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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

My travel photography workflow 4 - the difference between a browser and a catalogue

OK so we all know what a browser is. Windows Explorer is one, Adobe Bridge is one. Software that lets you see thumbnails of pictures in - and this is really important - one folder. Which is fine if you only want to look at pictures in one folder.

But what do you do if you want to look at pictures that live in different folders, maybe on different hard drives even. To put all those pictures together on the same screen you need cataloguing software. Examples include Lightroom, Aperture, Canto Cumulus and the one I use which is iView Media Pro - which has now been discontinued and is called Microsoft Expression Media.

And this little piece of software is the lynchpin of my workflow. It has probably changed my life more than any other software I have ever bought. A big statement I know but no exaggeration.

Here's how I use it. Firstly what a cataloguing software isn't - it isn't your pictures. In other words when you look at those little thumbnails you're not actually looking at the original files. You're looking at little thumbnails which contain the details of where the picture lives on your computer. So if the image file is on a hard drive that is connected to your computer you can see the full version, but if it's on an external hard drive say that isn't connected you won't be able to see it. You'll only be able to see the little thumbnail stored in the catalogue.

What this means is that the catalogue files themselves are very small. You can have tens of thousands of images catalogued and the file will be smaller than a single image file from your latest digital camera! Which means you can stick it on a USB stick and take it wherever you go.

So you can import all your pictures from any folder on any hard drive into this software and they can all be viewed on the same screen. Now here's the really cool part. In the software you can create what iView calls Catalog Sets. These are virtual groupings of your images. You can drag and drop any of your pictures from the right hand side there into a newly created Catalog Set (top left hand corner) and there it will be every time you open the software back up. So, for example, I have a Catalog Set called Japan and sub-sets of all the different places I've visited in Japan.

A picture can live in as many Catalog Sets as you want - so for example under my Japan heading I have place names but I also have sets such as festivals, people, religion etc. A picture of a person at a religious festival in Sapporo might live in four different catalog sets at once. But that only happens within the catalogue file - the real Raw file hasn't been moved or duplicated or had anything done to it at all. It's in exactly the same place. I haven't had to make duplicate Jpegs or TIFFs or anything. It's just a reference for me within the cataloguing software when I want to do a search for images.

You can create and delete Catalog Sets really quickly and easily (again without affecting the original files at all) which means that I often create what I call Utility Sets - temporary sets that I use when I need to group some pictures to submit or show to somebody. So if I'm say putting a submission together for a magazine and I need to group a bunch of pictures taken over a long period of time and many hard drives - no problem. I just create a temporary Catalog Set and drag and drop the pictures I want.

When those pictures are all together in my 'Magazine Submission' Set I can then create a web page, email them to a client or burn a DVD. The software will do it all automatically for me. For sending email the software will automatically pull those Raw files (remember I'm talking DNGs here) together from the various hard drives, convert them to Jpegs and stick them into an email. They won't change the Raw files or save those Jpegs somewhere, they'll just be attached to the email.

When I want to burn a DVD it's just as easy. I just select all the pictures within that Magazine Submission set and tell the software to burn me a DVD and again it will pull all the files off their respective hard drives and burn them all to the same DVD for me. No more running around trying to find pictures, duplicate them, stick them all into the same folder and then burn a disc. This function alone saves me so much time it's not funny!

The ability to show clients a wide selection of images so quickly and easily means that I no longer have to have different versions of the same picture. In the old days I would have the original Raw file, a high-res TIFF and a low-res jpeg all used for different purposes. Now I only store the Raw file (DNG) and never convert and store low-res jpegs. And the only time I convert to high resolution TIFF is when the client requests an image or I send the image to one of my stock libraries. It saves me hours in conversion time and Terabytes in storage space.

Tomorrow I'll show you some more cool things you can do with cataloguing software. Don't worry before the week's out I'll have you rushing out to get some if you don't already!

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