October 15, 2011

Managing Images the Modern Way

Anyone who shoots a great number of pictures will agree that this thing we call "workflow" can become quite an endeavor. Workflow is the process by which a photographer moves images from capture to storage, editing, backup, and output (print, online display, etc.). It can get complicated, especially when you switch computers, and even more when you switch platforms (e.g. PC to Mac), as I did this year.

I like the system I've found this year, so I thought I'd share about it briefly. After switching from a PC to an iMac, I started over from the old system. Before the switch I was using Picasa and Canon Digital Photo Professional, plus GIMP and Photoshop for editing. I had three methods for uploading and sharing images, and several workflow paths for editing. It was, needless to say, a bit sloppy.

Today I use Aperture on the iMac to catalog and manage my photos (over 11,000 so far) and do basic adjustments and editing. A plugin allows easy uploading to SmugMug, where I display and print images. Like Picasa, Aperture is a photo management app, but it also includes far more advanced editing tools, and a good selection of third party plugins for additional features. By way of comparison, it's chief competitor is Adobe Lightroom. The main reason I chose Aperture was the price, and the integration with Apple's OS, though from what I hear, the Adobe product is fantastic, too.

If you haven't begun using a photo (and/or video) management solution like Aperture, Picasa, or Lightroom, you're probably working too hard on managing your images files. You may also be like the many folks who find it all too complicated and don't really manage the files at all. In either case, an app like one of these is greatly helpful, and can be learned pretty easily. Picasa is an especially user-friendly solution for starters.

But sorting, editing, uploading, printing, and socializing our images isn't all there is to do. We also need to make sure they stay safe. For permanent backup, I use two methods (so far). One is the iron-clad protection of my SmugMug site, alwpics.com, and the other is a combination of automatic (Apple Time Machine) and manual backups on two external hard drives. This latter method is for my whole library, while SmugMug just backs up the images I upload to my site. While this is not as advanced as many serious pros and enthusiasts get (like RAID arrays, etc.), it does provide reasonable assurance of safe storage and long-term image protection. I also plan to explore iCloud and other services, as well.

Wow. Photography sure is different than 15 years ago. The vast majority of us shoot exclusively digital now, and in some ways, this has made things a lot more complicated than back when film and prints were king. But even with the added complication and endless options for editing, online hosting and display, sharing, and more, it's still a whole lot of fun, no matter how much or how little time and effort you put in.