Photo Workflow

If one takes enough photos, there comes a time when some organization seems like a good idea. Organization can take the form of filing system, workflow analysis, and metadata. First one needs to identify the inputs and outputs. The rest is filling the middle area between the two.

Getting organized is more than just fitting one’s current tasks into some regimen. To avoid having to re-do one’s organization every couple of years, one should examine the future in order to future-proof one’s organizing principles. My crystal ball shows that in the near future, we will routinely be displaying 4K images.

A 4K image has 4K horizontal pixels. At 4K on smaller display dimensions, we are challenging the resolving power of the human eye at the limits of close focus. Only at wall-sized display dimensions would higher pixel dimensions make sense. Thus 4K is as future-proof as I will need to be.

Looking at the following pixel dimensions, it appears we already live partially in a 4K world. Thus it seems best to keep full pixel dimensions of digital photos in anticipation that the destined output devices will be able to present most of them.

Current
Camera (2015) – Nikon D7200 raw image: 6000 x 4000
Computer (2009) – iMac 27″: 2560 x 1440
Printer (2008) – Epson inkjet printer: 2880 x 1440 (5760 ‘optimized’ DPI)
TV (2008) – Panasonic 50″ 768P plasma: 1366 x 768

Currently Available Upgrade
Computer – iMac 27″ retina display: 5120 x 2880
UHD TV (OLED) – 16:9, 3840 x 2160; 21:9, 5120 x 2160

Note: 4K resolution on a TV is not so important because we sit 14′ from the screen. Our current HD screen provides all the pixels we can resolve at that distance. Further, currently there is no full HD (1080P) broadcast content available, and precious little cable content in full HD.

File System

The Nikon File Transfer software places raw image files in ‘~Pictures/Nikon Transfer 2/nnn’ where nnn is a consecutive integer. While I no longer use Nikon Transfer for RAW files, I maintain the file structure, but replace the integer-named sub-folder with a sub-folder named for the event.

The working format is always a Nikon NEF file, supporting non-destructive editing; thus JPEG files are first converted to Nikon NEF format, preserving maximum image quality. A temporary folder is used to download JPEG images from small cameras and camera phones. A batch process then converts them to NEF files and saves them in a source-specific event sub-folder as above.

The Nikon software suite offers color management. I set the default profile to ProPhoto RGB for widest gamut support, to avoid unnecessary clipping of RGB channels when opening raw files and during editing.

The Nikon software suite supports editing, viewing, printing, and slideshow movie creation entirely within the NEF realm. No down-conversion to the compressed JPEG format is done unless an image is selected for photo sharing or web viewing, in which case a JPEG file is produced and saved in an event sub-folder of the ‘~Pictures/Public/WebExport’ folder.

Following are the Inputs, Outputs, and Processes that comprise my photographic workflow.

Workflow Inputs

Images enter the workflow either in NEF format, or as JPEG files already converted to an RGB color space.

  • 4K+ digital images as 14-bit-color raw files in Nikon D7200 NEF format (aRGB 1998 color space meta-intent specified in the imbedded JPEG image (used by in-camera histogram generator)
  • JPEG digital images in aRGB color space (Panasonic Lumix ZS8)
  • JPEG digital images in 89% sRGB color space (iPhone 5S)

Workflow Outputs

  • Folder of processed/corrected .nef files, named for shooting event, processed in ProPhoto RGB color space.
  • Folder of compressed JPEG images, typically ~500kB, converted to sRGB color space, for web upload/display
  • Prints on photographic paper, converted to aRGB 1998 color space
  • Slideshows on computer (best quality, rendered from .nef files)
  • Slideshow movies (H.264, 1920 x 1080, 30fps, Stereo Linear PCM); archived to DVD

Input and Filter Process

Software manufacturers often make it difficult to future-proof a workflow process. Case in point: Google bought Nikon’s software developer and retired its product line. Thus my photo editing software, Nikon Capture NX2, is now obsoleted. Nikon substituted a far less capable set of products which do not do what I need.

In such cases, we hope a 3rd party can salvage our workflow.The problem is that new cameras will have new RAW file formats that will not be understood by old software. In fact, the RAW files from my new-ish D7200 are not readable by the last and now final version of the Nikon Capture NX2, on which my workflow is based.

Here we all dodged a Google/Nikon bullet. Enter Miguel Bañón and his Tcl/Tk script Raw2Nef. He calls it the lifesaver of Nikon workflows and so it has been for me. It translates new RAW file formats into a hybrid NEF file format that Nikon Capture NX2 version 2.4.6 can understand. It already provides support for three Sony and three Nikon cameras whose raw file outputs are no longer readable by Capture NX2.

The conversion script provides a simple batch mode that reads NEF images from the latest camera’s memory card and writes them to the chosen folder as readable .nef files. Couldn’t be slicker, and it is free donation ware. (If only Nikon itself cared enough about its users to provide such a simple solution as part of Nikon File Transfer;  new management team requested!)

The fundamental organizing principle of the workflow is ‘keep it simple’. The only place this is violated is on the very front end when we choose a vendor-specific raw file format in the DSLR, rather than standard JPEG, to preserve maximum quality from the digital image. (This is the perpetual technology conundrum: how much headroom can we afford – whether the cost of preserving maximum bits of information as future-proofing can be justified vs. the cost to keep only the bits I can appreciate with my eyes and ears using today’s technology.)

The process for each photo shoot is:

DSLR RAW Input

  • Use Raw2Nef script to convert the memory card images to compatible .nef format, and place the renamed files in the sub-folder named for the shoot

JPEG Input

  • Download the images from mobile device camera and point&shoot camera to a JPEG image temporary folder on the Mac
  • Use Nikon Capture NX2 to batch process the images, converting each to .nef format to support non-destructive image editing, placing the outputs in the sub-folder named for the shoot

Note: When a JPEG file is opened by Capture NX2, it has its color space set to the default color space (software preference), ProPhoto RGB (does not change existing RGB data, just sets wider data clipping thresholds in the raw re-conversion and editing processes)

Image Processing – all images related to the camera shoot are now in compatible .nef format, with ProPhoto RGB processing intent specified, in the sub-folder named for the shoot.

  • after the next backup cycle, delete original images from cameras, delete the temporary folder with input JPEG files,  and reformat any memory cards
  • run the standard batch script in Nikon Capture NX2 to perform the standard processes of the workflow that I choose to perform on all input .nef files:
    • D-lighting (exposure)
    • Color LCF (brightness/contrast optimization)
    • Levels/Curves (RGB optimization)
    • Unsharp Mask (focus).
  • open the pre-processed files in Nikon View NX2 and view a full-screen slide show, manually advancing to each image; either keep or delete it (typically removes 60% of images)
  • open the keepers from the shoot folder in Nikon Capture NX2 and for each image, perform any individual editing necessary: Crop, Straighten, Defect Removal, Color Tweaking, Light Tweaking
  • iffy images that can not be made to work are trashed during this step (typically removes 20% of images)
  • images selected for Internet sharing are saved as compressed .jpg images, converted to sRGB color space, saved to a Web Export sub-folder named for the event

Print Process

  • Print selected images from Nikon Capture NX2, converted to aRGB 1998 color space, onto an Epson R1800 dot matrix printer: 4×6″, 8×10″, 11×14″, 13×19″, 17×24″ (future, Epson P800), 20×30″ (Costco).

Computer-hosted Slide Show Process

  • Use Nikon View NXi to generate a slide show on the iMac’s 27″ LCD monitor, rendered directly from the corrected .nef files, perhaps along with music from an iTunes playlist. A 5K retina iMac offers the best resolution currently available, displaying >60% of pixels in a D7200 image. A 4K TV will display about half of the available D7200 pixels. These figures are elevated from the standard HD resolution displays, which can display less than 10% of the available D7200 pixels.

Slide Show On The Big Screen

  • To view a NEF slideshow on the big screen, one needs mirroring via Apple TV. Note that Macs from mid-2011 support mirroring via Apple TV from one’s computer onto one’s  big screen. But alas, my iMac is a late 2009 model. But rather than buy a new iMac, I again turn to 3rd party software support. Squirrels’ AirParrot2 software ($15 and free trial) does exactly what the Apple mirroring does, but for older Mac models.
  • For vivid colors and full contrast performance, OLED is the first visual upgrade from plasma technology that has come to market. Were it affordable and were we in the market, we would upgrade our plasma screen for the better technology (much better contrast, much faster processing, greatly increased color gamut). It appears that 4K enhanced resolution will accompany the new display features. We always wait, though, for the technology of bleeding edge halo products to mature and trickle down to affordable consumer devices, likely in 2017.

Make a Slideshow Movie

  • Use Nikon Movie Editor (NME) within Nikon View NXi to render a raw image slide show into an HD H.264 movie (MOV container) at 1920×1080 at 30fps; a variety of image transitions are available.
  • For background music, make a playlist in iTunes, convert it to WAV format (NME doesn’t understand ALC format), and add it as a stereo linear PCM audio track. Play the movie in QT Player. Mirror on the big screen as above.
  • Optionally import the movie to iDVD, add menu, and burn to DVD.

Make a Movie

  • Download video segments from the iPhone and/or DSLR (MOV container using H.264 codec)
  • Import to Final Cut for editing.
  • Follow instructions above under Slideshow Movie for adding background music, commentary, and playing on the TV.

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