My Photography Workflow

Professional photographers swear by their workflow, but since I’m not a professional photographer (yet) I don’t need a workflow, right? Well, no, not really.
A workflow is important in many respects but for me it’s the process of keeping all my images safe and knowing where they all are, should anything catastrophic happen to my primary image library.
I’ve tried tweaking my workflow on many occasions, attempting to figure out if someone else’s way of doing the same thing as I’m attempting is actually better than my way, but somehow I always keep coming back to the method I’m going to outline here.
Some of you are going to find it overly complicated. Others will probably scoff at all the steps detailed. To be honest with you I’d agree on both points.
It is complicated and there are a lot of steps involved, but I’d much rather be overly cautious than to regret not being cautious enough.

Before I start I should state for the record that I use a Mac, so any and all applications I mention will be relating to that platform.
That’s not to say that this post isn’t relevant to you if you use anything other for your computing needs.
This post isn’t specific to computer platform, it’s just outlining my way of doing things.
So, with that in mind …

The steps I’ll be outlining are :

Capture > Transfer > Backup > Sorting > Adjustments > PP Backup > Exhibition

I always shoot RAW. Never anything else.
When I first got my camera I experimented with .jpeg and .TIFF but RAW is the most versatile format for my needs. Shooting RAW images allows me to easily make adjustments to the colour temperature and exposure, should the need arise, during the post processing stage. Whilst these adjustments can be done with jpeg files you get such a narrow leeway with that format before the image becomes unusable that it’s just not worth my time, and TIFF files are so large that I’d probably need half-a-dozen more memory cards to accommodate that format.

Once the images are on the card and the day’s shooting is done I’ll always take the card/s out of my camera and use a FireWire 800 card reader to transfer them to the computer.
I’d rather not needlessly drain the battery of the camera by attaching it to the computer to transfer the images and the camera would only use USB transfer. FW 800 is so much faster at sustained data rates that copying a whole card full of images takes almost no time at all.

I use Image Capture to import the images. From there I can create folders on the drive of the computer and import the images directly.
I have tried using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom for image import but it just didn’t feel right somehow. It’s difficult to describe but using the same application to import, view, adjust and export feels like I’m putting to much faith in only one bit of software. I haven’t yet given Lightroom 3 a go so I’ll see if that’s changed any from v.2 but currently I use Image Capture.

After transferring to the computer I leave the image files on the CF card until I’ve backed up my primary catalogue. If truth be told, I actually leave the images on the card as long as I possibly can and only get rid of them from there if I’m going to need the space.
There’s no particular reason for this, it’s just something I do.
Backing up my primary library usually consists of attaching a NewerTech Voyager Q to the computer using FW800. I currently have two drives I use with this – one is a laptop 320GB drive and the other is a 1TB 3.5″ drive. I backup to both these drives. I also have an external 500GB portable hard drive that is used for backing up as well as a 1TB LaCie drive that has also been commissioned for backup duty.
Of these four drives the 320GB, the 500GB and the LaCie all have image library copies only on them and the 1TB drive is a full system backup.
I use an application called Déjà Vu to handle my backup duties.
I’m fully aware that Apple’s Time Machine  software could handle my various backup duties but as I had paid for Déjà Vu before Apple released Time Machine (and Déjà Vu does all that I want of it) I’m sticking with what I know until the time comes when I’m forced to change – for whatever reason.

Once all the backing up is complete I open Lightroom and select “Import Photos from Disk …”. From here I select all the images that I just imported (or, if several days worth of images, I’ll pick each day at a time). From here I apply my copyright information and add any keywords that apply to the whole set only.

Once imported in to Lightroom I’ll go through each image separately and apply any post processing (straightening, cropping, exposure compensation … ) accordingly. At this step I’ll also add any individual keywords that may be required specifically for the image.
It’s often made fun of (you know who you are!) that I can take so long to get images up online, and it’s true that sometimes I have dragged my heeles somewhat on actually exhibiting the images that I’ve taken on a given shoot, the truth is it’s the key wording that really gets to me. I just find it such a tedious, boring job. I know it has to be done, and I know that I have to do it, but I don’t have to like it!
It’s also during this stage that I’ll remove any images that I feel aren’t good enough to keep (for whatever reason). I’ll also split the images off in to different collections as I see fit – some of these may go on this ‘site, some for Flickr and others I may even hold off for publication further down the road.
After sorting all the images in to their respective collections I’ll export as necessary. Exporting for me usually takes about two rounds – one for here and one for Flickr – any other ones as necessary (I’ve one or two images on the wonderful Britstock Photo stock photography ‘site and sometimes I’ll export for Facebook too).

PP Backup
After exporting all the images I’ll close Lightroom and then do a final post processing backup. This is mainly to backup the Lightroom catalogue file that gets created/altered whenever new images are imported and adjustments are made.
One of the brilliant things about software such as Lightroom or Aperture is that the adjustments that get made to images don’t actually touch the image directly – it’s what’s commonly referred to as being non-destructive editing. Those changes get made/saved to an XML file, which is what the software reads to display the image adjustments on your screen. If this file was to get corrupted any image manipulations that you had made to that whole catalogue of files would be lost and you’d need to start all over again.
This is why I do a post processing backup.
I could just backup this file, but during the adjustments step I may very well have deleted images from the disk that I thought either too closely resembled other images or images that I didn’t remove from the card that I really should have done (out of focus, badly composed … that sort of thing).
These images would still be taking up space on the backup media and performing another backup at this stage will remove them.

At this stage I guess I should also mention that my backups are set up in such a way as they mirror the contents of my primary image library on the laptop drive, so any alteration to the  folder contents of the image library will automatically be copied across during the backup. This way I only have to make changes to one structure (my primary library/drive) in order to have those changes copied across to the backup media.

I know I should really have some sort of off-site backup, but at the moment that’s really not a practicality that I can accommodate.
I also know that a lot of professional photographers say that you should mix the type of media that you backup to, and that at least one of those mediums should be a write-once variety – such as optical storage. To those I would opine that mixing media type isn’t so much a necessity if you have enough redundant copies of your files.
Yes, mechanical mediums can fail, but so can optical. Also, so many more optical devices are required to even come close to the overall capacities  of mechanical that I simply don’t see the value in using write-once devices for backing-up purposes.

Once all that lot is done I go and place the exported images in their respective resting places, be that Flickr, Britstock Photo, Facebook or here (or anywhere else that may require images).

And that’s about it. (8+)

As I said at the outset, this is just my workflow. Yours is likely to be quite different, and that’s okay, just as long as you recognise that there are steps in mine you won’t feel the need to do, but there’s hopefully steps in there you can recognise and perhaps, if I just get you thinking about your own photography workflow, then this has been a worthwhile posting.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom works on Mac and Windows.
Aperture is Mac only.
Image capture is roughly equivalent to Picture & Fax Viewer in Windows – though that application doesn’t import images.

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