Missed Opportunities – Photography

Damn Shame – Photography edition

As part of the migration to Lightroom CC, I have spent a lot of time mucking around my photo collection. Lots of good memories, and some retouching (for some reason, I am terrible at having level horizons), and I noticed an oddity.

In 2006 we took a three week vacation to Italy, starting in Rome and headed south. Unlike our earlier visit, where I was shooting film, this time, my main camera was my trusty Canon EOS 20D, my first DLSR.

So far, so good.

The camera uses the ol’ workhorse of storage, the Compact Flash cards. At the time, all I had were less than 1 gigabyte. In fact for this trip, I purposely bought 2, very pricey 1GB cards, for the trip.

Hippodrome of Domitian
The ruins of the Hippodrome of Domitian, in Rome, Italy

The 20D, when shooting RAW format, each image is about 8.7 megabytes. A 1 gigabyte card can only hold 115 or so RAW images. Naturally, I wasn’t going to be shooting RAW. So I was shooting JPGs. Unfortunately as the time went on, I was running out of cards (I traveled without a computer to offload cards). So, instead of full resolution images, I had to downshift to medium resolution.

And it shows with the resolution of the images.

Oh well, c’est la vie.

Cefalu, Sicily
View east from the water in Cefalu, Sicily. A wee bit o’ processing.

Today, fortunately, this isn’t as much of a problem. Yes, I am shooting with a newer (relatively) camera, the Canon 5D “classic”, whose RAW files are about 12 megs each, and a 4 gig card delivers about 277 raw images. But, 16 gig cards are about $20, and I travel with a laptop to offload. My other camera, a Canon G12, has a 32 gig SD card, and it gets well over 1,000 RAW images (also at ~ 12 megs each), on the card.

2006, a lost opportunity.

Photography Workflow Musings

I never heard or really used the term “workflow” until I worked at Open Text, but subconsciously, I always had some sort of workflow, regardless of how skimpy it was. Unlike some of my more serious photography friends, who have a ton of discipline, and rigid practices, I remain somewhat chaotic.

Part of that is legacy. Starting with iPhoto as a photo management system, I just imported, and organized into albums or collections that were related. Trips, family and friends, work, dogs, and critters were easy categories to setup, and to use. That worked until two things happened.

First, buying a DSLR, and starting to shoot in RAW format quickly swamped iPhotos. Second, Apple iOS-izing iPhoto and Aperture, finally replacing it with the homeless abortion that is Photos. Continue reading →

Photography – Library Organization

Having written about my struggles as an undisciplined photographer, first outgrowing iPhoto, finding a safe harbor with Apple’s “pro” application, Aperture until they orphaned it, and then casting around for a solution.

I tried Adobe Lightroom, and it was reasonable, but being geared for professionals, it was a bit overkill.

A friend recommended another Adobe product, “Bridge”, as a good, lightweight solution. It is included for free with Photoshop (and possibly other Adobe products), and it has long lain idle.

Hummingbird street artWith that recommendation, I took a serious look at Bridge, and began using it for my ungainly photo collection. Here are my observations:

  1. It is quite snappy at creating indexed thumbnails. When you open a folder, even with more than 1,000 images in it, it quickly lets you work with it, while it is creating the thumbnails. If you set the preferences to (when possible) push the index file to the local directory. This makes it really easy to reorganize or move (via a remote drive) to another computer.
  2. The UI is very flexible. It is intuitive to navigate, and you can set it up to facilitate your workflow. Sure, Lightroom has more bells and whistles, but with that is a heavier overhead to learn and build familiarity with. But, it doesn’t prevent you from accessing all the meta data and other tags.
  3. Batch rename. Best. Feature. Ever. I had one folder with over 1000 images, where I mixed photos from my wife’s point and shoot Canon, with my EOS 20D. This meant that I have a lot of low res images mixed with the good stuff, and it was painful. The “Advanced” find option, looking for the camera ID tag, and then use the Batch Rename option to separate the intermixed images.It also makes it easy to rename files, to insert mnemonic flags in the filename, and date/index coding. Really helpful.
  4. Rating/Flagging of images. The ability to assign a rating to each image is nice, and expected. Also, the ability to use the delete key to “reject” an image. This is helpful for sorting/ranking images. Alas, I am not disciplined enough to use this consistently. Maybe one day (who am I kidding…)
  5. Minibridge. This is a tight integration with Photoshop, that give you a way to traverse your collection easily from within the photoshop interface. Handy if you are in the think of working with your collection, relieving you from switching between programs.

Additionally, as it is part of the “Creative Solutions” ecosystem, it helps you index and organize all media files. Images, videos, even mixed media files, all with aplomb. It really helped me organize a huge collection of memes I snagged from the internet.

It is not all Unicorns and Roses though…

The photo import tool is pretty sucky. At least on the Mac. It is pretty spartan, and while it can do some rudimentary file renaming, it is pretty pathetic. Of course, the Apple Photos app is less flexible.

Also, it is unable to preview before importing RAW files, so you are pretty blind when importing. Not too useful if you have multiple sessions of photos on the memory card.

Sure, I can just import bulk from the card and mess with it later, but that is sub optimal.

Summary

For a free-as-in-beer program, Adobe Bridge is remarkably feature rich. It is lightweight, yet usable. It integrates very well with Photoshop, and since it isn’t a monolithic library (like the Apple products), it is really easy to move/organize your library around.

And it really is free. Don’t have Photoshop or any of the other CS products? No problemo, get an Adobe ID, and you can download it gratis.

Still, I need to find a better photo import option.

 

Next up, I will talk about some fabulous filters for Photoshop…

Photo Chaos – Taming the Beast

As a long time photography hobbyist, I am in an unenviable position. My collection of images is, how should I put this, a chaotic mess.

If I was a professional, I would have long ago adopted a workflow, with a definite process for handling images, sorting, grading, and culling that would have some consistency across the decades. Alas, I am a duffer, and just keep adding without any rhyme or reason for processing. Hence my current hand wringing.

Sure, for big vacations, I do some “workflow-like” things, but in general I import, fix blemishes, and occasionally process in Photoshop to share.

I wrote about my trials and tribulations here highlighting how the Apple iPhoto app at first was great, but became overwhelmed, and then my attempts to improve beyond that.

Of course, at that time I was considering/playing with Adobe’s Lightroom. Alas, as a hobbyist without a workflow discipline, I was flailing. Sure, it had great tools, and capabilities, but like with Aperture, I was barely using the capabilities. It felt “heavy”.

I have come to the realization that I am not a ‘Pro’ and I am not ever going to be as disciplined as a pro. I need to find a solution that works for my situation.

Thus I fell back into the Apple Photos paradigm. Here I am a year later, and in misery. As I have used Photos, while they got rid of the concept of “Photostream” they replaced it with this undergirding of “Moments” that you have captured. Thus when I exported my pictures of the last year to break free of this jail, I had about 300 folders of “moments”. Some tagged by date, some by GPS location (from my iPhone).

Now it is time for a clean break. Fortunately, I have discovered a pretty simple, “lite” tool, and even better, it is bundled with Photoshop (and free as in beer) tool called Adobe Bridge.

Instead of being a database driven tool, like Lightroom, it really is a browser and tool to categorize your images (and other files too besides images). It can import, it can bulk rename, it can alter IPTC tags, and the meta-data associated with your files. It handles RAW files, and can even do some “developing” when importing.

It works on the file structure in your computer or storage device, and it is pretty snappy to boot.

A shout out to my longtime friend Inge Fernau who recommended it. I had seen it, and ignored it, jumping straight to the heavier solutions (Lightroom, Aperture), or using the bundled solution (iPhoto, Photos).

My current state is that I have all my images in a directory structure, mirrored on a couple of HD’s (for backup), and am cleaning up a lot of cruft. Alas, iPhoto/Aperture/Photos have some hinky ways of managing albums that change and lead to a large number of duplicate image files.

I will keep Photos, primarily since I take a lot of pictures with my iPhone (the best camera is the one you have with you, and I always have my iPhone). But I will clear out the old images and reduce the amount of storage in the iCloud, probably falling back to the free tier – Yay, one less paid cloud storage service!

(Image at the top – Mont Blanc from the Telepheriqué in Chamonix – a three shot panorama, stitched in Photostitcher, and processed with Topaz Labs B&W Effects filter)

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Apple Photos – it sucks big tool

Like many Apple users, when I bought a digital camera in 2003, I naturally gravitated to using the bundled iPhoto. It worked well, and my original camera, a Canon Sureshot 2.1 megapixel camera, integrated with it well. We took a couple of international vacations, and iPhoto was a useful tool for managing the photos.

Of course, I upgraded from that original digital camera to a DSLR, and started shooting in RAW format. iPhoto worked well until 2008 or so, but at about 40,000 images it really started to collapse under the weight of managing the photos.

At that time, I bought a copy of Apple’s professional photo organization tool, Aperture. In its second version, it was quite good. It picked up the old iPhoto libraries and albums, it worked well. Its organization capabilities were vastly superior, and it worked well for me. Additionally, it had some great tool for minor processing of the images, fixing blemishes (i.e. sensor dirt on my EOS-20D), and filters/adjustments. Not quite Photoshop, but for a duffer like me, it was very useful.

Fast forward to 2012, and the beginning of merging with the iPhone/iOS world. The version 3 upgrade brought this thing called the Photostream. Captured by your iPhone, it created an “album” of your off the cuff photos. It was good in concept, but in practice it really sucked. Suddenly my library was cluttered with all these “Photostream 201x October (or whatever month)”. The first few months, it was OK, but 3 years later, I can assure you it sucks to have these small automatically created albums. I can’t find shit, nothing is organized, and in general it is a disaster.

In 2014, Apple announced that Aperture was going the way of the Dodo, and never will be improved, or even updated for new OS versions. Boo. I took that as a trigger to look for a replacement, focusing on Adobe Lightroom.

Fast forward to today, and Apple has completely deprecated Aperture. You are forced to move to Photos, their new iCloud linked solution.

So, being the good Apple acolyte, I made the transition.

The good:

  • The photostream is dead. Thank fucking God, someone at Apple put a bullet in that feature.
  • All your photos are online, and sync’d with all your devices/computers. You have the option to have reduced resolution images on your devices, instead of 12megabyte RAW images. So I have my entire collection on my iPhone, and it doesn’t swamp my storage.
  • Editing the metadata is a bit streamlined. But the truth is, I am not ever going to go back and manage my 60K images one by one. Not gonna happen, regardless of how streamlined it is.

The Bad:

  • You pretty much need to buy additional iCloud storage. So now I have paid storage on Dropbox, Google Drive, and now iCloud. A wee bit of overkill.
  • It doesn’t do anything with all the fucking “Photostream” albums. That homeless abortion is still crawling up your leg. There is money to be made for some entrepreneur to create an app that will coalesce these albums, and allow you to deadhead through them, categorizing and sorting. So that people like me can stop obsessing about this cluster fuck.
  • It has these giant buckets called “iPhoto Events”. That is where it dumps all the iPhoto albums you defined. So you are constantly navigating among lame folders. Yes, I could re-arrange them, but I have hundreds. What a pain.
  • Much of the image modification/tweaking you could do under Aperture is gone. Simple controls, optimized for internet/social media sharing. Lame. Tres lame. I would even say completely, full retard.

Alas, my main photo organization tool will be Adobe Lightroom. It is just a better workflow. Fortunately, Adobe realizes that a lot of serious amateurs and pros who used Aperture will be switching, and have built into the latest version(s) of Lightroom the ability to go import all the Aperture libraries.

I can understand why Apple did this. The pro applications aren’t major drivers for them, and convergence between the iOS devices and the OS-X devices makes for a better experience.

Fortunately, we have some options.

Medium Format Camera

I have long been a bit of a photography bug for almost all my life. I started early in High School with a photography class, and have been a bit of a shutterbug since.

Mostly 35mm film and now digital, I always was envious of the medium format cameras.

About 10 years ago, when DSLR’s were booming, you could pick up a quality medium format camera for a song on E-Bay. A nice Hasselblad with a solid lens for less than $400. Yeah, that sweet of a deal.

Then it got stupid, with them running for nearly the same as when they were new. So I dropped the idea.

Recently though, the bug has bitten. Fortunately the renaissance of the prices has ebbed, and you can once again get a good solid camera for $400.

You can get a variety of film in 120 format, from good B&W to color and slide film, so that wouldn’t be an issue, and processing is still widely available from specialty shops.

Will I? I don’t know. But it is tempting. What I can be certain of is that I will not be buying a digital back. They seem to start at about $27K.

(My preference would be a Mamiya 645 with a waist lever viewfinder)

The Day of Reckoning: Apple abandons Aperture

Not quite yet, but the winds are blowing that Apple will end support and sales of Aperture, their “pro” photo application. A recent story on Wired gives a brief outline. “Photos” will take the lead, and it will be all about getting all your images into iCloud, and managing them there.

I had smelled this stink coming for a while. The updates to Aperture have slowed down, and the last major one definitely turned into the wrong direction, more integration with iOS, and iCloud, your photostream, and all that. Sigh.

About 6 months ago, I started migrating to Adobe Lightroom. I looked at it way back when I moved from iPhoto to Aperture, and at that time it was almost 2x the cost, and it pretty much lacked capability.

But in version 5, Lightroom has become a lot better, and it comes free with my CC subscription to Photoshop. I have installed it on my Mac’s and on my work PC, and am getting the feel for using it. In many ways it is similar to Aperture in capability, but it also has some significant differences, particularly around storage and file handling. Where Aperture created large libraries and buried the images and version inside them, LR seems to use the native file system. A bit confusing, but in the long term it will be better I am sure.

I can understand Apple’s strategy shift, and their migration away from the pro applications that really brought the power to their system. The all unified, iOS/MacOS world is a good goal, but I will be taking a pass at the upcoming Photos application.

Photo Management, An Odyssey

I was a relative latecomer to the digital photography world. We got our first digital camera in 2003, a Canon sureshot.

It lasted us a couple years before the desire to go DSLR bit hard. But this isn’t about the camera, but instead about how to manage the deluge of images that come poring in.

Alas, us mere mortals take lots of pictures and have no discipline as to the filing, organization, and culling of the stream. As well the early days of wonderment lead to a burgeoning collection of images that threaten to bury us.

The early days – iPhoto

Being Mac people, my wife and I used the bundled photography app with our Macs, iPhoto. It groks most cameras, it imports, and it “just works”.

In 2003 it had tools to create projects, albums, and grouping of photographs. You could tag photos, and later versions also included facial recognition. You could do some rudimentary processing of images (adjust exposure, remove redeye, fix horizon tilt and some more).

But it’s downfall was that it keeps all images in a big library (hidden in a folder) and managed it with a database. When your collection/library gets close to 20K images, it begins to choke.

Aperture

Not sure when Apple launched Aperture, their pro photo app (2008 or so), in 2009, I took the plunge. It was iPhoto on steroids. Better management, better tools, and some assistance for the “workflow”.

Its plusses:

  • Much better handling of a large number of images. I probably got to 75k images without it borking.
  • Projects. Your library is easy to put into separate projects that are somewhat self contained (even if they are buried in the main library). Also tools for archiving and restoring projects. Good workflow enhancements.
  • Much better tools for image optimization. Color balance, adding presets, customizing presets. All sorts of cool things. Also it allowed easy export and import with Photoshop or some other external photo editing tool.
  • Great tracking of versions and masters. When you edit something it creates a copy. You can undo things easily.
  • The lightbox mode. Create lightboxes within projects to again instill a workflow to get to the best and most useful images.
  • It can handle a lot more images without choking. Libraries that would bring iPhoto to its knees are manageable. Additionally, there are plenty of tools for having multiple libraries, and to save them to different drives.

But it isn’t all cookies and unicorns. There are some shortcomings.

Its minuses:

  • The default storage is as a monolithic library. Yes, it can work with a plain directory structure, but it really guides you into a monolitic library structure.
  • If you acquire bad habits with iPhoto, it will let you continue them. This is a lot bigger of a deal than it sounds, as at some point you need discipline, and this tool will not force that discipline.
  • It is just a Mac tool. If you are multi platform, then you can’t have a single workflow across all your systems.

But, in the balance, it is a huge step in the right direction to a good photography workflow.

Google Picasa – not really a contender

During the time that I was a Mac Aperture user, I started doing more with my work PC, so I grabbed a copy of Picasa.

Picasa has been around a while, and was acquired by Google some time ago. It is an OK photo tool. It has some image manipulation tools, and it can handle most raw format files. But it isn’t really a workflow tool.

Yes, you can create albums, and it will search your computer and index ALL your images. But its organizational schemes aren’t very robust. It is, like many Google products, more of an aggregator service. It will find all (and I mean ALL) of your images and mash them together. It will let you email them (and conveniently scale them to be reasonable), and if you are one of the 3 power users of Google Plus, it will make managing your online images a snap.

But it falls very far short of a workflow management tool. I am pretty sure that Google is fine with this. They target the casual user, and Picasa fits that need. But even with my limited needs on my work PC, it quickly fell on its face.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

Lightroom has been in the Adobe portfoliofor some time. As a partner to the iconic Photoshop, Lightroom has some great features.

  • Native directory organization. Everything is in a human navigable directory structure. No monolithic libraries. If you handle and move files from within LR, it will never lose track of them. This also makes it easy to backup, and to archive.
  • Support for the Adobe Digital Negative format. dneg files are a standard raw data format. Not a big deal if you only shoot one brand of camera, but if you have several, it does simplify the organization, and long term storage of files. Of course, this isn’t a mandate. If you prefer to keep it in the RAW format, you are free to.
  • Extensive, and customizable importation. If you are a pro, you can streamling the importing with your IPTC tags, copyright terms, and others. For us mere mortals, it allows us to save common terms.
  • Multiple vehicles for grading, sorting and ranking images. COmparable to Aperture, but the interface is a bit cleaner for setting flags, tags, and priorities. Little things make a difference, and LR has clearly put a lot of thought into the process
  • Huge variety of image processing options. In fact, much of what I would jump over to Photoshop for can be done right in LR. Aperture has much of this, but LR has more, and more extensible options. You can also choose to process each image you import with one of the processing options (but I will admit this isn’t too useful to me).

I have just started using Lightroom, and I like it. There is, like with many pro quality applications, a learning curve. Fortunately, there are some really high quality training and videos available from Adobe.

Final thoughts:

Of course, making the transition is a bit of a pain. I have to extract files from my Aperture library, and then reimport them. But this gives me time to plan my organization a little better, so I don’t have to go through my entire library. I can also deep storage archive some(many) of my pictures that aren’t needed to be at hand.

I have a CSS license for Photoshop and Lightroom, so I can (legally) have it on both my work computer, as well as my home Mac.

Check back as I relate my experiences further.

(Oh, today I shoot with two main cameras, a Canon 5D and a Canon sureshot G12, both take wicked awesome pictures.)

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Going legit. Real photoshop

I have an admission to make. I have long been a scofflaw. I have been a Photoshop pirate. I am not proud of this. And indeed am somewhat ashamed. But to be fair, I haven’t used it for professional purposes, and mostly have used it to re-sample images for use on the web.

I have not felt too guilty, as I have purchased Photoshop Elements a few times. So Adobe has gotten money from me for my photoshopping in the past. I also have a version of Acrobat pro that I have bought (with my cold hard cash). Yes, I use that just about every day for my job.

Photoshop is one of those programs that you love to use, and is probably the most pirated program apart from Microsoft Windows.

What tipped me over the edge?

Well, I have been less than thrilled with the direction Apple has taken Aperture. Aperture was/is the Apple “pro” package for photography workflow. It does work well. Or at least it did.

Lately, Apple has spent more time updating it to be more iCloud friendly, working with streams, and sharing. All things I don’t give a rat’s ass about.

So, I was going to the Adobe site, looking for a evaluation version of their photography workflow product, Lightroom, when I was hit with a banner. Get the Adobe photographer’s creative cloud package for $9.95 a month. Get access to both lightroom, and photoshop. Install it on every computer you own.

Yes, I know that it is ~ $126 a year perpetually. But no longer do I need to buy two licenses, one for my PC and one for my Mac’s. It seems like a no brainer to me.

So I am now up with Photoshop. I have wiped off the uhm, non returnable versions of Photoshop that I had, and I am beginning to migrate from Aperture to Lightroom. I have it installed on both my Macs and my work PC. So I am ahead (no, my work PC never had an illicit version of Photoshop. I am not that crazy)

Everytime I see a DSLR with a kit lens, the Baby Jesus cries

Been on the road lately, and spent a couple days taking in the sights in London. Central London, tourist heaven, so much to see, so much to do. As a bit of a photographer, I take notice of what gear I see people shooting with. I can’t help it, I am a geek.

And I am absolutely stunned how many people I see with decent DSLR cameras from Canon or Nikon with the standard “kit” lens.

Most DSLR’s, until you get to the pro-sumer or professional grade, come with a lens. That lets people use them immediately, and get some results. Universally these lenses are inexpensive, fairly low quality, and often built with plastic elements. Yes, you can take pictures with them, but they are without a doubt the weakest link in the package.

You are supposed to step up to better optics. The whole concept behind the DSLR is to allow you to switch lenses to match your style. Doing sports photography? a long telephoto is in order. Landscape photography? A wide angle zoom is in your future. Portraiture? A small telephoto lens with a wide aperture for rockin’ bokeh.

You don’t have to jump to the ‘L’series from Canon to get great pictures, but you can.

However a large number of people are schlepping around their DSLR with the gawdawful kit lens. If you are going to do that, you might as well be using a Canon G12.