photography workflow

I think that iPhoto doesn't conform to my old picture-taking workflow. I think it's a good workflow, though, so I'd like to know whether I'm wrong, and there is some way to do what I want with iPhoto.

Previously, I did this:

  • Move pictures from camera;
  • Create "date-name" directories for each session: e.g., if I shot a show that had three bands on June 1, the directories would be 2005-06-01-foo, 2005-06-01-bar, and 2005-06-01-baz.
  • Put all the photos of each subject in a RAW/ subdirectory (e.g., 2005-06-01-foo/RAW/). Never touch those.
  • Copy */RAW to */EDIT. In the EDIT subdirectory, delete the junk, and color correct and crop the rest.
  • When publishing to the web, copy some subset of EDIT, and resize and post the copy.

I don't think I can easily do this with iPhoto. iPhoto seems to want to obscure the actual location of the files on disk from me: it wants me to access my photos only through the iPhoto UI, using its notion of galleries. It always stores files on disk in its world in directories like YYYY/MM/DD/, which is close to my layout, but I want my "keywords" in the directory names as well, not solely in some undocumented metadata file off to the side somewhere.

I think that PhotoMechanic makes it easy to do things the way I want, since it doesn't make assumptions about where your files live. Basically you can just point it at a directory and it will let you browse, flag, and manipulate things in that directory without first importing copies into some central place. rzr_grl swears by PhotoMechanic, and it's used by a lot of newspapers.

But, PhotoMechanic is $150, and contains a lot of other features that I don't particularly need. So before I buy it, I'd like to know if any of you iPhoto users out there know how to bend iPhoto to my will.

Update: Turns out that Adobe Bridge does everything PhotoMechanic does, and it came with my copy of Photoshop CS2. Goodbye iPhoto!

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50 Responses:

  1. roninspoon says:

    Just last week I had this conversation with a friend about iPhoto. I used to have a rigid naming convention for photos and when I first got my powerbook I struggled with this same problem. At first I was meticulously adding keywords to each photo and arranging them in albums, but as time wore on, I gave up and just let iPhoto do things the way it wanted. Giving up works for me, but I suspect it won't for you.

    My friend, with whom I was having the previously mentioned discussion, thought that iPhoto probably wouldn't work for him for this reason.

  2. matthew says:

    iPhoto would expect you to make albums from each import with your keywords. You could also put keywords in the album comments. I would assume that spotlight indexes those.

    Also, iPhoto always keeps a backup of the original photo that you can revert to from the Photos menu. So there's no need to keep the raw directories.

  3. bassfingers says:

    I don't use iPhoto regularly... I do think it's a bit limiting... I've heard good things about iView MediaPro though (no first-hand experience with it yet).

    Are the files in your RAW directory really RAW files? Or just a catchall for unmanipulated files regardless of format?

    • jwz says:

      No, I've been shooting high-quality JPEG, not RAW.

      • ibm says:

        I use iview mediapro on my powerbook to manage my photo archive (25gb and growing 0.5gb/week on average) and I've been pretty happy with it. iphoto wanted to reorganize my photos According To Steve, but I use a directory-based organization scheme similar to yours (2005-06-17-foobar). It works well with RAW files (off my nikon d70) and has nice sort/search parameters. I don't use the edit functionality in mediapro (not sure if there even is any) but just do everything in nikon capture or photoshop CS. My originals stay untouched, and mediapro can update its catalogue automagically. After 8 months of daily use, I've yet to have serious problems/unexplained failure modes with it.

    • kraquehaus says:

      I didn't see this before I commented on the whole thread. I'm pretty certain that iView will do exactly what JWZ is looking for and would also remove the step of creating an "edit" folder. You can specify in the built in version control where you want the new vs. originals to live with next to no fuss.

      I haven't used iPhoto in a long time, but iView is fast and is amazingly great for organizing huge photo libraries.

  4. duskwuff says:

    I suspect that you may have to use something else. Neither iPhoto nor iTunes really like letting you set things up in a nonstandard way.

    If all you need is to be able to view a directory of photos, you may want to look into GraphicConverter (which also, true to its name, does all sorts of conversion magic) or even just viewing the photos as thumbnails in the Finder (icon view, check the view options).

    • jwz says:

      The main thing I'm looking for (beyond what Finder does) is taking a huge set of pictures and pruning it down to the best ones. Both iPhoto and PhotoMechanic provide good tools for that.

      • elainegrey says:

        Well, if Preview's color correction works better for you than it does to me, it seems that Preview+Finder would handle your work flow for you just fine.

        • jwz says:

          I just tried it, and yeah, the Image Correction tool in Preview would seem to be complete garbage...

          Not being able to have really big preview icons in Finder is a drag. As is the fact that neither Finder nor Preview respect the EXIF "rotation" flag.

          Given that, I think I do need some other application for this.

          • elainegrey says:

            Ah, that must be why when i rotate photos using preview, flickr rotates them back -- unless i send them by email?

            Thanks for the (inadvertent) pointer.

            • jwz says:

              More precisely, Preview respects EXIF rotation in the "big" window, but neither Preview nor Finder respect it for thumbnails. Dunno what Preview does when you rotate and save.

              • duskwuff says:

                Sounds like a bug. Report it!


                • semiclever says:

                  The apple bug reporting tool is highly bogus IMO, since you can't actually see the bug database, only add to it. I mean, geez. It's not worth my time to try to create high quality bug reports when they're likely dups anyway.

                  • partylemon says:

                    Multiple reports of the same issue do help push for a fix for it (it's the primitive way of implementing voting) - and more information about a bug can only help to fix it.
                    And the database is used by Apple - I've had numerous bugs/enchancements fixed/made via. radar (then I look at my 10.2 bugs that are still open...).

                    It's definitely worth the 10 minutes to write-up a report.

      • hadlock says:

        I only do this once a week at most, but this is my workflow; 1) drop raw jpeg files in to 2501-3000 folder (or whatever set of 500 i'm working with at the moment), 2) have image capture auto-open the files in preview, open folder the raw pics are transfered in to 3) drag those new files to photoshop, and go to town, save directly to web server share.

        Preview is pretty fast at opening 1-150 4 megapixel photos at a time, and makes for a good image browser for simply picking out the best photos.

        • edlang says:

          You just completely ignore Photoshop's File Browser? ...

          Adobe Bridge, the file browser that ships with Photoshop CS 2, is cooking my emergency bacon each and every time I use it. It will let you use any naming convention you so desire, has all the preview, labelling/rating, colour correction, exposure compensation and cropping tools, and a multitude of useful ways to view your images.

          jwz, how do you blindly divide your pictures from a CF dump into seperate groups? I use (for example) "2005-06-17 John Course @ Lot 33; Rob Kay @ Minque" and then subdivide (apply colour labels / ratings) in situ. Files I convert (from CRW) or edit (JPEG) go in edits/, and then those destined for the web go in edits/web/.

      • Photo Mechanic is fast and highly flexible. I bought it and used it for almost a year, but now use Adobe Bridge because I need the raw and Adobe format support it offers.
        Photo Mechanic is faster than Adobe Bridge, but lacks the ability to display the crops/adjustments I've applied to DNG files or Photoshop documents that are saved without a flattened version. If neither of these matter to you, you'll probably be best off with Photo Mechanic.

  5. elainegrey says:

    I do a good deal of my photo handling from the command line. When the camera auto mounts, i mv the files to my directory (similar naming scheme to yours).

    I find the finder & preview provide happy browsing experiences, and with Tiger you can even select a bunch of photos in the finder and generate a (temporary) slide show. Preview has a crop feature. (Presumably, it also has the same image correction tools as iPhoto -- if so, those suck. That or my wimpy iBook can't handle the demand -- but photoshop is OK??) I use imagemagic's convert to create web scaled images and wrjpgcom to add comments. And then i use photoshop for more detailed work.

    I have had to use iPhoto to create the albums to then use iMovie to create permanent slideshows for DVDs....

  6. ydna says:

    If I was going to try to accomplish what you describe using iPhoto, this is how the workflow looks for me (assuming pictures are imported promptly rather than letting weeks of photos collect in the camera and the camera properly date stamps images):

    • import pictures from camera
    • select roll of picture just imported (must view-by-roll)
    • change name of roll (in Information thingy) to something useful, e.g., event name
    • select groups of photos representing bands
    • Photos -> Batch Change (⇧⌘B) - comment - append - type band name - OK
    • make a smart group, set up pattern for band name in comment, date range, roll name, etc.

    You can also make "folders" inside the iPhoto collections list to group shit together. I've got 3,900 photos in there so far and it seems to manage it well (and I pray that the damn xml file that manages the albums never gets corrupted).

  7. ydna says:

    Also, there's a Mac OS X update due next week possibly that's supposed to fix a bug where iPhoto lightens images that have been touched up against the user's wish.

  8. kraquehaus says:

    I use iView. It doesn't care where you put your original files and it also handles version control quite nicely. It is a completely pro product, but I think that they have some cheap/free version too. It is a bit expensive, but it is completely worth it. It might just do more than you need.

    (It will catalog, with thumbnails, just about any media file you want; movies, music, pdf, etc.)

    iPhoto just never cut it for me. It's great for the entry level home photographer, and I do like the automatic web publishing feature, but it just really isn't up to snuff if you want to do anything more elaborate or fine tuned.

  9. violentbloom says:

    I've heard this is good, though I haven't tried it.

  10. sharding says:

    PhotoMechanic is great. I use it all the time, and it makes my workflow really easy. However, as you mention, it's kind of expensive and it probably does a lot of stuff you don't need. Someone else mentioned iView MediaPro, which I also have, and it's an ok option (I like PhotoMechanic a lot better for the part of the workflow you're talking about -- I use iView for archiving only).

    My experience with iPhoto is that it's pretty set in its ways about how to lay out the files. I've seen (but not really played with) a few apps or scripts that try to work around it, but it seems like that kind of a strategy is fairly fragile. Anything that tries to go against the One True Way an Apple application dictates is likely to break at some point...

  11. spikenheimer says:

    based on your post and some answers you've commented inline, here's my read -
    iPhoto will work for you but will change up a bit of your workflow, eliminating some steps and obfuscating others.

    as i read it, your basic workflow was:
    - move pictures and automagically systemically create photo sets
    - create archival directory of originals and create editing directories
    - cull out the junk
    - crop, spindle, mutilate photos
    - resize, subset and post.

    iPhoto will do all that for you. as already has been commented, "Rolls" allow this. what is missing is some level of tagging / keywording, but you can use the Roll comment and hopefully Spotlight will see this somewhere. what i've found is that apple doesnt export those comments as file comments into the JPG's exif data, instead spewing in "Applemark" into the Comment field. *sigh* otherwise, the EXIF data is preserved from the original as far as i can tell.
    what iPhoto also wont automagically do for you is the creation of new sets/rolls based on that time gap. at least iPhoto 4 didnt. i'm assuming iPhoto5 still doesnt. but the rest? it works fine. if you want better image manipulation, PhotoShop will obviously spin cartwheels around iPhoto, but it doesnt sound like thats what you want / need.
    so my take on your new workflow via iPhoto? (using iPhoto terms now too...)

    - Import Photos
    - Manually create separated Rolls
    - cull out the junk
    - crop, spindle, mutilate photos
    - Export to files w/ appropriate sizing and post

  12. bpw says:

    I'm surprised no one has mentioned this old mac standby. There are other solution that are perhaps more elegant, but GC is a swiss army knife for most task. It's shareware ($30), but it you can try if forever.

    Typically, I just use Image Capture to import my pictures from the camera, dumping the pictures in a folder labeled 'yyyymmddxxxx'; I do most of my 'vetting' before the pictures even see iPhoto. iPhoto is great for sharing photos, but isn't structured enough for editing and organizing files, imo.

    Just wanted to give you an inexpensive solution before checking out some of the heavyweights.

  13. allartburns says:

    I avoid iPhoto for the reasons you list. Mostly I use the Canon sw to drag images off the camera and do something similar to your RAW and EDIT categories.

    Photoshop CS2 has a boatload of new features I need to try out, including various workflow automation doodads. Will have to check out PhotoMechanic, but given I already have CS2, not sure I'll drop any more money on this.

  14. jimm3uller says:

    On a related note, is there already a tool for bulk-renaming a few hundrediTunes files from one disk to another? I grow weary of having my laptop's disk crammed full of podCasts from February, but easier and better than simultaneously deleting them all from my iTunes Library and from my disk (which iTunes doesn't make easy) would be just moving them onto my Firewire RAID and hacking the database files to know they've moved.

    I know, I know, I should want to delete the iTunes database and rebuild it anyway, because unless you do that at least once a week iTunes becomes really slow.

  15. jayrtfm says:

    Both Portfolio and Cumulus have been around for over 10 years. One feature I like is the ability to tag images with multiple hierarchical catagories

  16. If all you want to do is separate the good from the bad, and don't want a big, cumbersome Management Tool getting in your way, I highly recommend PhotoReviewer. It charges through a directory of photos, letting you move back and forth, giving the thumbs up or the thumbs down as appropriate. It'll move the thumbs up wherever you want, and the same with the thumbs down.

    It's a trivial little app, but it's fast and well-done. Nagware, $10.

    I really wanted to use iPhoto, but with my measly little 867MHz PowerBook, iPhoto chokes and dies if I try to import all my photos. It seems to scale worse than O(n), so there's just no hope if you take a lot of pictures. Day-by-day directories, PhotoReviewer, and Photoshop work well for me.

  17. ivo says:

    That's what you get for moving from a OS where you can do all the scripting you want, to an OS where some egomaniac decides what's best for you. Sure it has a BSD background, but you really don't ever see it when using Aqua.

    (good thing this aint slashdot and you can't mod me down :)

  18. darkengobot says:

    I shoot in RAW, so iPhoto is completely useless in the early stages. My workflow is somewhat similar to yours. I pull off the photos into folders named by date/event. These folders go into CDs--1 filed at work, 1 goes home. Then I use Bibble to convert all of the RAW images into TIFFs. Sometimes I'll just batch process, but sometimes I'll step through them one-by-one to make tweaks and adjustments.

    Once they're TIFFs, iPhoto steps in. It works well for showing clients, and for sitting down with a glass of wine and winnowing shots. It's facility to batch convert thumbnails and JPEGs for the Web is pretty simple, fast, and the quality is good. Feeling lazy and cheesy, I'll use iPhoto's HTML pages. You can CSS it if you want. Feeling bold and brassy, just dump the JPEG directories wherever they need to be for whatever custom arrangement I'm using. I don't worry much about whatever iPhoto's doing with the images because I know that whatever happens, I can go back to the RAW images, and keeping the images in TIFF format in iPhoto means good, non-lossy quality to play with. iPhoto's ability to have arbitrary groupings is handy for me. Sort and sort and sort, w00t.

    Downside is, obviously, huge disk usage. Shooting in RAW means smaller files than shooting TIFF, but they're still big. TIFFs on the disk eat storage. Also they're not nearly as fast to work with on my old G4, but not unbearable.

  19. vkulkarn says:

    Others have mentioned it, but I'll second their endorsement of Graphic Converter... Its browser view will allow you to do your pruning and copying easily... and then it can do all your basic color correction, etc.

    Best of all, you can try it out for free.

  20. pberry says:

    Just saw a post about renaming photos based on arbitrary exif data on flickr in Mac Central. If you give up on iPhoto this might be useful.