For many photojournalists out there, traveling the world and owning a desktop computer back home just isn't practical. When you combine the cost of the computer with the small amount of use it gets, it just doesn't add up. But you still have to maintain your photo workflow -- making sure images are safely backed up, archived, organized, delivered to clients, and easy to find later on. Plus, you have to do all of this while maintaining a laptop with plenty of free disk space. Fortunately, there's Aperture. And here's how I put it to use while on the go.
Before Aperture (B.A.) my workflow usually consisted of a disjointed routine of using Photo Mechanic and Adobe Photoshop CS to get my images edited and out the FTP door as quickly as possible. I would use Photo Mechanic's powerful ingest feature to import, batch caption, and rename my images all at once. Usually I'd place the images in a folder on my desktop and open each as a contact sheet in Photo Mechanic.
For editing on a deadline, Photo Mechanic is an amazing application. It's extremely fast (especially now that it's a Universal Binary), and its renaming and captioning tools are some of the best I've seen.
I'd use Photo Mechanic to review my shoot by simply flipping through the pictures one by one and tagging each image that had potential for my assignment. I would then filter the contact sheet for tagged images and narrow my shoot by detagging the pictures that didn't make the cut. Once I had my selects, I'd open each image in Photoshop CS and begin to crop, adjust levels, apply unsharp masking and then resize the images. Next, I'd save the edited images as JPEG files in a new folder on my desktop.
I would then open the new folder in Photo Mechanic and finish up by writing more detailed caption information, adding keywords for certain clients, and making sure all the IPTC data was set and ready for transmission. The last step was usually to send the images to my client via email or FTP.
This workflow worked great for a long time. It was fast, efficient, and with the exception of the occasional human error, it got the job done.
Later, if I remembered, I would import the shoot into iView Media Pro and begin a process of rekeywording and moving the pictures around to different hard drives or CDs, all while trying to remember which frames I'd selected and transmitted under deadline, during my assignment.
The real trouble was that I would end up with small, JPEG-compressed final images. In order to go back to a full resolution uncompressed image, I'd have to re-edit the image from the original file in Photoshop. Another huge pitfall to this workflow was that the outtakes that never made the cut for my client were lost in the heap. I'd have to go back through the shoot and try to remember which pictures I'd cut, as they still had potential for use as stock.
Eventually, I would use Roxio's Toast Titanium to burn copies of the shoot to CDs. I'd then reconnect the images to iView so that if I wanted to find the original images at some point down the road, I'd know where to look.
Between the piles of CDs, a handful of different software packages, and my laptop's hard drive, my so-called "workflow" was a nightmare. Without a home desktop to store my archive, life on the road was a constant headache. I needed a system that would keep my images secure, and release me from my gigantic workload so that I could get back out in the field and spend more time shooting.
Compared to a cobbled-together workflow, the real need for portability and security, and an ever-increasing pile of image data, Aperture really seemed revolutionary. As soon as I could afford it, I went out and bought a new MacBook Pro (a major upgrade from my Titanium Powerbook) and a copy of Aperture 1.0.
Months later, with Aperture 1.5 on board, and a few new tricks of the trade, my images are safe, and I can find them with ease. Here's a look at my new workflow.
The breakthrough feature for Aperture 1.5 is its flexible library system. You can finally store master image files offline using any number of external hard drives, CDs, or DVDs. (The previous versions of Aperture required that all master image files be located within the library package.)
However, even though Aperture's flexible library allows you to move your images offline, the Aperture library itself can grow to a substantial size. This largely has to do with the JPEG preview files that Aperture creates for each master image. (This is an option enabled in the Preferences pane.)
One way to keep the library file from growing so fast is to have Aperture create the preview files selectively.
To do this, open Aperture's preference pane and find the section called "Previews." Deselect the option that says, "New projects automatically generate previews," and you're now responsible for generating the preview files on your own.
If Aperture previously generated previews for images in your library, you can delete them by selecting those images and clicking "Delete Previews" in the Images menu.
You can easily generate preview files for any images in your library at any future time. Just make sure the volume that contains the master files is mounted and click "Update Preview" in the Images menu.
The "Previews" section of Aperture's Preference pane also includes options for setting the size and compression for each preview Aperture generates. You can play with these options to try and lessen the overall size of your library file.
Aside from not being able to look at your offline images, another drawback to not generating the preview images is that iLife and iWork applications won't be able to access the images in your Aperture library. Even if your images are online, these applications require Aperture's preview files to work. So when considering preview management, you'll want to find the right balance between disc space consumption and image flexibility.
I really like to have my entire image library available at all times. So, I decided to buy a portable hard drive to house my Aperture file and left the option for generating new previews checked. There are many options out there but I chose an 80GB SmartDisk Firelite USB drive. The Firelite is a great little device. It's powered off the USB port and is small and easy to carry in a backpack. I now use it solely to house my Aperture library and as a backup for my most recent photos.
With my master library sitting on the Firelite, I created a new second Aperture library, which lives on my laptop. This is the library I use when I'm on assignment, or when I just don't feel like attaching the Firelite. When I'm done with the assignment, I can easily transfer the project file to my master library for long-term storage. One of the great advantages to working with a temporary Aperture library is that there's a significant speed increase. I'm not sure why Aperture runs faster with a smaller library, but I imagine it has something to do with having to initialize a much larger database file.
The bulk of my master image files live on a LaCie 250GB Firewire drive. These drives are slightly less portable because they're much larger and require a power adapter, but for the price, they're a great option. If you're traveling for an extended period of time, it makes sense to bring a drive along if you'll need to produce a large number of images. Just be careful when transporting the drive as a lot of bumps could potentially harm your data.
I've successfully transported two of the Porsche-designed LaCie drives in my carry-on luggage without any problem at all. Not only are external drives a great place to store your master images, they also make a smart spot for backing up your laptop's home folder.
The price of DVDs has dropped to the point where they make an excellent choice for long-term storage and backup of data. The big downside with DVDs is that they can take up lots of room, easily become disorganized, and they take time to burn. But I still use them extensively.
In the old days, I'd use CDs to store all of my images. After a shoot, I'd edit on my laptop and then eventually transfer the originals to a CD or two, or ten. Then I'd read the CD into iView to keep a catalog of the files. If time and location permitted, I'd make a second set of CDs and either leave them at a friend's house or ship them back home.
With Aperture, this process has been streamlined significantly. Now, I use DVDs solely as a backup device, keeping all my original files on the LaCie drives and the Firelite. (More on how to do this below.) I no longer have to search through books and books of CDs and DVDs to find a single master image. I have to break out the DVDs only when I have a hard drive failure.
Another variation on DVD storage is Derrick Story's approach, where he archives only his highly-rated pictures on optical disc. Read about this workflow in the article, Automated Workflow to Archive Your Best Images to DVD.
Online storage has taken off in the past couple of years. You can now purchase server space (though it's still pricey) and store anything you want on a secure server somewhere in cyberspace. There are a few online storage options that are designed specifically for photographers. Digital Railroad and PhotoShelter were designed to allow photographers to archive their work online and to give them a myriad of marketing tools on the level of a small personal photo agency.
I really can't say which service is better as they both have their pros and cons, but if you're looking for some server space for your images, they're both great options. These days, when I finish editing a shoot, I upload the full resolution JPEG versions of my selects, along with their untouched masters. Now, my most important files are stored on a redundant server, and I can easily access them, and show them off to clients.
In version 1, all image files imported into Aperture had to be stored in Aperture's library package. While it was possible to have multiple libraries, the catalog and the images needed to be together as one.
With 1.5, you're able to store images wherever you like. Whether it's external hard drives, CDs, DVDs, or even a jump drive, you have total control of where your master files are physically stored. Along with a flexible library, Aperture 1.5 has added a number of tools for managing images. For the traveling photographer, these tools are of utmost importance because they allow you to easily transfer your image files from place to place, making library management a snap.
The image import panel lets you control how Aperture deals with your images by giving you the option to import them as managed files, have them placed in a new folder as referenced files, or simply leave them in place.
I like to import images as managed files shortly after a shoot. This is usually because I'm on location with my laptop and don't want to bother with attaching an external drive.
At any time, you can query a set of images in Aperture based on File Status. To search for Managed, Referenced, Offline or Online files using the query HUD, click the + symbol located to the right of the search box in the HUD and add File Status to the search. You can then select which type of status you want to search for and Aperture will display all the pertinent files.
I have a Smart Album set up which is simply a query of all the managed files in my library. This makes my life easier when I want to move the original images offline. I just click the Smart Album, select the images I want to move, and then under the File menu, click Relocate Masters.
The Relocate Masters function, located in the File menu, opens a dialog box, which allows you to pick a new location for your image masters. This location can be an external drive, or another folder on your laptop's hard drive. You can even send the images to a burn folder if you're sure they'll fit on one DVD.
For the sake of organization, I use the Year/Month/Day subfolder option. This way, all images are sorted into folders as I go. I can continue to transfer pictures to my external hard drives at any time. The images get added to the pile, neatly organized by their capture date.
One of the benefits of keeping the masters as referenced files is that you can build multiple Aperture databases, which reference the same master files. You can also create a database that references these same files using another software package such as iView Media Pro or Extensis Portfolio. This makes working with multiple people in a studio situation possible.
As mentioned before, Aperture's flexible library system makes working with multiple databases very easy. With the temporary Aperture library on my laptop, I can use the Relocate Masters function to move images to my LaCie external drives. I then use the Export Project function to move the Aperture project file to my desktop. All that's left to do is import the project file in my master image library. The project can then be deleted from the laptop database or left in place for previewing images in iLife.
Another important tool is the Consolidate Masters function. If you want to move images back to your laptop and store them in the Aperture library as managed files, this allows you to do so. I've used this option on many occasions when I wanted to work with a particular set of images while in the field. I just select the images I need, and click Consolidate Masters.
Lastly, the Manage Referenced Files function is an invaluable tool. If Aperture loses its reference to a file (which it rarely does), you can use Manage Referenced Files to reconnect to the image. Aperture was designed to prevent file references from becoming disconnected from your library at all costs. If you rename your master files in the finder, Aperture knows about it. Move the file to another folder and Aperture knows about it. In fact, one of the only ways to throw Aperture off is to manually move a referenced file to another volume. For this reason, the Manage Referenced Files function becomes very useful if you need to restore your images from a backup after a hard drive crash. Which brings me to my next point: Back up your stuff!
When Aperture first shipped, there was quite a bit of talk about its vault system for backing up your library. The vault system in Aperture essentially makes a duplicate copy of your library on an external hard drive. It's neatly designed to keep tabs on what new image masters have yet to be backed up and on any metadata that's changed since your previous backup. You can have as many vaults as you like and with one click, you can bring them all up to date. You can even set Aperture to store a Vault on your iPod.
In Aperture 1.5, the vault system continues to work in the same way, except for one main caveat; the Vault won't manage the backup of referenced files. As the Vault was designed to essentially make a duplicate copy of the Aperture library package, and referenced files no longer reside inside the package, they're not included in the Vault. You're now responsible for making sure your referenced files are secure.
To secure the backup of my referenced files, I turned to the Apple Backup software that came with my .Mac account. I've used many other types of backup packages, but for the combination of ease of use, and flexibility I've found Backup to be perfectly adequate. If you don't have .Mac, you might try Déjà Vu, or Synk as alternatives.
With Apple's Backup software, I'm able to create a routine backup for all my master image files to DVD. In addition, every time I add new images, Backup performs an incremental backup. This means I don't have to reburn the entire set of DVDs over and over again. Backup takes care of spanning multiple DVDs and keeps track of each run. If I've added new master image files, Backup adds the files to the set and burns the needed DVDs.
I currently have two duplicate backup routines to secure my images to DVD. I keep one set with me in case I need to restore a broken drive, and the second I mail home for safekeeping. This method means at any given time, all of my master images are stored in three separate locations, which helps me keep an ongoing backup of all my master image files without too much effort.
With Aperture 1.5, I'm able to work from my MacBook Pro with ease. While waiting for a flight, I can caption and keyword images throughout my entire archive, and review older work for stock distribution from anywhere and at any time. By using Apple's Backup program, I can make sure all of my images are secure with the amount of redundancy that makes me feel comfortable. Utilizing referenced files, I can make sure my laptop has plenty of room for location work, and I no longer have to wonder where my images are. My entire life's work as a photographer is portable and scalable. Post-production time is shortened, and I better utilize my downtime. I'm more efficient which lets me spend more time shooting. Life as a traveling photographer has never been better.
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