Are you having fun with your digital camera?


Now that “every man and his dog” seems to own a digital camera, now would be a good time to sit back a minute and think, then plan.

Are you happy just to take pictures and delete them and take some more, or do you want to maybe store them, and find them again at a later date?

Computers are a great help here, and there are two pieces of software which can be all you will ever need. One is free and one is not.

But before you use any of them, you have to plan how you are going to store them on your computer and the main program can be so much more powerful if you develop a good system.

Storage Planning.

First of all, your hard disk directory structure is important. But it needs to be carefully thought out, and you need to be consistent.

I cannot tell you how to do this as everyone has a different way of working. However, I can tell you how I do it. So read through the first part of this article and if my way of working is not for you, grab a piece of notepaper and a pen and set out how you would like your own structure to look. And then set it up and load your photographs into it.

My directory structure starts with a one word directory called simply: “Photographs”

I have two folders under this one. One called “Negatives”, and one called “Projects”

It is now a good time to explain what I mean by my term of “Negative”. By “negative” I am referring to the original photograph you have taken, either as a Jpeg (.jpg), or RAW format. Once this “Negative” has been cropped, altered or improved, I no longer refer to it as the negative and it should be stored somewhere else, leaving the “negative” unchanged.

I store all my photographs under “Negatives” when I load them into the computer from my camera storage card. Anything alterations I might make to these photographs are stored under “Projects. The “Project” folder does not concern ourselves for today.

The only subdirectories immediately under “negatives” are the years.

2006
2007
2008

Under this level, I then list the months, lets look at 2007…

710 – October
711 – November
712 – December

The numbers will keep the months in the right order, and the year number to the left, in this case 7, will always be a fail-safe guide to remind me that I am in the right year.

Under this level, I have my photo-shoots, lets look under 712 – December… I put the full date in so that if I copy the photograph out of the datestructure, I will still know the date of the photograph without having to look at the exif information.

2007-12-17 – Journalist party – Cheshire Cheese
2007-12-19 – Cix Xmas Party – Cheshire Cheese

So now I have a good system – based on dates – for my “negatives” These are neatly grouped together in date order, with the actual sub-directory containing photographs showing the date taken, and the name of the “shoot”.

This is a good time to mention that, if you have taken two subjects in the same day, there is nothing to stop you making two sub-directories. For example:

2007-12-21 – Covent Garden – Christmas shopping
2007-12-21 – Barnet – Julies dinner party

Alternatively, you can keep the photos in the same sub-directory, and name them accordingly:

2007-12-21 – Covent Garden – Christmas shopping -and- Barnet – Julies dinner party

So now I have my directory structure and I will now download all my original photographs into their appropriate sub-directories. Once I have done this I need to rename my photographs – and so do you – from bland names like “image0023.jpg” or “photo0045.raw” to something more meaningful.

This is where our freeware program I mentioned above comes in useful.

File rename utility

Go to www.bulkrenameutility.co.uk and when there, click on “Downloads” in the left hand menu. Once there choose the link for your operating system. Windows XP, for example is the second one down. Download this to your computer and open it up. A warning here. When you do, the screen will look absolutely frightening. But you will only need a couple of boxes and can ignore the other hundred or so.

First of all, go to the subdirectory using the box in the top left. Then in the box on the top right, highlight all the files by clicking on any one of them and pressing

Look in the first column, the only box you will use is the second one down under the top left box, marked “replace”. Type in your meaningful name followed by a space, dash and another space. I have typed in “Cix Xmas Party – “

Now move over to the very last column called “Numbering” and set Mode: to Suffix, Start: to “1”, Pad: to “3” – this will then allow all your photographs in this sub-directory to be individually and consecutively numbered.

Make sure the “New Name” is how you want your filenames to appear and click the “Rename” button on the bottom right hand corner of the program. You may have to verify this is what you want so just click on accept until done.

You can ignore every other box as we don’t need to make any other changes to our “negatives”.

Once you have done all this, you will have all your photographs in your system, in the right place and suitably renamed.

The projects folder can be for sets of photographs you have reduced for sending to the web, or photographs you have changed,

Now we move onto Lightroom and this program will never write over your original photographs which, for this exercise, I have termed “Negatives”.

Lightroom can be downloaded from Adobe’s website and is free for thirty days. To ensure that Lightroom works in a way you can be comfortable, I suggest you use the free trial to its limits before you spend out hard earned cash. A five hour training video may be downloaded in segments for a total of $14.95 (just over £7) and this would ensure you would get the most from your free trial of Lightroom.

The work you have done up to now can be used with any editing program so you have not wasted any time. Get the free trail from Adobe.

The cost at the time of writing is £205.82 inclusive of VAT but exclusive of delivery. However when it is time to actually buy the product, I suggest you go to Amazon which charges £183.98 inclusive of VAT and delivery. Now and again, Amazon does have special offers on this product.

Lightroom

Lightroom is divided into five sections and caters for all your needs. The five sections are in the following order…

Library
develop
Slideshow

Print
Web

Library

When you import from your “Negative” directory structure, Lightroom allows you to put in general keywords which are attached to each picture as it is imported in. Let’s take the Cix Christmas party. The keywords I used were: 2007, December, London, Christmas, Party, Cheshire Cheese. I will find it if I searched by year (not very easily, but I could). The same goes for the month and the place. Cix will certainly make it easier to find, and Cheshire Cheese would be the most direct. But the thing is, I may want the photo in five years time, so this gives me a good overall chance of finding it.

On the left of the organise page are the folders (sub-directories) you have imported into the program so now you can begin to see how your forward planning in naming your directory structure has paid off. A nice addition here is, as you run your cursor down the folders, it flashes up the first picture of each folder so you have also a visual check when searching for your photographs. You can also set up “Collections” for when you have attended a large function over several days. This “Collection” will show all the pictures from the entire few days.

On the right you can change major functions for your pictures such as white balance, change the presets to black and white, Greyscale, Sepia and lots more. You can also add keywords for particular photos or groups of highlighted photos. And in fact lots lots more which I cannot go into here for reasons of space.

Develop

This is where you can enhance your photograph. You can crop it, and whilst enhancing, look at a before and after picture whilst making the changes. You can also change the perspective of your picture, such as straightening up buildings. Once again I won’t go into all the “develop” controls but will mention just a few which will interest a beginner.

You can alter the exposure. Here, do not worry about the finished look, but get the exposure right. For example if you have taken flash, and the areas in front are very bright, tone down the exposure and don’t worry about the background being a little dark as you can use the fill-in control to lighten up just the background. If the light has been too fierce, especially sunlight, there is a “recovery” control which may help you recover some of the burn-out. Also there is a “Blacks” control which enables you to put more life in the darker but faded colours.

Skilful use of the temperature slider can change an overcast day and make it look sunny. If you prefer to use histograms, you can drag the histogram to give the same effect. Or if you prefer to use the “tone curve”, it’s there! There are 56 other sliders which I haven’t mentioned. And a few other controls as well. Using the “green” slider can make a country scene look more lush by changing the colour of the vegetation.

Slideshow

Here you can set up a slide page in your own colours with whatever information you want to appear underneath your photographs. I use the number of the file so I can find what a client may want easily.

You can save your built up template. I am not going to go into too much detail here but you can get your template pretty much exactly how you want to present your image to your client, friend etc.

And then you can makeand email a PDF which will open up as a full screen slide show.

Print

Once again, you can use the presets to set up and alter how you want your photographs to print out and once you have one as you like it, you can store it in the Users Templates. This is an area where you will need to experiment to get right. But when you have the template the way you want it, don’t forget to store it in the Users Template section.

Web

This will give you a choice of using a lot of different web templates, and also a choice of viewers which include HTML and even FLASH. You enter your website logon details and you can export your slideshow direct to your website. Once again, don’t forget – once you have everything as you like it – to store your template under Users Templates.

Lightroom is worth the money just for the Organise, and Develop sections. The other three sections are a bonus. A five hour training video can be downloaded in segments for a total of $14.95 (just over £7) from Luminous Landscape.

Finally, if you are not a professional or a serious DSLR hobbyist, you might like to know of a free alternative for LightRoom. Take a look at my later blog on Sunday, 9th March 2008 and learn all about the latest version of Google’s “Picasa” program.

© Andrew Taylor. No part of this document may be published without written permission.

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