Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Quick photo archiving lesson

©2009 Isaac Hernandez, All Rights Reserved

I was asked by a fan to write about archiving and sharpening, and whether sharpening comes last in the process, and if there's a different workflow for print or web photos. If you're nor archiving your photos, it's never too late to start, but do it now! Here are some tips. Feel free to write with more questions.

There are several good books on photographic workflow. The most famous is perhaps The DAM book, by Peter Krogh, DAM as in Digital Asset Management. It was my introduction to dealing with tens of thousands of images, and of great help, although I found some of the steps overly complicated. I recommend checking other people's systems and then developing your own.

The first step in a workflow system is to decide which software you're going to use. I find Adobe Lightroom ($299) to work for me, as a professional photographer. Apple Aperture ($199) is another professional choice (only for Mac), which has some advantages when it comes to sharing your work, with a better email and layout interface.

Krogh liked iView Media Pro, so I used it before it was bought by Microsoft and turned into Microsoft Expression Media. I haven't tried their last version yet. I don't know if it's even available. When I try to "buy it", I got lost in the Microsoft web labyrinth. Now Krogh recommends Adobe Bridge (part of the Creative Suite), but I prefer Lightroom, except when archiving CMYK files (for which I use my old iView Media Pro). Lightroom doesn't like CMYK files (Note to self, tell Adobe to make Lightroom see CMYK files, even if it couldn't modify them).

When it comes to Lightroom, I like Michael Clark's workflow guide, ($24.95 as an eBook). It covers everything from how to set up your camera for best results, to the printing process, and yes, sharpening, which, comes last. When you sharpen you want to save your file as a copy, because it degrades the image, even as it improves it. You are basically increasing the contrast in the edges of the photo, losing information.

That's the beauty of Lightroom and Aperture, you can toy around with your images, improving contrast, doing sepia tones or whathaveyou, without losing the original image. Everything is saved as an additional ones and zeros while preserving your master file.

Unfortunately, workflow is more than just playing around with fancy filters, it requires the discipline of copying the files to the right directory, making back-up copies, renaming files in a way that avoids confustion, rating the images so that you can easily search for your best work, adding keywords to the images again to make it easier to actually use your images, and exporting them to a final file (which Krogh calls a "derivative"), from which you will make a print or post
it on the web. Think of your master file as the negative, which you work on and process, and of the derivative as the print.

The difference in flow for web or print comes only at the end, when you export the file, choosing one size or another. Each size will require a different level of sharpening. Luckily, Lightroom and Aperture make that last step very easy, with pre-configured levels of sharpening, which works for the most part. For more sharpening control, you would want to go to Adobe Photoshop.

There's so much to learn about taking care of our archives, that one could have a blog just on this subject. It's good to start organizing those files now, before we are inundated and so overwhelmed that we wish that a fire would just take everything away.

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