My Post-photographic Workflow – Part 2

Last week’s article outlined the first two steps on my post-photographic workflow, storing images and cataloguing, organizing, or managing images. In this article I will continue with the last two steps for image processing and correction and exporting and distributing the images.

3 – Image processing and correction

Lightroom and Aperture are two popular desktop applications photographers use for digital asset and workflow management. There is no question that Lightroom is the more widely used of the two products. I won’t compare the differences between the two apps. Instead, I want to point out a few unique Aperture features, which have become an important part of my photographic workflow.

  • File System Integration – The Aperture project and album structure is visible everywhere on OS X as part of the overall file system. The contents of the Aperture library can be browsed for photos in any Mac app. This file system integration is automatic and just works. I can directly use my photos in any app (Apple or 3rd party) without exporting them out of Aperture first.
  • Referenced file storage – When it comes to storing the original image files (RAW and/or JPEG), Aperture offers two options: referenced and managed. Referenced storage keeps the original images in folders on the hard drive, and the Aperture library/catalog simply references their paths. With this approach, I always have direct access to the image files and can browse the folder structure using the Finder. Managed, on the other hand, moves your original images into the Aperture library so you don’t have to maintain separate folders. While both approaches have benefits, I prefer the Referenced option, as it allows me to keep the many Aperture libraries on a separate drive.
  • Browsing on Apple TV – Apple TV has built-in support for browsing photos from my Aperture library. Since my Mac and Apple TV are on the same WiFi network, I can directly browse my photos using the Apple TV remote. Again, I don’t have to export the photos out of Aperture or do anything special. This allows me to lay on the couch and comfortably browse my photos on my 45” TV screen.

All of this doesn’t mean that Aperture is perfect, there are shortcomings, including perceived poor performance, relatively modest retouching capabilities and lack of lens profiles. But all things considered, Aperture is stable, has all the 3rd party plugins I need, has never lost my data, and almost never crashes. I chose Aperture for its tight integration with OS X, iPhone, iPad, iCloud and Apple TV, which are all important to me.

3.1 – Reviewing images

The foundation of my review process is rating with Stars!!! I know, it’s not groundbreaking. Aperture has stars, Lightroom has stars, iPhoto has stars. Almost every photo software on the planet has stars. That’s the beauty. Simple, effective, universal. In addition to the star rating I also deploy tagging my images with keywords.

3.1.1 – Rate picks

I rate all my images after importing keeping in mind future usage. My rating system is:

  • One-star – Keep
    These images aren’t very good, but aren’t accidental photos of my shoes, so they stick around, but are usually excluded from further use.
  • Two-stars – Show
    These are for decent photos that I either have no inclination to share, or it would be redundant to share.
  • Three-stars – Album
    These are for good photos that I want to share within albums.
  • Four-stars – Project
    These are the ones that I use for my Project365 work.
  • Five-stars – Call National Geographic
    It’s good to have goals. So far no photos got this rating!
3.1.2 – Key-wording

The ability to tag photos with keywords is yet another way of adding a layer of organization to my photos. While I add general metadata and keywords to my photos during importing, I add may add more keywords to specific photos, such as event, activity and/or location names. Key-wording makes my photos searchable and is one of the most powerful organization tools in Aperture.

3.2 – Optional, perform sensor/lens corrections with DxO Optics Pro

Aperture is a very capable RAW processor. There are times, however, when I need to draw upon special techniques or features only available in third-party RAW image processing applications, such as to take advantage of the sensor/lens correction and unique demosaicing algorithms to ensure optimal image quality.

On weakness of Aperture is lens correction support. If you measure all the distortion that a lens produces, then you should in theory be able to mathematically manipulate the image data from a camera to remove the distortion. Sounds easy, but it is not. Only recently have personal computers become powerful enough to be able to do this intensive number crunching.

DxO Optics Pro is such a program which automatically and completely corrects for lens distortion (even from fisheyes), color fringing and vignetting, and even corrects for unsharpness as needed. It does this by reading the EXIF so it knows exactly what camera, lens and settings you used, and then uses the specific measurements DxO made in its laboratory to apply perfect correction to your image. Better, it also improves the artistic aspects of color, highlight and shadow, when lighting gets too harsh. Technically, it also can do a bang-up job of cleaning up high-ISO noise, again specifically corrected as measured in DXO’s labs for your camera.

The coexistence of two software applications that deal with RAW files is always complicated, given the lack of compatibility among the different demosaicing engines. Normally Aperture will not let you send a RAW file to or open a RAW file in another application. Instead, in external editor or plugin mode, the host applications will create a bitmap file (JPEG, TIFF, PSD) from the original. This said, there is a utility that will let me open a RAW file in another application, Catapult. It is a plug-in for Aperture by Brushed Pixel. Catapult simplifies the process of spitting those RAW files out of Aperture and into other converters.

So how does it all work? Here is the basic steps:

  • Select an image or images
  • Select Photos > Modify with a plugin > Catapult menu option
  • In the Export section of the window, choose DxO Optics Pro from the Open with list.
  • Use default destination folder, or select new, for Drop Folder and click on Export
  • The image(s) will open in DxO Optics Pro
  • Optimize image in DXOO9
  • Use the Export to disk option, (the pickup folder installed by Catapult).
  • Select one or more file formats, eg. JPEG, TIFF, etc.
  • Activate Export. Depending on the optimization performed and number of images, the export may take some time
  • Close DxO Optics Pro
  • Import the saved file into Aperture from the Catapult window. Catapult attaches the sidecar to the original RAW should there be a need to re-edit.
  • Any pixel level editing can now be done on the corrected file within Aperture.

3.3 – Optional, additional image processing within Aperture

I don’t do much image processing to my photos. Mostly I use DxO for lens correction, especially for my wide-angle lenses. Since DoX has no local brush, gradients and layers support, these tasks would need to be done within Aperture.

4 – Exporting and distributing the images

Aperture offers a number of ways of sharing photos with others. You can upload images to Facebook albums, or to your Flickr photo stream, or to a SmugMug account. If you have an Apple ID, you can share photos with others via an iCloud photo stream, or email them photos directly.

There are other ways to share and display photos, such as printing directly from Aperture using a variety of print layouts, creating static or ’smart’ web galleries based on search criteria, or creating slideshows. I don’t use them, however, I do sometimes upload directly pictures to my iPad to share with others.

4.1 – Using Flickr to share photos

I use Flickr for sharing my photos with Family, friends and the public. Since Aperture’s Flickr sharing is somewhat limited, I prefer FlickrExport for Aperture, an export plug-in that provides a direct export interface to Flickr.com. I use the following feature within the plug-in before exporting my photos:

  • Edit photo titles and descriptions, and add tags to them
  • Choose from a list of my Flickr tags and add them to any photos
  • Automatically add Aperture keywords to each phot
  • Review Privacy and Usage settings
  • Add Flickr photo ID and URL to Aperture metadata
  • If needed, edit Geo data
  • indicate to replace existing photos on Flickr with updates versions from Aperture
  • Create a new photoset with my photos, or add them to an existing photoset

4.2 – Using iPad to share photos

Sometimes I need to upload some of my photos to my iPad to share them without having an internet connection. There are many ways to do so, but I prefer the easy way to move picture from my Aperture library to my iPad (or iPhone) by drag and drop. That’s right. It’s that simple and it works for iPhoto too.
It requires PhotoSync for iOS from the iTunes App Store and the free OS X companion application from Mac App Store which needs to be in the Dock.

Before starting the transfer, the size for the file(s) that is/are to be transferred needs to be set. In Aperture, the Preview size of the file is what is moved from the Mac to iOS device. The size can be controlled in Aperture, by going to Preferences > Previews, and setting the preferred parameters. Now to transfer photos, the steps are:

  • Launching PhotoSync on my iPad
  • On my Mac, I drag the thumbnail of the image(s) I want to transfer on to the PhotoSync icon in the Dock
  • Within seconds, the image(s) will appear on your Camera Roll on my iPad

In summary, besides using Aperture, I deploy in my post-photographic workflow DxO Optics Pro, Catapult, PhotoSync, A Better Finder Rename, and FlickrExport for Aperture. Maybe one day, if Apple ever releases Aperture 4.0 some of the additional programs may not be required.

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