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In The Practicing Photographer, photographer and teacher Ben Long shares a weekly serving of photographic instruction and inspiration. Each installment focuses on a photographic shooting scenario, a piece of gear, or a software technique. Each installment concludes with a call to action designed to inspire you to pick up your camera (or your mouse or smartphone) to try the technique for yourself.
For years, I've been taking a very manual approach to my post-production workflow. And by that, I mean, I've used the Finder on my Mac, that's the Explorer on Windows, to make folders myself and copy images into them, keep them all organized, and then I've used Adobe Bridge to Browse those images and edit metadata and launch things into Photoshop. You could also maybe use PhotoMechanic, which would be a little bit faster but have more difficult integration with Photoshop. I have finally, about six or seven months ago, made the switch to Lightroom.
I put it off for a long time because I, I really liked the system that I had and I'm, I really like editing in Photoshop, I really like editing in Camera RAW, and I liked how it all fit together. Lightroom just really wasn't where I wanted it to be to have the integration with Photoshop that I wanted. I've made the switch because Adobe Bridge is on a deadend. It's not going to be developed anymore. It's just going to be in maintenance mode, which means that maybe they'll update it to ensure that it continues to work with the OS. Maybe they won't. It's certainly not getting any new features. And, there are things about Bridge that have always bothered me. It doesn't have a database behind it.
So, doing searches is always very slow. And, doing the same search more than once just, it always has to redo it from scratch every time. So, I liked the idea of getting into a database driven system. I have mostly been resistant to Lightroom and aperture and iPhoto. All of these database driven things always drove me crazy, because I didn't like the idea of not having control of my files. And, you may think well this software will give you access to those files when you want. Yeah, but I use my photos for a lot of different things. I want to be able to get to them from a page layout program or a video editing program.
I don't want to have to spit out versions just to do that kind of thing. In Lightroom, there's a way of doing that. So, for those of you who have been working a very manual kind of workflow like I have, I want to tell you about a few things that I've learned about Lightroom and about how you can stop worrying and love Lightroom and embrace its system without actually giving up the control that, that you've always had. Lightroom does keep a database of images. In that database, it stores thumbnails and metadata and lots of other stuff. That makes it very speedy for doing searches, for doing metadata searches, for doing edits to IPTC metadata.
All that stuff goes much faster than it ever did for me in bridge. It also means that you your Lightroom catalogue, which is that, that repository, that database is expected to point at a particular folder. Now, you can have multiple Lightroom catalogues. Right now, I just keep one that's my entire image archive. Actually, that's not true. I have a second one that's just snapshots and stuff that I know I don't need for professional work. But, for the real images that I work the most with, I have a single light room catalog that points at a folder called images. And, within that folder are lots of other folders.
This is actually just how it worked for me and bridge. I always had one kind of top level folder on the drive and I'd put everything else inside of that, so that aspect of my work flow has not changed at all. I'm in Lake Tahoe right now. I've only been here a couple of days, just started shooting. This is my first time to dump images into my system here, so I'm going to make a new folder here and call it Lake Tahoe 2014. Normally, I would be copying images from a flash card of some kind to speed things up. I have already put them on another drive.
Now, you can see all I'm doing is copying them into that folder just like I always did in my bridge workflow. Where I'm at here, is still maintaining complete manual control of where my images go. My images are not hidden away in a database somewhere. They're sitting out as files in a folder just somewhere on a drive. I can get to them from any other application that I want. So, so far, my workflow has not changed at all from where it was when I was using Bridge. The difference now is instead of launching Bridge, I'm going to launch Lightroom and now what you see here is a listing over here on the left of the images folder that sits on this drive called Warehouse.
So, I see all of these sub folders here. Some of these have question marks on them, that's because those images are off line right now. because, I'm on the road, and I'm going to explain how all that works in a future Practicing Photographer. Right now, I just want you to see what happens when I go to Import. I'm going to hit the Import button here, and it pulls up a file browser. So, I'm going to go in here to images and I'm going to hit this Lake Tahoe folder. And up here, I can have it do a file operation upon import. I can have it copy files or move files.
I don't need to do that because I've manually put the files where I want them to be. Again, by doing that I am not giving up any of the work flow that I am already use to. I'm just going to use the add button. All that's saying, is leave those files exactly where they are. Don't do anything to them. Just add them to your data base. So, it's going to go through and build the previews that it needs and fill in the data base fields as it needs to. Now, I have some cool things I can do here if I wanted. I could automatically apply editing presets that I have built previously in Lightroom. I can automatically apply a metadata template.
If you're used to using Adobe Photo Downloader to import, you get the same functionality there. I can also add keywords. I'm just going to type in Lake Tahoe here. And, I can select which images I might want to upload. There is just simple check boxes. I'm going to take them all and just hit the Import button. It doesn't have to move any files. So, this is going to go very quickly here. I have a progress bar up here that's showing the first stage. And, as soon as that stage is done, I can actually go ahead and start working with these images. But, two more progress bars have appeared up here.
These are showing its progress in building thumbnails. Lightroom is doing a few different things here. It's building these tiny little thumbnails that are scalable here in the library module. But, it's also building nice big full res previews that I can have online all the time. So, again, right now, I have not done anything differently than when I was working in bridge. But, I now have a nice database driven system that's going to work much faster than bridge. So, what happens if I want to add something to that project, or to that folder? Because, normally, I'm going to be here for a couple of weeks.
I'm going to go out, and I'm going to shoot more. I'm going to want to add more stuff. That's fine. Here's a second batch of images that I shot here. I'm going to go ahead and just copy these into that Lake Tahoe folder. Oops, looks like I've got some duplicates. I'm just going to have to replace them. This is a small batch, it won't take very long. Now, that's copying into the folder, they're not going into my Lightroom database yet. Lightroom does not keep any live link to that folder, it doesn't watch it or anything. It doesn't know what I'm doing to that folder, which is great. It gives me tremendous flexibility over it, but it does mean that I've got to remember to now take the step to do another import.
What's cool though, is if I go back to that same folder for Import as my source, it automatically scans it and says oh, you've already imported these other images. You don't need to import them again. I don't have to check or uncheck anything. I can now just say, add my lake Tahoe keyword here. Make sure that I'm still set on add. Hit import and now it's adding only those new images. So again, my work flow really hasn't changed. In Bridge, I can always just add more images to the folder. I can do the exact same thing in Lightroom, so I haven't really given up anything there.
As I edit images in Literoom, just as I did in Camera Raw, I am actually simply creating little XMP sidecar files. This is the first big difference between Light Room and Bridge. As I create a side car file, for example, if I was to go in here and do any kind of edit to this image, crop it, add metadata, do any image editing to it, it's not actually writing out a side car file. Instead, that edit data is being kept inside the bridge database. So, that crop that I just made does not produce the XMP file the way it would have in camera raw.
If I was to spit out an XMP file, I have to specifically do a save. I can do that simply by hitting command S or control S and it will say, save metadata to file. That will write out a little XMP file, so if I need the XMP available for another application, I can have Literoom spit it out. What I get now from here is great integration with Photoshop. I get basically Camera Raw right here. But there's one other thing about importing that I didn't have before. If I want, I can have Lightroom manage my import process. Instead of copying the files myself over using the finder, like I always have, in Bridge, I could have instead used the import dialogue, picked the folder of images that I wanted to import, and I'm going to go back out here to my desktop where those other folders were.
It's not going to show me anything importable because I've already imported all these images. So, instead, I'm going to come here. And now, if instead of saying add, I say move, or copy. If I had put say a media card in here, and said copy these images from the media card, I could have it organized the for me. So, over here in the destination area, I pick where I wan them to go, and I can have it automatically build sub folders. Automatically, build a sub folder, organize by date, for example. Or by original folder structure of somewhere else.
I've started using this lately, because what I will do now is go out everyday and shoot, come home, and have it automatically import things into folders by date. So, I will have a Lake Tahoe folder with a separate folder for each day of my shoot. I'm liking that organizational scheme, but still they are just folders like I've always been used to. So, if you have been resisting a switch to Lightroom because you've liked the manual control that you had, you've liked having simple files that you can move as you wanted, Light room is smart enough to allow you to continue to do that. The fact that I can go and re-import from the same folder and have it only pick out the new images, really makes the workflow that I've been used to for years possible with a whole bunch of extra power.
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