Image Downloading

Image Downloading

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.

Downloading Alternatives

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:

060912 Lydia furs
051227 Morgan Hill
050612 Smith Wed
050707 Small Town Stock

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:

  1. Install the Adobe DNG converter according to the instructions that come with the download. (In Windows, the installer places a shortcut on your desktop by default.)

  2. Double-click the Adobe DNG Converter icon. The DNG Converter dialog will open (see Figure). As you can see, the DNG Converter dialog is divided into four sections. The next steps show you the settings to use for each section. If your eyes (or magnifying glass) are good enough to decipher the small print in the figure, you can just use the same settings.

    Figure. The Adobe DNG Converter dialog.

  3. In Section 1, click the Select Folder button. You'll get a browser/finder-type dialog that lets you navigate to the folder where you just downloaded your images. At this stage, should you have any subfolders, they may not contain any RAW files. If that is the case, leave that box unchecked.

  4. In Section 2, click the Select Folder button. Another browser/finder dialog opens. Select the folder you downloaded your RAW files to, then click the Make New Folder button. A new folder icon will appear with the name New Folder highlighted. Overtype the New Folder name with the same name as the parent folder, but with .dng added to the end.

  5. In Section 3, you have a chance to put the appropriate prefix on the original filename (see the "Storing the Files" section earlier in this chapter). If all the images in this folder are of the same subject (often the case in a product or fashion shoot), then rename all the files so they are preceded by the subject's name. If that's the case, highlight Document Name and type over it with the name of the subject. Then, pull down the menu to the immediate right and choose Document Name. You needn't do anything more, because the camera has already put all the filenames in a series (see "Storing the Files"). So there will never be a duplicate filenameunless you have multiple cameras that use the same naming convention. That's a pretty common occurrence for pros who are carrying multiple bodies of the same brand. If you do have multiple cameras with the same naming convention, put a sticker on the bottom of the camera with a letter on it. (Surely you don't have more than 26 of these cameras, but if you do, use double letters.) Now, if you have multiple sources for the same naming convention, type the letter(s) for the appropriate camera into the third field.

  6. Still in Section 3, make sure the File Extension menu choice is .dng.

  7. The chosen preferences should be Compressed (lossless) and Preserve RAW image (you can change either of these by clicking the Change Preferences... button). Don't embed the original (takes more space and you're about to back it up). If those aren't the settings, just click the Change Preferences button and a dialog will appear that lets you specify the settings I've just specified. Is that specifically clear?

Here are the steps to complete the DNG backup routine:

  1. Open Bridge and drag the new DNG directory above the icon of its parent folder. This simply moves it.

  2. Insert a blank DVD or CD into your DVD drive. Your CD/DVD burning software opens. Hopefully, you've read the instructions and know how to use it. If not, you may want to download the manual from the company's web site.

  3. Drag the original folder into the data space in the CD/DVD burning dialog and click whatever buttons are necessary to make the backup CD or DVD (probably the latter, but why waste space if this was a short shoot?).

  4. When the disk has been burned, you should get a dialog telling you that the data has been successfully written to the disk. The disk usually auto-ejects, but if it doesn't, close the disk burning software and eject the disk.

  5. Reinsert the disk and open an image or two in Bridge to make sure the images are there and haven't been corrupted. It will take longer to read all the files, but checking the thumbnails is a good way to make sure that none of your image data has been corrupted in the disk-writing process.

  6. Eject your disk, label it with the shoot's folder name using an acid-free marker, and store it in an acid-free CD album.

  7. Erase your original RAW files.

Send proprietary RAW files to CD and erase them from your drive. Now you have one backup that you're not likely to touch.

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