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You've captured your images, now what?
Text and Photography by Stephen Frink
If you've been on a live-aboard dive boat lately, you know that digital imaging has not been great for the social aspects of the experience. We all rush to our laptops as soon as we dry off, download images and then spend much of the rest of the day and night editing, processing, tweaking, backing up and planning for the next day. The immediacy of review is empowering, but sometimes I miss the era when the spent rolls of film went into the mesh bag, without another thought, and the only task I had left to do for the next day was to lube O-rings and charge batteries.
But film is no longer part of my workflow, and to have any spare time at all on a digitally immersed trip I had to learn to work more efficiently. Here are a few things that have made my life on the road a bit easier:
Make Sure Your Laptop Is Up to the Task
Your home system might be quite powerful, but your laptop is the one that has to crunch the data while you're on the road. Photoshop CS2 is the probably the most RAM-consumptive software you'll use for image processing. Most modern laptops are probably up to the task, but make sure you have at least 512MB of RAM, a fast processor, and a minimum of 80GB for your hard drive. The RAW files on my Canon 1DsMKII average around 15MB. It is pretty easy to shoot 14 to 16GB of images on a 10-day live-aboard, and you need plenty of storage space, even if it is only temporary.
Embrace USB2 and Firewire
While they may look the same, USB2 transfers data 40 times faster than the original USB connection, and even though your computer is likely to be USB2-enabled (if it is less than two years old), if your card reader is an old USB reader, your transfer will be agonizingly slow. How can you tell? It probably says so on the device, but other than that, if you are trying to download a 2GB card full of data, and it takes 20 minutes, you can bet you are on USB1 somewhere in the loop. There is little speed difference between Firewire and USB2, but USB1 is just plain slow.
Your particular brand of card reader will make a difference too, so check both the performance of your card reader and your card via a database like that on www.rob galbraith.com. In Rob's words, "The speed at which photos are written to the card is important. So is the rate at which photos transfer from the card to the computer. If you shoot lots of photos each day, you may find that fast cards and an equally quick card reader can noticeably improve workflow efficiency at the editing stage."
Get a Good Browser
If you're using only the browsing software that came with your camera, you can do better. My life in digital imaging got easy the day I discovered the Photo Mechanic software from www.camerabits.com. Really, this might have been the single greatest enhancement to my workflow. Photo Mechanic reads the embedded JPGs in a RAW file and is blazingly fast. It is a brilliant browser with the ability to view various sized thumbnails, easily rename, and then easily send to Photoshop for final conversion. While there are other good browsers out there (including Breeze Browser for PC only), Photo Mechanic is cross-platform, intuitive and is becoming the standard for many working pros and stock photo agencies. Getty Images uses Photo Mechanic, but, for example, National Geographic prefers iView MediaPro. So take my recommendation with a grain of salt and find what works best for you. Most allow free 30-day trial versions, so download and do a little research in preparation for your next trip.
Create a Standard Workflow
Here's what works for me:
>> Create a folder on the desktop called "Holding" or something similar.
>> Load images from the Compact Flash card to the Holding folder via USB2 ports (note that Photo Mechanic will allow you to ingest files from Compact Flash to both computer and portable hard drive simultaneously for additional safety).
>> Edit in the Holding folder via Photo Mechanic. Editing will happen much more quickly if files are already loaded onto the computer, as compared to working from images on the card.
>> Delete aggressively. These are big files, and you want to keep the best stuff, but you'll hate yourself a year from now for all the marginal stuff you keep clogging your system. (I know I would love to dump a lot of the stuff I kept when I started shooting digital, but it is incredibly time-consuming to go back and revisit a whole week's worth of archived images. Better to do it right the first time.)
>> Once you are certain that your images are safe on your computer, format your card in-camera. This is a more reliable method than deleting images from the card via the computer, and better for the overall health of your media as well.
>> Transfer images from the Holding folder to a destination folder. For example, you may have a master folder for the Cayman Islands, and then subfolders for topside, fish, macro and wide-angle. Use whatever system suits your intuitive style of archiving. Your Holding folder is now empty, ready for the next download.
Back up Frequently
Obviously, having all this valuable data sitting on the laptop is precarious. The computer could crash, literally or figuratively, and a week's worth of valuable images could be lost forever. I used to backup my files daily to CD, but now the files are just too big for their puny 700MB capacity. Even DVDs are slow and ponderous to schlep on location, although I'll keep a dozen or so stashed away in my camera case, just in case.
My preferred means to back up data is via portable hard drive. While there are many good brands, I have had good luck with 80-GB bus-powered portable hard drives like the Firefly from SmartDisk or the intriguingly rugged new All-Terrain drive from LaCie. I carry these in a bag separate from computer, in case one gets lost or stolen. In the future I have been thinking of adding a second portable hard drive to send in a checked bag, just to be extra compulsive. If the computer and the portable hard drive don't make it home, you've irretrievably lost your images. Of course, that's how it was in the old days if you ever lost that bag of film, but now you've got redundant solutions to get the images home, without the additional worry of whether they'll be fogged by airport X-ray.
Organize Your Home Storage
My staff uses Extensis Portfolio to assign keywords for web uploads, but I find browsing via Photo Mechanic is quick enough to reveal the image I may want for printing or editorial projects. Plus, in Photo Mechanic you can color-code preferences and instantly pull up just your selects.
One final note: Visit www.adobe.com and make sure you have downloaded all of the upgrades to CS2. Recent enhancements have addressed the tedium of its browser and it is better now than when first introduced. The power of CS2's RAW adjustments, before actually opening the file, makes it far better than CS. It won't browse nearly as fast as Photo Mechanic, but the Bridge browser is useful for seeing which thumbnails you need to open and process.
|© 2012 Stephen Frink Photographic, site by bits|