Friday, September 11, 2009

Flawed Workflow

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

The more progress I make with this cleanup the more I realize how much is yet ahead of me. It isn’t as if I had dumped files on random hard drives with no system at all; still, I have found my system woefully wanting. Part of my problem is that I got completely shutter-happy for several months this year and my shaky system was overwhelmed. It was overwhelmed partly because the system was weak, but mostly because I got took hundreds of pictures and began rushing to the next batch of photos before I completed the workflow on the previous one.

As for my filling system, it isn’t as if I hadn’t spent hours reading articles about workflow and organization. But, not surprisingly, if you read twelve experts on organization of files you get twelve different plans for surefire solutions. At this point, I am more convinced than ever that some of this flailing about it is an inevitable part of the process. I suspect that ultimately, each of us has to establish a system that works for us. For example, I remember studying the workflow of one individual who organizes all his files almost exclusively by numbers, assigning each project a unique number. Ugh, my head hurts just thinking about it. Though I learned early on that some numbers, dates and file numbers for example, are essential, that expert’s methods would turn me into a whimpering wreck in less than a month.

My method of organizing my files is still in flux and that is the major problem. The biggest problem was procrastination. I put off the drudgery work and had fun. Am I contrite? Not really. Yes, I now face an unholy mess. But, I had a grand time creating it, and I learned a great deal. It will be a long slow process, but I am getting closer to sorting out the chaos.

And then, there’s the anxiety about some of the photos I am tossing. Believe me, in spite of my jokes about machetes and General Sherman tactics, I am proceeding somewhat cautiously. Confidence in my editing abilities has grown in the last year, but I have a ways to go in that department. I still consider myself a near-beginner at this photography thing and a hungry student.

There were some interesting comments on my last post about editing old files and I noted the anxiety others face when deleting old photos. I would love to hear some ideas on workflow systems.


  1. I'm not going to try to tell you how to do it but here are some things to bear in mind:
    Organising files can include metadata (tasgs etc), filenames, folder structure. A combination of methods can help. (My own personal method uses an indexing filename structure combined with a date/location folder structure and then image titles for final work.)
    Using some sort of automation download software that will also name files based on a structure helps a lot. Structured filenames also helps with indexing and cataloguing large collections.
    Deleting files as you go slows the whole process down, so I've given up. Storage is cheap, time is expensive.
    Getting a system together that is both automated and fast will improve the odds of you following it.
    I actually store my photos in three ways. First the raw archive arranged into dated folders. Second the working files arranged by "shoot". Third the collection of worked images arranged by date & shoot. I never then lose track of what I'm working on and there is always an archived copy of the original I can fall back on.

    I've worked a lot with taxonomy for engineering files and have learnt the hard way the value of a logical, structured numbering/index system. There's a reason librarians use such systems. Relying on an ad hoc method leads to trouble.

  2. Martin - Thank your for you generous notes on your workflow. I appreciate all the tips here. It is so true isn't it that storage is cheaper all the time while time remains a priceless asset.Your last sentence goes to the heart of my problem—a method that has led to trouble.

    Questions, if I may: Are you using Photoshop Bridge? And, if so do I understand that you are separating PS files from Raw files in a completely different location? I suspect that, like a lot of people far more advanced than I, you are using something in addition to PS.

  3. Anita, no I don't use Bridge nor Lightroom or anything fancy for organising. Download and initial naming is with Breeze Systems' Downloader Pro and all folder organising using good old Windows Explorer. I also have a handy (free) tool for renaming - Renamee Master which is good for sending lots of files to new folders.

    I only use the editing tools for that. I build Lightroom catalogues as I go for each shoot and have one central catalogue for all my finished work (linked directly to the main archive location).

  4. Hum... It seems that you are organising the files in folders, directly on the hard drive.

    In that case, instead of trying to find an ingenious way to structure this, may I suggest a more high-end tool?

    I use Aperture myself, and I don't really have a system more than that I sort everything into yearly projects, and under each project I can have smart albums that selects everything based on rank month or whatever. I also make albums for trips and photo exhibitions, and such. Nu fuzz. Since all the images also can be viewed as a long stream, it's easy to delete those that are redundant or plain worth deleting.

    See, I might have sounded as I had a great system in your last post, but I don't. The tool takes care of most of the sorting stuff. Highly recommended. If you're already using such a tool, I'm afraid there's no hope. :-)

  5. I use Lighroom and let it do most of the heavy lifting. On import it automatically saves a back-up copy of my RAW files to my network storage device, converts the RAW to DNG files and creates a year/month/date folder hierarchy for each set of photos.

    The most useful thing I've learned about my workflow is using a master review folder to first import these DNG file into. Then from within Lightroom I drag-and-drop these files into my "work space" only after culling and key-wording each set. This makes keeping track of what hasn't been done really easy--a life saver.

    I did a post the first of this year describing this process if that help => Workflow Post

  6. Martin, Ove and Earl - Thank you, all, for taking time to share tips on your workflow and, Earl, I will be spending some time with your referenced post.

    I am currently using Bridge (CS3)on a PC for naming and organizing folders. Occasionally, when moving files, I find Windows Explorer useful. Initially I was okay with Lightroom. Then, after about a year it ate all my files, ceased functioning, and I was so ticked I abandoned it.

    I am still processing what I have learned up to now and holding off overflow. And, I would eagerly welcome any further tips on places to go for more useful workflow tips and tools. Meanwhil, Martin, I am taking a cue from you and purchasing more hard drives tomorrow.

  7. @Anita: OK. I'm the odd man out. What else is new. I rather have a Zen-like approach. I don't worry about it so much. I organize by date taken, or scanned in the case of film. That's about it. Now, this is not really a good system for finding things again unless you know when you took the photo. However, this is where Lightroom comes in. I do add keywords such as the location, and perhaps a couple of other keywords that might be useful in finding something again. Rarely do I go back and try to find something.

    As for backups, I keep a single backup, that's it. I'm not really worried about loosing all of my files. I'll just go out and take some more. That's why I have a camera. :-) This, certainly is not the method for everyone and would be looked at with horror by most of the photographic community.

  8. Paul - Shoot. You make this sound so appealing, but I know myself well enough to know that there is no way I could adopt your philosophy. I'm just a little jealous because it sounds restful, but I will have to settle for admiring from a distance.

  9. Anita,

    I have absolutely no system. I'm with Paul, its very Zen-like. My zen-like system did cause me to lose over 1000 pictures when my last computer crashed well over a year ago. I have since purchased a hard drive and I have backed up my photos to a DVD once...other than that, I am living on the edge.

    Sorry, I am no help. Instead, I will hope to profit from your question and wait with zeal to find out how organized others are (and I am not...).

    Yours in chaos...m.a.

  10. Mary Ann - Heavens. Your system sounds peaceful and extrememly Zen-like, but not something I would survive. With my nature, having only one backup per image feels like living on the edge. It says too much about me that I get attached to photographs on my hard drive. Hmmmm.


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