7 Steps to Getting More from Your Photographs

man and woman with drink problems photography southwest LondonI propose a new figure of speech – ‘It’s like finding a jpeg on a hard-drive’ instead of the outmoded ‘needle in a haystack’.  The idea comes from the difficulty I’ve encountered when looking for a particular image on a computer.  I know it’s in there somewhere but……

Just imagine if you could open a hard-drive like a desk draw. It would be like entering a cavern jam-packed with vaguely labeled piles of boxes filled with imprecisely labeled folders stuffed with ambiguously labeled documents. Maybe you’re in luck – you find the box of photographs – every photograph you’ve taken. The good, the bad the indifferent, the white frames, the black frames, the blurry frames, the pictures of your feet and pictures of the sky. Somewhere in there is that lovely shot of your sister you took the day before the aliens abducted her to the mothership.

In reality the situation is probably worse with pictures in several places. Some left to moulder for years on the camera’s memory card, some on your phone, others on the tablet and a few attached to emails from friends.

Falkirk containers

Digital Jugglers

I’ve just described the chaos that is my ‘library’ of roughly 60,000 images. Most are in folders named according to the job.  Since I deserted the proper path of film and sold my soul to the digital devil that’s been good enough. But there are dozens of folders now, it’s getting to be un-manageable and can be impossible to find a specific image if I don’t remember where I put it.

Delete the Duds

A  former work colleague told me that he saved every image he took because the failed pictures say as much, in their own way as the successful shots. He might have a point as an artist; I’m more of a photo-tart. I’d rather let go of the letdowns to save the card and drive space, not to mention the time transferring data between the two.  I suggest that when you take a break from the grinding hard work that is photography, you flick through your shots and dump the failures. That might just mean technical failures such as out-of-focus, burred or incorrectly exposed. You could also exercise some editorial judgment and get rid of the shots that don’t live up to you expectations as well, but I prefer to leave that till I’ve seen them on a computer screen and then do a big cull.

something unknown in the ancient woodland

Tag, Tag, and Tag again

It doesn’t actually matter where the files are physically stored on the hard-drive if they are well tagged, you’ll always be able to find them quickly using the tagged terms and the file data such as the date and even time. The best time to tag them is when they are transferred from memory card to computer. Generic terms can be added automatically to each picture, like ‘California holiday’ ‘Christmas’ ‘Christening’. There are many image management tools that enable you to do it, I use Adobe Lightroom, which is fantastic or there’s iPhoto or Picasa. These will become the software you use most often not just for managing a collection but for post-production too. Again I have give Adobe Lightroom a plug, it’s effective, easy and economic.

black and white abstract photograph of plastic bottles

Good Habits Save Time, Money and avoid visits to the doctor

Most of my pictures are utter rubbish, but I want to keep them. Just in case. Now if I can get into a better digital habits by fine-tuning my image management workflow, then the occasional good photograph I take is less likely to get lost under all that digital dross!

late for class

  1. Decide on a folder and subfolder structure.
  2. When the clocks change remember to reset the clock on the camera. It’s another useful search parameter.
  3. Use image management software to tag images as you transfer them from memory card to computer.
  4. Back up your library on two other drives, one of which is in another building.
  5. Enjoy flicking through your folders from time to time, and while you’re there add more tags and delete more crap.
  6. Share your pictures more – make greetings cards, have a print on the wall, compile an album etc. Otherwise what’s the point?
  7. Be less lazy.

Trevor Aston works in Richmond, Southwest London and Surrey as a portrait, event and editorial photographer.

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