Basic Photo Tips: Workflow

Using Adobe Photoshop and Bridge to keep your files organized and never lose a photo

(This tutorial assumes you have access to Adobe Bridge and Adobe Photoshop)

So you’ve gone out and shot 1000 or so photos from your last assignment, and you’re ready to get to work. Where do you start?

I’ve seen students plug in cards and just click through all 1000 photos individually in Preview, looking (mostly in vain) for the perfect photo. Stop. Don’t do this.

If your highlighting the photo and going through them without using any organizational software (such as Bridge, Lightroom, Photo Mechanic, etc.) - as in this photo, which uses the basic Mac OSX viewer - you're working really innefficiently.

If your highlighting the photo and going through them without using any organizational software (such as Bridge, Lightroom, Photo Mechanic, etc.) – as in this photo, which uses the basic Mac OSX viewer – you’re working really innefficiently.

You’ll end up getting frustrated with how slow things are going, you’ll lose track of which photos you wanted (or both) and then just give up, never knowing if your best photo was in that last 100 you didn’t bother to look at.

Instead, use some common sense and Adobe Bridge to help you out – you’ll find that perfect photo faster.

Step 1: Off the card and onto the computer

Don’t ever work on your photos while they are still on your memory card. This will slow everything down and could wear out your card faster. Instead, plug your card into a card reader (for most Macs, there is an SD card reader on the side) and then pull up the card after it shows up on your desktop. Don’t use iPhoto or any default program to import files. Some programs can lower your photo quality, or won’t understand RAW camera files. Manually copying files over ensures nothing can go wrong.

After you navigate to your card on the computer, find the folder that contains your photos (usually a subfolder under the “DCIM” folder). Now, wherever you save your photos regularly, be it a hard drive or a storage server at your school (The J-Drive for Stony Brook Students), create a folder for the shoot. Never create this folder on your desktop, as it’s easy to misplace and on some servers your desktop gets deleted after a logoff.

Name your files so that you can find them later. My regular structure looks like this:

The folder structure for shoots that I use is demonstrated here.

The folder structure for shoots that I use is demonstrated here.

yearmonthday-slug (i.e. 20120917-Occupy_Wall_Street)

(Note I don’t use spaces – some operating systems and the Web don’t handle them well.)

I then create two folders within the main folder: RAW and SELECTS.

I then drag and drop all of the photo files from my memory card into the folder labeled RAW. Your SELECTS folder will hold your finished, edited photos.

By shooting your camera in RAW quality, and organizing your photos this way, you will never lose anything.

Step 2: Make a first edit

Now that your photos have been copied to the computer, open up Adobe Bridge.

Adobe Bridge is a media management tool. You look at files and folders through it. It does not store your files and folders. When you are asked where you saved your photos, saying “I saved them in Bridge” is never the correct answer for this reason.

Set your application to a standard view by going to “Window” –> “Workspace” –> “Essentials.” For good measure, under the same menu hit “Reset Standard Workspaces.” This makes sure we are on the same page for this tutorial. You can see that your computer’s folders and servers are in the favorites/folders pane on the left. In the middle window (content), you will see thumbnail photos of whatever is in the folder you have navigated to (you should find the RAW folder of your shoot). Preview currently selected photo from content on the preview pane right with information about the file (metadata) underneath it. You can grab the edges of each window and enlarge or shrink to your preference. I usually make the preview window a bit larger.

You can see that using a combination of stars or colors (whatever works for you), I can narrow down just the photos I want very quickly because of the filters to the left.

You can see that using a combination of stars or colors (whatever works for you), I can narrow down just the photos I want very quickly because of the filters to the left.

Now, you can quickly shuffle through all of the photos. As you are doing this, hit the COMMAND + “1” through “5” keys on your keyboard. You’ll see stars added to photos you selected. As you rate the photos, a set of filters appear on the bottom left panel that let you view only 1-star photos, or 2-star photos and so on – these are called ratings. You can also color-code photos by hitting COMAND and 6-9 at the same time. These are called labels in the filters panel.

Once you are done selecting the photos you want to use for the shoot’s SELECTS edit, filter so that you can see only them (For instance, you’ve selected 10 photos and given them 5 stars – meaning you think they’re great and want to use them). The other photos are all there, Bridge just hides the ones you are not using.

Step 3: Work up the photo

Here's what a RAW photo looks like when you double click - you open up an extra set of editing options in Camera Raw.

Here’s what a RAW photo looks like when you double click – you open up an extra set of editing options in Camera Raw.

When you shoot in RAW mode on your camera (Set the quality to RAW as opposed to JPG), double-clicking an image in Bridge will bring up Photoshop’s Camera Raw, where you can make adjustments to many characteristics of a photo without damaging the original photo. You can even save photos you thought we’re too overexposed or underexposed, or incorrectly white balanced.

You do not have such a degree of latitude with JPEG files. They are already processed and the extra information that would have helped you save a file that isn’t properly exposed is already thrown out. When you are in a tricky situation, shooting RAW gives you a safety net.

As RAW photo processing is a process in and of itself, there’s a whole separate guide about it on a post here.

Step 4: Add metadata and save the photo

You want credit for the photo, right? Once you have finished editing the photo in Camera Raw, hit “Open Image” and you’ll enter Photoshop.

Hit “File” –> “File info” and you will enter the file’s metadata screen.

Metadata is all of the hidden information about the file that you can’t normally access. There is shooting settings, time, date, type of camera, etc.

Caption your photo via the "File Info" option under the "File" menu.

Caption your photo via the “File Info” option under the “File” menu.

What you are interested in is the section labeled “IPTC” information. This contains your credit line, contact info, caption, etc. you’ll want to put those in. Especially, if you are committing journalism, a caption. Enter your caption into the “Description” field of IPTC. Most content management systems will then suck in the caption with the photo.

Oh, and while I’m on the subject, if you forget what makes a good journalistic caption, refresh your memory by clicking here.

One final step that is a good idea to take when shooting RAW is to go into “Filters” –> “Sharpen” –> “Unsharp Mask” – this detects contrast within the image and enhances the edges, making the final output just a bit crisper and sharper. The camera does this automatically when shooting JPEG and so you have to do this last step manually in RAW. There are three settings to fiddle with under Unsharp Mask – Amount, Radius and Threshold – and each camera handles this differently, but you can find a detailed explanation of how it works here.

When you save, make sure you've selected your SELECTS folder to save in, and that you're using the JPEG file format (for compatibility). Save it at highest quality on the next screen, 12.

When you save, make sure you’ve selected your SELECTS folder to save in, and that you’re using the JPEG file format (for compatibility). Save it at highest quality on the next screen, 12.

Now you can save. Go to “File” and then “Save As” – you can’t save a raw file as a raw file (hence why it’s great for a workflow that keeps your originals safe) but you can save it as a JPEG – a web and print-friendly output file.

Save as a JPEG image to your SELECTS folder, giving it a name that makes sense (I usually use the folder name with a number at the end for each photo). When asked about quality, crank it up to the max (12) – why throw away quality?

That’s it – you’re done. With this one photo, anyway. Rinse and repeat for the rest.