Building my ultimate workflow - 2: The mess

(Come in part way through? Check out the whole series )

So before we get into the process of building a new, efficient, work flow and cataloguing system I though it might be helpful to describe the mess in which I currently work, and highlight the issues I am looking to resolve.

The Hardware
I am working on a 4 year old laptop which is running a Pentium M 1.86Ghz processor and 1.5GB of RAM. The machine is old, tired, under performing and not up to running photoshop on 12MP RAW files. It is also running out of hard disk, so I am using a 1TB external hard drive for storage of my files.

My camera is at least up to scratch, being a D300. Images are stored on CF cards that I interface with the machine via a card reader.

Colour Management
Well, there isn’t any. While strictly not part of ‘work flow’ I think colour management has a place here, and certainly factored into my decision making process when it came to new hardware. Basically, I have a laptop whose screen is not good enough quality, that got calibrated once with borrowed equipment about 18 months ago. Beyond that, I have no colour management currently.

Shooting Methodology
Right now I shoot RAW+JPEG. I understand the benefits of RAW, but for the most part care of my poor work flow, don’t get to take advantage of them. Hence I shoot RAW plus, and essentially end up using the RAW files as a backup if I don’t like the JPEG, or need heavy processing.

Importing images
I import images to my work flow by manually copying them into my directory structure from the memory card. Essentially this process does nothing more than move the images to my disk, with no renaming or tagging. Folders are named by date, with a description of some sort after it.

Processing and cataloguing images
Right now, I use Photoshop and Bridge. I use Bridge to sort and rate my images, and then process then in Adobe Camera Raw and, if required, photoshop. For the most part I will stick with the JPEGs if they are acceptable, and only use the RAW if work is required. I have a mess of RAW and JPEG files inside all my folders and, frankly, the use of the work cataloguing in the heading should be preceded by ‘lack of’.

Outputting images
Output is either an as shot JPEG, in which case not a lot is done, or a JPEG produced out of Photoshop if processing has been done on a RAW. I don’t have an easy way to view all work I consider ‘Output’ in one place, and often will place my output somewhere random and if I want that image again, have to go back to the original file and create another JPEG.

Backing up
Right now most of my images exist solely on my external drive. This drive is made of two mirrored disks so I am OK if one fails, however I have no off site backups if I have a larger failure.

So as you can see, my work flow has lots of work and little flow! My intention in this process is to address all the following issues:

  1. A new workstation, with performance, storage and colour management considered. This machine also takes into account the other PC needs/wants I have
  2. Shooting methodology – do I still want to shoot two types of files?
  3. Importing and cataloguing images – how can I streamline and automate this process, and end up with a workable catalogue?
  4. Processing – Finding a tool that allows me to easily process and develop my images in bulk while also making it easy to go back to the original file and re-process in a different style later if my tastes or skills change
  5. Output – As part of cataloguing, be able to easily browse my ‘finished’ work. Also look into a way to more easily produce a showcase of my better work or a selection thereof such as an overseas trip to show friends.
  6. Backup – I have thousands of images… a few of them are even good. Once I have them all sorted out how do I make sure that I not only protect the images, but the processing and cataloguing that I am going to set up around them?

In the next update I will talk about the workstation I have recently acquired and the software and hardware decisions that I have made. These are going to determine some of what I can do down the line, so I think they are just as important as the methodology I end up using.

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