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Digital Photography Workflow

I work as a professional photographer (see www.photocritic.org if you are really curious). As a result, I have an absolute ton of photos. To the tune of about 35000 digital computer files, taking up more than 41 Gigabytes of storage space. Somehow, however, I still manage to keep them organised. This writeup explains how. It is meant less as a recommendation of how you should process, store, and back-up your images, than an anecdote on how I have found my workflow to be effective.


When I get home from a shoot, I download the pictures from my memory card(s) using an USB2 card-reader. It is fast, and ImageCapture that comes with OS X does a good job of it. I download everything to the same folder (called "Temp Images", if you are curious) on my Desktop.

Once they are there, I make a new folder - or more, if I've done several jobs since the last time i've copied stuff over from my memory card - and then I move the files to their relevant folders, aided by the thumbnail images that ImageCapture puts on the Finder icons for the photographs. For this purpose, I have my Finder icons set to the largest (128x128 px).

The next step is running NoiseNinja (kamps.org/g/?jwbk) on the photos. Noise Ninja removes a large portion of the noise that is inherent in the CMOS imaging chips in my cameras, and I've spent a considerable amount of time making sure that the calibration is correct. It automatically picks a noise profile based on the ISO values and shutter speeds (I have 32 different profiles - one for each of the ISO values I use (100-3200) and one for the major shutter speeds (250 / 60 / 15 / 1 second / 3 seconds) that I use.

The batch processing I use in Noise Ninja also automatically copies the files to a new folder (called "edit"), so the original files remain untouched - just in case I need them later.

I then run the batch processed files through Pic2Icon (kamps.org/g/?upji), as the processing strips their finder icons off, and I actually quite like finder icons ;)

The next step is Adobe Photoshop editing, which is all pretty straight-forward: Levels and curves for contrast, airbrushing, and finally some Unsharp mask to sharpen the image (read my other photography articles for more info about this).

Once the photographs are edited, they are saved in low-compression JPEGs. I work in RAW occationally, but haven't found the benefits to be worth the extra hassle. Mind you, I haven't tried working with RAW files on my G5 yet - storage space and processing time used to be the biggest arguments against using RAW, and the G5 has plenty of both, so I may try again in the nearby future.


Now the photos are edited, but they will need further editing doing to them, usually. This normally comes in the shape of resizing for e-mailing or posting on the web. For this, I often use ImageReady droplets. These are basically macros which instruct Adobe ImageReady (or Photoshop, in the case of a Photoshop droplet) to perform certain actions on a file (or folder) you drop onto the droplet.

The ones I use the most do the following actions:

- Resizes the file to longest length 500, and adds a visual copyright bar
- Converts the image to Alamy (see www.alamy.com)-standard TIFF files
- Rotates the image counter-clockwise (never really use this anymore, as all the cameras I currently use have an orientation sensor built-in
- Resizes the file to longest length 2000 (good for e-mailing images that will be used in lower res to magazines)
- 800x650 resizes the image to 800 px across or 650 vertically - whatever is less. This is my standard web / e-mailing size, as it is a good trade-off between file size and resolution. The 800/650 means that it can be displayed fully on most computer screens (as most people run 1024x768 nowadays)
- Optimise merely re-processes the JPG, compresses it to 60% and strips its Finder icon off. this is useful before e-mailing previews
- Portfolio images is the script that saves images in two different sizes in two different folders for use in the Photocritic Portfolio section.

I have a load of other droplets as well, but these are the most frequently used ones (hence them being on my desktop)

File organisation

Basically, I have one folder called "_BU" which stands for "backed up". The "_NBU" is, of course, "not backed up". This is an archaic naming system that I used when I was still backing up stuff to DVDs (I still do, but that is for a different section). now this only means "Have I concidered the photos for submission to Alamy or not?". if they are in _BU, they have been considered (and submitted). if they are not, they are not.

_BU contains a series of categories, which make it a lot easier to find what I need, as most shoots fall pretty cleanly in one of those categories (Fashion, portraiture, interiors, exteriors, weddings, events, sports, etc). Pretty self-explanatory, really.

Within each of the categories, I have all my photos in groups in different folders - one for each photo shoot / event. Within the folders, I normaly have:

- Originals
- Edited (u)
- Edited (s)
- Edited (w)
- Edited (ps)

The first one is self-explanatory. The others are unsharpened, sharpened, web, and photoshop. Unsharpened files are useful to keep around for when I am not sure what the images will be used for. The sharpened files are sharpened for magazine and print use. The web folder is basically the same as the unsharpened folder, but processed through the 800x650 droplet mentioned above. Now that I have a fast computer, I tend not to bother with the websized anymore, but when I was still on a slow computer, it saved me a lot of time to keep low-res versions around, to quickly be able to find a particular photo.

Backup routines

Every day (at 3 in the morning), my entire pictures folder is automatically backed up to an external 250GB Firewire drive. This ensures that I won't be the victim, in case my internal 250GB SATA data drive (my OS, software, etc is on a separate 80GB SATA drive) decides to snuff it.

Once every other week (or more often, if I am nervous after a large shoot), I copy the entire contents of the external drive (called Alpha) onto another external FW drive (Beta, also 250GB), which I keep hidden somewhere in my apartment. That way, if someone breaks in and robs my stuff, my photos should still be reasonably safe - presuming that my house alarm scares them away before they start searching for my backup drive)

Every once in a blue moon (too rarely, I know, but it takes a lot of time) I write the entire contents of the external drive to DVDs. At 4.7 GB a pop, that means a nice fat stack of DVDs. These DVDs are shipped off to my parents, who safekeep all the sets of backups for me. They live on the other side of the world (currently Trinidad), so the off-site backup requirement is covered, I'd say.

A few thoughts on improvements

Obviously, this system works perfectly for me. But I fear the day that someone else has to make sense of it. There are great solutions out there (FotoWare FotoStation is a great example), but most of them are costly, and it requires specific servers to keep the solution running properly.

For now, this system works well for me, but we'll see what I'll do in the future. I am more than open to suggestions to improvements!

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