Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Doing it in the RAW

I'm As photographers we know the importance of a RAW-based workflow, that is keeping RAW data as long as possible and using a non-destructive processing in Photoshop, eg adjustment layers vs adjustments.

Also, if you are like me and sometimes need to handle 100s or even a 1000 or so images from a photo shoot, then you also need to ‘worry’ about data management and data processing workflow.

Without any additional help the simple way to handle large numbers of images, on CF or SD cards, is to ingest them straight into Lightroom and adopt one of two, extreme, strategies.

Strategy 1 is to ingest everything, irrespective of the image quality, whereas strategy 2 is to use LR to cull (delete) those images that are not worthy of saving for further processing.

Although there is a move these days to strategy 1, as the cost of data storage becomes ever lower; if one has the time, strategy 2 is ‘obviously’ preferred.

Lightroom does a pretty good job of allowing you to trawl through your ingested folder of images and delete the ones you deem unacceptable. So why not simply use a LR-only based workflow?

Although LR is pretty good, often we seek out additional criterion to decide if it’s worth keeping an image. For example, if you were shooting with an ETTR exposure, your LR preview will look blown out and the LR histogram will be bunched up on the right. Or, maybe you were focusing on a critical element of your scene and need to be assured you nailed the focus. 

You could spend time evaluating every image in LR, but this defeats the objective of seeking out a ‘fast’ ingestion workflow.

Also, if you are a RAW shooter, and if you’re not you should be, there are other problems you face once you get your images into the PC (and for me that means a Windows 7 or 8 based environment). As you ‘develop’ your images in your digital ‘darkroom’, ie Photoshop, you will likely create intermediate .psd files, where you store your post processing work, eg layers etc, which can be viewed in LR, but not, and here’s the rub, on your desktop.

Because of the above issues, a group of specialist tools have been created to help the photographer, particularly during the ingestion phase, ie the (discretionary) phase that sits between the image capture and the LR/PS ‘development’ phase of your workflow; for example the $150 Photo Mechanic (http://www.camerabits.com/).

But what about the photographer who maybe needs to watch the pennies: what options are there for a ‘few’ dollars.

After much reading and experimenting I have settled on two products that work for me. The first is an additional Codec that runs under Windows and allows you to see .psd thumbnails on your Windows’ desktop. The product is called FastPictureViewer Codec Pack (http://www.fastpictureviewer.com/codecs/) and it costs $9.99. Once installed you can see your .psd thumbnails, which helps when you are browsing your image files outside of LR/PS environment.

The second product is called FastRawViewer (http://www.fastrawviewer.com/) and, at less than $16, it gives you an amazingly powerful front-end ingestion engine to your workflow. 

FastRawViewer has been created by the developers of RawDigger, so you are assured that there is ‘RAW science’ behind the product.

FastRawView is so powerful, there is no way I can describe its virtues here. However, here is an example of how I use FastRawViewer (FRV):

  • Transfer the images from my CF/SD card(s) into a folder on my PC, either in the final location or a temporary loation;
  • Open up FRV and the folder of images that you wish to evaluate;
  • The first image in the folder will open and the first benefit of FRV becomes apparent, you are presented with a RAW histogram and RAW statistics;
  • You can program any keyboard shortcut that you wish, via the shortcut editor, thus you can tailor things to your preferences;
  • To aid your assessment, you can program FRV to toggle between different views, for example between the shot view and, say, a -3Ev view. This is useful if, like me, you favour ETTR exposures and thus your images look ‘blown out’ and you need to look at the highlight areas;
  • You can toggle on and off focus peaking, to assure yourself that the image was focused on the subject of interest;
  • Having assured yourself, using RAW tools, that the image is a keeper you simply press the space bar to move to the next. If you decided to ‘reject’ that image, you simply press a key of your choice (I have programed X) and that image is moved from the folder into a rejected folder and the file name is altered to reflect this rejected state;
  • At any time you can evaluate the image in Photoshop (or other post processing tools) by simply pressing R;
  • Having trawled through your images in FRV, you exit the program knowing that you now have a folder of rejected images (in your original folder or somewhere else you point to) that you can either delete or move elsewhere. The images that are left are your keepers!
As I said above, FRV is very powerful and very tunable to your personal workflow needs. At $16 it is a bargain and one I can recommend that you evaluate yourself using the 30-day free trial period: that is if you wish to bring in a more intelligent workflow to your photography ;-)

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