My Photo Workflow

Update: See Part 2, where this all changes a week later.

Me, Reflected

This is what I do with my photos, from originally taking the shot with my DSLR (a Nikon D90 (Search for "Nikon D90" on: DuckDuckGo, Amazon UK, Amazon US), though this pretty much all applies to any camera using memory cards), through copying the files to the computer (iMac (Search for "iMac" on: DuckDuckGo, Amazon UK, Amazon US)), to importing them into my editing and cataloging software (Apple Aperture (Search for "Apple Aperture" on: DuckDuckGo, Amazon UK, Amazon US), though much of it would probably apply in a similar way to iPhoto, Lightroom (Search for "Lightroom" on: DuckDuckGo, Amazon UK, Amazon US) and others). It may not be the best way to do these things, though it works for me. I suspect, if anything, it tends towards a bit too much safety, and puts too much time and energy into doing things the ‘right’ way, making it all too time-consuming. I’m photographing as an amateur, though, and losing a day’s shooting won’t cost me in real cash. It might be too little safety if you’re shooting weddings for money.

I’m not saying anyone should copy all this, but there might be some ideas here if you’re interested in this sort of workflow geek-out.

Camera

I use 8Gb SD cards. They’re big enough to fit all I’m generally likely to shoot in a day, but still fairly cheap. I shelled out a bit more for a reasonably fast branded card this time, though I’m never entirely sure how much difference it makes. Figures from DPReview suggest it’s worth it if you value performance – my D90 can take pics faster with a faster card. I’ve only once ever filled an 8Gb card and had to move on to another, when shooting a wedding. For any normal day or outing, one card is way more than I need, even shooting RAW all the time.

I use a single card, to avoid the inconvenience of having to stop and change. My dad has always preferred to use two or three smaller cards for a day of shooting, so one accident or faulty card can’t lose everything. I’ve never had such a loss, so I don’t worry about it. I’ll probably regret that the first time I do lose a card full of images, but I used to hate having to stop and swap cards around back when cards were low-capacity and expensive.

Reading the Card

My camera mounts as a camera, not a mass storage device, which I don’t like. For that reason, I prefer to take the card out, and use a separate card reader. If the camera mounted like a card reader or USB memory stick, I’d probably just plug it in and use it that way. The card reader I use is the one built into the front of my printer. No reason: it’s just there, and it works ok.

Folder(s) for Images

I have a Photos folder. Inside this, I create a new folder, named for the date, and a very short description of the ‘event’, in the format ‘yyyy-mm-dd ‘. If I took a few pictures whilst wandering around Tiverton today, the folder would be called ‘2010-05-07 Photowalk Tiverton’. The dates mean the folders can be sorted easily by when the pics were taken, and the short description means I can have more than one folder per day, if there’s more than one ‘event’. I used to just use the date, but a few occasions came up where I did two very separate shoots, and didn’t like throwing them all in one folder.

Events

Events? I use the term in a similar way to the way iPhoto uses it – any collection of photos taken around the same time. ‘Photowalk Tiverton’ is a pretty common name, as is ‘Canal’. It isn’t usually much of an event. I’m not overly strict on dates. A trip with an overnight stay might still be one event to me, so I’d probably just use the date of the first day.

Why Folders?

I could just import photos straight into Aperture, and let Aperture store them in its library. There are a few of reasons why I don’t.

  • Matches older folder structure – this is how I’ve kept images since before I started using Aperture.
  • Performance – I can keep the Aperture library on the internal HD, which is faster, while the images are on a slower external USB drive. Aperture’s work is spread over two drives, on different busses, too, which may give some performance gains (I don’t know if it really does). I don’t have room to keep all the photos on my internal drive.
  • I can have some of the same images imported into iPhoto. I don’t use iPhoto much now, but have at times. This way, the same images can be in more than one program, without duplicating the images themselves.

If you’re looking at a new setup, have plenty of space on your internal drive, and won’t use other software for the same images, you might want to just push the pics straight into Aperture, and let it handle them. I may yet move the Aperture library to an external drive, and bring the photos in to it, at a later date.

Time Machine (Backups)

Once they’re in the folder, Time Machine handles backing them up. I don’t wait for this, usually, but unless they’re ‘scrap’ images, I don’t wipe the card until I’ve let Time Machine do its thing.

Wiping the Card

Often doesn’t happen until later, or even the next time I use the camera. My D90 can format a card using just two buttons, so I generally format it rather than just deleting the images.

Aperture

I import the images into Aperture, choosing the option to leave the images in their current location. Generally, I try to leave this to finish, then leave Aperture alone for a while afterwards; preferably leaving the Mac pretty much alone, too. Aperture is memory-hungry. Importing takes a while, and Aperture can be busy building thumbnails and previews for quite a while after that. Trying to start working on images before it’s finished can be frustratingly slow. Check the status bar at the bottom of Aperture’s window to see if it’s busy – you can click there to get a window showing you what it’s up to, and how much it has to do.

Tagging and Rating

I’ve been far too lazy recently, and skipped tagging all but the best images. I’ll really regret this later, I know. The best way is to tag all the images with relevant keywords before starting to do anything else. Don’t edit, don’t rate, just add keywords. Doing a lot at once is quicker, as you can usually apply the same keywords to lots of images at once. If you do this, you’ll be able to find images much easier later – rate first, and tag only the best ones, and all the others are pretty much lost for good. In practice, I often only end up tagging the ones I consider good enough to use, which means I’ll have great trouble finding any lower quality shots later.

When I export the images later, the tags I’ve set get carried over, so they’re important for Flickr’s use as well as my own searching in Aperture.

I generally rate anything as ‘reject’ if it’s really bad – out of focus, badly exposed, or just generally bad. I also usually reject all but the best of a ‘set’ of the same image. If I took five shots in a row of the same duck, I pick the best of them, and reject the rest. I then base the stars-out-of-five rating on this rough idea:

  1. Competent, or worth keeping for some reason, but not good enough to share. Also, I often give one star to images I’m going to use in a ‘Photo Construction’ or panorama.
  2. Nothing special, but worth sharing – will be uploaded online.
  3. Good image.
  4. One of my best.
  5. One of my very best. Rarely used – I only have eight images with five stars currently in Aperture, though I haven’t gone back and rated all my old images (yet).

Exporting to Share

I switch Aperture to only show two stars and better. It’s easy then to select all, and export them together, creating a new ‘event’ set in Flickr at the same time. I use the Flickr Export plugin for Aperture to do the exporting. For the little it cost, the ‘pro’ version of the plugin has been worthwhile. I believe the current version of Aperture exports to Flickr without needing a plugin, but I bought the plugin for a version that didn’t, so I haven’t really used Aperture’s own exporting feature.

Sometimes, I’ll export a few separately to add to Facebook. I usually do this with any shots containing people who I know on Facebook, or for any establishments/products/etc I ‘like’ on Facebook.

Aperture Vault

At the end of all this (or sometimes before the exports, depending how paranoid I’m feeling), I update the Aperture Vault. This is a backup copy of Aperture’s database held on another drive. There isn’t really any good reason to do this when Time Machine is backing Aperture up. I’ve always done it, though, and when I lost the contents of my internal disk, and Time Machine turned out not to have been working for a while, I was glad I had. So I keep doing it.

Current Usage

I use my D90 much less now than I used to. Most of my photos are now taken with my iPhone, often using Hipstamatic. The main advantage is that it cuts all of the above out of the process. I take a photo, wait a minute for it to process, and if I like it, push it straight up to Flickr. The phone gets backed up when I plug it in to sync. Every so often, I open Aperture while the phone is plugged in, and pull the new images into one big folder in there.

It’s a lot less organisation, less backups, and lower image quality. In return, though, it’s quicker, easier, and more immediate. That counts for a lot.

The Future

Eye-Fi have just announced that their cards will soon be able to connect to an iPhone app, and push photos from a ‘real’ camera to your phone in a few seconds. That would combine the performance, flexibility and image quality of the D90 with much of the speed, convenience and immediacy of the iPhone. It could be a winning combination for most day-to-day photography.

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