Two years ago, I decided to jump ship from Lightroom to Capture One Pro. At the time, it seemed like a brave move, but after an afternoon of testing I felt somewhat confident, so jump I did. Two years on, I can confirm that this has been the best thing I could have done for my photography.
Recent changes to the Lightroom product strategy have lots of people asking for help, so when my friends at Phase One asked me last week to write a post outlining points to consider when migrating from Lightroom to Capture One Pro, I jumped at the chance, and I’m sharing that article as this week’s podcast and blog post.
Preparing to Migrate
In case you recall some of the details of my original post on jumping ship, I’d like to mention that Capture One Pro now supports Photoshop PSD files, so it’s no longer necessary to convert any PSD files that you might have to a different format. You can keep them in your library as they are. I also talked about cleaning up Catalogs, to avoid extra work after the migration, but this is no longer necessary either, although a bit of spring cleaning doesn’t hurt.
Export Your Lightroom Catalogs
When I was using Lightroom, I had every image I’ve shot since 2000 in a single catalog, but Capture One Pro does not work well with this many images in a single catalog, so it’s best to split images into multiple smaller catalogs.
Note that in both Lightroom and Capture One Pro, I do not keep my images inside the Catalog. I think this makes backing up hard work, and is less transparent and therefore more error-prone than referencing images in an external folder structure. My main archive of raw images lives in a folder called Photo Originals, and at the time that I migrated, resulting in one catalog for 2000 to 2005 images, and then a separate year catalog for all years from 2006 to 2015.
To prepare to import these years into separate Capture One catalogs I right clicked each year folder in Lightroom and selected Export This Folder as a Catalog. I was able to select multiple folders and export them as a single catalog for years 2000 to 2005. I have one special folder that I call Finals, and this contains a copy of every image I’ve ever shot that is worth a hoot. It’s like my Keepers folder and has images just in year subfolders. I exported this as a separate catalog as well, in preparation to migrate.
If unlike me, you already have multiple Lightroom catalogs, you will need to decide how you want to organize these in Capture One Pro, and export your various catalogs accordingly.
In the Export dialog in Lightroom, uncheck the three checkboxes to Export negative files, Build/include Smart Previews and Include available previews in the new Catalog. The export process is quick, and once you have your bite-sized Catalogs exported from Lightroom, you are ready to import into Capture One.
Importing Lightroom Catalogs into Capture One
To import a Lightroom Catalog, open Capture One Pro, and if you don’t already have a catalog to import to, create one from the dialoag that is displayed. I personally prefer to work with Catalogs rather than Sessions.
If you are creating year catalogs like me, just give your catalog a name like 2018, or whatever year you need, then from the File menu select Import Catalog > Lightroom Catalog. The following dialog (below) will tell you what settings will be imported, which includes Collections, Crop, Rotation, and Orientation information as well as White Balance, Exposure, Saturation and Contrast settings, and Metadata, including IPTC, Rating, Color Label and Keywords.
Capture One Pro stores more information and previews inside the Catalog than Lightroom does, which I imagine is the main reason that Catalogs can’t contain that many images. I have found my strategy of keeping my original raw files for each year in single year catalogs to work very well.
My 2016 original photos catalog, the year that I jumped-ship, ended up a little over 30 GB, and my 2017 catalog was 40 GB, each containing around 22,000 images. I can’t say if Capture One Pro has got better at handling large catalogs since then, but I have grown to like having each year’s original raw images in a catalog of its own, so I’ve had no reason to try larger catalogs at this point. My Finals catalog for my final selects for all of my shots is just over 11 GB, and only grows gradually, so this strategy has worked out well too.
Note that in the Image tab of the Capture One Pro preferences, I have my Metadata settings set to Full Sync for the Auto Sync Sidecar XMP option. I turn off Prefer Embedded XMP over Embedded IPTC and turn on Prefer Sidecar XMP over Embedded Metadata.
These settings enable me to work in a similar way to how I worked in Lightroom, with most of the information about adjustments I make to images stored in the XMP sidecar files, although even with these settings, Capture One Pro does rely on data stored in the catalog as well.
With my method though, when I make a copy of my final select images to my Finals catalog, all of the changes I made to my images are correctly restored, due also to the various files that Capture One Pro writes to the target directory during this process. To make my copies I right click the images in Capture One Pro and select Export > Originals, and then go to my Finals Catalog and right click the year folder that I copied the images to, and choose Synchronize.
Note though that to Synchronize adjustments you have to turn on the Show Importer checkbox, and manually select all the images in the Import dialog for this to work. If you press the Import All button without first selecting the images, none of the image adjustments will be restored.
Working on Multiple Computers
I like to keep my images and catalog on an external drive so that I can move from computer to computer by just moving the drive. I was able to continue to do this with Capture One Pro, although my method is not entirely sanctioned by the Phase One Team, so try what I’m about to tell you at your own risk.
I achieve this by storing my Capture One Pro settings folder in Dropbox, with a symbolic link to the settings folder in the Library (on Mac OS). This way, all of my presets and settings automatically synchronize between my computers, so just moving my drive with my images and catalog on it from one computer to another works seamlessly. Rather than bloating this post, you can check out my post on how I do this, along with my backup strategy, etc. in the episode 570 post.
Capture One Tutorials
This was a relatively short post, with a thousand character limit, but I have created a number of Capture One Pro tutorials covering various aspects of the product, which you can list and reference using the at https://mbp.ac/cotutorials.
From a Lightroom user’s perspective, you will notice some differences in how Capture One Pro does things, but in the two-plus years since I switched, not once have I been disappointed by my decision.
If you want an application that works the same as Lightroom, then stay with Lightroom. But, if you want ultimate image quality, and you are willing to make a few changes to your workflow, I think it’s worth the effort to change.
Over the years I’ve developed and evolved a pretty sound file management workflow for working with Lightroom on multiple computers, both in the office and when I’m traveling. I’ve talked about various aspects of this in previous episodes, but I thought I’d report on my current image management workflow for the mobile photographer.
I’m going to explain how I currently manage my Lightroom catalog, settings and presets, and my photographs and video archives, including how I now move from one computer to another quite seamlessly, but first a little background.
Until now, I’ve kept my Lightroom catalog on the internal hard drive of my desktop and laptop computers, and synched between the two before I made any major changes to the library. This works and if you have a fast enough network, it’s not too much of a pain to sync your catalogs, but because the previews that Lightroom creates can often become quite a hefty chunk of data, I used to leave them out of the synchronisation, which means that I’d have to rebuild previews on the other computer before I could quickly view images. If I synchronised the image previews as well, it took quite a bit longer, and that can really slow you down when you need to move computers, which I sometimes do multiple times each day.
My entire digital workflow revolves around Lightroom, so rather than synching the Lightroom catalog and my most recent work from computer to computer, I figured that it would be easier to just put it all on an external hard drive, and move that around. I’ve been doing this a while now, and never been happier with my workflow, which is why I decided to share this today. Let’s first look at what you need to put on that external hard drive to make this all work smoothly.
Lightroom Settings folder contents
Firstly, I recommend that you set up Lightroom so that it saves all its presets with the catalog. This means when you move the Lightroom catalog all of your settings will go with it. If you don’t do this, you’ll still have to synch the settings around separately, which we want to avoid.
To make this change go to Lightroom’s Preferences, then under the Presets tab, turn on the “Store presets with this catalog” checkbox. You’ll now see a “Lightroom Settings” folder in the same location as your Lightroom catalog (right).
If you don’t know where your Lightroom catalog is, go to the Catalog Settings and you’ll see the path to your catalog under the General tab’s Information section. There is a “Show” button there. Click that, and check that your Lightroom settings are now with your catalog. This is also of course where you’ll need to go to copy your catalog to your external hard drive. (Just copy the entire Lightroom directory, including your Lightroom Catalog.lrcat file and your Lightroom Catalog Previews.lrdata file/folder to your external hard drive when you’re ready.)
One Lightroom Catalog
Note that apart from a catalog with one image in that I use in an automated process to keep my printer from running unnecessary head cleaning processes, I have all of my images in a single Lightroom catalog. I currently have almost 300,000 images including some videos in my catalog, and it runs fine, so I like to keep them all in a single catalog.
This makes it easy to search across my entire library for images and build collections from absolutely anything I’ve shot. If you use multiple catalogs, you’ll need to decide which ones to use with this workflow, or just ensure that you move all of them to your external hard drive.
To ensure that Lightroom works as fast as it can with this portable workflow, I recently bought a Drobo Mini with 4 x 1TB 7200 rpm hard drives, and a Crucial 250GB mSATA Internal SSD which I put into the bottom of the Drobo Mini as an accelerator disk. This speeds up Drobos so much that as long as you are using Thunderbolt to connect them to your computer, you really just don’t have to worry about the hard drive speed. It’s not as fast as an internal SSD drive, but it’s fast enough to run Lightroom stress-free directly from the external hard drive.
You can also run Lightroom from slower portable hard drives, but I suggest that you use at least USB3.0 connected drives, such as the WD My Passport Ultra drives that I use in my ultra-light portable workflow when I simply cannot carry the weight of the Drobo Mini in addition to my MacBook Pro. This may be necessary especially when traveling overseas, as the one downside of the Drobo Mini is that it isn’t very, well, mini. It’s quite a hefty piece of kit to carry around in addition to a laptop.
[UPDATE Aug 1, 2015: Note that I’ve pretty much stopped using the Drobo Mini. Having to plug it into the power every time I wanted to use it became quite tiresome after a while. It’s also just too big for any kind of air travel. I have now started to use Western Digital My Passport Pro 4TB drives. These are Thunderbolt only, so won’t work on Windows at this point, but they are powered by the laptop, and they are slightly faster than the Drobo Mini, so I’m now using this as my main catalog hard drive, and they are small enough for air travel as well. I have two, with the second a straight backup of the first.]
Recent Work and Final Selects on External Drive
Lightroom Catalog Contents (click to view details)
In addition to my Lightroom catalog and settings, I also keep my main archive of all of my best work to date, which I call my “Finals” or “Final Selects”, on my Drobo Mini, as well as all of the photographs and video that I’ve take during the current year. So basically most of what I need to access regularly is in one place and always available when I travel.
Main Archive on Drobo 5D
My main archive of all images and video that I’ve ever shot and not deleted is almost 7TB of data, so it’s not practical to keep all of this on my portable hard drive, and because I have every image that I thought was good enough to sell or show people in my Finals folder, it’s not even necessary.
I can still get to my raw images and any TIFF or PSD files that I might have also created from them, right there on my portable drive, so what I call my “Photo Originals” folder lives on my Drobo 5D attached to a desktop computer in my office studio. This is literally everything from every shoot I’ve done that didn’t get deleted.
Decide and Stick with Your Strategy
One thing that will cause you to get frustrated with a strategy like this, when you’re synchronising folders around and have photos in multiple places, is if you lose track of which copy is your main copy. As we can see in this screenshot (right) I have my Finals folder on both my Drobo Mini and my Drobo #1 drive (a Drobo 5D). The main reason I do this is so that it gets backed up into the cloud via Backblaze, and we’ll talk about that shortly, but it’s important to try to keep this as a backup copy, and not a working folder of images.
I do sometimes just need to reference images or grab something quickly over the network, and because my iMac stays on all the time, from anywhere in my house I can connect to the Drobo and access my Final Selects. This is also why I keep this linked to Lightroom, but I don’t do any editing or create collections from the Drobo #1 drive, because it not only causes you to lose track of changes and break your Lightroom collections while you’re traveling, but you also have to sync your changes back to your main copy. This is doable quite easily, but I find it much better to not get into that, and my portable hard drive solution that we’re looking at today helps us to avoid this too.
Diagram #1 – Base Computer
OK, so I know that this will be heavy going without some form of graphical representation of what I’m talking about, so I’ve created a few diagrams for us to reference today as I explain this further. Let’s look first at my main computer. We all use at least one computer to work on our images, so this should be useful even if you don’t use a laptop in addition to your “base computer”.
Diagram #1 iMac with Drobo Mini
Take a look at the first diagram (above) and see on the left that my workflow starts with transferring images from the camera to my portable hard drive, which is connected to my iMac. This could just as easily be a Windows machine. It’s not important what system you use. What’s important to note here is that my images go into a folder for my current year on my external hard drive, along with the Lightroom catalog and my settings and presets.
Diagram #2 – Local and Cloud Backup
As I mentioned, I keep my main photo and video archive, my “Photo Originals” folder on a Drobo 5D, which is always attached to my base computer. As soon as I’ve finished transferring images from my camera and have them renamed, and if time allows gone through and done my first quick edit of my images, then I copy the folder for that shoot to my Drobo 5D, here called Drobo #1.
Diagram #2 iMac with Drobos and Cloud Backup
As you can also see from the diagram, because I have Backblaze set up on my iMac, as soon as I copy any new images to my Drobo 5D, they start to backup into the cloud. I will continue to synchronise changes to this Drobo 5D as I edit the images from my shoot, but I want to start to get my cloud backup started as quickly as possible. Any later changes will also sync into the cloud, so there’s little reason to wait on this, unless you are paying for data upload.
Diagram #3 – Second Backup for Paranoia’s Sake
There’s one last element of this base computer setup that I’d like to talk about before we move on, and that’s my second Drobo 5D which is purely for local backup purposes. I know this is a little paranoid, but bear with me. The Drobo 5D can have one hard disk fail without losing any data. If a hard disk fails, you simply pull it out and put a new hard disk in, and the Drobo automatically writes the necessary data back to the new hard drive, and you are safe against hard disk failures again.
In my paranoid mind though, that’s not enough to feel safe. I could have a second hard disk fail before my data is fully secured after replacing the first one, and the entire unit could fail too, leaving me with nothing local to fall back on. Assuming my Backblaze backup had already completed, I could of course download or have them send me my cloud backup on hard drives, but that takes time and I’d be panicking for days until my data was restored, so I just prefer to have a second local backup, as we see in this third diagram (below).
Diagram #3 – Second Drobo Mirrored Backup
ChronoSync for File Synchronisation
For all of my file synchronisation I use ChronoSync from Econ Technologies. This is the only operating system specific part of my workflow that we’ll touch on today. ChronoSync is only for the Mac OS. When I used Windows, I used to use a command line tool called Robocopy, but I haven’t used that for years, so I won’t go into the Windows alternative today. If you have a great tool that you’d like to recommend for Windows, please drop a note in the comments section below.
ChronoSync is an incredibly powerful file synchronisation tool. It’s important that you actually read the help to avoid deleting files unintentionally, but once you have a good understanding of how it works, it can make life a lot easier. One of the reasons for this, is because you can save your synchronisation tasks and open them again later to rerun them. For example, after I’ve transferred my images from my camera to my Drobo Mini, to copy them to my Drobo 5D and start my Backblaze backup, I simply launch a saved Sync task that will look for anything that has been changed or deleted from my 2015 folder on my Drobo Mini (see below) and copy or delete it from my Drobo 5D as necessary.
As I work on my files from a new shoot, or make any changes to my earlier 2015 files on my Drobo Mini, I just run this task again. For the whole of 2015, the current year, I will use my Drobo Mini as my main archive, and the Drobo 5D 2015 folder will be my backup, so I generally just Mirror the changes across. If necessary, you can do a synchronisation and copy any changes that you make to the target drive back to your main copy, simply by changing the Operation that you see in the middle of the screenshot.
A couple of important things to note here are that I usually run the Trial Sync with the button in the toolbar before I actually execute the sync task. This is like a dummy run, and you get a dialog to see what will be copied or deleted, so you can check that you haven’t made any stupid mistakes before you actually make them. The other thing is that you can select wether to delete files immediately, move them to trash, or move them to an archive folder instead of deleting them. I don’t like the Move to Archive option because you end up with archive folders everywhere, but I do like to turn on to just move the files to the trash, rather than delete them immediately. This is just another safety net.
Lightroom Synchronize Folder
Synchronize Folders in Lightroom
Because I also have a 2015 (current year) folder in my “Photo Originals” directory on my Drobo 5D, once I’ve synched any images, I right click the folder in Lightroom, and select “Synchronize Folder…” This tells Lightroom to check the contents of the folder for anything new or removed, and you can also have it check for metadata changes as well.
Lightroom Export to Copy “Finals”
Once I’ve completed my editing of a shoot, and have my “Finals” or “Final Selects”, I copy these to the appropriate year in my Finals archive folder. Everything from the current year goes into a single folder. If I created a TIFF or PSD copy of my raw file, say to create a black and white version in Silver Efex Pro, or did some work in Photoshop, then I will keep both the raw file and the new format files together. If no copies were made, I just copy the raw files to the Finals folder.
Because I star rate my images to help with filtering, when I’m ready to copy my files, I just filter out anything with two stars or above. In my rating system, 2 stars means an original raw file. 3 stars is anything that I will present to Offset for consideration for inclusion in my stock library. 4 stars are images that I consider good enough to show people or use in a blog post etc. 5 stars are what I consider portfolio quality images.
Lightroom Export Original Files
So, when I’m ready to copy my final selects to my Finals folder, I simply filter anything 2 stars or above from my original shoot folder, and use a Lightroom Export preset to copy these images to my Finals folder on my Drobo Mini and my Drobo 5D.
At this point, I copy to both locations because I can add the images to the Lightroom Catalog at this point, and that saves me from synchronising the Finals folder after copying files across manually or using ChronoSync.
The important thing to note here is that although this is an Export, I’m not creating a JPEG or any other new format. I select “Original” as the format, under both the Video and File Settings sections. This ensures that the files are simply copied to the new locations, whether they are a raw file, or a TIFF or PSD etc.
Once I’ve setup something like what we see in the screenshot here (right) I just save this as a Preset, then when I want to copy my Final selects to my Finals folder, I just have to select them and right click them, then select “Copy Original to Drobo Mini 2015 Finals” which is what I called the Preset, and I have a second preset to copy to my Drobo 5D.
Mirroring Entire Drives with ChronoSync
To close the loop on the last diagram before we move on, I guess I should just mention that to mirror the contents of my first Drobo 5D to my second, I also use a ChronoSync Task, but because we will mirror the root of the drive, I set up a few Rules to prevent ChronoSync from copying and overwriting some important system files, as we can see in this screenshot (below).
Sync Drobo #1 to Drobo #2
OK, so now you’ll see that we have a pretty sound process in place for managing images based on a Lightroom catalog and a few ChronoSync tasks that we can launch and run when changes have been made. It’s a little more complicated than simply transferring images to the hard drive inside your base computer, but remember, there’s one key advantage to having everything that you need to use regularly on that external hard drive.
Diagram #4 – Image Library Portability
With your workflow set up this way, all you have to do to access your images on another computer, is to eject your portable hard drive from the base computer and plug it into another computer. Whether you are in another part of your house or office, or on the other side of the planet, if you plugin your portable hard drive, you have access to everything necessary to start Lightroom and continue working as you would on your base computer.
Diagram #4 – Image Library Portability
Because Lightroom remembers the last catalog that you opened, it automatically goes to the external hard drive, even if you open Lightroom with the application icon. Of course, to cause this to happen, when you first move your Lightroom catalog to the external hard drive, you’ll need to double click on the catalog in its new location to force it to open from there, but as long as you have Lightroom set up to open the last catalog, that’s the only time you’ll have to do this. You can also select File > Open Catalog… and navigate to your new catalog location too, but again, you’ll only have to do this once.
Of course, because the main archive of all of your images, what I call my “Photo Originals” lives on a hard drive on your base computer, so that won’t be accessible, but when Lightroom can’t see anything, it just marks the folder with a question mark, to let you know that it’s offline. You can still click on the folders, and if you have previews created, you can even see the images. If you need to be able to edit photos that are essentially offline, you can enable this by going to Library > Previews, and selecting Build Smart Previews, but without that you can’t edit images in the Develop module etc. until you get back to your base computer. The point is though, Lightroom handles this gracefully.
Backups While On The Road
WD My Passport Ultra 2TB
The other items that you’ll notice in Diagram #4 (above) is my mobile backup drives. I use WD My Passport Ultra USB3.0 drives, because I think they provide great cost performance at just $99 for the 2TB drives. These are a little fatter than the 1TB drives, but I like to be able to backup my entire “Final” selects library on to these drives as well as my current year’s “Photo Originals” folder.
Now, as you know, I’m paranoid, so when I’m traveling, I actually make two backups of my images. This means that as I shoot, I backup all of my current year folder to two backup hard drives. Backup #1 and Backup #2 in diagram #4. Again, I use ChronoSync for this, and just save a task for each backup, and run it as necessary. Because I only have two USB ports on my MacBook Pro, I actually have to eject and plugin new drives when I want to run my Time Machine backup, but because my Drobo Mini connect with Thunderbolt, I can have both Backup drives attached at the same time as well.
You can even create Containers in ChronoSync, which can contain multiple sync tasks, so if you want to backup your images to both backup drives without intervention, you can do that quite easily. This is useful if you want to for example start off your double backup before taking a shower etc.
I know that some of you will consider it overkill to have a total of three backups of your images while traveling, but depending on where you’re going, I think it’s necessary, and generally do this whenever I’m on the road. I actually had one of my three external hard drives fail near the start of 7 weeks in Antarctica, and that was scary enough. If that had been my only backup drive, I’d have been climbing the walls.
As I mentioned earlier, the Drobo Mini is a hefty drive to lug around, especially if you’ll be jumping on international flights etc. so here are a few ultra-portable alternatives that work seamlessly with this workflow.
1) The first and most obvious alternative, is to simply synchronise your Lightroom Catalog to the hard drive of your laptop, but of course this requires that you have a large enough internal hard drive or SSD to hold your Lightroom Catalog, your Preview images and also maybe the images you’ll be shooting as you travel. This is great if you have an internal SSD, because they’re lightening fast to work from, but big SSD drives are expensive, and if you’ll be traveling for a long time, it will likely fill up.
2) The second lighter alternative is to use a lighter but still external hard drive, like my WD My Passport Ultra drives as the main archive and for your Lightroom catalog etc. This isn’t as smooth and stress free an experience as working with the Drobo Mini, because these drives are much slower, but it works, and is a nice affordable second choice if you are going to be shooting a lot. Lightroom is pretty good at finding your images etc. on the new drive as well. At least on a Mac system.
If Lightroom can’t find your images when you open the Catalog on a different drive, signified by the folders having a question mark against them, just right click the top level folder and select “Find Missing Folder” in the shortcut menu, then navigate to the folder on your new hard drive. This will remap everything, including your previews, and in my experience will not corrupt your catalog or anything.
Set a Hard Drive Letter for Windows
If you use this method of using a portable hard drive in a Window environment, you’ll probably need to ensure that the drive letter doesn’t change as you move the external hard drive around. I don’t remember exactly where you do this right now, but you can assign a drive letter to your hard drives, so it’s a good idea to assign something well away from the start of the alphabet, like M for mobile. That way other drives that you might attach that will be lettered D, E, F etc. won’t displace your external drive’s letter.
Not Really a Cross Plastform Solution
I should also mention that this solution is not ideal if you switch between Windows and Mac regularly. The catalog can be taken from one operating system to the other and will open, but Windows and the Mac OS reference drives differently, so you’d need to tell the other OS where your files live each time you open the catalog on the other system.
Also the location of your presets and settings is not recognized, so I personally think it’s more trouble than it’s worth if you are switching between operating systems. It makes it easy to move from one system to the other, but not really great if you want to switching back and forth.
OK, so I hope that has been useful for you. Having synched my Lightroom catalog around for the last few years, I’m finding it much easier now to just move my external hard drive around. It might not be for everyone, but I am really enjoying this workflow. As good workflows should, it just works, and that’s important to me.
With 2014 almost over, and no more shoots planned for this year, I went through my yearly exercise of selecting my top ten photographs, and today I share my selection process with you, as I believe this exercise is something that many of us can benefit from. I’ll be talking a little about each of my final selected ten images in next week’s episode.
I find it incredibly valuable to select my top ten each year. It gives us a holistic view of our year, and of course, forms a record of our achievements within that year. I really recommend that you do this yourself too, and if you do, I’d love for you to share a link to your own Top Ten once completed, via the comments section below this post. I always enjoy seeing what you’ve created as well.
If this is the first time you do this, your 2014 top ten will become your baseline. This is your stake in the ground. But if you’ve done it before, or as you move forward to future years, you can come back and compare your work to previous years, and hopefully feel that you have improved with each year.
As we discussed in The Evolution of the Photographer, if you’ve been to some amazing location in previous years, you may still feel as though that work was your best to date, but that amazing work should still elevate you to higher ground from which you shot this year’s work, and the results should hopefully be more refined and higher quality, even if you were not able to visit the best locations or find the most amazing subjects etc.
The Selection Process
You may have followed my Top Ten posts from previous years, and so some of this will be repeated, but let’s walk through the technical aspects of this exercise as well as my thoughts on the agony that I’m sure you’ll also feel as you do this. I work in Lightroom, so that’s what I’ll focus on today. If you use another piece of software you’ll have to translate for your selection process.
In the Library module I have a Collection Set called “Top Tens” and inside that I have some of my previous year Top Tens inside other Collection Sets. If you only want to save your final Top Ten for 2014, you can just create a Collection called 2014, but I like to leave a record of my selection process as well, so I use Sets.
So, inside my Top Tens Set, I create a “2014 Top Ten” Collection Set, and in there, I create a Collection called First Pass. When I create that Collection I turn on “Set as target collection” so as I look through my 2014 images, I can just hit the “B” key on the keyboard, and that image is then added to this First Pass Collection.
Because I save all of my best photos from the year into what I call a Finals folder, I don’t have to go looking in various locations for my images. I have a Finals folder with all of my best work included, and inside there, I have a year folder for every year, so it’s really easy to see find my 2014 greatest hits. Inside the 2014 Finals folder, my images are star rated so that I can easily filter out images that I don’t want to consider here.
For example, if I create a black and white image, or do anything to an image in Photoshop, or any plugin that causes me to create a copy of my original raw file, I give that original raw file a 2 star rating, and save that in my Finals folder along with the processed image, so that I can always easily get back to the original if necessary. I also keep these images in my original shoot folders, which are organised into Year, Month and then Day folders, but I like having these originals along side my Final images as well.
My 3 star images is anything that I feel is good enough to show people, although it is not my best work. I also submit anything 3 star or above to OFFSET for consideration to be added to my stock library. My 4 star images are better than my 3 star. This is work that I’m more likely to show people, and use in my ebooks and magazine articles etc. My 5 star images are what I consider portfolio quality. They may not necessarily be in a portfolio, but they are my best work. The cream of the crop.
I could of course just filter out only my five star images and start there for my Top Ten selection, but I actually just filter out all of the originals, so I start from 3 star and above. The reason for this is because how I view my images is constantly changing. I can look at my 5 star images one day and think that some of them are crap, and I can go through my 3 star images and wonder why I only gave it 3 stars, so I like to include everything from 3 upwards.
If you are wondering what I use 1 star for, that’s in my original photo folders, and I call it my “once great” rating. As I’m culling down images from any given shoot, I start by giving everything I like 3 stars, and then I remove images from this set by hitting the 1 key on my keyboard, giving them a 1 star rating. I could just hit the 0 (zero) key to remove the rating altogether, but I like to leave a record of what I initially thought was any good, so my 1 star images were “once great”.
To make my selection, I select the first image from the year in the Library, and hit the “F” key to view that image full screen. I then just try to feel my emotional reaction to each image as they appear on the screen. I try not to second guess myself, and think, I really like this, but I know it’s not going to make the grade, so I hit the “B” key for pretty much everything that makes me smile as I work through this first pass. From 2014 I have 318 three or higher star images, and my first pass resulted in 105 images, as we see in this screenshot (below).
If you have a handle on your image archiving to make it easy to get to your best shots for the year, getting to this point is really easy, but it starts to get more difficult from this point on. I now create another Collection inside my Set and call it Second Pass. I actually populate this second collection with all of the images from my first pass, as I find it easier to delete the one’s that I don’t want to include any more, rather than going through and selecting images again.
As you start your second pass, if you have any similar images at this point, it’s a good time to select all similar images, and narrow these down to as few as possible. I try to do this with images after every shoot. My objective is always to end up with as few images as I can get my selection down to. This is also similar to when I’m putting a portfolio together. Generally I start with a target number of images, or simply aim for as few as possible. These restrictions help us to be ruthless, and 10, is a pretty tight restriction if you had even a half decent year.
So, taking actually longer than it took to do my first pass, I’m now down to 58 photos in my Second Pass Collection. Now it starts to get really difficult. I am already finding it hard to let go on some of these, but I have to kill almost 5 out of each 6 images. As Zack Arias says, this process now starts to feel like lining up our children and deciding which ones to shoot.
Once again I made a third collection, and called it Third Pass, and included these 58 images, and started again. Here’s my third pass results. 30 Images. It’s time to take a break and go for a walk. Ideally, when you have the time to do this, leave your selection for a day or two. Throw these images up in a slideshow and watch as they pass by on the screen. If you feel even the slightest bit deflated as the next image appears, hit the delete key to get it out of the set.
I was hoping to be down to my top ten by now, but I ended up with a Fourth Pass Collection, containing these 20 images (below). I took these twenty and create one last collection called 2014 Top Ten. I committed to removing one out of each two of these images. I hate this part, and you probably will too, but this is not only an important part of exercise to help us evaluate our year of photography, but it it really does get you used to making difficult decisions.
I started to look at duplicates. For example, I have two crane shots left, so one had to go. Two black and white flower shots left, so one had to go. I had a very similar shot to the waterfall on the right of the second row in last year’s Top Ten, so I removed that. I still had four waterfall shots so I removed the one on the far left of the third row.
Down to 16, and I’m pacing the studio. I both love and hate this exercise. It makes me really think about my year’s work, but at the same time I resent having to remove images that I love from this set. The slideshow trick stops working. Every image that is displayed on the screen excites me, and makes me wish I was back at these locations. Of course, I’ll be back with in Hokkaido in just a week’s time with my Hokkaido Landscape Adventure with David duChemin and 14 crazy participants, followed by two Winter Wonderland Wildlife workshops with the Snow Monkeys then off to Hokkaido, which I’m seriously looking forward to, but right now, I have to look back, not forwards. Aargh!
OK, so, with just a ten image restriction, two snow monkeys is one too many. As much as I want to keep the leaping monkey, the thoughtful loving pose of the mother holding her baby in the harsh cold snow is the better image. It’s time to get rid of the Sulphur Mountain apocalyptic shot too and the Iceland Sea Stacks. I still have two Iceland waterfall shots. OK, say goodbye to the vertical one. I’m down to twelve shots. I still have two Steller’s sea eagle shots. One is more like a landscape than a wildlife shot, so I really want to leave both in. Decisions, decisions…
When I submitted two photos of the Jetty on Lake Towada to OFFSET, they chose the other one for my stock library. Does that mean I’ve got the wrong one in this collection? Who cares! It’s my art not theirs and it stays. Can’t I just do a Top Twelve instead? Nope, that’s a cop out…
I tried the slideshow once more, and got a micro-deflation from the vertical blue iceberg image, so hit delete before I changed my mind, and we now have just one to remove to get to my 2014 Top Ten. Jeez this is hard!! OK, so as much as I love it, the view of the frosty river with the cranes dancing is very similar to my old distant dance shot, and it’s the last image that I can possibly imagine not including, so it’s gone. We’re down to my Top Ten for 2014 (below).
This was probably the hardest selection process I’ve had so far. I wasn’t consciously trying to create a balance between landscape and wildlife images, but the result actually shows pretty much the balance between these two main genres that I work in. Four wildlife shots, and four landscape shots, with the eagle at sunrise being a bit of a mix between the two. The black and white flower shot makes up the ten, and this is an important genre for me.
Art from the Heart
I’ve heard some very vocal photography figures talk about flower shots as low hanging fruit, and slam the entire genre, but I have zero time for people like that. If something brings you pleasure in your photography, do as much of it as you can, and enjoy every moment, regardless of what other people say. I don’t think anyone has the right to tell us what we should or should not shoot, or how we should or should not process the work. It’s out art, and we have to be true to ourselves, and our hearts. Art from the heart as it were.
Looking at these images, comparing them to my previous year’s top tens, I feel as though I’ve improved some. This could just be because I’m viewing these are Martin version 2014, with my current sensibilities, but I hope that it really is because my work has improved. If you’d like to see my old selections, I’ve been posting this every year since 2007, with the exception of 2010, and if you type “top ten” in the Search field in the sidebar of the blog, you will see a pull-down containing each of these years posts.
Unfortunately moving disks etc. has meant that I gradually lost my Top Ten collections from some years in Lightroom, so I’ve started to do this exercise using an external hard drive that I use on both my iMac and my MacBook Pro, so I won’t be losing these collections in future. If I can make time, I’ll go through and rebuild my final selections from each year, as I have a record here on the blog. It would be nice to go back and actually view each set of images in Lightroom too. After all, these are the fruits of our labour of love.
Share Your Top Ten
I hope you’ve found it useful to walk through the process with me this week though. I really recommend that you set some time aside to do this yourself as well, and as I said, do post a link to your selection in the comments below. I’d love to take a look, and I know that you’ll learn from the experience, especially if you’ve never done this before.
I believe that the ability to edit your images down to a finite number or the minimum possible images, is a skill that many photographers don’t develop early enough. Quite often, at some point, you’ll be asked to provide your 10 best shots for one reason or another. It could be fifty shots, or just five, and it might be from every year you’ve been shooting, not just the current year. When that happens, you could find yourself in a panic, so you might be happy that you developed these skills earlier rather than later, and if nothing else, it helps to view your progress over the years.
Fine Art Print Giveaway
Before we finish, I’d just wanted to let you know that I’ve just drawn the winner for our previous Fine Art Print Giveaway, and will be posting a 17 x 24 inch print of my Jewel on the Shore photograph to Wayne Kowalski in the U.S. tomorrow. Because I’m traveling most of the next two months, I will be drawing the next winner on March 6, 2015, and they will win a 17 x 24″ print of my Kussharo Lake Tree photograph (below). I thought this was a fitting winter print to give away, and I’ll be visiting the location where this tree used to live over the next few months too. Unfortunately, it caught a disease and was cut down the year I made this photo, so this photo is very special to me.
For details of the giveaway and to enter for your chance to win, visit our giveaway page at https://mbp.ac/giveaway.
In response to a couple of questions about an image I posted recently, today I’m going to walk you through how I created a totally black background in Silver Efex Pro 2, using a recent Lotus Flower photograph.
Here is the video. Remember to go full screen so that you can see all the juicy detail.
And talking of details, there are a few screenshots of my final settings for this image and some brief information below the video too.
I know there are various schools of thought on the order in which you work the right sliders in Silver Efex Pro 2, but over the years I’ve found the method I show in this video to be the most effective.
I basically work from top to bottom, usually taking two passes to achieve the look I’m working towards. The first pass gets me in the approximate area, then the second pass narrows down the look.
Once I’ve adjusted the color channels and added my control points, I sometimes come back and have a final tweak too, but that’s usually about it.
Another tip is that to find the look that I’m after, I often literally just wiggle the sliders from back and forth, and gradually reduce the amount of wiggle until I get the look.
I’m also not afraid to take a slider to all the way over to the right if necessary, as I did with the Amplify Blacks and Soft Contrast in this image.
Although it was not a problem with this image, one issue I have with Silver Efex Pro is that it can sometimes leave nasty white lines along the edge of high contrast lines, such as along the edge where a dark cliff meets a grey sky for example.
Although I don’t go into details on this in this video, I generally work around this in one of two ways. If I can, I adjust the contrast, or use control points to reduce the white line to the point where it is no longer a problem, or I leave the processing exactly how I want it, and then clone out the white line in Photoshop. The latter is a pain, but sometimes necessary to achieve the look I want.
Lotus Flower Tone Curve
Although I don’t use the tone curve in every Silver Efex Pro conversion, I sometimes find it can help to add a nice extra bit of contrast, and is also an easy way to bring the background down, especially when my plan is to make the background go totally black as with this image.
I think it’s important to keep in mind what each slider and panel does, and use them in conjunction with each other. You’d often be hard pushed to achieve exactly what you want with just one or two controls.
Tweak the Color Channels
Although I often also use the color filters, for this image I left this set to the neutral grey disk, but I did have a good play with the color channels. See the video for what I did.
Control Points to Selectively Darken Background
I then start to drop control points on all of the lighter areas of the background, and reduce the Brightness to zero, and increase Amplify Blacks to full. Then while holding the Alt key, drag the control points to duplicate them, and adjust the size as necessary.
I also like to click on the button to the right of the control points to show the effect of each control point, just to make sure it’s not affecting the wrong areas of the image etc.
Show the Masks
As I achieve the look I want, I also just roll over the zone system indication numbers in the histogram panel at the bottom right. This enables me to check that I don’t have too much of the image over exposed, if any, and I can also check that if I was trying to get a fully black background, that I’m actually achieving that, by mousing over the zero.
It’s especially important to ensure that the edges are black if you every intend to show your image against a black background, because grey will show up against the black if you don’t plug it up enough.
Zone System Check
Then, before I Save the image and commit my changes, I save a Preset so that I can easily get back to the same settings, although note that these do not include control points, just all the other settings. If you need to revisit control points, open the image as a Smart Object in Photoshop, and launch Silver Efex Pro from within Photoshop. Then, as long as you don’t flatten your image, you’ll be able to revisit your changes later.
Just for reference, here too is the original color version, so you can see how different it was from the final image.
Lotus Flower Interior – Original Color Version
OK, so I hope that was helpful. Do watch the video to see exactly what I did. This additional information I’ve posted is really just to augment the video.
Monthly Wallpaper Subscription
Before we finish, I wanted to briefly mention my new Monthly Wallpaper Subscription service. For as little as $2/month you can get a fresh new high resolution desktop wallpaper image each month, and up to 10 free images when you sign up for a year. For details, see our new Monthly Wallpaper Subscription page.
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The moment this Podcast went live marked the very moment that the Complete Photography Bundle goes live on the 5DayDeal Web site. Today I’m going to walk you through some of the main details of this incredible photography related product package.
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The sale is from noon EST January 5, 2014 through noon EST January 10, 2014. There will be no late sales.
If you make a purchase through my links I make an affiliate commission. As usual, I thank you for supporting the Podcast and my site.
Thanks very much for listening today. Remember that you can find me on Google+, Twitter and Facebook etc. and links to everything that I’m up to are at martinbaileyphotography.com, so do drop by and take a look. I’ll be back next week, with another episode, but in the meantime, you take care, and have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.