Do you ever get the impression your workflow around digital media looks a little more like the photograph here than it really should?
Prompted by a discussion I’ve been enjoying in the Brighton & Hove Camera Club page on Facebook, I thought I’d revisit the subject of workflow.
I’ll split the discussion into four sections. In Camera, Ingesting, Editing, Exporting.
The modern digital camera stores data on a card. Data is what your picture is, the sum of the pixels and the metadata you’ve set your camera to add. That’s all it is. The card does not differentiate between good and bad shots, it simply stores the bytes and bits that together make up your photograph.
Cards have a finite capacity and choosing the right one for you is a function combining the use of the card – video/stills and the project – wedding, event. If it’s a wedding for example, you’ll use many many cards and each one will be labelled according to the content and the shooter.
The way data is stored on a computer is the same whether it be desktop or a camera. Data is added to the card every time you press the shutter. If the card is blank then data is added in a neat and orderly fashion determined by the camera’s operating system. This is like unpacking the weekly shopping and transferring it to the fridge – eggs in the egg tray, salad in the salad container etc. All digital cameras are able to delete a photograph. This is not the same as formatting the card. All deleting an image does is delete the index that points to the data. The picture remains, the instructions of how to find it are trashed. Formatting a card aims to do a complete refresh of the entire contents.
Some photographers like to delete images on the fly, in camera. This is not good. For two reasons, firstly you can’t really see all the strengths of a picture on the camera screen. Many a decent print has been pulled out of a lazily exposed and framed shot. Secondly, deleting a photograph on the fly means that sections of your card are flagged to the camera as re-writable. The Operating System will then try and plug the gaps with data – this is what is known as fragmentation in computing terms. The result, to return to the shopping analogy, is that you are storing your eggs in random locations around the fridge. Bits of your picture are inserted between bits of other pictures. Sounds like a recipe for disaster? It is. Whilst storing your eggs with the lemons may just result in a curdled omelette, occasionally the camera will be unable to retrieve a picture from the card. Lost. Forever. If you’re a wedding photographer that’s potentially going to cost you your reputation and your next job. This is why I always format my cards every time I ingest pictures to Lightroom.
When I ingest pictures, I save them to two locations. You can set Lightroom to do this for you. I save to the Mac, and to an attached storage device. I then format the card(s) and I’m ready to go for my next shoot. By doing things this way, I have a copy of the original file (I convert to DNG in ingest because its a more efficient in terms of size and more transferable format than Canon’s proprietary CR2 format.) This way I’m pretty confident I can retrieve an image if I accidentally delta it from the Mac.
The approach I take to deleting pictures starts here. I’ve tried this two ways, the first way involves identifying the keepers first and then grading the others 4, 3 , 2, or 1 star. I’ll generally delete the 1’s and then the 2’s and 3s. The second way is better and I think this is a psychological aspect to the job. When I start by deleting the unusable pictures first and then grading up, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, I’ll end up with fewer pictures. Furthermore, the keepers identified this way often include pictures I miss when I do it the other way. Plus I’m more ruthless about the grading – realistically, anything from 3 down to 1 probably deserves dumping so I wield the axe quite mercilessly when I do things this way around. If I do make a mistake, I’ve always got my second copy to bring back a picture from the dead. My recommendation is – start by dumping the no hopers and work up, towards the keepers. You’ll end up with fewer, better pictures and won’t waste time trying to make a flawed photograph exceptional.
I export photographs for four reasons. One hi-res to give to clients, one hi-res to upload to Smugmug (my chosen commerce platform), one high-res smaller format to enter in projected image competitions and one lower res, smaller, 1000 pixels long to upload to the internet. I’ve created directories for the last three on my desktop and for the first case, export directly to SmugMug from Lightroom, using the SmugMug plug in. The reason I put small pictures on the internet is to make it harder for people to steal my work. I don’t mind people putting my pictures on wweb sites, I’d prefer them to be attributed and mostly that happens in my experience. My view of picture theft is mostly that it doesn’t really change anything materially except for spreading my name around. It’s free publicity. I don’t want to make it easy for people to get hold of the full sized high resolution picture though. Not unless they are prepared to license it.
In a nutshell, that is my workflow for photography. For video its only different in the detail, the principles are the same. That might be a topic for another post. If you’re interested in looking deeper into the subject, a great starting point is “The DAM Book – Digital Asset Management for photographers” by Peter Krogh published by O’Reilly.
An upfront statement – I have spent the last fifteen years in the IT industry and if there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that the importance of backups cannot be understated. In fact I’d go so far as to say that amateur or professional, if you don’t have your photographs backed up, you will lose them sooner or later!
So I wanted to write about workflow. This is the process that moves your images from camera/card to computer to print/client/website. Most of us constantly reuse cards and the wise ones reformat the card once the content is uploaded. But what if the computer fails – or what if one of those files is inadvertantly deleted or corrupted?
I use 8Gb or 16Gb SanDisk cards in the camera and like most people probably, upload the pictures directly into the laptop for sorting and processing. I do not delete the data from the card at upload time. I rotate the cards so that the oldest spare is always next in the camera – this means I have a window of opportunity to retrieve any corrupt data in the laptop, from the original card. A better way of doing this, and one which I use when I’m away from home for any length of time, is to upload the pictures from the card into a standalone drive. I have a Nexto Extreme, 250 Gb SATA disk which comes with firewire and card reading slots. As you can see, I can store a lot of 8 Gb cards on there, 30 in fact. I copy the files from the Nexto, onto the laptop for processing. Thus maintaining two copies.
Naturally I fill up the Nexto sooner rather than later, so I maintain two further separate collections on a ReadyNAS RAID device that will store up to 3 Terabytes of data. I have over a thousand music albums on there as well as about five years worth of photography. Its only 16% full. What are the two collections? One is the original RAW files, filed by date and event. The other is the exported, finished article. For those who are not familiar with RAID, it is a technology that maintains data across an array of several disks (I have four) in such a way that should a drive fail or even two, the data can be rebuilt. Once the original is uploaded to the ReadyNAS, I can relax about the card and the Nexto.
The other area where the data is vulnerable is on the hard drive of the computer. There are a number of reasons why you shouldn’t co-locate photographs with the operating system, the most obvious being the risk of the operating system crashing and wrecking data (Yes, Microsoft, I’m looking at you!). Apart from that, the fact is you will eventually fill up the drive and slow the computer to a crawl. To avoid co-location, you can partition the drive, install a second hard drive or as I did recently, invest in a G Drive 3Tb 3200 eSATA device or equivalent. This is a wonderful piece of kit. Over Firewire, it’s acceptably fast. Over eSATA it’s as fast as the internal drive. It’s quiet, unobtrusive and portable. The best bit is I can keep my entire Lightroom catalog on the disk and move between laptop and workstation as I please.
This is a setup that works for me. It might seem like overkill, but the bottom line is this:
1. Copy your original RAW files to a second disk
2. Don’t process Photographs on your OS disk
3. Keep two copies of your work at all times.
You will sleep much better at night, trust me!