Photographers: How To Make Your Post-Processing and IT Work More Efficient

Photography and computer work have become increasingly connected in recent years and as photographers we all have to think carefully about our IT strategy in order to avoid spending too much of our lives in front of a computer screen. Or, perhaps more importantly, to avoid a disastrous loss of our most prized asset – our images. I worked for many years in IT before moving into photography, and I still run Java language training courses through my company CodeClass Ltd. Below I recommend a series of resources which can make your life easier as a photographer.

Perhaps because I’m a bit of a hard-core techhie, I’m a PC user, but that’s mainly for historical reasons and much of my advice will apply just as readily to artists who work with a Mac.

  1. Screen Calibrator. Most of us don’t have the budget to invest £2-3K in a properly calibrated graphic designers’ monitor, so instead you may be heavily reliant on a standard domestic monitor for editing and viewing all of your images. In my view it’s essential to invest in some kind of screen calibrating device, otherwise anything you print (either at home or from a lab or album manufacturer) is likely to end up too light or too dark, or with a horrible colour cast. Just as bad, the images your clients view online may end up as a poor reflection of the brilliant image you thought you were editing in the studio. Although it’s impossible to legislate for a bad monitor at the client’s premises, it’s important to have a properly calibrated image as a starting point. In fact, many photographers will refuse to send images to their clients and will always insist on turning up at the client’s home or office with a calibrated monitor. Calibration devices start at about £65 with the Pantone Huey, but in my direct experience this device does a very poor job and you will be much better off in the long run investing in a more professional device such as the X-Rite Colormunki Photo at around £315.
  2. Google Earth. For my landscape photography I find this fantastic bit of free software absolutely invaluable for identifying possible photographic locations. You can simulate in 3D the view from any point on the planet, and see how contours and the lay of the land may help or hinder a possible image capture
  3. Solid-State Hard Drive. These are relatively new and incredibly expensive hard drives that are just starting to appear in domestic PCs. So why on earth would you want to pay upwards of £200 for an 80Gb hard drive that sits in your computer when you can buy a terrabyte of “standard” disk for less than £100? The reason is that SSDs are incredibly fast and stable. As a photographer, I would recommend making your main PC drive an SSD if you can afford it. This means that your operating system will sit on the SSD, and your PC will boot-up and generally run a lot faster than it would on a standard drive. Most of your data will be kept on traditional, slower, internal drives. The other thing I would advise is that when you are working on post-production of a particular shoot (the typical size for a wedding shoot for me is 20Gb) you should load this onto the SSD drive to speed up your workflow and then move it off onto a spare drive later when you are finished to make room for the next shoot. The Chillblast Fusion Photo III is a top-end PC that features one of these drives. I’d also expect the cost of these drives to come down quickly during 2010.
  4. A decent amount of RAM. I would recommend having at least 8Gb of memory on a new PC. This will allow you to work on several images at the same time and generally speed up your workflow. You’ll need a 64-bit operating system to be able to do this. The images that I make using my Canon 5D Mark II can easily stretch to over 200Mb each once converted to TIFs and adding photoshop layers and you need a lot of memory to avoid wasting time waiting for the PC to catch up with your editing work.
  5. A thorough and practical backup strategy. Have you thought about the consequences of a burglary or fire at your premises? It’s important yet incredibly difficult to implement a proper backup strategy. I make four levels of backups, and attempt to do at least one backup daily, though even I find it hard to keep up:
    • Complete hard drive image – This is a complete backup of each of your hard drives onto external disk. I make one of these every month or two, and keep two historical backups. I use Paragon Hard Disk Manager for this but there are many other choices.
    • Offsite backup – It’s important to ensure that you have a complete copy of all of your important images stored physically offsite in case of a disaster such as a fire. I take one of the full hard drive images and leave it at a friend’s house, and swap it over with the new one whenever I make it. I also make ad-hoc backups of recent work and take the disk with me when I’m out on a day’s shoot, or longer.
    • Daily backup – this involves making a backup of all of your fresh images and edits (plus emails and admin files) on a daily basis. If you have a hard-drive failure you will want to lose a maximum of one day’s work. You can do this manually, but it’s easy to forget, so I suggest getting hold of some automatic backup sofware such as NTI Shadow and setting it to run in the middle of the night.
    • Online backup – there are several cheap online backup storage areas but in my view by far the best is from Mozy.com . It costs just $5 per month for UNLIMITED backup storage, and you are only limited by the speed of your broadband connection. I have over 300Gb stored on Mozy’s servers. It’s available for PC and Mac.
  6. Watermarking software. With the UK government about to pass the disastrous Digital Rights Bill into law, any image that cannot easily be identified on the web is going to be considered to be an “orphaned” work and therefore fair game for the bigger players (Rupert Murdoch etc) to use for free. This means that you will effectively lose the copyright of ANY image that you have put on the web that cannot be clearly identified as yours. For this reason you might feel it necessary to protect your images by slapping your logo or name across the front before you upload them (otherwise known as “watermarking”). Lightroom version 3 is going to contain a decent watermarking feature but alternatives include WinWatermark”.
  7. File-Sharing Software. Sometimes it’s necessary to send high quality large sized image files to a client electronically. Rather than sending them by email, which could be rejected if the file size is too large, you may want to use specialist software that uploads the file to a safe store and sends the link to download the file to the client. The file-sharingsoftware YouSendIt is free for personal and single-file use.
  8. An efficient, consistent workflow. Your image workflow, if done efficiently, can mean the difference between having a happy work-life balance and spending long nights in front of the computer. I use Adobe Lightroom for 80% of my post-processing work and only some of the time do I take an image into Photoshop. If you are interested, my workflow for a shoot will be something like the following:
    • Import the raw images into Lightroom, automatically building 1:1 size previews.
    • Make a first pass over the images and reject any obviously poor ones using the “X”-key shortcut in Lightroom. Put any non-rejected photos into a new collection. Delete the rejects.
    • Repeat with a second and sometimes third pass, making a new collection each time, rejecting images until I have the desired number of “good” images.
    • Process the images externally in Noise Ninja (noise reduction software) if taken at high ISO. This converts the images into tiffs. They will be automatically imported back into Lightroom.
    • At this point only start making basic lightroom corrections (white balance, exposure, curves, B&W etc).
    • If necessary take the photograph out of lightroom into photoshop and make any more etensive corrections here.
    • Back in lightroom apply any finishing touches and put any final set of photographs into a new collection.
    • Export the finished images as JPegs at the appropriate size into a directory on the hard drive and burn to disk or send for printing.
  9. LogMeIn – good free software for remotely accessing your PC. There are more infamous competitors who charge for such software, but LogMeIn at the basic level is free. There have been so many times when I’ve been out and about and needed to access my home PC and email myself a file or access information.
  10. A good solid basic PC suite. This should include antivirus (AVG is free), a registry cleaner to keep your PC running well, and a disk defragmenter that you should use regularly.

Viz Top Tip: The kind of software I’ve recommended is occasionally available for free on the cover disks of computer magazines, so it’s worth checking from time to time. I’ve found versions of WinWatermark, automatic backup software, antivirus, defragmentation and registry cleaners all for the cover price of a few copies of PC Pro magazine.