Monday, 23 April 2007

Digital Photography Workflow part 1 (capture)

"What’s that you are reading?"

"The DAM Book"
"Charming! I only asked!"

Be prepared for this conversation if you read the highly recommended "The DAM Book" by Peter Krogh, but it's worth it.

So what is DAM?

DAM stands for Digital Asset Management, which means managing your images so that you can find your images easily and they are backed up properly, which will ensure you won't loose them in event of a hardware, software or user error. In order to achieve this you need to have a well thought out workflow that you stick to consistently.

A workflow is the series of processes you go through to handle your images. A comprehensive workflow covers everything from downloading from the cards, through sorting, indexing and classifying, raw conversion, Photoshop work, archiving and backup.

The DAM Book provides a complete working and proven workflow based on the Adobe Bridge product (which comes as part of Photoshop CS2), Adobe DNG and iView Media Pro plus some other bits and pieces downloadable from its own website. Even if you don't use the flow described in the book it is a great tool for reassessing how you handle your images.

Reading the book made me decide to re-plan and document my own workflow. So I thought I would share it with my readers. This article describes the very first part of the workflow – Capture and download.


I shoot on a canon 20D using the raw file format. There are many reasons for using raw which have been detailed in articles such as this one. Two reasons draw me to this way of shooting,: the first is being able to deal with white balance problems easily and the second is that using a good raw processor like Capture 1 allows you to replicate the traditional processes of printing an image, minimising the amount of correction required in Photoshop. For me, the more I get an image right in the camera (and the raw processor) the more I like it.

CF CardsI use 512Mb Compact flash cards, which seem incredibly small and cheap in these days of 8GB cards. There are a couple of reasons for using smaller cards:

  • A 512mb card fits neatly on to a CD which makes backing them up a doodle, by the time I buy my next camera I expect sensors to be up to 20+ megapixel sizes at which point 4GB cards and DVDs might be a good pairing.
  • I get 50ish raw files onto one card, which is about the maximum number of images I could bear to lose in one go should I drop it in the sea, a lake, a washing machine, a volcano, etc, etc.

I store the cards in Jessops media cases, which hold 4 cards at a time and provide them with a degree of shock proofing. I know it's not the most original system in the world but I keep track of which ones have been used, by keeping empty cards face up & shot cards face down. I always reformat cards every time I put them into the camera in an effort to reduce the possibility of file system problems on the card.

Numbering the cards helps to identify if there are any recurring problems with a particular card or not.

On returning from the shoot my workflow depends on if I am back at base or not.

Normal workflow

On returning from a shoot, I use a card reader to download the images to my laptop using Downloader Pro. See this Blog for more details on setting up Downloader pro and the Controlled Vocabulary. I have this, deceptively easy to use bit of software setup to completely automate the download part of my workflow:

  • Files are copied into a directory within my working area which is named based on the year and month. i.e.: C:\Working\200611_Nov\04Nov06\Raw - where:
    • "C:\Working" is my working directory
    • "200611_Nov" is a directory for nov 2006-11-04
    • "04Nov06" this is the actual date of the shoot
    • "Raw" indicates that these are the raw files.

  • Files are renamed based on the original name, job code and date i.e.: CS20061104-IMG_0123_Epping Forest.cr2 - where:
    • "CS" are my initials
    • "20061104" is the date in YYYYMMDD format
    • "IMG_0123" is the original file name

  • 2 directories are created at the same level as the "RAW" directory. These are:
    • "Tiff" - for files converted from raw
    • "WebReady" - for files converted too web proofing size.

  • IPTC/XMP data is added to each file automatically adding creator, copyright, contact info, keywords & location etc to every file.

  • Files are automatically copied, across the network, to a second PC (my file server) to ensure I have a backup of every image.
  • When the download is complete the card is completely erased ready for reuse.

Amazingly it does all this automatically when I insert a card in to the card reader. At some point in the future I may take advantage of downloader pros ability to automatically generate DNG files, but at the moment I don't feel DNG fits into my workflow very well.

Now the images are ready for rating and raw conversion as detailed in part 2.

On-Location Workflow

The normal workflow relies on a network file server to provide a backup of all the images downloaded. This is not possible when I am away from base and simply download all the files to my laptop is not a secure option because the laptop could crash or be stolen and I would lose an entire expeditions work.

Instead I use a digimagic CD writer to duplicate each card to CD. Spindles of CD-Rs are very cheap these days and provide an ideal backup medium. I then load from the CD into the laptop using Downloader Pro which does all the renaming/directory creation as detailed in the normal process. This way I can be sure that not only do I have a backup but that backup works!

On returning I use the Microsoft Sync-toy to duplicate the working directory back to the file server.

In part 2, I will detail the process of sorting the wheat from the chaff and converting raw files into a usable format.

If you are getting a sense of Deja-vue that is because this blog was originally in the Articles section of the site...but I'm having a tidy up!

My Workflow

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