June 21, 2011, 6:48 a.m.
posted by zloy
One of the most critical points in an efficient workflow is the disciplined process by which you get your pictures from camera to computer. You want to combine downloading with both an efficient and effective naming process and a disciplined and regular means for backing up. As a part of this process, you want to get rid of anything that might be embarrassing to you, your client, or your model. Never was the phrase "out of sight, out of mind" more appropriate than when winnowing out the crap. The difference between an average photographer and a great one is that the great ones know what to throw away. Then, you want to immediately get your images to your client in a professional-looking presentation that makes you look as good as possible. Generally speaking, the more pictures the client likes, the more you'll get paid, and the more often you'll be asked to shoot again.
There are several devices you can use to download your images from camera to computer. First, most all digital cameras, and certainly all DSLRs, have either a USB or FireWire port that allows you to connect your camera directly to your computer. Second, you can buy a card adapter that plugs into either a USB or FireWire port. Finally, there are computers that have card readers built into them. You can see two of these devices in Figure.
Figure. Left to right, an external card reader and a built-in card reader.
It won't do much good for me to tell you which downloading device to use, because there are too many variables between devices, card speed, and internal computer circuitry to make that opinion meaningful. However, I will tell you that download speed is important. I've seen a difference of a minute and a half to 12 minutes just to download the same images from the same card through different devices to different computers. My advice to you: get or borrow all three types of devices, take them home, and test them with a stopwatch. A state-of-the-art digital card reader only costs about $25 these days, and spares come in handy if you're traveling without a computer or have to loan one to a client or friend. Actually, you'll need one if you have a Mac. Macs aren't available with built-in card readers! (Duh! Hello Apple, do you know how many of your customers are digital photographers?) Anyway, back to reality: Put your card filled with photos into each device and clock the download time for that card in that device. Put your camera in sequence shooting mode and fill a card with images. Then, download that card's images through an internal card reader, a USB 2.0 card reader, and (if you have a FireWire port) through a FireWire card reader. Make sure you download from the same card each time; that way, you know that it's not the speed of the card that is influencing your decision. Now you know which download device is fastest. Regardless of the speed of the card itself, the device that downloads that card fastest will download any card of any speed faster than the other devices you tested.
The speed designations that manufacturers give their cards are only useful as a guideline. One maker's 4X card is not necessarily the same as another's. Borrow several brands and speeds, fill each with photos, and test them for yourself. It's easy to test download times for the cards.
All things being equal, I'm in favor of the convenience of built-in, front-mounted card readers. They're always where you can reach them easily, don't require any operating expertise, can be used while you're camera is shooting something else, and require no software expertise. Plug a card into the appropriate slot (it won't fit if it isn't the right slot). Immediately, a new drive will appear on your desktop (Mac) or in My Computer (Windows). Read the files and do with them just as you would files in any other directory on your computer.
Storing the Files
Be sure to store all the files from a shoot in the same folder. Name that folder after the most broadly applicable name you can give to the shoot. If it's personal, I name it after the person or place where I did the shoot. Occasionally, an entire shoot consists of a study of one subject. In that case, I name the folder after the subject. If the subject is something like a road trip, I name the folder after the farthest or most memorable destination. If it's a commercial shoot, I name it after the purpose of the shootnever after the client. There are a couple of reasons for that: some of the photos may end up being sold to a variety of clients, and I may have folder after folder for the same client, many of which can contain very different subject matter. The point is that you want to name your folders so that you're most likely to know what they contain. You won't always be right, but you'll be right more often than not.
Another photographer just suggested naming the file with the date ahead of the descriptive name. She puts the two digits for the year first, then month, then day. That way, the files automatically sort so that the most recent is at the bottom of the list. After trying that approach, I really like it. It's much faster to find the files I've shot most recently, which are the ones I'm likely to need most often.
The first part of the folder name is the six-character date of the shoot organized by year, month, dayfor instance, 060224. I don't use dashes or slashes or characters that are illegal in filenames. Here are some typical folder names:
Back up RAW files to DVD
Up until now, the workflow procedure has been the same for both RAW and JPEG. At this point, however, you want to convert your proprietary RAW files to a more archival and universal RAW file format called Adobe DNG. If you shot JPEG, skip the backup procedure here and move on to the sections about naming and winnowing files.
A few high-resolution digital camera backs (and possibly some upcoming Canon cameras according to current rumors) will shoot their RAW files in DNG format. If that's the case, you obviously needn't concern yourself with the procedures in this section.
For the rest of you, as soon as you've downloaded your RAW files and put them into folders, back up those files to DVD. If you don't have a DVD burner, get a 16X dual-layer, read and read-write (R+RW) DVD burner or Apple Super Drive. If you want to install a new one internally, you'll save desktop real estate. If you already have a DVD recorder but want a faster and more capable one, keep both. Then you can easily copy CDs and DVDs directly from one drive to another without having to recopy them. That will be a big timesaver when you need to copy DVDs every three to five years to avoid their untimely demise.
Be sure to get some name-brand DVDs. Don't buy those no-name or store-name bargain-priced disks. With rare exceptions, you'll end up throwing away a huge percentage just because you can't write to them. When they do work, don't be surprised if you pop one in the drive a few days or weeks later, only to find that the computer can't read it.
The number of possible configurations for backing up your files is endless. For an in-depth look at back-up systems and archiving strategies, again, I'd recommend The DAM Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers by Peter Krogh (O'Reilly).
Converting to DNG
As I just mentioned, there is one nonproprietary RAW format that belongs to us all, even though it was invented by Adobe. It's called DNGshort for "digital negative." It has more features than proprietary RAW files and may eventually become a universal format. Any future version of this format is promised to be backward compatible with older versions, so it is unlikely that your files will be orphaned by the discontinuance of their format. Furthermore, you can rest assured that virtually all image editing software invented or updated since late 2005 will be compatible with DNG files. DNG files can even be read now as thumbnails by your operating system's file browser, provided you have updated your system.
If you haven't already downloaded the DNG converter from the Adobe site, do it now. It's a small utility that installs on your system's desktop and doesn't cost a penny. If you're familiar with Dr. Brown's Image Processor or its descendant, Photoshop CS2's Image Processor, you'll feel quite at home with the interface.
Here's the routine:
Here are the steps to complete the DNG backup routine:
Send proprietary RAW files to CD and erase them from your drive. Now you have one backup that you're not likely to touch.