Planning and Strategy

An efficient workflow requires planning. Photoshop CS, Bridge, and Camera Raw 2.x offered a limited amount of workflow flexibility. Photoshop CS2, Bridge, and Camera Raw 3.x offer many more options. You can flail around and try everythingit's actually not a bad way to get your feet wet, though I hope you'll use the information in this chapter to make your flailing somewhat methodicalbut 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:

  • Bridge cache. You can use a centralized cache, or use distributed caches. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, but your life will be simpler, and your workflow more robust, if you pick one approach and stick to it.

  • Camera Raw settings for individual images. You can save the Camera Raw settings for each image in the Camera Raw database, in sidecar .xmp files, or in the case of DNG format, in the DNG file itself. It's slightly easier to switch from one approach to another in Bridge with Camera Raw 3.x than it was with File Browser and Camera Raw 2.x, but doing so requires considerable work and a great deal of care.

  • File naming conventions. After much wrestling with the subject, I no longer rename my raw filesI rely on keywords and other metadata to help me find my images. But that isn't an approach that works for everyone. If you do rename your raw files, though, pick a naming convention that makes sense to you, and stick with it.

  • Labels and ratings. The labels and ratings you apply in Bridge or Camera Raw are simply arbitrary flags. Labels and ratings give you two sets of flags, each of which contains six possible values when you include no label and no rating. It's entirely up to you what they mean. Again, pick a system that makes sense to you, and stick with it!

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 above 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).

Who Has the Cache?

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 (Mac)" in Chapter 6, Adobe Bridge).

The only downside to using distributed cache files is that you wind 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:

  • Rename a folder outside of Bridge.

  • Copy a folder outside of Bridge.

  • Burn a folder to removable media such as CD-ROM or DVD.

  • Copy a folder to a different computer.

You can work around these limitations of the central cache by making sure that you use the Export Cache command from Bridge's Tools>Cache submenu, but you're introducing complexity that is unnecessary with distributed caches, and hence creating more opportunities for operator error. If you're downloading images to a laptop computer in the field, with the eventual goal of transferring them to a desktop machine back in the studio for further processing, I'll come straight out and say that it's just crazy to use a central cache on the laptop. (Using a central cache on the desktop I deem merely eccentric.)

A second argument against a central cache is that when you use it, 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).

Strategies for Settings

You can save Camera Raw settings either in the Camera Raw Database or in sidecar .xmp files. Superficially, it may seem that the same arguments 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). You can work around this limitation by always remembering to use Camera Raw's Export Settings command to write out a sidecar .xmp file for the image, and always remembering to include the sidecar file with the image. But that's a lot of "always remembering."

If you use sidecar .xmp files instead, Bridge does its best to keep track of them. As long as you use Bridge to copy, move, and rename your raw files, the sidecar files travel with them automatically. But if you copy, move, or rename your raw files outside of Bridge, it's up to you to keep track of your sidecar files and move them with the images manually. Again, it's not an ideal solution.

There's a third alternative, which is to use the DNG format instead. This is a topic that's sufficiently nuanced to deserve its own discussion, so see the sidebar "Working with DNG" on the following page. Those of you with sharp eyes will doubtless have noticed that all the screen shots in this book use DNG images. My personal opinion is that unless you like to bounce back and forth between Camera Raw and your camera vendor's proprietary raw converter, a DNG workflow makes more sense than one based on proprietary raws. 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. You may, however, want to consider using DNG with the original raw embedded as an archival format. See "Archiving Images," later in this chapter.

Working with DNG

The DNG format is, as previously noted, Adobe's proposed standard for a documented, open, nonproprietary raw format.

From a workflow standpoint, DNG files offer at least one major advantage: they're designed to be metadata-friendly, so if you use DNG files, you don't need sidecar .xmp files to hold your Camera Raw settings or other metadata. Instead, all these things get written directly into the DNG file, so they can't get lost or dissocciated from the image.

DNG Downsides

There are really only two downsides to the DNG format.

  • You have to convert your proprietary raw files to DNG, which takes time.

  • The DNG files can't be opened by your proprietary raw converter.

If, like me, you're perfectly happy with Camera Raw and don't plan on using your camera vendor's proprietary raw software, the second point is moot, but if you like to bounce back and forth between Camera Raw and the proprietary converter, DNG isn't well suited to doing so. You can embed the original raw in a DNG, but you have to take the time to extract it before you can work with the proprietary raw, so DNG with original raw embedded is intended more as an archival format than as one suited for everyday use.

That leaves the first point. The slow way to get to DNG is to run all your proprietary raws through the Adobe DNG Converter application before you start working on your images. That's not always an acceptable solution since it takes some time.

A better method, the one I favor, is to make selects and initial edits on the proprietary raw files, then to use Camera Raw hosted by either Bridge or Photoshop, depending on which application I want to continue using, to batch-save the raws to DNG. Once I've saved everything as DNG, I make an archive using DNG with the original raw images embedded. Then I simply discard the proprietary raw files.

DNG Advantages

I do this to exploit the advantages of the DNG format. First and foremost, all the information in the proprietary raw files' sidecar .xmp filesCamera Raw settings, keywords, copyright and rights management noticesgets saved directly into the DNG so I no longer need to worry about sidecar files.

A second benefit of DNG is that it can contain a full-size or medium-size JPEG preview that third-party asset managers can use instead of having to spend time parsing the raw data before it can display the image. Photoshop and Bridge make use of the embedded preview in a very limited wayPhotoshop displays the preview in the File>Open dialog box, and Bridge uses it to display the initial thumbnail before building its high-quality previews. One reason that Photoshop and Bridge don't make greater use of the embedded previews is that Camera Raw 3.0 doesn't update the preview when you edit a DNG in Camera Raw, although it does when you save a new, edited DNG. Obviously this is not an ideal situation for those who want to use DNG with third-party asset managers, so here's some late-breaking news.

Camera Raw 3.1

By the time you read this, however, Camera Raw 3.1 will likely be available for download from Adobe's Web site. In addition to providing support for new cameras such as Nikon's D2X and Canon's EOS Digital Rebel XT, Camera Raw 3.1 introduces two new preferences that are relevant only in a DNG workflowsee Figure 7-1.

Figure 7-1. Camera Raw 3.1 Preferences

The first new preference item, Ignore sidecar ".xmp" files, addresses a relatively obscure situation that arises only when you have a DNG and a proprietary raw version of the same image in the same folder, and they're identically named except for the extension. If you edit the proprietary raw file, Camera Raw 3 also applies the edits to the DNG, to maintain compatibility with Photoshop CS and Photoshop Elements 3, both of which write sidecar files for DNG. The preference setting lets you tell Camera Raw 3.1 to ignore sidecar files and leave the DNG alone in this situation.

The second preference item, Update embedded JPEG previews, lets you tell Camera Raw 3.1 to always update the preview when you edit a DNG. The penalty for doing so is that you take a speed hit because the previews take time to build and save. The advantage is that the embedded previews accurately reflect the current state of the image.

You can also defer the speed hit by working with this preference turned off. Then, when you want to update the previews, choose Export Settings from the Camera Raw menu. You'll see the dialog box shown in Figure 7-2, which allows you to update the Medium SIze or Full Size preview.

Figure 7-2. Export Settings for DNG

You can skip the dialog box by pressing Option or Alt when you choose Export Settings, in which case Camera Raw will update the preview size you selected the last time you opened the dialog box.

Preview Size

When you choose Full Size preview, Camera Raw 3.1 actually embeds both Full Size and Medium Size previews, so smart applications can extract only the amount of data they need for thumbnails while allowing you to zoom to see the actual pixels. The only downsides to Full Size previews are that they take slightly longer to build and make a slightly larger file. If you need only thumbnail support in a third-party application, you can save yourself a little time by using the Medium Size option, but the savings are small, and if you change your mind later and decide you need full-size previews, any savings are wiped out.

Full Size gets you the best of both worlds, and since Camera Raw 3.1 is flexible about when you take the speed hit, it's the option I prefer.

Bear in mind too that you can choose which application, Bridge or Photoshop, gets tied up building the previews so that you can continue working in the other application while the one hosting Camera Raw builds the previews in the background.

You may have noticed that all the screen shots in this book use images in DNG format. When I initially made the decision to use DNG in the book, I confess that I did so partly for political reasons. But now that I've come to enjoy the benefits of the DNG workflow, and the absence of sidecar files, I'll never go back to proprietary raws.

What's in a Name?

I don't, personally, make a practice of renaming my raw files, simply because I haven't found a compelling reason to do so. That said, I know a good many photographers whose sophisticated naming schemes are a core part of their workflow, so I'm not in any way against the practice.

If you do want to make a practice of renaming your raw files, I suggest the following two simple rules:

  • Adopt a naming convention that makes sense to you, and stick to it (in other words, be methodical).

  • What's in a name? Anything you want, but if you want that name to be consistently readable across platforms and operating systems, stick to alphanumeric charactersno spaces (underscore works everywhere), and no special characters.

    The only place a period should appear is immediately in front of the extensiontoday's OSs have a tendency to treat everything following a period as an extension, and promptly hide it, so periods in the middle of filenames are very likely to cause those filenames to be truncated. Many special characters are reserved for special uses by one or another operating system. Including them in filenames can produce unpredictable results, so don't!

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 (see Figure 6-32 in Chapter 6, Adobe Bridge) both from Adobe and from 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, I suggest keeping things simple. I prefer to avoid using labels because they introduce large blobs of color into an environment where the only color I want to see is the color in my images, so I use ratings instead.

The ratings system was designed to mimic 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. That's how I use itit's simple and effective.

I do make limited use of labels for various esoteric purposes. For example, I've applied the purple label (which I've renamed "weird") to the ever-growing collection of high-ISO sodium-vapor-lit nighttime cityscapes that I use for testing noise reduction techniques, and hide most of the rest of the time. Labels are handy for this kind of use because they can operate completely 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.

Remember that if you want to use labels to communicate something about images to someone else, you and they need use the same definitions of the labels. If they're different, the recipient will get a bunch of images with white labels, indicating that a label has been applied, but with different label text than is currently specified in their Labels preferences. (See Figure 6-14 in Chapter 6, Adobe Bridge.) They can search the metadata for your label text, but since labels are meant to be an easy visual way to identify something about the images, you'd likely be better off using keywords instead.

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 me, you're neither, I recommend keeping things as simple as possible without making any overly painful compromises.

The four issues that I've called out in this sectionBridge cache, Camera Raw settings, naming conventions, and rating/labeling strategiesare things that can't be changed without going through considerable pain. You can certainly 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.

Real World Camera Raw with Adobe Photoshop CS2 Industrial-Strength Production Techniques
Real World Camera Raw with Adobe Photoshop CS2 Industrial-Strength Production Techniques
Year: 2006
Pages: 112 © 2008-2017.
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