The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Photo Hobbyists
June 5, 2017 4:14 PM   Subscribe

I enjoy taking photos, but my computer situation has made editing frustrating and I have an enormous backlog. I ordered one of the new 27" iMacs announced today so all of my hardware frustrations should be a thing of the past. With that on the way, how do I reduce my backlog without it feeling like a job?

I would like to chip away at that backlog on my new iMac, and I would like to set goals, both to justify the expense of the new computer and to meet an old, old goal of framing my best or most significant photos. But I don't want editing to feel like work (for which I'm not getting paid) or a household chore (ugh, Tuesday night, time to cull and edit).

If you're a hobbyist photographer, how do you make time to edit, and how do you make sure that time is productive, but isn't just another job? I'm not looking for a side hustle, and I don't think I'm really up for a photo (edited) a day challenge (but maybe I am?).

Details, if they help: I shoot raw (formerly Canon CRW, now Olympus ORF), and I already have working, and tested, backups including offsite sync. I used to use Aperture (RIP) and now I use I have the DxO Optics Pro extension for Photos for when Apple's raw developing doesn't cut it. I partly use because I also use it on my iPhone and iPad, and I pay for iCloud storage to keep them all in sync. I have a Flickr Pro account I haven't really been uploading to for a while, but I'd be happy to dust it off. I'll be sending off files for printing, when it comes to that.

Level of difficulty: no Adobe products. No Photoshop, no Lightroom. Happy to hear about a workflow if I can translate it into tools I'm comfortable paying for, but I've learned that Adobe isn't the software vendor for me. Also, no Instagram. I'm doing this for me, not for the likes.
posted by fedward to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
So it's not a job. What's driving it, then? If you only wanted to eliminate the backlog then you could just delete it all. There must be something else.

I'm not a serious photographer, but I'm familiar with the feeling of being stuck in the midst of a creative pursuit that's supposed to be fun but isn't. I think you're going to have to let go ideas about productivity or justifying the expense of the new monitor. The backlog isn't hurting anyone, and the justification for the monitor needed to happen BEFORE you bought it, not after. Put that stuff out of your mind, because it is only getting in your way.

Try and figure out what values you're pursing here. Focus on making the process as enjoyable and meaningful as you can. Make images you feel good about. If you're happy with what you produce and how you produced it , you'll naturally want to do it again. Maybe you'll do it enough to make a serious dent in the backlog, or maybe the process will inspire you to take more photos which will increase the backlog. If it's not a job, then why does it matter?
posted by jon1270 at 4:57 PM on June 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Spending the bulk of your time up front deciding which of your photos you want to edit and which you don't I've found to be the best time saver. Are you working on a project of some kind? What are you looking to do with the photos? If you can, do a first cut then print out your photos at Costco at 4 x 6 and choose which ones make your cut by organizing them on a dining room table. The more time I spend doing this the less I usually spend on editing individual photos.

As far as the editing process itself, I usually edit while listening to podcasts or even watching television. It's not ideal, but can make the difference between me doing it and not.
posted by xammerboy at 5:23 PM on June 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't really have a project, per se, but I'm wondering if a project is the best way to approach this. Indeed my usual process is to grab a group* of photos, create an album to edit from, and then make a few passes through that album to cull. It has honestly never occurred to me to use printing as an intermediate step, but I guess it's not the worst idea I've heard. Once I've culled an album I go through it and process the raw files and at that point I used to upload the culled and edited album to Flickr.

What do I want? Fewer unsorted photos. More culled and edited albums. I know I'd like to get better about titles and tags (Aperture always seemed a bit fussy when it came to that). I guess I might still upload something to Flickr? (The internet part of this isn't entirely clear yet.) The end game is that I'd like to start printing and framing, say, 8x10s, and attach them to the walls. The problem with that plan is that framing is more expensive than printing is. Also our walls are incredibly hard plaster I can't drive nails into, but that's an entirely different problem.

* What constitutes a group varies. One feature of Aperture I dearly miss is that you could have a project that contained multiple albums. So if I went on a trip where I took hundreds of photos, the trip mapped to a project and then a given shooting day or location would be an album within that project. does albums and folders, but I can't use it in quite the same way because albums can't contain albums, only folders can.
posted by fedward at 6:06 PM on June 5, 2017

Don't have a hard solution to the backlog problem, perhaps just having the images on fast media so scrolling is fast may help. An external SSD may help with speed. I know not a few "pros" just build folder structures. Perhaps try a few of the shareware/open source tools. But printing should make a difference in satisfaction, it'll help you get a handle on what's important to you both from your perception and feedback you get from others. Hunt up less expensive larger formats, size can matter, an 11x14 of a favorite photo is pretty magical actually.
posted by sammyo at 7:13 PM on June 5, 2017

I shoot a lot of photos, and sorting and dealing with them is always a challenge.

Basically you need to train your eye to decide if something is worth editing. If I shoot 1000 photos I will use the arrow keys to flip through them maybe 2-3 a second. Anything that catches my eye will get a star; any photo where I've shot a few shots of the same scene the sharpest/best composed/best exposed photo gets a star. My goal is to star maybe 50-100 photos out of 1000 photos.

I wait a few days to let my eye forget the photos, and then I flip through the starred photos maybe one a second and anything that catches my eye gets a second star. I try to give two stars to maybe 5-10 out of 1000. The two star photos at least get tweaked with an editing tool, to see how they work.

I would limit yourself initially to only doing 100 photos at a time so you don't fatigue your eye or reduce your interest.

(I know you said no Adobe, but you might reconsider. Adobe really is the gold standard. Bridge makes photo sorting very fast, and nothing even starts to compete with Photoshop.)
posted by gregr at 7:47 PM on June 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

Dxo is a great choice for batch editing because

1) its defaults are pretty good and will noticeably improve any photos and

2) you can copy and paste development settings with ctrl+shift+v

So what I do when batch editing photos is:

1 pick a folder or shoot that will mostly have similar light/ variety of shots.

2 apply my changes to the first couple of pics, pick one that from saturation, sharpness etc is most representative, and ctrl+shift+c to copy my setting modifications

3 select all remaining photos in the ribbon at the bottom and ctrl+shift+v to apply my settings to all of the photos in the folder

4 go through the photos individually after, making slight tweaks to exposure compensation, mainly. I try not to touch most of them and to minimise fiddling I generally leave most other things the same. This doesn't take too long.

5 there may be a few that require more substantial editing eg white balance and such. This is usually because they are especially good, or especially crappy. Unless the moment captured is special, I try to let the crappy ones go as postprocessing isn't great at making a crappy photo good. This is a no brainer if I have similar shots banked.

6 if the photo is special, I'll spend a bit more time on it, but only one eg if I took six great portraits of one person, I'll try to only spend a lot of time on one of those if they are all similar.

This all presupposes you have done a quick run through and aggressive cull already. Don't bother banking thirty photos of the same thing, you'll never need them again.

And that's my process. For extra special shots I'll flip them over to on1 or affinity. But that is very time consuming and in your scenario I would save it for later.

Best of luck!
posted by smoke at 8:51 PM on June 5, 2017

I use Photos on Mac and I share your pain.

I try to use the favorites hotkey to quickly flip through photos and favorite them (a heart now used to be a star). I find it 10-50x faster to favorite the good photos instead of deleting all the non-favorites.

I have a smart album that just shows me favorite photos in the last three years.

I only pay attention to those photos and edit crop adjust etc.

Someday I'll get around to deleting all the non favorite photos but maybe I'll just leave them forever.
posted by sol at 9:04 PM on June 5, 2017

After doing two or three rough sorts over a period of time, I also get 4x6 prints made. Just wait for a great sale. Walgreens has them from time to time.

It doesn't sound like you enjoy the actual editing process nor want to deal with some of the issues that come with many of its tools. Hit fiverr and hire someone who has lots of experience, a high rating, quick response time, & has been on the system within the last 24 hours. It's not the quality of a ptofessional editor, but at a fraction of the price and investment of your time, you'll be happy. Try a few shots and see. Ask for a bulk rate once you
find an editor you like.

Photo framing if done traditionally is crazy expensive. (It's precision work, and the materials are pricey.) Hit Pinterest up for a zillion alternatives. You may find an alternative that you like and is quick. Or you might learn how to do framing or some part of it.

Good on you for not letting your photos die on a drive!
posted by Kalatraz at 12:49 AM on June 6, 2017

If you're ambivalent about the time spent on editing - why are you shooting raw? You're basically giving yourself a job to do. Don't hate me for suggesting it, but JPG is a pretty good format for people who don't find photo editing to be a fun leisure time activity. Your preferences may be different, but I find that I don't need a 27" iMac & specialised software to do something that my camera already does for me.
posted by rd45 at 1:31 AM on June 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Agree with the recommendations above regarding only selecting your favorites, rather than photos to delete, and that usually my shot-to-edit ratio is about 100:1 - 100:5. I only spend time with the shots that really catch my eye in editing; don't waste a ton of time trying to turn a bad shot into a decent one. And consider shooting JPEG rather than RAW.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:42 AM on June 6, 2017

I'm not ambivalent about editing (in fact I somewhat enjoy it as long as my computer is responsive) but the size of my backlog is daunting. I think any apparent ambivalence comes from having lost all my old albums in the transition from Aperture to When I ran the automatic conversion I ended up with thousands of duplicate image files and a bunch of assorted metadata problems, so I archived my Aperture libraries and had Photos do a fresh import of a clean directory full of unique raw files. So, not only do I need to work through my post-transition backlog, I also really need to see if I can recover all the work I did before, which is discouraging just to think about.

And since you asked: I shoot RAW+JPEG and I use my cameras' wifi and iOS app for sharing JPEG images a la minute, but I have found that it's often worth redeveloping the raw files to make adjustments. (Also, frustratingly, the JPEGs I copy over that way aren't recognized when I later import all the RAW+JPEG pairs on a computer, so I end up having to clean them up and redo any favorites or albums. I may have found a smart way to deal with those duplicates now, which I just need to automate).

But anyway. It sounds like my workflow isn't that far off from what people are recommending, though. I try to limit myself to whatever forms a natural batch, I do a quick cull before digging into edits (sometimes with a second pass a few days later, when there were a lot of images in a set), and I do figure out a "look" for a set and copy/paste the adjustments onto similar exposures. Sometimes I look at an out of camera JPEG and conclude I'm not going to do better than Olympus did (they do pretty well, TBH) and those just get shared as-is. I'll run the printing idea past my wife and see how she feels about that.

Thanks all! Keep the suggestions coming!
posted by fedward at 9:47 AM on June 6, 2017

Update: the new computer is awesome. I've found good and bad things about my workflow. One thing that helped was going into System Preferences and adding a keyboard shortcut for "Use RAW as Original" restricted to (it saves a few seconds and a lot of mouse travel). The built-in RAW support is really fast (it redevelops and updates the preview in less than a second) but the controls in Photos are still a bit … fiddly.

Sadly the DxO extension requires clicking around that I can't seem to automate away. I like the built-in lens correction (for recognized lenses) and I really like its denoise and dehaze abilities but I wish I could save a set of defaults and apply them with one operation (I believe batch support exists in the standalone version, but not in the extension).

Oooh, fancy me, I just found the defaults in a text file I can edit, which will reduce my clicking a bit. If this matters to you, it's in (all one line):

RAW - DxO default.preset

For my current purposes the lines to change were:

HazeRemovalActive = true,
DehazingValue = 40,
LightingActive = false,
NoiseRemovalMethod = "ultra",

Some of the photos come out of that with a slight bluish cast, but I can fix that with the standard tools in

posted by fedward at 11:45 AM on June 26, 2017

Also since I wish somebody had told me this: when adjusting levels with the control, adjust the endpoints first (if at all; I almost never want to adjust them), then the midpoint, and then (and only then) the highlight and shadow points. If you adjust highlights or shadows before the midpoint, the selected points will move when you adjust the midpoint and you'll have to adjust them again.

The bottom control is selection, the top control is adjustment. I usually end up changing my midpoint, leaving its adjustment alone, and then tweaking highlight and shadow points and adjustments to taste. On a fast enough Mac the preview updates in real time.

I wish the level adjustment interface were bigger, but now that I know how to use it I can at least get results I like pretty quickly.
posted by fedward at 11:59 AM on June 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

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