Sunday, 5 August 2012

The Photographer’s Workflow: Organizing your Images

Unlike the 35mm film days, we don’t think twice about taking reams of shots with our digital cameras. We’re only limited by the amount of camera memory we have. But what do we do with this plethora of photos? Organizing them into genres or collections of similar photos would help us find a particular image....maybe. Wouldn’t it be nice to type a word into an application and have all of the shots that pertain to it pop up on your computer? I have two words for you: keywording and Lightroom®.

For most of us, our image files end up in a big, ugly clump on our hard drive. Now, we have the task of deleting the junk and deciding from the remainder which ones are ‘maybes’ and which are keepers. I know - it’s difficult to make those decisions, and I can’t help you with that. But, once you whittle the pile down, you can start to organize it.

So what is a photographer’s workflow? Simply, this refers to what happens to your images between the moment you download them from camera to computer and the time you prepare them for email, website posting or printing.

Let’s back up to that first step: downloading from the camera. I use the utility software supplied on CD  by the camera manufacturer because it can automatically read each image’s metadata and store that image into a folder named with the date the shot was taken. At least now, we have some semblance of organization, but it’s only the beginning!

Enter Lightroom®, a software package from Adobe. For the purposes of this blog post, I am going to assume that the reader is not a power Photoshop® user, and that the image adjustment tools in Lightroom® are more than sufficient for tweaking the camera images. The workflow might go something like this:

1.       Import the ‘keeper’ image files into Lightroom®. These can be in a number of different formats, including RAW files. You may wish to import them into the default Catalog or create your own before importing. The Catalog stores all information about the images you import into it, including all changes you make, so they can be recalled later and undone step-by-step if you wish. The important thing to understand is that Lightroom® does not actually create a copy of the image when importing it, but rather stores only the location of the original file plus all changes you’ve made to it without changing the original.  In other words, it temporarily pulls in a virtual copy of your image and saves the changes you’ve made to it in the Catalog. The resultant Catalog file is much, much smaller than the total of all the original image sizes.

2.       Create keywords in the Library module for each image. There are two compelling reasons for  doing this:

a.       You can use Lightroom®’s search function to find all images that contain those keywords.

b.      If you sell prints or stock photos online, nobody will find your images unless you keyword profusely.

Within a Catalog, Lightroom® builds a keyword list from all the keywords you add to all the images in that Catalog. As you import new images into the Catalog, it gets easier to keyword them because you now have a list of keywords you can choose from.

What words should you use? Put yourself in the place of someone searching online for a photo like yours. Think of every word you might use in a search string. Include location, objects in the scene, weather conditions, season, genre (ie. Nature, people, architecture) and even the image orientation (portrait, landscape). Cover every possibility – the more words, the better the chance of being found.

3.       Tweak the images for best quality in the Develop module. While not supplying all the capabilities of Photoshop®, Lightroom® has an impressive array of tools to correct exposure, white balance, sharpness and noise. Other tools, such as split toning, allow some impressive creative adjustments to be made. If you’re not feeling particularly daring, you can select from a wide variety of special black and white or colour presets to give your image a different look. If you want to save various versions of the same image with different visual effects, you can create as many virtual copies of the same image as you like and apply different changes to each. The good news is that the keywords also get copied over to each virtual copy. This is probably the best reason to do your keywording before starting your image tweaking.

4.       Do something with your final images. I upload images to various sites for licensing stock images or selling prints on demand, so I like to Export jpeg files from Lightroom to a separate folder on my hard drive. Now I’ve created images that take up space on the drive, which may seem to work against the concept of using Lightroom®'s space-saving virtual copies, but sometimes it’s necessary. Otherwise, if you simply want to print what you’ve created in Lightroom®, you can go straight to the Print module without exporting a file. Or, if the website you use allows it, you can use the Web module to upload keyworded and tweaked images without increasing the footprint on your hard drive.

Once you’ve done all you’re going to do to an image, you can also create Collections within a Catalog. This allows you to store a virtual copy of a photo in a group of similar photos. For example, you may create separate collections for your Nature, Family and Travel photos. Just another way for you to find a photo if a keyword search isn’t helpful.

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