09 September 2011

Cataloging and Editing Digital Images

When I began this project, I was looking for the perfect all-in-one software to manage and edit my photo collections.  It doesn't exist - yet!  But, there are some very good alternatives that come close to achieving my ultimate goals.

Adobe Lightroom 3 will be the primary work horse of my digital cataloging and editing software.  The DAM Book, Digital Asset Management for Photographers recommends several different software packages for digital asset management (DAM).  For my more modest needs, keeping it simple will not only simplify the process but keep software expenses to a minimum.

Photo Cataloging
Lightroom is an image database that keeps thumbnails of your photos in the database.  Your photos can reside anywhere you would like - the program merely links to them.  I was able to quickly and easily import all my tags and collections from Photoshop Elements 9Lightroom works with a limited number of formats so 407 out of nearly 14,000 images were not imported.  Unsupported formats will have to be converted before I can add them to the Lightroom catalog.

Other cataloging software includes:  Aperture (Apple), Bibble Pro 4.9, Adobe Photoshop Elements 9.

Importing and Exporting Tags and Metadata
Tags created in Lightroom can be pushed into the metadata of your original digital image.  The metadata can be used by other programs so work done in Lightroom will not be lost if I switch to a different cataloging system in the future.

One Master Photograph
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.  Well, sort of.  Lightroom uses parametric image editing (PIEware) to process photos.  Those using RAW format cameras are already familiar with this method of image processing.  Photo editing and enhancements do not effect the original image.  If you save to DNG format in Lightroom, you can have only one image and store alternate versions of the photo as sets of instructions.  I can have my school picture, a B&W image, stored with rendering instructions to make it sepia!  There is only one version of the photograph itself.  Rendering instructions require way less space than another photograph.

Easy Export to Other File Formats and Sizes
Making alternate size photographs or exporting as web-sets, etc. is all handled within Lightroom on an as needed basis.  It is so quick that there is no need to store multiple sizes or formats.  Well, at least not usually. There are always a few natty exceptions.

Online Photo Access
Not exactly.  It is possible to easily upload small web-friendly versions of your photographs from Lightroom to social photo websites.  You can even choose the metadata you want to travel with your photo.  But, Lightroom is not an online tool.  Download (and upload) speeds make online access to full resolution digital images impractical - at least for now! 

Photo Editing
As mentioned before, Lightroom comes with PIEware that will handle many photo editing needs in an environment that preserves the original.  As much as possible, editing will be done within Lightroom.  For those occasions when I need to do pixel-by-pixel editing, I'll use PhotoShop. When editing in PhotoShop, I will end up with a duplicate copy.  It may be possible to edit in layers in PhotoShop thereby maintaining the integrity of the original. But, it is too easy to accidentally change the original image to take the chance.

Are there other options?  Yes!  And many may work equally as well.  Adobe Lightroom won me over with the potential to have one master photograph and ability to easily import the tags and collections I had previously created in Adobe Photoshop Elements 9.

Now, my next question is to DNG or not to DNG?  DNG is an open source file format created by Adobe for use with RAW format images.  My scans will be coming in as TIF files and could either be maintained as TIFs or converted to the DNG format.  What are your thoughts on DNG?

Krogh, Peter.  The DAM Book, Digital Asset Management for Photographers.  Second edition. Sebastopol:  O'Reilly Media Inc., 2009.

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