Creating a File Management System

As a nature photographer out in the field shooting great photos, you'll be eager to get back to your computer so you can mess around with your shots. After downloading your images, you'll be excited to open Bridge, view the images you've just taken, and then process the best of the litter. The next thing you know, you'll have run the nature images through Photoshop, made a few prints, and then moved on to something else, such as cruising the Web to do some shopping for more digital camera gear! The downloaded images will then sit in their folders, maybe soon to be forgotten.

If you've been using a digital camera for a while now and you take thousands of nature and landscape photos like I do, you've probably noticed how quickly images pile up on your hard drive. Every time you download photos from a memory card to your hard drive, you could be adding hundreds of digital images to an already

crowded storage space, one gigabyte at a time. They then sit there, pile up, reduce the amount of available disk space, and maybe even get lost or forgotten.

Whether I'm shooting nature images in the field, downloading pictures, organizing files, or working with images in Photoshop, I have a workflow for everything. As a review, a workflow is a step-by-step progression of actions you take on a consistent basis to ensure that proper techniques are consistent from shooting a photo to creating the final print. An image-management workflow will work equally well when you're managing those hordes of images I've been warning you about. By spending a few minutes planning your file management approach, and then by following your workflow, you'll be much better organized, more productive, and saner. And best of all, it doesn't cost you anything!

Creating a file-management system starts with two simple tasks:

■ Plan how to organize and store your images. All photographers have different needs. Make a plan— the simpler the better—to organize all of your images, not just your nature stuff. If you're like me, you'll have nature images divided between wildlife photos, landscapes, macros, and maybe even abstracts. Like many nature photographers, you might also have images of family, friends, or even some commercial clients for whom you shoot images. You need a plan of organization to keep all of those images straight.

For your nature photos, you might want to separate images into categories, such as plants, animals, flowers, or geography. You can also divide up your images by region, such as the Midwest, Southwest, or even the Antarctic region. (I hear it's cold there this time of year—well, any time of year!)

■ Create folders to store categorized images. Whether you're using a Windows PC or a Mac, first create a master folder to contain all your original, working, and final output images. (I call my master folder Digital Images, but you can name yours anything you want.) The next step is to create sub-folders within your main images folder to classify each major step of your workflow.

With the thousands of shots I shoot each year, I try to keep it simple. I set up a master folder called Digital Images. Within that folder, I set up folders for all my original images, working images, and finally output images. Figure 8.1 shows my basic folder structure.

■ Back up all of your images in one step. When all of your images are contained in one folder (that contains all of your subfolders), backing up to a CD, DVD, or external hard disk or file server becomes a lot easier.

a Digital Images «OA Original Images ± £3 0 Working Images ■ □c Output Files

J Digital Images SQA Original Images ßj Converted to DNG a Original RAW Files Ci IMG00Q1 lake mich O IMG0DQ2 fall color IMG0Q03 fall color _) IMG0004 sunset and waterfalls a Q 0 Working Images Ü Family Q Nature [¿I Portraits a Q C Output Files CI Fine Art Prints IQ Website Images

Figure 8.1 All you need is one folder to hold your original, working, and output folders. Backing up all of your images will be easier when they are all held in one folder.

Simple Steps to Managing Files

Now that you've thought about your strategy for how you are going to store and back up your image files, consider following a simple workflow for your everyday work. The following steps might not exactly match how you approach your work, but you can use them as an example of an image-management workflow.

1. Make a backup in the field. I haven't spoken of this in detail, but if you're out on an extended field-shooting expedition, consider carrying a portable storage device, such as the Epson P-4000 or even an Apple iPod. These devices are small and battery-powered, and they can also play music and audio books! In the case of the iPod, you can also watch downloaded TV shows and the like, if you're into that sort of thing! (I'm getting acquainted with my new iPod 60-gig model. See you in six months!) Getting back to digital images, I recommend making backups of your memory cards if you're away from a computer. Memory cards can easily be lost or damaged in the field, and one more line of defense doesn't hurt.

An additional piece of advice I have for when you're using a portable storage unit in the field is, don't be comfortable enough to reformat your memory cards after you've downloaded the images to your iPod or other portable device. These devices can fail or get lost too! I only recommend using these devices for backup purposes (and on a temporary basis, at that) until you get your memory cards downloaded to your computer.

You might think this step is a little excessive, but I've heard horror stories. Recently, a friend of mine lost most of his shots when he misplaced a 2-gig memory card on an airplane on a trip back to the U.S. from eight days of shooting in England. He wasn't a pro, but most of his shots, including those of Stonehenge, London, Avebury, and Wales were lost.

2. Download your memory cards to your computer. The first thing I do when I get back to my hotel room, my office, or my home after a day of shooting is immediately download my images to my computer. I create a subfolder in my Original Images folder, usually named in sequential order with a date and a descriptive name for the images taken that day, such as IMG0041 May 30 England, IMG0042 May 31 England, and so on.

3. Back up your images to DVD, CD, and/or a backup hard disk. Right after downloading my images to my Original Images folder, I back up to DVD—twice! A DVD holds more than 4.5 gigabytes of data, or more than four 1 -gig CompactFlash or SD cards full of images. I often go through at least four or five cards when shooting nature photos all day; raw images are quite large. One DVD usually holds 500 or 600 images, depending on the size of the files you are capturing. I make two copies of my DVDs, one to keep onsite in my image library and one to keep offsite in my safety deposit box.

You can purchase blank CDs or DVDs inexpensively now, and great bargains are available at your local computer and office supply stores. Whether you're using CDs or DVDs to archive your images, be aware that optical discs are not all alike. CDs and DVDs, like many things, are available in different levels of quality.

There are some cheap discs on the market, but they might be cheap for a reason. They might scratch easily or they might be susceptible to quicker chemical deterioration than other discs. When buying blank CDs or DVDs to archive your images, buy name-brand premium discs, such as Delkin Archival Gold or Verbatim DataLife. These discs are supposed to hold up for many years, even decades if they're carefully handled and stored.

Backing up twice to optical disc might seem a bit extreme, but your original images are like your original negatives—if they get lost or destroyed, you always have an extra copy offsite as a last resort. I learned this the hard way 28 years ago, when all of my negatives were destroyed in a fire. All of my high school and college photographic work was wiped off the face of the earth in one night. Luckily nobody was hurt, but my negatives were destroyed.

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4. Back up your hard disk. In addition to backing up my original images to DVD or CD, I also back up my Digital Images folder to an external hard disk every night. You can never have enough backups of your important image files and documents. As my technical editor tells me, "There are two kinds of people—those who have lost data and those who will "

If you don't have an external hard disk to make nightly backups of your data files—not just your images, but all of your other personal work—I recommend getting one. You can purchase external hard disk drives with capacities of more than 300 gigabytes for less than the cost of a couple of memory cards. For a couple hundred bucks, you can rest easy knowing that your valuable data is protected in case your computer's hard disk fails.

5. Use Bridge as your image-management system.The next step in the image-management workflow is to work with your images using Bridge. I know you were probably wondering when we would get to that subject, so here we go!

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