Hello from quarantine central
What have you been up to since we can’t go out to play? For the first week or so I just went crazy. Soon I ran out of that, so I got down to business.
Most of my time has been spent on sorting, labeling, editing, branding and cataloging/storing my images. You might shoot hundreds of images in a day and then pick out what you think are the best and only work on those few. Later you might find that you’ve overlooked a lot of fine shots in your haste. I have found that to be the case for me, something which is now engaging me in an hours-long-per-day effort letting me rediscover my photography.
In this article I will tell you a bit about the process I apply today to rediscover my older gems. This is after all a very good time to sit down and do some serious cataloging and processing work, right? Maybe what I have learned along the way can help you too.
Let me take you on my personal journey of photography. It is a journey that has taken many years and it has taught me how to capture wonderful images, ever since I got serious about photography.
When I first became seriously involved in photography, I was shooting with a Nikon F5 while attending photo classes at a local college, learning to develop and print from scratch. It was great fun, but the whole concept of waiting for the developer to work its chemical magic in order to see if I would get anything good, was both frustrating when I didn’t “score”, to blissful when I did.
Film photography was and still is expensive but the creative juices flow to the maximum with film, and I will never completely give it up. I have access to the developing and printing lab at school for as long as I can still get there.
After the F5, I “graduated” to digital photography with a Nikon D5300. I thought that was great, but I was always shooting JPG in P mode and had no clue how to use Adobe Photoshop nor any other editing application for that matter. I took some Photoshop classes at school but was immediately overwhelmed and fell behind. My photography was …well, blah.
Eventually my teachers convinced me to shoot using RAW format. They helped me claw my way through some basic editing tools and showed me how to convert to JPG for sharing and printing. Things were looking up. But, using a crop sensor and second tier glass had me feeling as though I was missing something. Looking at the full frame images made by the other students and their wide-angle landscapes had me feeling rather inferior, especially if we were comparing the same shots taken from one and the same class field trip.
Then came that fateful day when I found eagles at my favorite location for landscape photography.
Again frustration kicked in because my gear was lacking in focal length and I was terrible at focusing on moving objects of any kind.
It took time, effort and eventually new gear: A Nikon D850 and the troika of legendary Tamron glass. I added a Tamron 150-600mm G2, some tele converters, a decent tripod and a Gimbal head. By incorporating the different focusing schemes available to us now, such as "Back-button focusing", using AF-C, using larger numbers of active sensors and improving my focusing technique - see also Photographing Birds in Flight - I finally could shoot with the masters. Nowhere near as well, but I could keep up… more or less.
Deciding on workflow
Then came the problem of an effective and comfortable workflow. I tried Adobe Photoshop Lightroom or “Lightroom” for short, but was not happy with how it seems to want to take control of cataloging and expects you to store your images somewhere else. In hindsight, that was the proper way for me to work given the limitations of local hard drive capacity using a small laptop back then.
Still, cataloging in one place and storing in another bothered me. When I first started using the Adobe Creative Cloud apps, Lightroom was building the catalog on my “C” drive. At the time I was using a Microsoft Surface Pro (a tablet/laptop with detachable keyboard) with limited space on the C drive. With the thousands of images I anticipated, and all the old images I wanted to include in my collection, that space would've quickly been used up.
That laptop was already overflowing with other programs and data and I wasn’t in the market for a larger, more powerful computer yet. I’d already spent my budget on camera gear. Storing my images in the cloud was not for me, since none of the available offerings seemed to provide enough space for the number of images I was projecting to make at the price I was willing to pay.
Dropbox, One Drive and even the Creative Cloud storage, all had limits on free space and you could upgrade with N-bytes for x$/month. This wasn’t how I wanted to store my creations as I really didn’t trust the cloud storage concept.
The RAW editing tools incorporated in Lightroom were enjoyable, but I was wondering how I could resolve the rest of my workflow issues. That is when a friend introduced me to the ‘Old School’ method of using Adobe Bridge and the Photoshop plug-in “Camera Raw”. Finding my niche, and with Photoshop to polish them off, my images started to sparkle.
Not going for cloud, the storage issue wasn’t resolved yet so I bought an external hard drive and started to move the images collected on CDs to one central location. Never did I go back to Lightroom though, even after I had purchased a more capable PC desktop adding several external USB drives for storage.
The concept of “taking charge” using the old-school method while still having the Camera Raw plug-in for basic editing appealed to me and I stayed with it.
Finding gems in older images
That takes us to today.
The real challenge to find lost gems in my photography has been
- How to look at my old images differently and
- How to sort and label the images I was rediscovering
When I first started to use photo editing software a few years ago, I scanned through the thumbnails in Adobe Bridge, for “keepers” or “printable” as we refer to our best shots. No, I didn’t rate or tag them, I just decided, “I like this one” and ran with it discarding the rest to oblivion on my hard drives.
Tip 1: Work with larger size – inspect details
This time around, I found that because of that method, I was missing out on a lot of images that were just as “printable” if I looked at a much larger presentation of each image, then sorting and labeling them properly.
You can set Bridge to show a larger version of your images by reducing the size of the thumbnails on the left and enlarging the image in the viewer on the right.
Tip 2: Crop and make variants
Often I have noticed that if I just crop out some of the extraneous data, removing unsightly details in the foreground or background, zooming in on the subject, I had much more to work with.
Tip 3: Change the subject
Some shots might have missed to capture the intended subject aesthetically. One thing that I have found helpful is to eliminate the original subject and to create an entirely different image using another, more palatable subject. For example, cutting out the eagle with a branch in front of its face gave me a beautiful landscape with hills in the background that was quite breathtaking in itself.
Tip 4: Use color labels
This was still a tedious process and like most artists, I wanted to produce something now, not just sort and label ad infinitum. In truth, sorting and labeling is unavoidable if you wish to make sense of this process, so I came up with a color scheme.
Adobe Bridge, like many other applications, allows you to label by color. There are more colors available than what I am using and the intended definition for each color may be different in the default “Bridge language”, but for my purposes I cut it to these three:
- Red for “select” for immediate editing
- Yellow for “second” for “process later”
- Green for “approved” and for “already published”
For each shoot I had done, I reviewed all the images as large as Bridge would allow me to view. On my new 27” screen, that’s pretty big.
The ones I had previously published I gave a Green label. I still looked at these images with an eye for whether I could do better, or perhaps even create something new from them. Those might get a second label if so.
The ones I readily saw could be doctored to create a “printable”, were given a Red label. These are then the ones I’m working on right away. As I redo them, they get published right away or once I am done with series. The Red label then turns to Green on those images.
Those that caught my eye, but would need extensive review and rework to become printable were given a Yellow label. These are then for my next round, whenever that might be.
I have gone through all my D850 images, more than 15,000. I’ve found ten percent more of those to go to Green and there are still more (Yellows).
Later this year I’ll start working on Yellows. When not processing those D850 Greens, I am sorting my D5300 images. Since I didn’t have the Adobe Creative Cloud apps to use back then, this is like going through them for the very first time.
What’s magical about this process is that a lot of those images I thought of as unusable can now be used and enjoyed. That is because of the tools and features I’ve learned to use with Camera RAW… especially the exposure sliders. WOW! Over and under exposed images are now looking pretty darn good. I’ve got a ton of Greens so far, and it will take a second sort to decide on Yellows.
In the meantime, and to break up the work a bit, I’m taking all my film photography and digitizing it with an awesome Epson Perfection V600 Photo Scanner. It’s tedious work but oh so worth it. I can now edit those frames with nearly as much artistic capability as with any other digital image. There’s going to be so many more Greens…
Tip 5: Schedule it!
There is now plenty for me to do and no matter how long this crisis has us contained, there will be work long into the future. My plan is to do this as a rule from now on, to schedule it. Perhaps in the month of December, I will dedicate my processing time to revisiting my images from the previous year, just to look for those hidden gems.
It is my image!
While you are going through your images, cataloging, labeling them, you may also want to consider watermarks.
I was never much into the whole “branding” thing by putting watermarks on images, believing it takes something away from the art, and I still feel that way to some degree.
But, one day as I was browsing social media I saw a great image without any credit given to the photographer… And that photographer was me.
The fact that the image had been shared by a cousin of mine didn’t assuage my angst at all. Two or three years ago I may not have cared at all, but then my photography took a turn from amateur dabbling to the artistic. It happened when I discovered wildlife photography, a genre I had no calling to until that first eagle shot. After that photograph there were kites, hawks, kestrels, ospreys…oh, there were hundreds of them and they were everywhere.
Tip 6: Watermark your images with a personal logo
I decided to investigate how to first create, and then how to use a logo in my artwork, how to easily incorporate it into my images.
Since we’re talking thousands of images that was a real challenge. I found out that Photoshop could do the trick (see e.g. this Nikonians article on how to create a custom signature for your images), but there was some serious work to be done that way and it seemed rather cumbersome to me. I looked around for a better solution.
A company called Photologo were able to take my ideas and they created several options for me to choose from. My logo came in several styles and colors and I even got an “Initials” version, for what I thought was a very reasonable price. I also purchased their application, Photopolish, for applying my logo to my art. You can see the results in the few images I’ve shared here where I’ve exaggerated the logo for viewing. I normally keep them far more subdued, just as something to tag them as mine.
Whatever your passion, let it work for you now. Keep busy. Stay home. Be safe and wash your hands.
From the rookie, with love…
Michael Hurder (MKHurder)
Editor’s note: If you are interested in watermarking your images, there are quite a few ways to do so in a batch mode, processing many images at once. You may want to look at the open source JACo or the many commercial options available.
Make sure you don't miss all the knowledge in our Post-Processing and Workflow forums
More articles that might interest you