Digal Photography Workflow
June 23, 2006 6:34 AM   Subscribe

What is your workflow for getting pictures off a digital camera, filed and to the state you want them in? Can you improve on mine?

I ask because - despite having some pretty good tools at my disposal - I still find the process long and convoluted; there must be a better way. I want to get the pictures onto my PC, name and file them appropriately, edit at least some of them and send them for online printing/display. I'm using XP but would be interested in Mac solutions.

Here is what I do at the moment:
1. Get the pictures off the camera with Windows own photo transfer system. I have a folder structure something like "2006/Summer Holiday" – the year and then the occasion. The photos in a batch usually don’t match an occasion - for example I may have taken some more pictures since I got back from the holiday - oh well. The photos are shifted over as jpegs.
2. Examine the folder contents with the view type set to "Filmstrip". At this stage I throw out any that look like obvious duds and give all the rest of them a name like "red_sunset.jpg" – and orient stuff the way I want it.
3. Open all the photos I am considering keeping with Photoshop (CS) to check detail and make edits. I guess I could have used this prior to this point but I find the app a little slow at the initial stages. Make any edits I require and (usually) over-write as a jpeg with a high quality setting [10] (I have heard that re-saving as a jpeg reduces quality but I guess I will live with that - actually the post edit file sizes are usually bigger than the originals).
4. Upload the images I want to print to the website (I am in the UK and use Photobox)
5. Maybe upload some images to Flickr for sharing.

Only Flickr lets me classify the images by multiple tags and I would really like to have something which would let me do this for my local file system. I have experimented with Picasa - I like many of its features but am a bit confused by its filing and editing systems. It also seems to be pushing me in the direction of its home grown sharing and printing services which I would rather not use.
posted by rongorongo to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
iPhoto on the Mac is great. It takes care of step 1 and 2, and you can do simple edits (redeye, color balance, "magic wand") with it. Zooming, too, so checking the details doesn't require photoshop. It's just generally great for organizing. I believe steps 4 and 5 are also built in, but I'm not sure. Same for the "local filesystem tag" thing.

On Windows, I believe Google's Picasa is similar, if not (to my taste) quite as nice, and it integrates with the new Google Web Albums thing.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 6:41 AM on June 23, 2006

at least save the edited files as .tif or .psd files

saving as jpegs, even 10 quality, does lose quality

you might want to download the beta of Adobe Lightroom and see if you get on with it better than Picasa.

Or invest in an image catalogue app like iView which will give you very powerful and sophisticated ways of sorting your pix.
posted by unSane at 6:41 AM on June 23, 2006

or, indeed, just get a Mac
posted by unSane at 6:42 AM on June 23, 2006

Most of what I do is the same as what you do—but I definitely save as TIF and then run my files through a noise filter (Noiseware).

I don't have a solution for simplifying workflow, though—mine's just as long and convoluted, if not more so, than yours is.
posted by limeonaire at 6:50 AM on June 23, 2006

*as yours is.
posted by limeonaire at 6:51 AM on June 23, 2006

For all its faults, iPhoto on the Mac does permit a much more streamlined workflow.

I import directly into iPhoto. From there, I delete the duds, and use the addon "iPhoto keyword assistant" to tag photos. I rename them and caption them (this part is a little slow, because iPhoto doesn't let you work entirely from the keyboard, and is the weakest link in the process). If I'm feeling really organized, I have iPhoto play me a little slideshow and assign star ratings (fortunately, it does have keyboard commands for this) as the photos go by, and then upload to Flickr through the export plugin.
posted by adamrice at 6:53 AM on June 23, 2006

Same workflow as adamrice, here. Works alright, although I wish that iPhoto offered more organization help and less marketing tie-ins. Lightroom looks like it may be for me, particularly if they do a "lightroom elements" kind of release that's more thorough than iPhoto but not wallet-destroying.

Related Question: I love the Keyword Assistant plugin, but I'd love if iPhoto had an option for metadata like a list of people in each picture, location, etc -- it seems rather silly to add a tag to the tags list for a person who may only be in one or two photos(unless I'm underestimating iPhoto's ability to handle massive sets of tags).
posted by Alterscape at 7:03 AM on June 23, 2006

My process is as follows (WinXP):

- connect up the USB, and drag all shots into my "pix" work directory
- view directory as thumbnails, delete obvious junk and sort into occasions; eg road trip - June 4, Dan's wedding June 8, etc. At this point I might archive all sorted but unprocessed images to CD-R, just as backup
- now I open each directory using the app (Camedia) shipped with my camera (olympus). Here I preview and delete some more, and rotate. I may do some simple touch-ups at this point using Irfanview (http://www.irfanview.com/) or the GIMP (http://www.gimp.org/)
- if the photo's are destined for my online gallery, I process into smaller images and thumbnails using the really cool batch mode of Irfanview
- if the photos are for something special, like art for a website, I process further, crop etc using GIMP
- archive processed images to an "album" CD-R.

For those of you who do batch de-noising (on PC), what app do you use?
posted by Artful Codger at 7:22 AM on June 23, 2006

I use Adobe Photoshop Album. Version 3 and up is combined with Photoshop Elements.

PA imports into a new folder named with the date/time of the import. You can create and use multiple tags, and even organize tags together. PA also has a versatile thumbnail view that lets you resize the thumbs to whatever size is convenient. Editing and touchup is as simple as right-click -> edit in photoshop.

And the neat thing is that when you edit, the edits are saved to a new file, leaving the original untouched, and the new file replaces the old one in the album view. You can always Revert back.

I'm up to 9200+ photos and it works great on 512 MB ram P4 2.0GHZ

The other nice feature of PA is its undocumented use of the standard MS database engine. In other words, you can connect to the PA database using ODBC and manipulate it using tags, filenames, dates, exif data, whatever, to your heart's content using standard lanuages just like any other database.

It also has slideshow, burn to dvd, etc type features. I prefer this app to flickr picassa because every thing happens locally.

There's a more industrial solution called iMedia or something, but I've never used it.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:28 AM on June 23, 2006

I use iView Media Pro (on a Mac, but it's a dual-platform application), as follows:

1. Import photos from my camera's memory card to a folder for the import date.

2. Go over the imports in Media Pro's thumbnail view and delete the obvious duds.

3. Look at the remaining photos carefully and mark those that I especially like.

4. With Media Pro's version control feature, duplicate those that need editing and then edit them in GraphicConverter or another program (e.g., GIMP). (If I wanted to spring for PhotoShop, I'd use that.) (I used to use Media Pro's own editor for some changes, but that replaces the camera model EXIF data with a QuickTime tag.) By using version control, I have the original image as a "digital negative," à la Aperture.

5. Tag photos with creator, copyright, keywords, location, title, and other useful metadata.

6. Export metadata from Media Pro's catalogue to the original files. (This allows Flickr to process my tags from the uploaded files, instead of having to tag photos manually.)

7. Export photos I want to upload to Flickr to a temporary directory, then upload them with Flickr Uploader.

iView Media Pro is not cheap, but it's the best solution I've found. Its ability to write IPTC data from the catalogue back to the original file is great, because that way I won't lose my metadata if I later decide to change to a different media cataloguing application.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:28 AM on June 23, 2006

Regarding filing, I also use the Windows XP transfer wizard but I use the date as a naming system. I still place things in appropriately named folders but they are always named according to the date I took them. I use year|month|day although I realize it looks odd this month but it seems to work really well. For example, pictures taken today would be 060623 001.jpg, etc. This system always helps me if I can remember about when was the picture taken. I find that I consistently take 100 pics a week and I edit far less than I used to instead just placing them on flickr.
posted by geekyguy at 7:29 AM on June 23, 2006

Iview Media pro is the one I was thinking of.

I should also note that photoshop album will handle the importing as well. When you plug in the camera, it launches. You can obviously disable this.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:34 AM on June 23, 2006

I'm not terribly big on metadata (actually, I'm pretty thoroughly opposed to manual maintenance of metadata when I'm the one expected to do the data entry labor) and my workflow reflects that. I also believe in the power of the filesystem as a high performance tool for organization, so my workflow reflects that as well.

Since I only want to spend a few minutes per photo batch dealing with this workflow, it's optimized to minimize the amount of time and attention required from me while still providing a relatively robust networked storage solution. It would likely be different if my priorities were different.

1. Mount flash card.
2. Mount file server's Photos network file system volume.
3. Create directory on file server using the current date in "YYYY-MM-DD, Comment" naming convention
4. Copy files to server.
4a. Cherry-pick anything I especially like or need to share, stick it in my laptop's iPhoto (kept to a bare minimum, as iPhoto performance has been unacceptable when the data set is large) and/or Flickr it.
5. Wait for wife to want something done with one of the pictures. She identifies them by browsing the network file system from her machine and telling me the Comment + Serial number.
6. Edit the picture in question if required.
7. Take the requested action: email, print, Flickr, stick on site, or stick on CD. At one point the "stick on site" option was something she could do herself, but my Apache::Album installation was abused by a MetaFilter user so I took it down.

A. Every so often, run the whole thing out to tape.
A1. Every so often, run the whole thing out to a series of DVD-Rs.
B. Every less often, trim the files available on the server to the most recent 5 gigs.
posted by majick at 7:59 AM on June 23, 2006

My workflow:

1) Pop SD card into card reader on the side of my Inspiron (I love that I don't need a separate card reader or USB cables)
2) Go to folder where all the pics are.
3) ctrl-a, ctrl-x
4) Windows-key+e, go to digital pics folder
5) Create new folder for occasion (or whatever)
6) Ctrl-v
7) Open up folder in ACDSee, move any pictures that don't belong into some other folder for later workflowing.
9) Use ACDsee's batch rotate to rotate all my images according to exif data (not strictly necessary, because Flickr will do it for you, but saves a step later and ACDsee uses lossless jpeg transformations, while Flickr does who-knows-what).
8) Use ACDsee's batch rename to rename them "Occasion ###.jpg"
9) Drag all files from ACDSee folder view into Uploadr.
10) Click upload. Choose a set to put them in, add some basic tags (ie "Paris" "Vacation" "tourism" "Ixus 55"), and let er rip.

I don't bother denoising or editing or any of that crap. But then, I don't really take many pictures attempting to be artistic, it's mostly just holiday snaps and messing around.
posted by antifuse at 9:06 AM on June 23, 2006

1. Put SD card into laptop card slot. Use Win XP file transfer tool to copy to "Photos/NEW" folder.
2. Delete all duds
3. Batch rename all photos and edit as needed in photoshop.
4. Upload all decent photos to Flickr for online backup and sharing
5. Copy photos to appropriate folders for permanent filing (Example: 2006 - 06 - Bowling")
6. BACKUP DAILY to external hard drive using automated routine
posted by kdern at 9:48 AM on June 23, 2006

On the Mac, my choices are PhotoReviewer, which is brilliant for very fast and elegant initial sorting and simultaneous transfer to disk, and Adobe Bridge/PhotoshopCS2 for all subsequent sorting, batch renaming and processing with Actions, and editing. Learning a few basic keyboard shortcuts (for opening Levels, Curves, Exposure, reapplying and fading filters, etc.) makes PS very fast. Bridge is like the Finder reworked into a file-previewer/sorter/renamer/batch-processor and it's wonderfully fast and easy. Together, these three apps make iPhoto feel like an annoying and clumsy toy.
posted by dpcoffin at 11:15 AM on June 23, 2006

  1. Copy all folders created on SD cards by the camera to temporary sorting location. This is easy because my laptop has a SD reader built in. Copy because if a move fails it can be tough to recover from.
  2. View thumbnails in Windows explorer. Create folders named YY.MM.DD.Description for each of the subject matters in the thumbnails and copy the images into appropriate folders.
  3. I zip through the folders using Picasa deleting all the unfocused, blurry or otherwise useless images. I'm not all that picky, you never know when a sub-standard image might be the only photo of an intern hugging a president.
  4. Copy the image folders to appropriate high level folders (Personal, Work, Business, etc.). Open Picasa and verify by random sample that the images actually exist where they are supposed to.
  5. Format SD cards in camera.
  6. When I'm at home sync the folders on my laptop to the folders on my file server.
  7. Somewhere around 3.5-4GB of new images burn two DVDs of the new material. One is mailed to my Dad the other placed on the shelf above my file server.
  8. Extra important stuff I've started burning to 8cm MiniDVD-R and storing in my safety deposit box.

posted by Mitheral at 1:16 PM on June 23, 2006

I shoot in RAW, and am kind of picky at times about the conversion, so my workflow has branches depending on the image.
  1. Stick the card in my CF reader, cut/paste, drag/drop whaterver, to a new folder.
  2. Use BreezeBrowser to review all the photos. I tag ones I want to use, but never delete any, and periodically back-up everything.
  3. Now there are three choices depending on how much additional processing I need, and so on:
    1. Easiest images:
      1. Convert to JPEG in Breezebrowser, using resizing options. Done.
    2. When I need a bit more:
      1. Hit BreezeBrowser's "Send to editor" key, which uses Adobe Camera Raw.
      2. Edit in photoshop (adjustment layers in lab color, etc)
      3. Save PSD, resize and save to jpeg.
    3. Some images Breeze Browser does a LOT better on conversion than Adobe. BB's capable of more extreme white balance correction, which is important when I'm working with infrared (BB vs ACR)
      1. Convert image to 16 bit TIFF in breezebrowser.
      2. Open TIFF in photoshop
      3. Change it however I want.
      4. Save a PSD, resize, save a JPEG.
      5. Delete the large TIFF file.
  4. Upload JPEGs to gallery. (swear at gallery's hierarchical organization scheme, etc)
This sounds complicated, but the shortest path is only 4 steps. I usually spend the most time on step #2 (picking the best 5-10% of the 100-300 shots I took), which is where BreezeBrowser really shines.
posted by aubilenon at 3:57 PM on June 23, 2006

Note that I'm keeping all originals, and I recommend you do the same, so you can re-crop or whatever. Since I'm working with RAW, I have no choice, but even with JPEG it's a good idea (so you can un-crop, etc). Make an "output" folder and save there, or something.
posted by aubilenon at 4:01 PM on June 23, 2006

Best answer: My workflow is far from perfect and doesn't exactly match what you want to do, but I've used this system to post 5,000 photos online in the past year.

Assume 6mp originals, I have full Photoshop (although all of this could be done with Paint.NET on a per-image basis), I'm not shooting RAW, I have over 200 images from a night's worth of party photos (some are heinous), no one cares about print quality unless they specifically request it, and there's a noon deadline to get all the photos online. Here it is for reference's sake:

1. Use card reader to dump all original photos onto hard drive. Direct USB connections tend to drain the camera battery. This takes a minute.

2. Copy the hard disk folder to "Workspace" folder. Another minute. Leave the originals alone from this point on.

3. Take the folder copy in the Workspace folder and run a Photoshop batch on it. Resize to 850 width (keep proportions), bump saturation +15, move curves up slightly. Sometimes, I use a routine that has the additional steps of adding 50px black borders to the top/bottom, and pasting a copyright logo into the bottom right corner. (I can change the logo at will, sometimes substituting a dual logo for myself + a client. Note that paying clients get full size originals, unretouched, unless they're paying me to do that too. In which case we're talking about a different process altogether.) About 5 minutes of non-attended processing.

4. Drink coffee. Wait.

5. At this point, photos are processed and are small enough for convenient viewing in Explorer. Ditch the fugs, keep the gems. 2-4 minutes

6. Rotate all mis-aligned pics. I don't use Explorer to do this, though. I can do this one of several automated ways with Photoshop. (I've failed to mention until now that I don't use auto-rotate on the camera. I prefer that all pics, even the vertically composed ones, be rotated as the last processing step. This saves me from trouble with the prior resize step. Otherwise vertical pics end up twice as big as the horizontals) 2 minutes tops.

7. Flickr Uploadr. Does some of the tagging for me. 5 minutes.

8. Email all the friends and tell them it's time to start tagging my photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/brianvan/

9. While I do anything else I'd like afterward, Picasa finds the pics on the hard drive via auto-detect, and catalogs them. I don't use Picasa in any of the initial steps, but it's great to have for general catalog purposes. Impressive that a freeware program handles 25,000 pictures with ease. (Volume prevents me from tagging them, however)

10. While I sleep, each night a replicator program copies any changes to the the picture directory (including any added originals and processed copies) to my Firewire 300GB external drive. Backups done.

Future changes include reliable removable media backups, a new gallery website to hold the pics (with less reliance on Flickr), and a specific workflow to handle RAW images. De-noising, retouching, and customized curve adjustments are done carefully by hand if needed (prints and serious clients), and are done in small volumes efficiently enough to rule out automation.

Note that this process has served me well many times at 2am while drunk.
posted by brianvan at 8:22 PM on June 23, 2006 [4 favorites]

brianvan: replace the Image > Size step in your action in your step 3 with a "Automate > Fit Image" to avoid resizing issues with horizontal/vertical.
posted by joshwa at 8:50 PM on June 24, 2006

I've heard lots of good things about iPhoto, but I'm confined to Windows software so the program that I personally recommend is Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0. My workflow is as follows:

1. Plug camera into USB
2. Elements automatically imports photos, sorting them by date, deletes the ones on the memory card and automagically corrects red eye. (You can turn this off.)
3. Elements only shows you the images that you've just uploaded, but you can always go back to viewing your entire library of images or only those within a certain date range. You can easily choose the size of the thumbnails that you're looking at and delete those with obvious defects extremely quickly.
4. Right click and choose "Edit with Photoshop"
5. Photoshop launches and Elements locks the image from any editing until PS is done.
6. Perform any editing necessary within PS and close the image.
7. Elements automatically resumes focus and saves the edited image in a version stack so that you don't lose the original. It renames the edited file (DSC090 becomes DSC090_edited_1) which makes it easier when you navigate to the directory and upload. You see immediately which ones you felt were worth editing and therefore sharing/printing.

That may seem like a lot, but it's pretty easy. The longest part of the process is the editing within Photoshop, generally.
I'm not so far that I perform automatic backups, but a quick DVD burn once a week works very well.
posted by rez at 3:07 PM on June 25, 2006

joshwa, nice suggestion, thanks. I put it into my routines, although I'll likely not trust autorotate on the camera for a bit longer still. (but it's fine to be able to rotate them ahead of time and not worry)
posted by brianvan at 10:09 PM on June 25, 2006

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