Photography: Organising your photo collection for travel photographers

Photography: Organising your photo collection for travel photographers

What should you do with your photos after a trip? I have spent every free minute in the past two weeks going through, organising, selecting and editing thousands of photographs from my latest summer trip. I’m not going to lie, organising your photos can be a big and sometimes painful job. It’s easier to just take pictures but careful selection and basic editing will help you present your best work. To make that easier you need a good organisation system so here are a few tips on organising your photos .

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Creating a workflow to organise and catalogue your travel photos

Before I tell you about the workflow that suits me best let’s take a look at some important considerations when setting up your photography workflow.

For my own workflow I wanted to be able to:

  • Categorise photos easily with metadata which would make it easy for me to find images based on categories I created, usually by location.
  • Rate photos in hierarchies to form a final ‘best images’ portfolio. This means I can concentrate on the best images without deleting the less good ones which I don’t want to do because I’m a bit of a hoarder! And besides, you never know when you might need one, for example, editorial or magazine layouts where you want a larger blank sky etc.
  • Perform basic edits: cropping; straightening; adjust brightness/contrast, white balance and tone; and remove dust and scratches.
  • Be able to cope with the hundreds of thousands of images in my collection. I’ve had to give up on some software including iPhoto before because it just can’t handle the size of my enormous library.

Non-destructive editing

Since I got my Canon 70D I shoot in RAW format as it allows me to return to the image and adjust the exposure using non-destructive editing, which means that when I exit the workflow I can return and change those edits without degrading the image quality. The camera also saves a standard jpg file but bear in mind that jpeg is a lossy file type, which means it loses image quality every time you edit and save it. So having a jpeg is convenient but RAW gives you more options later on.

Digital Asset Management (DAM)

There are lots of programs you can use and Andrew Childress has written a great article on this and check out Mike Briggs’ article on DAM features. Apple iPhoto, Picasa and Aperture are quite popular and which I’ve all tried but I much prefer the more sophisticated Adobe Lightroom as it works well with the Adobe Creative Suite, allows for a custom workflow, can cope with the amount of images I need to work with, allows for tagging using metadata, star rating and I can use non-destructive editing directly in the program so I don’t need to switch. The edits are saved as xml meaning I don’t write over the files and exporting the final product is quick and easy. The downside is it’s not free but at €12 it’s not expensive.

My workflow: Organising your photo collection

Organise the images into folders

Firstly I copy the images from my camera card and organise into folders in the format of <<COUNTRY YEAR>> and then within that folder I create and number the sub-locations. This makes the import easier as I can mass apply keywords in batches, smaller imports are faster, I can break the task into chunks etc. I don’t change the file name as this is pointless and more work. I then create a backup and I can’t stress enough how important backups are. Having been stung before remember it’s much easier and cheaper to buy extra hard drives than retake the photos. Some hard drives such as the WD My Passport Wireless have a built-in card reader so you can even do this on the road. I don’t usually bring my laptop travelling with me unless I can be sure I won’t have to carry it all the time or leave it somewhere that’s not secure so I leave this until I get home.

I also use my iPhone to take pictures and which are automatically backed up to iCloud when I’m connected to wifi. For these, I just log onto iCloud, download the images, delete them off the cloud and organise them the same as the others. I could leave them on the cloud but I prefer to clear it out every so often so I don’t have thousands of images to trawl through as the image storage is linear except for manual folders. I don’t use the Dropbox photo backup except as an emergency copy as I end up with multiple copies of the same image but with different file names as Dropbox and iCloud name them differently.

Importing images to Adobe Lightroom and tagging

I then import each folder into Adobe Lightroom tagging them with the appropriate keywords as I go. You can tag images afterwards and edit the keywords globally but if I’m importing a whole folder of images from Goðafoss for example it’s faster to just tag these in one go: Iceland, Goðafoss, waterfalls – and then add keywords which might not apply to all the images later.

Rating images in Adobe Lightroom

I then go through the photos one by one and rate any I think have potential merit with three stars and add extra tags (eg graffiti, people etc).  When I have completed one round of rating I make a smart collection of all my images from that trip using the country keyword(s) and a three-star rating. I then repeat the process for four-star images but more critically. So for example I might have a couple of images of the same location but now I’m comparing the angles and exposures more carefully. I may do some of the next steps here to see if the image has merit or if it would be better as a monochrome image for example but I usually don’t do that until I have my final set which I do by repeating this again and rating for five stars.

Editing and corrections in Adobe Lightroom

Here I only do basic editing as I prefer straight photography so I will look at:

  • Cropping and straightening horizons
  • White balance
  • Tone, brightness and contrast
  • Haze, luminance and saturation
  • Dust and scratches

Final checks and exports

I then review the collection again. Taking out any images I don’t feel are strong enough by reducing the rating to four stars (this is the magic of smart collections, they update automatically so you can continue and you can have several smart collections all working from the same pot. Finally, I go to file and export and save out my images as jpegs with the metadata and edits applied at my desired resolution – depending on how I want to use them eg in print or on the web.

The only quibble I have is that Adobe Lightroom doesn’t append the keywords in a way that I can use on the website to search and create galleries in the same way and I have to do this manually, then search for the keywords and add them to the gallery. Now though I can access my Adobe Lightroom via my mobile I can’t have multiple users access this system. Since it’s just me that’s not a problem but it might be for some in which case you’d need networked storage not a portable drive it cloud storage. By far the most important piece of advice I can give is don’t put this off. Think about how you want to be able to access your images, put some work into getting a good system and stick to it. Working with multiple systems is a recipe for heartache!

What are your tips for workflow management and DAM (digital asset management)? I’d love to hear from you!

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