An efficient workflow requires planning. You can flail around and try everythingit's actually not a bad way to get your feet wetbut at some point, you have to decide what works, and stick with it.
Among the things you need to decide, and stick with, are the following:
You'll need to make plenty of decisions when you're working on your images. It's a Bad Idea to start making decisions about any of the aforementioned when you're working on a deadline, because doing so introduces complexity (of which you already have enough) and increases the chance of unintended consequences (which you want to avoid).
As we mentioned in earlier in this chapter, Bridge's cache performs the important task of storing image thumbnails, previews, and sort order. (For file types that can't support sidecar .xmp files, it also stores keywords and metadata, but that doesn't apply to raw formats.) Bridge's Advanced Preferences let you choose whether to use a central cache or distributed caches (see the Advanced Preferences section under "Preferences and the Bridge Menu" earlier in this chapter).
The only downside to using distributed cache files is that you end up with two cache files in every folder that Bridge ever sees. If that drives you crazy, by all means use a central cache instead, but do so with the clear knowledge that you run the risk of losing thumbnails, previews, and custom sort orders when you do any of the following:
You can work around these limitations of the central cache by using the Export Cache command from Bridge's Cache submenu (in the Tools menu), but you're introducing complexity that is unnecessary with distributed caches, and hence creating more opportunities for operator error.
When you use a central cache, you're putting all your eggs in one basket. You can control where the central cache gets stored, so you don't have to store it in the default location on your startup drive where it's vulnerable to permissions issues and other ills. But like pets, all hard drives die eventually, and storing all your caches in one folder incurs the risk that you'll lose them all. With distributed caches, every folder contains a cache automatically, you can copy and rename your folders without having to think about it, and when the inevitable does happen, you've only lost what was on that drive. (Which was of course backed up, right?)
Strategies for Settings
You can save Camera Raw settings either in the Camera Raw Database or in sidecar .xmp files. The same arguments may seem to apply to the Camera Raw Database as apply to the centralized Bridge cache, but in fact it's not that simple.
The Camera Raw Database indexes images by their content, not by their filenames, so you can copy, move, or rename them willy-nilly without losing track of your raw settingsbut only as long as the images remain on the same computer as the Camera Raw Database. Move them to another machine, and the settings are gone (or, rather, they're still on the originating computer where they'll do absolutely no good). If you always remember to use Camera Raw's Export Settings command to write out a sidecar .xmp file for the image, and you always remember to include the sidecar file with the image, there's no problem. But that's a lot of "always remembering."
Bridge does its best to keep track of sidecar .xmp filesas long as you only copy, move, and rename your raw files in Bridge, the sidecar files travel with them automatically. But if you copy, move, or rename your raw files outside of Bridge, you must keep track of your sidecar files and move them with the images manually. Again, it's not an ideal solution.
A third alternative is to use the DNG format instead. The convenience of having all the metadata, including Camera Raw settings, stored right in the file itself outweighs the one-time speed bump entailed in converting the raws to DNG. But if you want to use your camera vendor's converter, and your camera doesn't write DNG, you should stick with proprietary raws for your working files, at least for now.
What's in a Name?
If you want to make a practice of renaming your raw files, we suggest the following two simple rules:
Aside from these two simple rules, file naming conventions are limited only by your ingenuity. Don't overlook metadata as a source for naming elements, and expect to see ingestion scripts that offer more metadata-related naming features than Bridge's Batch Rename from both Adobe and third-party scripters.
Ratings and Labels
Bridge and Camera Raw offer two independent mechanisms, labels and ratings, for flagging images. Each mechanism offers six possible values: if you use them in combination, you can have 36 possible combinations of ratings and labels, which is almost certainly more than most people need!
If you think you can use a system with 36 values productively, knock yourself out. Otherwise, we suggest keeping things simple. The ratings system mimics the time-honored practice of making selects on a light table by marking the keepers from the first round with a single dot, adding a second dot to the keepers from the second round, and so on.
Bruce uses labels for various esoteric purposes. For example, he applies the purple label (renamed as "weird") to the ever-growing collection of high-ISO sodium-vapor-lit nighttime cityscapes he uses for testing noise reduction techniques, but hides them of the time. Labels are handy for this kind of use because they operate independently of the star-based rating system. If you can think of uses for them, go ahead and use them, but don't feel that just because a feature exists, you have to use it.
Simplicity Is Its Own Strategy
Camera Raw, Bridge, and Photoshop offer an amazing number of options. Only a genius or a fool would try to use them all. If, like us, you're neither, we recommend keeping things as simple as possible without making any overly painful compromises.
The four issues discussed in this sectionBridge cache, Camera Raw settings, naming conventions, and rating/labeling strategiesare things that can't be changed later without considerable pain. By all means spend some time trying out the options before setting your strategies in stone, but once you've found the approach that works best for you, don't change it arbitrarily. If you do, it's entirely likely that you'll lose work, whether it's Camera Raw edits, Bridge thumbnails, ratings, or simply winding up with a bunch of incomprehensibly named files. Any of these violates the first workflow principledo things once, efficientlyand you pay for it with that most precious commodity, your time.