Friday, April 16, 2010

Managing Your Photographs

In the last few issues, we’ve been exploring what’s important to consider when buying a new digital SLR camera, and subsequently reviewed the Nikon D5000 with these elements in mind.
Once you’ve made your purchase however, you’ll most likely soon find yourself with hundreds, if not thousands of photos littering your hard drive. Given they’re so easy to shoot, and cost next to nothing to save, you’ll inevitably soon discover your image collection has become unwieldy if you haven’t taken appropriate steps and applied tools in support of its management.

Where’s Aunt Harriet?!

One of the major problems with digital photography is that most people save everything, and nothing is more frustrating to an aspiring photographer than being unable to find a treasured image as a result of clutter – “I know it’s here somewhere!” Once your collection reaches a certain scale, you are unable to simply scan through thumbnails in order to find what you’re looking for; it would simply take too long and definitely strain your eyes and patience.
Over the years, I’ve developed a strategy – or workflow – to combat this which has saved me considerable sums in Aspirin expenses. Here it is in a nutshell:
  • Copy images from compact flash cards to the PC and store in a directory specific to the subject matter – don’t delete them from the cards at this point.
  • Backup all RAW files to DVD or CD depending on data volume; label and file away – preferably off-site (backups stored at home won’t help you in the event of a fire).
  • Import photos into your image management software and apply basic keywords which relate to all images being catalogued (don’t have software that does this? Read on.)
  • Quickly evaluate each image and cull those that have technical issues (out-of-focus, motion blur etc.)
  • Re-evaluate the remainder and assign a rating of 1 to 5 stars for each: Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, and Exceptional. Be BRUTAL here in your evaluation; very few of my images are 4 and 5 stars. Three star photographs are well exposed, have good composition, and relatively interesting subject matter.
  • Delete everything less than three stars – if you have done the previous step well, this will include a lot of images. Nobody needs to see 10 photos of the same subject matter with slight variations; pick the best one or two and toss the rest.
  • Back up the remaining photos to an external hard drive
  • Format compact flash cards
  • Apply specific metadata to each image – more on this below
  • Start the developing process working backwards from 5 star images through 3.
  • Export finished images to JPG and upload to online data centre. This protects all finished work in the event of a fire while keeping file sizes small and still retaining the digital negative off-site on DVD.
  • Perform a timed and automatic backup of processed files to external hard drive daily. The free software, Cobian Backup works like a charm for this.
While it might be more thorough than you would normally use in a non-studio environment, this process ensures all your data is safe, you don’t have a ton of less than optimal images to work on, and you crank out your best images first.

Metadata to the Rescue!

The most important step in the above, beyond getting rid of the extraneous at the outset, is adding good metadata to your image files. What’s metadata? It’s simply information relating to your photo including keywords, captions, copyright info, shot specifics, camera id and the like. While a ton of metadata is generally inserted into each file by your camera; it’s the additional info subsequently entered manually which can really make life easier. With appropriate attention paid to metadata when storing and cataloguing photos, I’d be able to find all photos of Aunt Harriet, from her trip to Venice, in which she was wearing funny glasses, shot at a shallow depth-of-field, with an 85mm lens, on a particular Tuesday, in the morning... instantly.
The problem is, most people are too busy to add all this info to their images and as a result, end up with what amounts to an enormous digital shoebox chock full of disordered photographs.

The Software Solution

Recently, Adobe sent me an evaluation copy of their Photoshop Elements 8, which I have to say I was a little sceptical about after reading the specs and attending the pre-release press conference. There seemed to have been a lot of work put into making the cataloguing feature as easy and automated as possible while still maintaining flexibility and non-obtrusiveness.
To this end, they included what to me would be pure genius – if it worked: automatic face recognition and tagging. To test it, I dragged a keyword-stripped folder of family photos into the application and promptly imported them. I scrolled around while the Photoshop Elements updated thumbnails... seemed to be working ok. As I perused the interface, a little box appeared around a head in one of the shots, asking ‘Who is this?’. It wasn’t in-your-face demanding, and didn’t get in the way of what I was doing. Curious, I entered ‘Grace’, the name of my 3 year old niece. It then asked me if I wanted to identify more people.
A few minutes later, after telling the application who was who from a small sample, it went through the rest of the photos, identifying nearly 100% accurately all other images of that person and asking me if any of them weren’t correct. Easily correcting the two the program had misidentified, I now found all my images in that folder had metadata which included all the names of everyone depicted in each. I could simply click on the ‘Grace’ keyword and all photos in which she was featured would display immediately.
When I imported some more photos, the application stayed out of my way while I worked until there was a pause in the action. It then identified another shot of asking ‘Is this Grace?’. It was, and as a result of a click was instantly tagged as such. I next created an event tag for ‘Christmas’ and dragged it to all the selected images for that occasion in one shot. Easy.
Not only that, but with ‘Smart Albums’ I created a photo album that will automatically update each time I add an image which meets particular criteria, in this case, Grace at Christmas. That way I’ll be able to instantly see all photos of her at this festive time over the years as she grows up.
Yet another great feature which will save time in cataloguing your photos is the ‘Auto-Analyzer’ which adds smart tags to your photos such as Blurred, Low Contrast, Low Quality, Shaky, Too Dark etc. This way you can quickly identify and get rid of unwanted photos. Other automatic tags identify content in the images: two faces, long shot, small group, and so on – all searchable and very handy. You can even record and add audio captions!
While the application isn’t perfect (it once amusingly asked me to identify someone’s butt for instance), I have to say I am amazed at how good it is, and I haven’t even touched on any of the powerful photo editing features. For that, you’ll have to wait for a future article.
All in all, I have to say however that Adobe Premiere Elements 8, at $79.99 USD (after $20 rebate) would be a steal at twice the price for the cataloguing feature alone.

Originally published as article authored by Ray Richards, TechKnow Magazine.

1 comment:

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