Photography: the dreaded workflow

Warning – This post will bore the socks off most people. In it I talk about some digital workflow stuff. It’s mainly for me as I try to improve some things, but I figured I’d go ahead and post it in case any photographers stumble on it. Seriously, if you’re not into digital photography, I’d skip this one.

My mobile workflow is a mess. The concept seems easy enough.

  1. Shoot photos.

  2. Store the photos on memory cards in the camera.

  3. Promptly offload the memory cards to a hard drive. If the work is at all important, build in redundancy. At the very least, offload to two hard drives. To the extent possible, keep the hard drives in separate locations. That’s not really feasible on the road. If you’ve got access to decent internet connections, you can upload photos to the cloud. If not, you can consider mailing flash drives home and/or keeping the data on the memory cards.

  4. Add the photos to your photo catalog. I use Lightroom.

  5. When you return to your home or more permanent location, back the photos up to your permanent storage system.

Makes sense, right? In practice, I find it challenging, and as I mentioned, my mobile system is a mess. Danny Ngan, a friend of mine, is likely one of the most thorough and organized photographers on the planet. He shoots a lot of client work that involves thousands of photos. His archiving and client delivery system is incredible. A while back I asked him to walk me through it – I’ll post that separately.

It’s fun shooting photos and working on projects on the road. It can also lead to some logistical headaches. Shooting photos is the fun part. Safely storing the photos is the big challenge.

I’ve shot stills and video and recorded audio on the go a few times. Everyone has. But as soon as you start thinking about redundant backups, photo catalogs, retrieval, and organization, it can get fairly complicated.

I was recently on the road for a while. I drove from Seattle to Phoenix and back after an extended stay in Phoenix. For my digital work I had a Fujifilm X-H1, a DJI Osmo Pocket, and my ancient iPhone. I had two memory cards in the X-H1 with extra cards that I didn’t use. I alternated between sequential (fill one card move to the next) and backup (images saved to both cards). For storage I had a WD My Passport Wireless SSD and a Mac Book Pro. I try not to use the storage on the Mac. If I’d anticipated doing any client work, I would have packed another hard drive.

KISS – Keep it simple, stupid.

I use Adobe Lightroom for most of my work. I have a main catalog that resides on my Mac. I back that catalog up on an external drive, but I need to get better about tracking that backup.

A year ago I added Photo Mechanic into the mix. It’s fast. Ingest, cull, keyword. I started using Photo Mechanic for its speed and powerful metadata functions. Culling in Photo Mechanic before adding images to the Lightroom catalog helps keep the Lightroom catalog manageable. If the image is in Lightroom, I know it’s made it through at least an initial cut.

I’m still on the fence about Photo Mechanic, though. It works best if I immediately cull and add to Lightroom after ingesting photos. Returning to the images later is a challenge, probably self-inflicted because I haven’t figured out the optimum naming conventions.

I created a new Lightroom catalog for the trip. I usually just work with one catalog, but I wanted to see if having a mobile catalog made the end of the trip transfer from the mobile hard drive to my primary storage any easier. If you work with Lightroom, you know the hassle and potential perils of navigating those steps. Lightroom doesn’t actually store photos. It catalogs the photos and maintains a link to a photo’s location. Move the photo and you break the link.

I tried to keep things fairly simple, but when I got back to Seattle, I felt like it was my first day doing any of this. Here’s what I was looking at.

I thought of the drive in terms of legs. I drove slowly and stop fairly often. If I shot any photos, I would use Photo Mechanic to ingest them onto my hard drive. The file naming convention is year + month + day + file. If I wanted to post any photos to my blog or to social media, I’d add the images to the LR catalog and make edits. For blog posts, I export the images from Lightroom. If there’s a way to post directly to Squarespace from within Lightroom, I don’t know it. I could then also airdrop the images to my phone to post to IG. It’s possible to use LR Mobile’s sync to get there, but I didn’t have it set up for this catalog.

I shot some video on the trip and had some film developed. That all got added to the hard drive.

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. So far this doesn’t sound like rocket science. It’s not.

I needed to move the ingest folders from the hard drive to my main hard drive. I wanted to keep a clean file structure, but I wasn’t entirely successful. I used Carbon Copy Clone to copy the mobile hard drive to my main hard drive (semantics, technically they’re both external and mobile).

I need to figure out if there’s a way to more precisely specify the destination. In this case, Carbon Copy brought the root folder over, and I had to then go in move the ingest files to my main ingest file on the main hard drive. After that I imported the travel catalog into my main catalog. I’ve never done that before and worried about losing something. It seems to have worked, but I had a lot of broken links that I needed to sort out. Luckily the catalog wasn’t very big.

If any photographers stumble on this and read it and have amazing, simple workflows, I’d love to hear them.