2018 04 04 Photography Work Flow - Andy Barnham

I was recently forced to replace my digital storage device which holds all my photography and other important data for archive purposes. I’ve been using a Drobo since 2011 and was incredibly happy with it. However after years of wear and tear, one of the five bays failed and was corrupting all hard drives inserted into it. This meant that the redundancy system of data being stored on more than one drive was not functioning properly. So while all my data was safe on the existing drives in the other four bays, due to the amount of data I had stored should any one of the remaining bays or drives fail, some data would be permanently lost. 


Given the Drobo was now out of warranty, when I emailed the company for help and advice, they sent a response refusing to even address my questions unless I purchased additional coverage (bear in mind I was only seeking advice). Despite Drobo’s unhelpful corporate reply I decided to stay with the brand for my upgrade.


It was only when I began transferring data from the old to the new Drobo that I realised I had, literally, a sizeable problem. Unable to place the old hard drives into the new Drobo, I was forced to connect both Drobo’s to my laptop to move all the data, a process which was took over two weeks at 24 hours a day. The old Drobo stored both my music and my photography spanning over a decade of data. This started the cogs whirring; why have I kept all this data and equally importantly all the knock on effects; how was it stored, how did it correspond to my photography software, was it easily searchable, had any actually corrupted…?


It was, and indeed it still is, common practice to claim that digital memory is cheap, which is why I'd kept all my images, even those I know to be poor. However why keep images I hadn't looked at for almost 10years? Which led me to my next issue. Since turning pro, I have always shot in RAW and I have always used various incarnations of Adobe Lightroom (LR) to edit and process these images. Using LR meant I could edit images and export the shots to JPG as needs be while keeping the original RAW files. All the editing information applied to these images was then stored as Catalog files, which I placed in folders on the Drobo. In practice this was fine, but through various upgrades in LR and computer systems not all my editing work was recognised on my computer. This meant in order to see my edits and to find the sub standard images, I would have to import both the images and the corresponding catalogs. As I had made individual catalogs per project and not overarching catalogs per month or year, each project for the last decade would have to be imported one at a time. Digital memory may be cheap, however how valuable is your time? Especially with a temperamental connection from Drobo to computer via various adaptors.


The genesis of the problem originated, unwittingly, as soon as I started photography; at the time a journeyman novice, I naively stored my images and catalog files in separate folder locations. This worked at the time, however several years into my career this process of finding images and their corresponding catalog files had become time consuming and I hadn’t been consistent and thorough in creating the catalogs; some were missing.


Of course, the larger issue here is workflow and the whole process from pressing click to completing a project. Storing data only becomes an issue when you have to store, access and work with quantities of it. As a photographic hobbyist and even at the beginning of my career, I was used to dealing with a handful of images at a time. This became a much more important issue when I started shooting far, far more.


There are two main ways of shooting that I’m familiar with; shoot for as much digital memory as you have with the view that if you throw as much sh*t at the wall as possible, you’ll hopefully get the image you’re after. The other method is to concentrate on getting the image you want and to spend time during a shoot to ensure you do so and be disciplined in your approach. The first option means time spent later reviewing each shot, while the latter method means time spent getting the shot. It is all too easy to keep shooting and shooting but when you’re after one or two final shots, why take potentially thousands of images to get there? And once you’ve taken your shots, what next?


Personally, I have tried hard to streamline my workflow while trying to keep it as comprehensive as possible. The following process has been arrived at after years of fine tuning and continues to be tweaked. Firstly I upload the images to my computer and, out of habit, I also include sub-folders named according to the lens the images were taken with. While I know this can be done with filters within LR, I find this useful, especially if I’ve used a number of lenses on a shoot (wide, zoom, macro etc). For my own reference purposes, I name the folders according to date taken (YYYY_MM_DD) followed by the name of the subject; I do not use the native LR file system. So were I to take general images of London today, the file would be named 2018_04_04 London inside which there would be potential sub- folders of 16- 35mm and 24- 70mm.


I also upload the images to the Drobo, structured according to year and month, to ensure they’re backed up should anything untoward happen to my computer. In the above example the images would be in the April sub- folder of the 2018 folder. This system means everything is filed chronologically and should I be unable to remember when an image was taken, I can search via the keywords. Next I import the images to LR using my computer as the source, adding key words (to assist in future searches), metadata (to ensure correct intellectual property rights) and subsequently geotag (I’ve never found this helpful, I do it because it amuses me). While I could work on the images using the Drobo as the source location, working on images on my computer is faster.


From there I make an initial selection of images using LR’s star system. I go through all the images taken and any with potential I give a 3* rating. It’s a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ process; the shots are either worthy of extra consideration or they’re not. I then do a second pass at just the 3*s and broaden my rating from 2* to 4* for those images not quite to standard and ones which stand out from the rest. The number of 4* is usually just 10% of the total of images taken. I’ve found this percentage to be my standard, from shooting a lot of frames to just a mere dozen, my hit rate is consistently 10%.


Next I do some initial editing, such as colour correction and cropping, before submitting first look, low res, JPGs to my client via a password protected gallery. Only once the client has made their selection do I spend time on editing and perfecting the images in post production. I then render and submit the images as per the specification required.


Once the final images have been handed over, I produce the catalog file and store it with the images on the Drobo following which I update the file location of the images from my computer to the device. I then remove the whole project off my computer and then delete, yes I actively cull, images from the Drobo that didn’t make it to 2* (ie I delete images rated 1* and below). This ensures only active projects are on my computer and that only the images that had any potential have been archived.


Currently I have 203,000 images that I know of and I have yet to sync my new Drobo to LR, so I’m sure there are a few thousand more images to make themselves known. Mind you, this is also after I deleted thousands off my old Drobo before my marathon data transfer session. My new Drobo is currently at 50% capacity. I'm sure I can free some space up with some Spring Cleaning. 


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