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Gadget Bag: Organizing Your Images

Digital cameras make it possible to shoot a vast number of photos quickly. To keep those pictures organized, you need software that’s up to the task.
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This Article Features Photo Zoom

So much has been written about digital workflow for photographers that it sounds like something that would be nice to have. The truth is, you already do—all of us already do. The difference is that some manage it better than others. That’s where the right software can help. Digital workflow is the trendy way of saying “processing routine.” It includes every step necessary to get from input to output, from physical reality (for example, a landscape) to final output result (a web album, a 19-inch print or mounted 2×2 transparencies).

Apple iPhoto
Apple iPhoto

For some, the process begins with previewing and deleting goof-ups on the camera’s LCD. For many, it starts when they download and archive (or safely archive first, then download) images onto their computer. Steps include browsing, winnowing and sorting into logical categories or groups. Next comes RAW conversion, editing and global editing, applying metadata information and creating another archive of the keepers. Experienced photographers have a system to produce redundant backups either automatically or by habit. The final step for most photographers is the output, be it web publishing, printing or e-mailing ZIP files. And, of course, everyone needs a way to quickly find a particular image later—sometimes years later.

Digital workflow is determined by many factors, the most influential being personal work habits. But even the most efficient outdoor photographer may deviate from his or her traditional pattern of behavior when he or she lingers over a small group of images while batch-processing a large group of images from a day of shooting in the mountains.

ACDSee Pro 3
ACDSee Pro 3

That’s where powerful, efficient workflow software shows its real mettle. Besides handling all of the individual tasks that we just briefly sketched, workflow software must be flexible and somewhat elastic.

Everyone wants to automate portions of the routine or boring procedures, but no one wants to reduce the digital processing to autopilot.

Apple Aperture 2 feels natural and intuitive, partly because it uses a logical organizational scheme that collates images into projects, folders, albums and Smart Albums. This taxonomy also extends to external drives, optical disks and network drives. Aperture offers effective tools for adding metadata to images, so they’re easy to find even months later. In addition to potent browsing and rating tools, Aperture offers multiple export options, including the ability to publish a portfolio using your MobileMe account or your password-protected MobileMe Gallery. It’s also compatible with printers from Canon and Epson that support 16-bit printing. The latest version includes more than 100 new features. The new all-in-one Inspector consolidates Projects, Metadata and Adjustments panes, and lets you switch between them with a single key press. For Mac computers only. Estimated Street Price: $199; $99 (upgrade).

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2

Expression Media 2 from Microsoft incorporates the former iView MediaPro that always has been popular as a powerful but easy-to-use tool. Billed as “10 tools in 1,” it offers the ability to create visual databases (called Catalogs) that can contain up to 128,000 files each. It also offers a complete set of viewing options, a metadata editor, drag-and-drop integration with Mac OS and Windows applications and a built-in image editor that can do more than just the basics. Almost any iView function can be batch-processed, so once you’ve established a routine, it’s easy to apply it to a large group of images. It also provides true DAM (digital asset management) tools that allow you to archive image files and keep them organized across virtually all media types (internal and external drives, optical drives and so on). Estimated Street Price: $199; $99 (upgrade).

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 provides tools that streamline the process of viewing, evaluating, sorting and selecting images for processing. Think of it as a business-management tool for your workflow, an application that makes it easy for you to perform all of the vital housekeeping tasks, starting from image capture through importing, RAW image processing (all RAW formats), metadata manipulation, renaming, etc. On the output side, it provides easy ways to create thumbnail proof sheets, online web galleries and high-quality slideshows. It also facilitates and organizes printer output, and allows you to save and recall favorite page layouts. Version 2 adds enhanced organizational tools, multiple monitor support, 64-bit support for both Mac and Windows PCs, full Photoshop CS4 integration and D-SLR profiling. Estimated Street Price: $299; $99 (upgrade).

Microsoft Expression Media 2
Microsoft Expression Media 2

ACDSee Pro Photo Manager 2.5 puts a new spin on speeding up workflow by allowing you to organize your photos as you acquire them from your camera or external drive. Sorting, viewing and cataloging images is easy, thanks to a customizable lightbox-style graphic user interface. Plus, it isn’t necessary to import files that are already on your system or connected devices—they can be accessed no matter where they reside. And ACDSee performs nondestructive RAW processing and pixel-level editing without disturbing the original image file. You also can embed custom metadata directly into the XMP fields on your images, even file formats that don’t include IPTC or EXIF fields (PNG and GIF, for example). Estimated Street Price: $129; $90 (upgrade).

iPhoto from Apple is fun to use, modestly priced and does just about everything anyone could expect from workflow software. It’s a powerful application, but it’s also a good choice for casual users because it takes no time to learn. iPhoto offers standard and advanced organizing tools, including the ability to add and display GPS information. A robust set of image-editing functions enables cropping, resizing, color correction and red-eye removal. And there’s a nice assortment of special-effects options, too. Images can be output as a sophisticated slideshow. iPhoto offers a variety of sharing options and provides a direct, one-press uplink to Facebook or Flickr. Mac only. Estimated Street Price: $79 (part of iLife ’09).

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