Saturday, March 3, 2012

Go With The (Work)Flow

So, you have captured some great images to your memory card and downloaded them to your computer. Now what? The whole process of downloading, renaming, post processing and archiving your photos is known as workflow. There are many different ways to go throw those processes. There is no one workflow that works for all photographers, or even one workflow that works all the time for one photographer. I myself have different workflows for the different types of photography that I do. Plus it is also always an evolving process. What works for me today may not work for me in the future.

I have developed my current workflow system based on my own personal experience and tips that I have learned from other photographers. What I do works for me, for now anyway. In this post I will share my current workflow and hope to give you some ideas that you can use in your own personal workflow.

Here’s how my typical workflow goes:

1. First I download the memory card(s) into the computer via a card reader. While it is possible to download photos directly from the camera. I prefer a card reader for two reasons: it is quick and I do not have to worry about my camera’s battery running out of juice during a download. I download all the photos to a folder and name it by date and sometimes subject.

2. This step depends upon which file format I chose to record my images in camera. See my previous post, "Raw, JPEG, or TIFF?" for more about the subject of file capture format.

A. Raw Images
At this point I will process my RAW files in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) that is included with Photoshop Elements. Raw processing can be time consuming but I found that by using ACR, I can process them relatively quickly. This is because ACR allows users to save their changes as an additional data file without having to actually process and convert the RAW file format to JPEG, TIFF or other standard image format.

I make very few adjustments at this point. My goal at this point is to set the color balance and adjust the brightness and exposure. I also sometimes adjust the blacks, brighten color a bit, and adjust clarity a touch. But not on all images and not too much. I like to get the image as close to finished as possible, but without any cropping or extreme contrast adjustments.

After I am done adjusting all the images all the images in the folder, I then use Photoshop Elements to batch process all of the raw files. You can choose to convert the images to JPEG, TIFF, or some other standard format. More about file saving formats in my next post.

After all my images are converted, I load them into Photoshop Element’s Organizer program and batch rename all the files. I choose to name my photos with a code that consists of the date and an image number. I do it this way because I have found that system makes it easy for me to find the files later when I need them. More on that soon.

B. JPEG Images
If I captured my images in the JPEG format, my workflow is slightly different at this stage. After I download the images, I then load them into a viewing program (Photoshop Organizer or Windows Viewer work equally well) and I delete any completely useless shots (out of focus, blurred, missed shots). Afterwards I load them into Photoshop Organizer and rename them just as I do with my RAW edited photos.

3. After all the files are renamed I then save these images to cds named "Unedited Photos." I make two copies of each cd. One is stored at home and the other elseswhere. The second copy serves as a backup in case the original cd gets lost or damaged.

I have a system where I number the CDs and log the data about what is on the CD into a word document. I like this system because if I need to find a file later I can find it fast. I like this system because my word document can be opened by many different computer programs and it is not dependent upon any one program to open it.

I also choose not to save my RAW files, I delete them. I used to save them but in the 6 years that I have been capturing RAW files, I have never ever gone back to do a re-edit and the discs do take up a lot of room. Whether or not to save your RAW files is up to you. I have considered saving some special images as RAW in the future, but we’ll see how I feel about that idea once my busy season starts up again.

4. After my files are saved to disc, I am then ready to finish editing them. This is the point where I crop, adjust contrast, and add any finishing touches to the image such as burning & dodging and noise removal. I rarely do much postwork alteration to my images. But if I do decide to get a little more creative with an image, I always save a less altered version of it first and then go from there.

5. Not really a separate step but a side note on how I rename my photos while saving the edited versions. I save any images that I feel are my best with a new name by adding an "X" in front of the original file name. That makes it easier for me when it’s time for me to pick images to market and post online. I also rename any highly altered versions of the image by adding to the filename at the end. For example I’ll add an "E" to images that I made an enhanced version of, BW if I made a black and white version, etc.

6. I then save the edited versions of my photos onto discs that contain only edited photos. Same system as the unedited photos, discs are numbered and logged into a word document.

7. After I archive all the photos I then resize the photos that begin with an "X". I size them down to web resolution, 800 pixels at the longest side. I do this using Photoshop Element’s batch process feature. I save those images to CDs labeled "Web Best" and log them into a word document as usual. I can then go through the small batch of CDs to find images when I am looking for images to market or post them online. I tried doing it a different way by loading the images into a photo organization program. Two different times, two different programs and two different computer & program crashes caused me to loose all my data and the time wasted on the projects. I have considered trying again in Photoshop Elements Organizer program but I am skeptical. There is a backup feature in the program so I may experiment with it in the future. If I do I will post my experience here in a future blog post.

Well, that’s about it. This workflow was developed by me over the years based on personal experience and ideas picked up from other photographers’ workflows. It’s a constantly changing and evolving system based on whatever my current needs are. I hope that my workflow gives you some ideas that you can use in your own personal workflow. And if you have any tips or techniques that you would like to share, please feel free to comment. Thanks!

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