About This Digital iDarkroom Primer

This Primer on the new digital darkroom is provided on this blog to arm new DSLR photographers with the fundamental knowledge needed to become familiar with the evolving digital technologies and be able to apply them to their emerging interest in the photographic art. To read this Primer in logical order, please begin with the oldest post and read to the most current. Click HERE for Table of Contents.

Along the way, you'll find, photography tips, photography techniques and an ample dose of solid photo basics to help you feel comfortable in your digital darkroom.

A sister site, Hub's Camera, covers the fundamental mechanics of using your new DSLR camera. Then visit Hub's Photography Tips for basic but essential tips on all things photographic. Links to both of these sites can be found in the right-hand column of this page. Happy shooting!

"Hub's iDarkroom" is a non-commercial, educational service of Hubbard Camera LLC.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Part 15b -- Organizing, Storing and Retrieving Image Files

This article is a continuation of Part 15 - Organizing, Storing and Retrieving Image Files.

The last post explained how to import images from your camera or stored on your computer's hard drive into image management or organizing software -- in this case, Adobe's Lightroom. Once the images have been imported, the next step is to provide the information that these programs require to organize the individual images and make their later retrieval a simple matter -- regardless of how many images you have in your entire collection.

Adobe Lightroom's Workspace

Seeing the entire Lightroom workspace is difficult using images that fit within the blog template. So sections of the workspace will be enlarged in each segment of this post.

The picture above shows the entire Lightroom workspace. I've attached descriptive words (in yellow) to this full workspace view to highlight the areas that are common to most image management software.
  • Library Mode: Only the organizing and storage features to this class of software will be discussed in this post. For Lightroom, these functions take place in the Library mode -- shown in white lettering at the top of the screen. Other modes in Lightroom include: Develop, Slideshow, Print and Web. (These modes are topics for future articles.)
  • Thumb Nail Window: In the center of the workspace is the area reserved for larger thumbnail images of the images in either the folder you've selected or as a result of an image search you have performed.
  • Image Folders: The left hand menu bar displays a complete list of the image folders you've created and stored in Lightroom. In this section resides the folder created in the last post.
  • Scrolling Filmstrip: At the bottom of the workspace is a film strip that can be scrolled to show all the pictures selected. Users can scroll through their images quickly using this feature. Clicking on any filmstrip image will result in showing a larger thumbnail in the center pane for closer inspection.
  • Keywords: This is the area that displays current keywords associated with the selected image. Additional keywords that are specific to this image can be entered in this box.
  • Metadata: This area is reserved for displaying and modifying the metadata of the selected image. (Click here for the discussion of Metadata in Part 14 of this iDarkroom blog.)

The "folders" pane (circled in yellow) in Lightroom's workspace

It's probably becoming obvious from these descriptions that we are now at the level of organizing each INDIVIDUAL image. The importing accomplished in the last post provided a basic gross organization of the images. All files were placed in a folder unique to a particular shot or event (shown in "folders" pane above). At the same time, images were provided metadata and keywords that were common to ALL images in this folder. Now we can describe individual photographs to identify what makes each unique. It all begins with information entered in the right hand column of panes.

Lightroom Histogram Pane

The top pane contains a histogram of the image that is currently selected. Although this histogram won't be altered, it does provide a graphic that is several times larger than your camera's version as well as an opportunity to take a closer technical look at the exposure made in the field.

The pane for viewing, changing and adding keywords

The keyword window below the histogram shows any keywords that are currently associated with the SELECTED image. These initial keywords were assigned to this image (and all others in the group) by the photographer when the file(s) was originally imported into this folder in Lightroom. Now's the time to enter words that specifically define this image. For example, this folder contained pictures of landscapes, people, scenery, water falls, babbling brook, towering trees, sunrise, etc. taken at the Old Grist Mill in Clark County, Washington in 2008. So every picture in this series shares these keywords. The picture that is currently SELECTED is of a waterfall in the park. By adding the keyword "waterfall" to the list for this image, it's now different from all the others. This is the first step in locating this image two years from now. Enter keywords that identify/describe this particular image.

Lightroom's Metadata Pane Showing EXIF Metadata

As explained in Part 15a, two forms of metadata are commonly associated and travel with each image -- EXIF and IPTC. The picture above shows the EXIF metadata (as selected in the yellow hightlighted pull down menu). This information isn't editable. EXIF data describes exactly how this SPECIFIC picture was taken (i.e., camera name, f/stop, shutter speed, ISO, shooting mode, etc.). Instead of taking notes, the camera records this important reference material automatically and includes it with each picture file. You'll see later that you can even use this information to find particular pictures. For example, if you wanted to locate all pictures that were taken with your Nikon D200, you can do that based on each picture's EXIF metadata.

IPTC Metadata Window

You might not be able to read all the "fill in the blanks" in this picture, but you can see there's room for lots of information that's specific to this picture. IPTC metadata was originally created with photojournalists in mind. Here all the information about the photographer, the assignment, location, dates, captions, etc. can be entered. You may not need all this information for your photography, but several fields are useful for everyone -- like photographer's name, address, date, etc. You decide what information is important and use these fields to permanently assign this data to THIS specific image.

These are the critical data entry areas and information required to make later retrieval of a specific image a snap.

You mean I have to do all this work for every picture I take?

If you want to maximize the effectiveness of your image organizational software the answer is YES. But, don't panic. Software manufactures have included shortcuts to speed up the process.

Metadata Synchronization Button in Lightroom

The "Sync Metadata" button at the bottom of Lightroom's workspace is one of Adobe's methods for making your metadata life easier. By selecting one image that contains all the metadata you've entered and then selecting all others that require the same information and clicking on the "Sync Metadata" button, your metadata is automatically entered into the fields you specify. For example, in the "waterfall" example above: If you had taken 20 pictures of the waterfall, then you only need to enter the data into one of the waterfall images, select the remaining images and let the "Sync Metadata" feature automatically write the information into the other 19 picture files.

Every program has shortcuts for entering metadata. Check out data entry shortcuts when you are evaluating different software programs.

Most programs also include a few additional options that make the initial job of organizing, sorting and editing pictures even easier and faster.

As hard as it is to believe, not every picture is a winner. But instead of trying to determine which pictures to save before importing them, I recommend you import EVERYTHING. Good and bad. It's actually much easier to make these decisions at the same time you are entering keywords and metadata. Any image can be selected and deleted at any time. So, import everything to save time.

Additional options for classifying or editing your newly imported pictures include:

Color Labeling

These features are presented in the order suggested by Adobe for Lightroom. Color labeling can be used to quickly review ALL of your images. You can apply a color coded label to any of the thumbnail pictures to indicate their importance to your project. (Notice the "red image label" applied to the picture above surrounds the thumbnail picture.)

"Pick" Flag Applied in Lightroom

Once you've made your first cut by color labeling important pictures, you can then make final selections by selecting a "Pick" flag. The flag (upper left corner of thumbnail picture) indicates that this image is your "pick" for final use.

Lightroom's Star Rating System (circled in yellow)

At the bottom of each thumbnail image is a series of stars. Choosing "stars" ranks your images from poor to best (5 stars usually indicating best). It's your call. Rank the image according to your photographic taste. You will also be able to search and sort images based on these star rankings.

Notes: Additional information available on the thumbnail images includes:
  • the size of the image file and its sequence number in all the thumbnails being displayed (shown in green circle)
  • the file name and the f/stop and shutter speed used for this picture (shown in blue circle)
  • information showing if the image has been altered in any way using the program's image editing features (shown in the red circle).
All of this information is customizable. A list of items to display with each thumbnail is available for you to customize these "corner" information displays.

At this point, you've created a complete database of images that can be quickly searched to find individual or groups of pictures that meet your search criteria.

The Lightroom "Find/Text" Menu

Let's walk through one simple search. In Lightroom in Library mode, the Find function is located on the left hand scrolling menu. For this search, I'll look for an image based on a specific keyword, "Clark County". From the "text" pull down menu, I select "Keywords". Notice I could have searched for pictures based on many choices -- title, filename, metadata, etc.

The "Find/Text/Rule" pull down menu

Next I tell Lightroom to search for keywords that match all the keywords I entered from the "Rule" pull down menu. Then I type in "Clark County" in the text field below the "rule" line.

Completed "Find" with results of the search

The results of the search appear almost immediately (this search took less than one second). All of the images found that match the keywords I entered are displayed in the thumbnail window and in the filmstrip at the bottom of the workspace. The details of the search are shown in the yellow circled area. I performed this search on my Grist Mill folder and 65 images matched my request. (I could have searched on multiple folders or the entire picture collection as well.)

The searching features of these programs are extensive and fast -- making it virtually impossible to lose a file that has been properly identified when brought into the program.

For most photographers, these sophisticated image organization programs are worth their weight in gold. Finding a single image among thousands has been a photographer's nightmare since George Eastman was a kid. Today, we can attach image-specific information and permanently include it with the picture. And then leave the grunt work of finding the files to our computers. It's not a miracle, but it is a godsend.

Is this just for professionals? Well, imagine your daughter is getting married and you're in charge of creating a scrapbook of images from delivery room to college graduation as a wedding keepsake. If you had been entering your family pictures into an image management program for all those years, just typing in your daughter's name as a keyword would display her entire photographic history. Pretty cool.

The amount of information you add to your images and the ways you rank your files are totally within your control. However, whatever choices you make, be consistent -- forever. By standardizing your importing and organizing process you have defined your own image management "workflow".

Finally, don't forget that the Lightroom process I have described is only ONE software solution on the market. Check out others -- like Apple's Aperture -- to determine which is most comfortable and usable in your iDarkroom.

But wait! There's more! Although the organization that these programs bring to the chaos of managing thousands of individual images is well worth the price, there's more to most of these programs. Future iDarkroom articles will discuss why many professional photographers are using these programs to perform the majority of their digital image editing and enhancement as well.

As always, if you have questions or comments, please drop me a line.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Part 15a - Organizing, Storing and Retrieving Photo Image Files

It's called "Film"

Back in the "olden days" (pre-2002) when I was the Director of the Time-Life Photo Lab and before the company's conversion to digital photography, we would process hundreds of rolls of film each day for the organization's 135 magazines. It wasn't unusual for Sports Illustrated to shoot 600 to 800 rolls of 36 exposure film at major sporting events like the Super Bowl. This shooting pace using multiple photographers resulted in 21,000 to 28,000 images that had to be down-selected, edited and eventually stored. It was a huge, deadline-driven workload and responsibility for each magazine's photo editor and staff.

It would seem the organizational and storage challenges couldn't get more complex. Then digital cameras and the advantages of digital editing entered the scene.

The new "film"

There is little argument among most photojournalists that digital photography has given them more flexibility and options. At the same time, the old 36 pictures per roll of film limitation has "bitten the dust". With camera storage cards of 8, 16, and 32 gigabytes available at reasonable costs and the ability to use and re-use these devices for years, the number of images that can be taken at any event has increased dramatically. (That's about 200 RAW files on each 4 GB card or the equivalent of more than 5 rolls of traditional film.) The result is "digital film" that is nearly free but even more images to organize, store and retrieve.

Regardless of your photographic status -- beginner to pro -- the challenge is the same. What do I do with all these image files?

It didn't take long for manufacturers of imaging software like Adobe and Apple to recognize the problem (along with considerable input from professional photographers) and the sales potential for a software solution. Today, there are many options for bringing order to this chaotic situation. Every solution has it own strengths and weaknesses.

I will use Adobe's Lightroom features to highlight possibilities that the majority of these image file organizing applications bring to our craft. I recommend you read this overview to understand the basic features of image organizing applications and then research available software that is in your budget range and fulfils your organization and storage needs.

Adobe Lightroom's Desktop
Yes, I know it's a small picture. I'll zoom into the important areas as necessary.

Features common to most image organizing software include:
  • ability to import images from folders on your hard drive or camera storage card
  • ability to place imported images into specific locations that can be cataloged and stored
  • ability to add to, alter and edit the metadata attached to each image (see Part 14 of this iDarkroom primer for a discussion of metadata)
  • ability to rank your images (from good to bad)
  • ability to search and display all images being stored
  • minor to major capability to perform image adjustments -- usually a non-destructive process where changes you make are recorded without altering your original image
  • ability to print a selected image
  • and optionally, the ability to produce an on-screen slide presentation and/or on-line picture gallery.
This post will focus on the organizing and file storage features of programs like Lightroom and Apple's Aperture.

Lightroom functions are selected from bar menu in upper right hand corner of workspace

The image file organizational features of Lightroom are contained in the Library mode as highlighted in the image above.

Importing Images Into the Library

Typically pictures can be brought into these programs in two ways:
  • from a location on your computer or network (i.e., from a folder or directory)
  • directly from your camera or card reader.
Using either method in Lightroom produces an import menu as seen below. All of the remaining discussion in this post takes place on this menu.

Lightroom's Image Import Screen

The selections you make on this screen set all the import parameters. Like similar programs, Lightroom's import feature contains these basic common elements:
  • thumbnail images of the pictures to be included and excluded (based on the user's selections) during the import
  • navigation menu for selecting the storage location on your hard drive
  • a method to allow the user to alter the filenames as they are being imported
  • a metadata entry box.
Organization Begins Here

I have created a master folder on my desktop that contains all the images imported to Lightroom. Besides having everything in one place, this arrangement makes it much easier to backup all of my image files by copying this single folder to another hard drive or CD/DVD. Inside this folder are individual folders -- one for every shooting event.

Lightroom's window for selecting storage location for imported image files

Creating this dedicated folder in the main Lightroom image folder is accomplished from the import menu -- Copy to/choose button. From the menu, I select my "LR_Image_Storage" folder (highlighted in yellow above). Then, selecting the "New Folder" button, I name the folder that will contain the images to be imported (highlighted in green above) -- in this case Sunset Falls.

Note: Other file import location options are available in Lightroom (i.e. importing and erasing original copies or importing from current location without moving files to a new folder). However, the options described in the last paragraph are most typical and common to similar programs.

Moving on. Normally, when files are copied, the filenames remain unchanged. In Lightroom and similar programs, the file names can be optionally changed as the files are imported. The "File Naming" options are shown in the drop down menu shown above. This option allows you to choose a naming convention that you prefer for your images. In this example, the "Filename" selection is chosen -- meaning the original file names will NOT be changed.

File Naming and Metadata Information Selections

After selecting the template for File Naming, the remaining options concern information that will be applied as metadata to EVERY image imported.

Develop setting: I have never used this option. This drop down menu allows special effects to be added to EACH image as it is imported (i.e., toning, changing to black and white). Since this setting affects every image imported, I have never had a reason for using this option. Normally, leave this set to "None".

Metadata: Again, any choice made here is applied to EVERY image imported. From this menu, any template that has been defined can be selected. In my case, I have set up a predefined template that contains my name and copyright information. This is the information I want applied to every imported image. The template is called "TEH Generic" and is selected above in yellow.

Keywords: This space is provided for entering "keywords" that are descriptive and common to EVERY image being imported. The words you enter here (separated by a comma) are a major component for organizing and retrieving specific image files later from the thousands of files on your hard drive. Take your time with this step and choose your keywords carefully.

Almost done. Make certain the image you want to import has been selected. In Lightroom, images are selected in the check box above each thumbnail preview (shown in green circles). Click the "Import" button.

So, what's going on inside the computer?
  • The image is copied from the camera's data card to the folder "Silver Falls" inside my main folder "LR_Image_Storage"
  • The name is changed to the format I selected (in this case I asked for the original file name to be used for the copied file).
  • The original image files on the data card are erased -- if I selected that option.
  • The metadata I specified and keywords are saved along with each individual image.
  • Thumbnail images are created to be used when viewing the pictures in Lightroom.
All of this import process can take some time depending on the number of images being imported. Be patient. The program will tell you when the process is complete.

We've taken some big steps in organizing our photographic life. This import has laid the foundation for eventually being able to find any image among thousands in record time. So far, everything that's been done has been applied to EVERY image being imported. The next article in this blog series, Part 15b, will show you how these software programs take this organization process to the individual image level to make image retrieval quick and easy.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Hub's Visionary Photographers Blog Launches Today

Today is the official announcement and opening of Hub's Visionary Photographers blog.

The articles presented in this blog are contributed by today's leading photographers, photo educators and photographic authors. (That's right. You won't be subjected to my writings.) Here you will find the wisdom, words and images of those photographic luminaries who are defining the art of photography in a digital world and leading us to new levels of visual expression. Each Visionary has a sincere and burning desire to help the next generation of creative photographers.

As with all my photography blogs, it's FREE. Just lots of great information, insight and inspiration for anyone serious about photography and who wants to learn more about today's photographic heros.

So, check it out and sign up for a feed or immediate email notification of new articles.