Image portfolios, iPads, field triage and Lightroom … and more

At long last I’ve had the time to work through a number of technology issues centering around my photography. This in no small part was enabled by having a week in mid-Wales with Nick Jenkins of Freespirit Images who led the photo workshop from a base at Llanerchindda Farm, and several conversations with Andrew Cooper who, apart from having a lot of the same gear as I have, is a definite kindred spirit when it comes to photographic geekery! Check out his website here.

So let’s start with Image Portfolios. I’ve been meaning for some time to get something together and have been wrestling with whether to put it online, or create something for the iPad. Andrew came up with the perfect solution – Foliobook Portfolio for the iPad – which is amazing and actually hits the online portfolio button as well – here’s the result of my work over the last couple of days – a gallery created from a number of my  Moments like these … images and posts. How does the workflow go … I never thought you’d ask!

The starting point is the Alloyphoto Lightroom plugin for Dropbox. I created a number of Smart Collections and one Collection Set with several more Smart Collections within the Plugin in the Publish Services Library module of Lightroom and then set about refining my image Ratings and Colour Labels, and updating my Keywording to select the images I wanted to go into each Smart Collection. Doing this carefully now means that whenever I rate, label and keyword an image in the future it will automatically update the Smart Collection and allow easy re-publishing to Dropbox.

Why Dropbox? Well yes – it would have been nice to use Google Drive, but Foliobook is built upon an infrastructure that relies on Dropbox to import photos to the iPad  other than using your iPad’s Camera Roll. So publish to Dropbox and then link the Category/Galleries you create in Foliobook to Dropbox folders and images, and the updating is almost painless and ridiculously easy … once you’ve got the hang of it. Thanks Andrew – a great piece of advice.

Incidentally, a secondary benefit of doing it this way, via Dropbox, is that I now have a screen saver for my MacMini and for my Apple TV that link to the same Dropbox folders. Really neat!

Next it’s the iPad and how can it be used “in the field” with Lightroom Mobile. In a couple of words, it can’t … at least not yet, or not the way I would like to use it. Here’s what’s I would like to do, what’s available, and then what the problem is.

I (and Andrew) would like to use a WD wireless My Passport hard disk, or in my case alternatively the 128Gb of storage on my new iPad Mini 4, to download our RAW images onto, do some edits and then synchronise them through Creative Cloud back to Lightroom Desktop. Unfortunately, this just isn’t possible – read this to understand why it isn’t possible. I can by selecting RAW+JPEG do the edits in Lr Mobile and synchronise those back to the Desktop as JPEGs but there’s no manageable solution yet (I’m not going to do this, even though I’ve tested it with a single image – and it does work) to tie these edits back to the RAW files when I upload them to Lr Desktop.

The problem is with both Apple, and Western Digital, the former becuse they insist that all developers only work through their Camera Roll, the latter because their software doesn’t allow you to transfer files from the hard disk into Camera Roll – I believe you have to ask their My Cloud software to do that, which is slow and clunky. So you’re stuck!

Things may of course change. I’m still looking forward to Apple moving away from Lightning adaptors to USB-C – as on the new MacBook – but they chose not to implement it on the new iPad Pro, so I’m not holding my breath. So for me, it’s still my trusty and heavy MacBook Pro that will continue to accompany me on photo trips.

However, if you’re working in JPEGs you could use the Camera Connector Kit (SD-card, or USB versions) to upload your images into Camera Roll and then use the excellent Lr Mobile software for edits and sharing to social media, or perhaps Snapseed.

Lots of words in this post – just had to be written though. Here’s an image from the end of the workshop to break up the text …

2015 - 1

… just in case you’re interested,  this is Llewellyn ap Gruffydd Fychan (not Darth Vader) and he stands in front of Llandovery Castle.

Workflow, workflow every photographer needs a workflow

This is a subject I return to quite regularly, the last time being May, 2014. It’s an important subject because with digital photography you create many, many images, and if you’re not organised you’ll lose some images you want to keep or use, which can lead to unnecessary frustration and a lot of wasted time.

In the earlier post I detailed how I was using an external hard drive (a WD My Passport Slim) to store all Images and my main Lightroom Catalog. Nothing has changed here – the ability to swap between the MacBook Pro and the iMac for editing working off a single catalog and image store has been invaluable – the only modifications being:

  1. I always do a second copy of my imported images to a Folder on the Hard Disk of the Mac the external Hard Disk is attached to – on both systems this is Pictures > Lightroom Backup > Imports, and
  2. I always backup the Catalog on exit every time to Pictures > Lightroom Backup > Catalogs.

When I’m confident the external hard drive has been backed-up to Time Machine when it’s connected to the iMac, I delete the contents of the Lightroom Backup folder(s) on both systems.

I’ve also decided that I need some “off-site” backup as well, so periodically I ask for a disk, lodged with a neighbour, to be returned so that I can do a complete disk copy of the external hard disk.

I did consider using a cloud drive for the second copies, and the catalog backups, but with the size of the image files now being so large (a single RAW image from the A7r is over 30Mb) there was too much delay being introduced in sync’ing files to the Cloud. So, regretably I decided against that option.

However, an alternative could be to use a Wireless External Hard Drive such as the WD My Passport Wireless with it’s integral SD slot and use another connected Hard Disk to store the Second Copies / Catalog Backups to. I’m considering this option as I hinted in my post yesterday.

[It’s at this stage of the process that I would have liked to have considered using Lightroom Mobile to do the tagging and creation of collections, but my iPad is not up to the task, and the initial release of software didn’t allow me to do the tagging I wanted to do – this may have changed in later releases, I haven’t checked.]

So that’s the hardware part of the workflow sorted, what about the software? Well … Lightroom is very easily configured using Presets to store the images where you want them, to add keywords as you import the images and do certain adjustments (eg for lens, for camera, etc.). It really is important to tag (keyword), and label your images as you import them, so the next stage for me is absolutely vital.

I review every image in the Lightroom Library module and if I’m going to keep it because it has no flaw, I then rate it on a star basis by just typing 1, 2 , 3, 4 or 5, and I add any additional keywords to individual images. That done, I then create a Smart Collection of all the images rated at 3 to 5. This is the collection I then start reviewing in the Develop module.

[An aside mainly for non-Lightroom users. It is important to remember (in Lightroom) that all my non-deleted images are stored in folders (mine are by date) on the drive and that Collections are virtual “pointers” to the originals. Lightroom is a non-destructive photo-editing program. All changes to images are recorded in the Catalog, so you can always go back to any step of the process and move forward from there again – sometimes after creating a virtual copy of the image to store the state of the image before anymore changes are made.]

If, when editing, I consider the rating of the image should be changed, I do just that, which will cause an image to fall out of the Smart Collection. My objective here is to get a set of images rated 4, or 5 that I am going to do further work on. If there are a considerable number of images, I might set up another Smart Collection to reflect this.

Working on this collection I will then colour code the images red (6) – no further work will be done on the image, yellow (7) – work still to be done on the image, or green (8) – finished image,  to indicate where the image has got in the post-processing.

This workflow and image categorisation has served me well in identifying images to be uploaded to Blurb for Photobooks, or for images that might be printed.

That’s where I am this May, I wonder what I’ll be doing next May :-).