager wanted to edit the map again. This time, he asked, could we make it look a little better? This one looks kind of crappy. Thanks asshole! But he was right – so it was time for a new process. First, I took one of my miscellaneous-use laptops and installed an image editor on it. Luckily, I have so little use for these laptops (because all my other miscellaneous job duties take up my time) that they’re just sitting around, waiting for important stuff like coloring building maps! Also lucky is the fact that, because these systems are “tactical” and not owned by the J6, I have full administrative control and can therefore install whatever I want on them.

I copy the TIFF file from my desktop computer to this laptop using a memory stick. Then, in a classic case of killing a fly with a howitzer, I proceed to edit our building map (maybe I should’ve used Illustrator, but I’m not too familiar with that program. Besides, does it really matter? Use a howitzer or use a JDAM – that fly is dead either way). Since I started with a TIFF file and that worked out pretty well, I saved the file as another TIFF.

As I said above, the J6 doesn’t own this computer, which is great – except that also means that it can’t be connected to the network, which then means that I can’t print from that computer. So…the next step in the workflow was to copy the TIFF back to the memory stick, then open it on my desktop computer and print it. Great, but…the TIFF was all fucked up. No idea why – so back to the laptop I go, this time to generate a PNG. Everybody loves PNG files, right? File, Save As, PNG, done. Memory stick goes back in the desktop and…double clicking on the PNG opens Internet Explorer, which then launches QuickTime within itself to view the PNG. What the hell? I could right-click and do Open With…, but I don’t want to screw with it so I go back to the laptop again.

OK, let’s try a GIF, I say, once again saving to the memory stick and going back to the desktop. The GIF opens normally – great! – and I go to print the file. I select the color printer, and…explorer crashes. This is, of course, a known issue with our color printer – the driver is screwed up but the admins either refuse to install a new one or there isn’t one available. Christ almighty, this is getting tedious…I then open the GIF in (you guessed it) MS Paint. File, Print…presto!

So, in summary, my “workflow” went like this:

Document -> Copy machine -> Desktop -> Memory stick -> Laptop -> editor -> Memory stick -> MS Paint (!) -> Shitty Oki laser printer

Professional results in twice the time! Sometimes I wonder if the Army wouldn’t save a lot of money by throwing away all of its color printers – that way, no one would ever get harebrained schemes about printing out this or that. I won’t even tell you about the endless printouts of calendars that I run on the plotter for everyone. You’ll be calling the GAO in no time…

The icing on the cake is that this whole project was in support of one of my other primary jobs, that of janitor – it was a map detailing cleaning responsibilities. Apparently a list of building areas wasn’t sufficient and our guys needed a color picture instead.

Your tax dollars at work!