Thursday, December 3, 2009

My travel photography workflow 5

What I need to do with my photos is pretty much what this little Siberian Chipmunk needs to do with his nuts. No, not stuff as many of them in his mouth as possible!

Just like he needs to store his nuts in special hidey holes for the winter, I need to store my pictures in various places (internal hard drives, external hard drives and DVDs) and be able to find any of them at any time.

But unlike my little stripey friend who just needs to do it for himself, I also need to be able to show these pictures to other people in a way that is quick and painless for me, and convenient for my clients.

This is the area that cataloguing software really helps you. Firstly, as I mentioned, you can catalogue any of your pictures (or video or music files if you're getting into multimedia) stored anywhere. Some people have multiple catalogues for different types of files, some have one big catalogue for everything. Just be careful that if a catalogue gets too big it gets slow and unwieldy.

I have a catalogue for every calendar year but the Search engine allows me to search for a picture across multiple catalogues, not just the one I have open at any particular time. This is a very handy feature for people who have TB of images stored in lots of different catalogues. Only being able to search in one catalogue at a time could be a major inconvenience.

Because I can catalogue anything on any hard drive it doesn't matter where I physically store the digital file. So I can have pictures of any one particular destination in different folders on different hard drives and they can still live in the same catalogue which is great for travel photographers because you can group all your pictures of one destination in a single place (a Catalog Set) while they live in totally different places on your computer.

Another really great thing about the catalogue is that you can send it to people. In other words you can create a catalogue of your stock library and send it to clients to keep on file. Because it's just a catalogue and not the images itself it will fit on a single disc (CD or DVD depending on how big it is) and the client can simply open that file up and see all your Catalog Set groupings, keywords, ratings and anything else you wish to put in. You can also set it up so that they can double click on the thumbnail and see a 1024x768 pixel version of the picture.

So every year I send an updated catalogue disc to my regular clients of my far north Queensland stock collection. It has roughly 7000 images from the area and is very in-depth. Clients can search for pictures from the area they want and just send me an email when they wish to license a picture. It couldn't be easier.

The catalogues are also great when your hard drive crashes. Huh? How so you say. Well let's say your main hard drive with all your pictures crashes. But of course you have your catalogue saved on a back-up drive, as well as back-ups of all your pictures on an external hard drive. So you restore your pictures from your back-ups but aren't sure whether you've got everything back. If you check your newly restored hard drive of images against your catalogue it will tell you if any pictures are missing. It will do a search and find any images that are listed in the catalogue but no longer appear on the hard drive. Instant back-up check.

Another feature I often use is the Search for Similar function. This is great for those of us who migrated from film. Remember when you had multiple copies of pictures - high res, low-res, web size. Hell you probably even scanned a few slides multiple times because you couldn't remember whether you'd scanned it or not. Well iView will let you do a search for similar or even exactly the same pictures. No more wasted hard drives with umpteen copies of exactly the same picture.

One thing with cataloguing software is that any changes you make to the picture will stay in the catalogue unless you actually export them back to the original file. So that means that any Catalog Sets, keywords or notes you put about the picture can stay completely private unless you choose to export them to the picture itself. So for example I have a Catalog Set for images with my stock libraries, which I don't necessarily want everybody to know. I keep all that information within the catalogue so that nobody knows what is where except for me.

So if I haven't convinced you by now that you owe it to yourself to get some cataloguing software then I give up! :) Like I said, it has literally changed my life and the way I work - for the better. I couldn't live without it now and would never got back to a Browser only photographic life.

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!

Monday, November 30, 2009

My travel photography workflow 3

OK so now we come to the heart and soul of my workflow. As you'll have noticed I don't really mention anything about working on the actual images myself.

It's just not a big part of how I work as a photographer. I work with natural light a lot, and when I do use flash (either on or off camera) I'm always trying to get everything as good in-camera as I can.

The reason for that is one of presentation. For me the most important part of my workflow is making it easy for clients to see my work as quickly (after an assignment) and as easily as possible. With an assignment the client will usually only choose a few frames and those are the ones I may need to work on afterwards, but for an initial presentation I find no need to work extensively on every single picture.

On the stock photography front I often have to make submissions of pictures that were taken over a period of many years, in many different parts of the world and with no seeming connection. Take the image above which is a screen capture of pictures used in this blog. If somebody were to request to see a lightbox of pictures used in this blog those pictures would span a wide range of countries, styles, times and (physically) hard drives.

So my style of work is really suited to one where I don't do a lot of post-processing work on every single picture. But I do make changes in Camera Raw like saturation, brightening and darkening, dust removal and curves etc and I need clients to be able to see those changes. The easiest way I've found to do that is by using a cataloguing software. The only problem with third party cataloguing software is that it can't see changes to Raw files you've made in Adobe Camera Raw unless you first convert them to DNG format. Which is exactly what I do.

(The reason it can't see the changes is because they are written to a little text file called an XMP file that lives alongside your Raw file. Move your raw file out of this folder without the XMP file and all your changes get lost. Third party softare can't read the information written to these XMP files)

After I've made my adjustments I then save all my CR2 files as DNG files and put them in a different folder. I then import them into my Cataloguing software. What do I do with the original CR2 files? I keep a copy of them on DVD only. If I lose them I'm not too worried. I probably don't need to but I do just because I do.

Tomorrow I'll talk about the nitty gritty of cataloguing software and if you don't have any - why you need it!