Saturday, January 15, 2005

Create a personal digital workflow

We've already discussed How professional digital work flows. We discovered a professional workflow uses several powerful software programs to give PJs and image administrators control over images on a primarily Mac platform.

Frequently, the individual PJ doesn't have the resources to purchase all these software programs or the hardware to support them. This entry is geared toward PJs who need to accomplish many of the same initial steps without the overhead expenses and with a standard personal computer (PC).

This is a long post because all of these steps are required for each set of images. Consequently, there's no way to break it down to reasonable bites. The example below uses one flash card with a single reader.

PJs with personal PCs are expected to have the following minimum core elements: a computer (PC or Mac), a monitor, one or more card readers, a CD writer and a full version of Adobe Photoshop.

Calibration is important. I'll need to completely expand on this one day. For now, PJs can calibrate their home monitor to images at NPPA (they removed the contest calibration image). Open the image and adjust the monitor settings until the test image appears as expected.

In short, there is no "industry standard" because each system is calibrated backward from a particular press. However, this test image is the standard for international competition and is fine for most PC users. Once calibrated, monitors should display acceptable brightness, contrast and color balance for use on the PJ's personal system or the Web.

If the test image appears washed out or extremely dark even after all adjustments have been made, it might be time to have the monitor checked or get a new one.

Check supplies
Before PJs start into the home workflow, they need to verify they have all image cards, any assignment forms and cutline information. If something is missing, get it before starting.

The first few steps are difficult and mistakes can add expense (CDs and time) if PJs aren't adequately prepared.

Create work folders
Work folders should help PJs organize their files. For this example, we'll assume all images were shot on one date at one location or (at least) under one manageable theme. If multiple subjects are recorded onto one card, the PJ should consider creating a folder for each distinct subject. It'll make sense in a moment as to why.

Create a folder on the computer desktop for the images on the card. Title the folder with a date and a one-word slug. For sorting and archive purposes, it's best to format the folder name as YYYYMMDD-slug (for example: 20050115-Birds).

In all cases, the point of the first step is to back-up the images from the flashcard onto a second (hopefully stable) platform. As long as two copies of the images exist, PJs can begin to breathe easier.

Place the card into a card reader. Copy images directly into the desktop folder. Once all images are copied, remove the flash card from the reader to avoid permanent mistakes. Secure the card in a card wallet.

Without sophisticated ingestion programs, PJs must work through Photoshop to infuse information into the images. The infused information allows PJs to quickly prepare images for resale or presentation. Although I don't personally know of a way to search the Web for imbedded file attributes, I'm sure someone knows how or is working on a way to recover this information. This ability will mean a secure income for PJs of the future if their images are imbedded with proper copyright notices.

This process looks difficult at first glance, but becomes second nature over time. It also saves countless hours of digging through shoeboxes of crumpled papers for cutline information.

Set attributes
Open any of the image files. Open the File Info dialog box. Complete the sections labeled: Author, Caption, Caption Writer, Copyright Status, Copyright Notice, Owner URL, Date Created, City, State/Province and Country.

Different versions of Photoshop locate these boxes in different order under "Section." Include a stable e-mail address or phone number in the Credit box. Additional keywords can be added to the keyword section if desired.

Make the caption (cutline) as specific as possible in general information (day, date, place), but leave some wiggle room for variances. Because these files are probably personal property and copyright, consider taking the time to include all possible names, notes and phone numbers into the caption field. Again, it's virtually impossible to include too much searchable information into your own archive system.

Once all the boxes are complete, Save the File Info. A dialog box requests a location and name. Use the slug word for the name and save it inside the desktop folder with the images. Hit OK. Close the image file, you don't need to save the image file now.

Automate attributes
Next, we'll automate the attributes to infuse all with the same information. Open any image file. Open Actions from the Window menu in Photoshop. If the Actions are in button mode, change to record mode. From Actions, select New Action. Name the new action "Attributes" or "Cutlines" or "Bob" if you want to be a smartypants. The program will add .XMP to the file name. Hit Record.

Open the File Info dialog box. Hit Load. When the caution box opens, it's OK to overwrite existing information (i.e. add info to blank info). Choose the (*.XMP) file you saved a moment ago. Hit OK. Select Save, select Close. Hit the Stop Recording button on the Actions box.

From the Photoshop menu, choose "File, Automate, Batch..." Choose the correct Source Folder (the current image folder on the desktop) and choose "Folder" for the destination folder. Make sure the "Attributes" (or whatever you named it) Action is selected. Hit OK and your computer starts freaking out (it's supposed to do so).

The batch file opens each file individually, applies the attributes, saves and closes the file for the entire folder. Once the process is done, open any image file and check the File Info to certify the attributes are now imbedded.

Cut CD
The CD is the de facto archive. At this point, the PJ should have the original digital files safely on the original card as well as a copy of the images infused with attributes. Cut a CD of the infused copy images.

Common CD burning programs are Toast (Mac) and Easy Media Creator (PC), both by Roxio.

Check the CD to ensure images are located and accessible on the CD. If so, remove the burned CD, use a bold permanent marker and mark it with assignment number (if applies), date, PJ's name and content keywords (i.e. East vs. West boys soccer, tanker explosion, etc...). Place the CD in a protective sleeve or case and store it in the permanent archive.

Now change the music from Enya to AC/DC because your are covered baby. :-)

Additional steps
If time allows, PJs should update their archive database and may choose to create and run additional batch commands to prepare images for use or edit images from the copy file on the desktop. Prepare the images and write specific cutlines for edited images. If something goes wrong, start again from the secure CD.

Enough for now,


Eric Hancock said...

Hi Mark - I really enjoy reading your 'blog.

One comment on this entry, though. Some CD-R manufacturers strongly recommend against using adhesive labels on recordable CD media. Something about the label tends to cause the CD-R to become unreadable.

For anything intended to live more than a few months, the recommendation is to use a Sharpie.

Mark M. Hancock said...

Thanks for the note. I'll drop the label part and stick with the marker. I use a marker with my own archive, but I put lables on resume and contest CDs. In a strange way, it's probably best I do it this way.
Thanks again for you input and advice. It's greatly appreciated.

Daaave said...

Hi Mark, this makes an interesting read and is quite useful. I have a question though about the file properties.

When I set the attributes of a picture and save in PS it works just fine, in the PS file browser all attributes are clearly present .But in Windows when I right click then show properties of that pic, only the copyright info shows up. The author, title, caption etc all stay blank. Any ideas? Is this normal, or do I need to change something in my Windows set-up do you think?

Mark M. Hancock said...

PS is an Adobe product. Windows is a product founded by Bill Gates. Bill Gates also owns the stock photo agency Corbis. A+B doesn't always equal c, but it's not a bug I could see them fix or a function I could see them following.
Most importantly, the information is held within the file. When the image is recalled in PS or in MediaGrid, all the info is attached.
In 10 years, you'll be happy you went to the extra effort.