Phase 2: Image Transfer and Management – The Digital Photography Workflow Handbook

Phase 2: Image Transfer and Management

Transferring Image Files from a Memory Card to a Computer

There are various ways to transfer image files to a computer. The most common way is to take the memory card out of the camera and insert it into a USB or FireWire card reader attached to a computer.

Another popular method is tethered shooting, which involves attaching the camera directly to a computer and controlling the transfer either partially or completely via your PC. Both methods transfer images directly to the computer and allow you to view your images immediately on the computer’s monitor. This is ideal for studio shoots and other critical situations. Tethered shooting can even be enhanced using radio or Wi-Fi, allowing you to move freely with your camera while still transferring your images directly to your computer. Wireless connections also allow image transfer via FTP.

If you transfer your tethered shooting image files to an import folder or “hot folder”, you can open them in applications that do not directly support tethered mode but support hot folders (e.g., Lightroom 2 or Aperture).

If you copy your images manually via the Finder or Windows Explorer from memory card to the computer, copy the entire folder from the memory card to disk before renaming to include the date of the shoot. Then rename the individual files as previously described.

Most download tools included in RAW editing or image processing software[36] allow you to rename your files while downloading them. Don’t underestimate the need for a clear, consistent file naming system and image folder structure! We try not to use solutions that automatically create their own folders, and we prefer to store our images in our own, manually created folder system.

Add author and basic shooting metadata (place and date, for example) to your images during download if your software allows it. A couple of basic keywords are also useful. The download tools included in Bridge, Lightroom, and Aperture all allow you to add metadata to your files. This saves time and effort later when tagging your images.

Saving Your Image Files Safely

It is quite possible for your hard disk to fail or catch a virus after you have transferred your images to it and reformatted your memory card. In this scenario, if you haven’t already backed up your images, you will lose them forever. The chance of losing a main copy and an external backup copy of your data is extremely small, and we always create an automatically synchronized backup copy of our images on an external hard drive immediately after downloading.

Some downloaders have built-in functionality for making backups, and saving to an external disk offers additional security. Dedicated digital asset management (DAM) software usually has built-in backup functionality.

We only format our memory cards in the camera once we have made a backup copy of our image data. Formatting ensures that the card’s memory modules remain clean and efficient and avoids file system fragmentation. Formatting in the camera also ensures that the file system created is suited to the camera you are using.

Image Inspection

Inspecting your images is an important part of the workflow. A missed image can be lost forever, and every poor quality image that you keep or process is a waste of time and disk space. An important part of the inspection process involves deleting unusable image files.

We used to use the Photoshop image browser (which has now become Bridge) to view our images, but you can use any of the image browsers we mention here as long as they support your particular RAW format. Bridge has great support for downloading, renaming, and browsing image files, although we now use Lightroom for downloading, as it allows us to systematically rename our files and to create a backup copy of our data while downloading. We also use Lightroom to add complex keywords and other metadata to our files during download. Lightroom produces high-quality thumbnails quickly and in user-selectable resolution and allows us to rate our images as well as adding additional metadata. It also allows to delete unwanted files.

If you shoot your images in JPEG or TIFF format, you can use just about any image browser to view them; however, it should be capable of deleting unwanted images and rotating other images losslessly. The current workflow phase consists of three major tasks:

  1. Initial image inspection and flagging for deletion

  2. Prioritizing remaining images for processing and a second round deletion

  3. Adding metadata and keywords for use in later searches

Figure 2-7. The Photoshop “Bridge” image browser (CS5 in Mac OS X), showing thumbnails (center) and a large preview image on the right

A good browser will also display large preview thumbnails and will be capable of producing even larger preview images for use during the actual selection process. An ideal browser can display full-screen preview images or automatically load a preview in Photoshop (although starting Photoshop can take time). You will need to zoom in and out of your preview regularly or use the loupe function of your browser to compare images properly. A side-by-side comparison window is also a great aid to image selection.

Color management functionality that takes into account the color space of the source image as well as that of your monitor is essential. Many image database software packages are unfortunately not up to the job.

You can now delete all images that do not pass your quality control run. Substandard images cost disk space and time. We use a mini-workflow for deleting images during the initial inspection. First, we flag all the images we think we want to delete and display just these images in a separate view. We then check our images once more, flag the images we really don’t want and then delete them permanently. Only save the images that are really worth processing.

The browsers we recommend all allow you to rate, flag, and add metadata to multiple images, which is also a great time-saver!

It is important to set up your image browser properly if you want to be able to view and select your images efficiently.[37] Get to know the keystrokes for zooming in and out, adding ratings, and for deleting or adding metadata. If necessary, write a crib sheet and keep it next to your keyboard.

Image Ratings and Other Flags

Don’t underestimate the value of rating your own images. Most browsers have a “star” rating system with a range from one to five. Use your own judgement to rate your images, and remember, you can always “re-rate” them again later should you change your mind. Once you have made your initial rating, have your browser display the four- or five-star images so you can start optimizing your best shots.


Peter Krogh’s book The DAM Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers [22] offers a great overview of techniques for organizing, rating, marking, and tagging your images.

Most programs also include other ways to flag your images, and we consider the “delete” and “further processing” flags to be the most important of these.

Don’t delete images too quickly. Mark your images for deletion first and come back to them later to make sure your initial judgement was correct. You will often find that there are usable images among those you initially mark for deletion.

Most browsers also have a system of colored labels that you can assign to your images, which is very useful for noting the current status of images or for flagging them for later processing. Once you have defined the meanings of the various colors, stick to them rigorously. Bridge and Lightroom allow you to enter text into the colored labels, and most browsers allow you to filter your images to view just the ones with a particular colored flag.

[36] Lightroom, Aperture, and Photoshop Elements are all examples that do. Bridge also includes this functionality since the CS2 version of Photoshop.

[37] Bridge allows you to save individually configured Workspaces, which you can then call up using custom keystrokes.