Digital Photography Workflow

I revised my workflow for digital photography largely as a result of reading Peter Krogh’s book on Digital Asset Management for Photographers. During the Christmas break, I have been going back on my images to bring the archive into better order.

Here is a quick overview of my workflow.

Directory Structure

My archive is maintained on my primary computer with a backup copy on an external hard drive and DVDs.

The directory structure is pretty simple. In my Pictures folder, I have a master folder for my photography archive. The first subfolder is the year. The next subfolder is a container for five folders which will hold DNG files, Print output files, PSD files, RAW files and Web output files:

–> Photography
—-> YYYY
——> YYYYMMDD_description
——–> DNG Files
——–> Print Output
——–> PSD Files
——–> RAW Files
——–> Web Output

The files follow a specific naming convention: RCYYYYMMDD_description.ext

Digital Workflow 1

Step 1. Image Transfer

The first step of the workflow is to transfer the images from my camera to the computer. As I usually shoot RAW, I transfer the images to the appropriate RAW Files folder. I then make a backup of the RAW images to DVD and to an external hard drive.

Step 2. Image Naming, Rating, Metadata and Keywording

The next step of the workflow is to rename the RAW files, rate images, populate the metadata and provide keywords. I use Adobe’s Bridge for this part of the workflow.

The RAW files were named by the camera when the image was first captured. I rename all the RAW files using the naming convention RCYYYYMMDD_description. As I use a Nikon rig, the files retain the .NEF extension.

I then assess each image and provide a rating. No star means no rating. 1 star warrants further processing and a 2 star rating represents a strong image. I rarely provide a 3 star rating unless the image is particularly outstanding.

All images are populated with basic metadata including my name and copyright. Each image will also receive a set of keywords. For example, a sunset shot of a lake might include the following keywords: Lake, Georgian Bay, Ontario, Sunset, Shoreline.

Step 3. RAW File Conversion

As RAW files are specific to a particular model of camera, I use Adobe’s conversion tool to create a set of .DNG files. In essence, this conversion preserves the original RAW file but in an open standard. The DNG files are stored in the DNG Files folder.

Step 4. Image Processing

Candidate images are reviewed for further processing in Photoshop. At this point in the workflow, I am working from the .DNG files. Generally, I process all 2 star and higher images. Processing varies by image but I usually deal with black and white levels, curves and color. Once I have the imaged processed and ready for output, I save a working copy to the PSD Files folder. This folder contains a Photoshop file that is ready for output processing.

Step 5. Output Processing

Images are then identified for output processing. I use the PSD files for image output. I usually process images for print and the web. Print files are saved in the Print Output folder and web files are saved in the Web Output folder.  I use Photoshop to crop and size the images and sharpen the images for the specific output.

Step 6. Image Catalog

I add the DNG files to my image catalog. I currently use Microsoft’s Expression Media as my image catalog software. An image catalog software is a robust tool which allows you to quickly locate and group images. If someone were to ask me to produce a set of my best waterfall images taken in winter and taken in Ontario, the image catalog software can quickly pull all of those images together. I don’t have to remember where in my directory those images might live. As my supporting files live alongside the DNG files, I don’t need to add the rest of the filetypes (e.g., .NEF, .PSD, .JPEG) to the catalog.

Digital photography can create many thousands of images. Without a disciplined method to transfer, backup, organize, process and catolog images, then those captures are at risk. Something to consider if you are serious about your photography.