What is “digital workflow” and why do you need it?

What is Digital Workflow?

If you needed to find a specific image file for a photo that you captured, say, five years ago, how long do you think it would take for you to find it (if you could find it at all)?

Well, if you have your digital workflow act together, it should only take you a matter of seconds.

Yes, I said, seconds.

I know what you’re probably saying:  “What do you mean by ‘digital workflow’? Isn’t that just for professional photographers?”

Actually, no, it’s not.  We all need it.

And, you’re likely feeling a bit self-conscious that you don’t have a very organized system for those thousands of digital photos that you’ve created since you got your first digital camera.  It was so much easier in the film days when you made albums out of your prints and labeled your negative envelopes with the subject matter, wasn’t it?  That is, of course, if you remember those things called “film” and “negatives”.

digital workflow

So, what exactly is this thing called “digital workflow”, and why is it so important?

In its most basic form, “digital workflow” is the process you undertake from the time you set up your camera to capture an image, to the time you process it in your computer with some sort of editing program and ready it for its end use (e.g., printing or e-mailing), to the time you prepare the files for archiving (i.e., you store them somewhere other than your main computer hard drive). And, there are a whole host of steps in between, not the least of which is backing up your files in case the hard drive on your computer decides to suddenly kick the bucket.

Ah, who cares about this stuff?  I put my memory card in my camera, take a couple of hundred pics, dump them on my computer and forget about them until I need them.

 Simple.  End of story.”

Yep, “end of story” is exactly what you will have if your hard drive crashes and you don’t have anything (including your non-photography stuff) backed up.  How “simple” would it be then?

Having said all of that, there is no cause for a dire emergency, but wouldn’t it make sense for you to be more organized with your files and have the peace of mind that everything is backed up properly?

Wouldn’t it be great if you had a consistent, efficient system for working with your photos, one that allowed you to spend more time taking pictures than sitting at your desk trying to find them in a random bunch of disorganized file folders?

Wouldn’t it be great if with the press of a button or two, you could call up every shot of your friends or family from over the years without the need to search through every photo folder that you created since the turn of the century?

Fortunately, there are some excellent software programs out there to help you with your digital workflow needs, and such software may be the best investment you make in your photographic endeavors.  My software of choice is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.  I’ve been using it for about three years, and I can honestly say that it has changed my creative life (for the better, of course!).  I believe it is worth every bit of $300 (and, no, Adobe is not paying me to say this).

Regardless of the software you choose to keep yourself organized and secure, some of the things that you should be thinking about with regard to your digital work flow are:

  • Backing up your image files on to at least one other storage medium (e.g. DVD or a “cloud” service)
  • Renaming files (to prevent duplicate file names)
  • Adding keyword “tags” (which are paramount in helping you find things at a later date)
  • Adding and analyzing metadata (also helps in finding things and recording info)
  • Ranking your images (to identify which are the best or need to be deleted altogether)
  • Creating a catalog for your images (one of the key functions of Lightroom)
  • Cropping your compositions (when needed)
  • Correcting exposure, contrast and white balance (your digital darkroom operations)
  • Add sharpening and noise reduction (if needed)
  • Create black-and-white and toned conversions (while maintaining a color version)
  • Sharing your work through prints, web pages and slide shows
  • Effectively archiving your images in order to free up space on your main hard drive

It is important to note that the key to all of this is consistency.  Once you establish a defined process to push your images through system, your life will become a whole lot easier.  In fact, you can automate much of this workflow once you establish a set of processes that are applied to every image that comes out of your digital camera.

The result?  More time to enjoy the photography side of digital photography and, yes, you’ll be able find any image in your catalog in a matter of seconds.

Imagine that?


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