After a successful evening photo shoot, there are those photographers who head to the pub for a congratulatory beer, and there are those photographers who head straight to their computers to download and review the day’s takings. When a photographer finally sits down to review the day’s take, what a photographer does next reveals something about his or her basic personality. Does he scan through the downloads, quickly grab an eye-catching image to process and then rip that baby off to Facebook or Flickr? Or does he methodically back up the entire shoot before starting to sort, keyword and star favourites? In the first scenario, images from the rest of the shoot are forgotten until one day far in the future when the photographer trolls through the raw images gathering digital dust on the computer and processes and posts another one or two possible worthwhile shots. The remaining images will likely never see the light of day, ultimately relegated to hard drive hell until they are lost or deleted. The other way in which photographers approach their images is more linear: the shooter methodically organizes the images before starting to process the keepers (which are processed most likely in the exact order in which they were shot!)
Pickers and Counters
We’ve got a name for these two styles of managing your images. For the shooters who quickly scan through their images, pulling out only the eye-catching ones, we have deemed them cherry pickers since they have the excellent skill of selecting just the best from an outing. For those shooters who hunker down at their computers, methodically organizing, sorting and slotting their images into an orderly system, we’ve come up with the name bean counters because they remind us of detail-oriented accountants. (Please note that, by comparing photographers to accountants, and accountants to photographers, no slur was intended to either party – they are both equally weird in our opinion!) Neither approach to image storage and retrieval is inherently better than the other. There are pros and cons to both ways of dealing with your pictures after a shoot. But being able to identify which one most describes how YOU deal with your images will help you avoid the disadvantages and reap the benefits of your particular approach to image storage.
The Bean Counter Approach
First, our confession: we tend to fall into the bean counter category (but only after we have been to the pub first!) This is partly from the necessity of the past: in the film days, there was no software program to sort, keyword, and help with organizing your images – you had to do it yourself, and we came up with methodical ways to be able to find a slide or negative at a moment’s notice in case someone wanted to buy what we had shot. But the methodical approach also results from personality: we can’t stand it when we lose things! And we hate to leave things unfinished. Looking at folder after folder of unprocessed images drives us crazy and makes it hard for us to move on to new shoots and projects. Obviously, this more ‘anal-retentive’ approach sometimes holds us back from going to shoot new things or from getting fresh images posted right away. So much for being free-spirited!
The Cherry Picker Approach
On the other hand, we have a friend who is an avid shooter and is truly spontaneous. He loves to come back from a shoot, dump images onto his computer, find his favourites for a quick process, and quickly share them with friends. Once, in a fit of rage after spending over an hour trying to find one photograph, he committed to organizing the thousands of images that were scattered in folders on his computer. When we checked back with him, he’d progressed as far as having descriptors for the folders, but his system was akin to a Paleolithic version of the rating program in Adobe Lightroom. Rather than using stars, he used adjectives like, ‘Good’, ‘Better’, ‘Keepers’ and, our favourite, ‘Sh*t’. In the end, he confessed that it wasn’t a helpful system.
The Solution: A Little Balance for Both Approaches
So, what is the ideal solution? Well, this is where you will want to proudly declare your personality when it comes to images: ‘fess up – are you a cherry picker or a bean counter? No matter what is your style, when it comes time to organizing your photo library, you’re also going to want to think carefully about how you share and use your images.
But before we get to the meaty part of this post, we have to confess that we’re not going to solve all of your organizational woes. No one can do the dirty work for you. At some point, you’re going to have to set aside the time to create a system of image storage and retrieval that works for you. But we can share some things we’ve learned that help cherry pickers get a little more organized and bean counters a little less anal. In the end, our message has to do more with the delete key than in some magical folder structure designed to help you stay organized.
For Cherry Pickers!
Admit it – you’re simply not that organized. Well, so what! It’s time to embrace those skills that make you a cherry picker. You can flip through folders of images faster than a squirrel in a peanut factory, quickly narrowing in on the best options. The rest of the stuff you’ll likely never revisit or even care about, so why clog up your computer? We highly recommend you use Adobe Lightroom to process your images. Lightroom is great for processing raw images and it will keep track of your photos for you (as long as you don’t make new folders or move images around outside of Lightroom). Think of Ligthroom as an image ‘maid’ helping you keep your photographic house in order.
The biggest hurdle faced by the cherry pickers is their tendency to keep every image they have ever made – just in case. Well, the odds of National Geographic calling you for a cover shot of your favourite potted plant are rare. From what we know about this personality type, your strength is that you face forward and rarely look back. So don’t keep all those old raw files for some day in the future that will never come. After a certain period of time (one month, one year), delete forever any images that have not been important enough to process to date. Clutter is costly; take the cherries and throw away the rotten stuff! Less images to organize means your system can be organized simply based on subject matter, shot date or by client project. As well, Lightroom can help you find images with its robust keyword search functions (if you bother to take the time to keyword your cherry-picked images).
For Bean Counters!
Linear structure is the order of the day. You shine with your thoughtful, hierarchical, cross-referenced, thrice-backed up image storage system. You are the envy of your photographer friends. Too bad they’re out taking pictures and you’re still dealing with last year’s images! The good news is that you don’t have to account for and catalog every bean. You gotta loosen up a bit! Here is what we suggest. Download your images, back them up and then leave them. That’s right. Don’t even look at them! That will probably drive you crazy but it’s good for you. Here’s why: as bean counters ourselves, we used to get back from a shoot and toil for hours processing and cataloging the entire shoot. In the end, we found we only ever posted, sold or showed about 10% of the images we processed. The other 90% never went out in the real world. In other words, we cherry picked after the fact!
So now, whenever we can, we let a shoot ‘mature’, often for several months, before we even start to sort through it (even waiting a week is very helpful in this regard). By sorting through the images at a later date, we were emotionally less attached to the shoot and we could be more objective about judging our photos. We find the longer we delay processing a shoot, the less we find worthy of retaining. With this ‘waiting game’, we are better able to zone in on the final 10% worth keeping without processing and cataloging the 90% that is really just ‘sloppy seconds’. Of course, if you’re a commercial or assignment photographer, this approach might not work for paying clients but for personal work it’s the ticket!
As far as software goes, bean counters can pick whatever they like. Personally, we get a bit grumpy when programs like Lightroom that try to ‘help’ us organize our image libraries. We prefer a program that lets us control our file structures outside of image processing software. We use Adobe Bridge in conjunction with Photoshop to convert and process raw images. Bridge does not get grumpy if we move folders and images around outside of the program.
The Benefit of Time
In the end, for both cherry pickers and bean counters, having the benefit of time between capture and output will provide a little emotional distance from your work so that you can more objectively identify and keep only the best compositions. Fewer images to organize and store will make you a lean, mean processing machine. In the end, we find the ‘delete’ key is a good friend for both kinds of shooters! After all, as photographers, most of us want to spend more time shooting and less time at the computer, right? Whether you’re a cherry picker or a bean counter, pick the right processing software and learn to love letting go of your second-bests.