How to Create an Effective Digital Workflow

The primary goal of Digital Workflow is to maximize image quality and avoid data loss throughout the end-to-end process from camera settings to finished images. There are many tools and recommended techniques to assist you with your workflow. This tutorial will guide you through the issues to consider as you establish the system that best fits your requirements.

Preparation

  1. Read your camera manual to understand its options. Using the right camera settings for a given shooting scenario is critical to capturing high quality image data.
  2. Select the image format that will produce the highest quality image. If your camera supports Raw Format?, this is the best choice. Raw format usually uses only Lossless Compression? algorithms and allow the effects of many camera settings (e.g. White Balance) to be applied after the fact. Raw files are easily converted into image formats that are commonly used for file sharing.
  3. Charge your batteries and consider purchasing spares. Recharging batteries can take several hours, so careful planning is required for ambitious photo shooting scenarios like weddings.
  4. Pack a sufficient number of freshly formatted media cards. Lack of storage is a valid reason to choose lower quality image formats, but if you can afford more flash memory, purchasing enough to capture all data available to the camera is your best option.

Get the Shot

  1. Take a test shot and consult the Histogram. Make adjustments if you see that you are losing image data. If it is impossible to capture the entire range of image data, it is best to keep detail in the highlights.
  2. Use a tripod? if possible when shooting with long shutter speeds. If you can’t use a tripod experiment with higher ISO settings to allow more light into the camera at faster shutter speeds. Use the lowest ISO that you can because higher ISO settings do degrade image quality.
  3. Use flash in low light situations.
  4. Create a system for keeping used media cards separate from fresh ones. Remember that until you safely download the images to your computer, the used cards hold your only copy of the photographs.

Copy Images to Your Computer

  1. Establish a directory structure for your images. Using elements of the date usually work best because every image is timestamped, allowing your derived images to be associated with their location in your archives where other versions and related images can be found.
  2. Choose a method of transferring image files to your computer. You can do this by connecting the camera to the computer or by removing the card and inserting it into a media card reader attached to your computer. Try all options to find the fastest download method if you expect to transfer large volumes of images at one time.
  3. Consider renaming image files if the names automatically supplied by your camera are likely to be duplicated. It is best to have a unique identifier for each of your images. If you plan on renaming the files, it is best to use a specialized program to copy the image files that can automatically perform the renaming as it copies. It is best to leave your images on the card until you have verified that you have successfully copied the images and have made at least one other copy.

Process Your Photographs

  1. Use batch processing to apply modifications to an entire set or group of images. In addition to changing file names, batch software can apply keywords and other metadata and add watermarks. Image correction can also be batch applied to adjust a group of photos shot under similar conditions.
  2. Backup your photos. So long as you have retained your original images on your flash drive, it is not critical to do this immediately. You may choose to wait to perform this step until after you have completed your image corrections. So long as you also wait to reformat your media card, you will have a backup copy of your images.
  3. Triage your photos to identify the bad, average, and outstanding specimens. Opinions vary as to whether you should keep bad images in your archives. If you do not feel that you must keep all of your digital negatives?, you can delete the clearly bad images. Outstanding photos are candidates for your portfolio. Use your ratings to gauge the amount of time that should be spent on image corrections and other edits.
  4. Sort your images by their timestamps and categorize into natural groupings that emerge such as different events or places. You can use metadata tags or separate folders within the folder for the date to maintain these categorizations.
  5. Perform image corrections on the best photos. Basic corrections include: adjusting brightness and contrast, eliminating noise and cropping. Sharpening is usually performed after all other basic corrections. If possible, perform these adjustments in a non-destructive way. Raw file editors are non-destructive as are some techniques that you can do in other photo editors. If your photo editor supports layers, you can keep the unaltered version on a layer that you copy to make destructive edits.
  6. Save your edits. If you are shooting Raw files, it is generally not possible for you to modify the original. However, if your original files are jpegs, you will need to decide whether you want to over-ride the original. You also need to decide whether you want to save the native photo editing files. If you saved a file with appropriately named layers, it is easier to remember what adjustments you made and to leverage your work to build new variations in the future. Use file naming or metadata tagging conventions to retain the connection between the original and derived versions of the photo.

Final Steps

  1. Add photo specific tags and other metadata. This can be time consuming, so you may defer this and simply add tags over time as you work with your images. It is worthwhile to spend the time to heavily annotate your outstanding images so that future searches will find your best shots that may fit your purpose.
  2. Share your work on disk, with prints and albums, and on the Internet. The possibilities are endless and there are many software tools assist you in achieving your creative visions. Have fun!
  3. Set up a regular backup system to save ongoing photo editing and metadata work that you do with your photo catalog. Consider maintaining off-site backups of your archives. Cloud storage offers a convenient way to achieve this goal. Todays large hard drives make it possible to keep your images online, but make them vulnerable to hard drive failure. CD’s and DVD’s can deteriorate over time. Many photographers now choose to make backup copies to multiple removable drives that they attach to the computer only when making a copy of the live archive. In the event of a hard drive crash, the backup drive replaces it and is immediately copied to a new backup drive. All backup systems have costs in terms of time and money that you will need to weigh against the consequences of lost images.
  4. Reformat your media card in the camera. This will delete all photos and make the card ready for your next photo shoot.

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