This is part 2 of a 3 part series on image management for travelling photography hobbyists. The first covered preparing the storage media for travelling and ensuring reliable and fast operation of storage media and the camera. This second part will focus on culling, editing, and backing up the images while on the road.
Digital photography revolutionized photography by bringing the marginal cost per image down to pennies. Once you’ve swallowed the price of buying the camera and lens, the cost to take another image is the wear and tear on the shutter and the hardware itself. It’s essentially no additional cost. This revolution does however come at a different and far more expensive potential cost: your precious time. With there being no real barrier to taking more images, people tend to take far more images than they need.
On a recent trip to Kyoto, I witnessed a person with a Sony A7R3 using a very rapid continuous shutter to take images of a static Sakura blossom. The individual must have taken 20+ images of that one blossom with the exact same settings. It’s not as odd as it seems as the blossoms were moving quite a bit in the wind. Given how bright it was, a faster shutter speed would have likely sufficed, and perhaps 1-3 image captures at most were required to get a keeper.
However, with there being little to no physical cost to taking the extra 17 images, I can’t hold it against the person for doing so. With 20 images taken, the challenge then comes down to how to identify the ones to keep and the ones to delete. Notwithstanding being more discerning in how many images we take, we can turn our focus instead to efficiently culling. Because we’re dealing with large RAW and JPEG files on modern cameras (the GFX can produce 50BM+ RAW files and 25MB+ JPEGs all day and night), the process used becomes important.
There are thousands of ways to cull images, but I’ll share the three that have worked well for me over the years and their pros and cons:
- Identify keepers in the camera
- Import into the RAW processor and then cull
- Import into culling software and then import keepers into the RAW processor
Regardless of method you prefer, I recommend that you not modify the images on the storage media; import the entire set of images or a sub-set, but don’t edit on the storage media. I’ve seen too many people make mistakes and accidentally delete images from the storage media.
Identify keepers in the camera
In an ideal world, this would be a very convenient way to identify the keepers and eliminate the rest, but in reality it’s quite cumbersome and clumsy. On most cameras, there is a feature where you can “protect”, “write protect”, “star”, or “select” certain images. Some RAW processors will pick up on these selections and flag them so that you can choose to import only those images. Using the Fujifilm and Leica cameras with Capture One, there appears to be no way to only import the select images, however the Leica images do carry the star rating across once imported; the Fujifilm however does not even carry the rating across into Capture One.
I no longer use Lightroom so I can’t check to see if this feature has been implemented, but the various culling options like Photo Mechanic, FastStone Image Viewer and XNViewMP make it easy to import only the selected images. By importing only the keepers, you can save a lot of drive space, preview generation time in the RAW processor, and most importantly, you can select the keepers during down time such as when travelling around the city when you only have your camera on hand.
- Very efficient workflow because the RAW processor only gets used for the keepers
- Saves a lot of laptop battery if you’re on the go away from a power source
- You can select the images during unproductive time when you have your camera but not your laptop
- Difficult to check focus on the small camera screen or EVF
- Cumbersome camera interface makes this a rather unpleasant experience
- Your RAW processor may not support importing only selected images
Import into the RAW processor and then cull
This is the typical process most people use (including myself), I import every picture taken that day into Capture One Pro. In the past I used to import both the JPEGs and the RAW files, but these days, I mostly just import the RAW files. I find the GFX tends to underexpose images a bit (likely because the shadow recovery is so good that the engineers felt they could underexpose to save the highlights) so I often bump up the exposure and prefer to do that from a RAW base.
- You can start editing images right away, while the RAW processor builds previews
- By importing all the images, you now have a backup of your SD card
- Culling is done on the big screen where focus and composition can be accurately checked
- Consumes laptop battery to build previews for images that may eventually get culled
- Processing RAW or JPEG files after a long day of travelling can be inconvenient
- Requires your laptop or tablet
Import into culling software and then import keepers into the RAW processor
If your laptop isn’t super powerful or you’re concerned about missing great images because the screen on the camera is just too small to effectively cull images, importing them into software made for this purpose may be exactly what you need.
There are three software packages that I’ve used in the past that work well for this purpose. Photo Mechanic, FastStone Image Viewer, and XnViewMP. They have a similar workflow and are very efficient programs. The workflow here would be to either select images from the storage media or import the images into a holding folder on your computer, and then cull the images, tag, add metadata, and then import only the images you like into your RAW processor.
This process also ensures that you will end up with two backups of the images, however if the laptop gets stolen, you’ll lose both sets of backups since you’ll likely have the holding folder on your laptop. For extra safety, you could attach a high speed drive like the excellent Samsung T5 and use that as the holding folder. While we’re talking about external drives, I have found no better external drive than the Samsung T5 SSD. This is a marvel of engineering, durability and speed. I’ve owned the T3 and now the T5 and love these drives. They’re rock solid, fast, small, well built and well worth the money.
Everyone has their own approach to how they cull images, but I tend to be ruthless. If the image doesn’t capture me right away or if it has major technical flaws, I will red-flag it. When I get back home, all red-flag images get deleted. During the red-flag process, I also look for any keepers, which I’ll tag with 5-stars. That part of culling is actually quite easy; the hard part comes in deciding which images are 4-star and which are 2-star. Again, I’m pretty ruthless and go through the images until I’ve given a star rating to all of or most of the images.
Once the images have been rated, I go back and quickly edit the 5-star images using the process I mentioned in an earlier post. Depending on the subject, I’ll sometimes also edit the 4-star images. The 1-3 star images won’t get touched at this point; they may require heavier editing or they may provide slightly different angles or focus accuracy vs. the 4 or 5-star images.
When travelling with friends, I find that speed is of the essence in editing images. It’s nice to be able to spend an hour or two post processing an image to perfection, but the reality is that our friends will be quickly posting images from their phones and we’d much rather be enjoying the city we’re visiting than to be sitting in front of the computer. I therefore go for speed over perfection.
I suggest starting with the JPEG’s to identify if they’re good enough for posting to social media or sharing with friends. Modern cameras are so good now, that with minor tweaks to exposure and shadows, a good high quality JPEG can turn out great. Fujifilm cameras especially have incredible JPEGs thanks to their film simulations built into the camera. As an example, no matter how hard I’ve tried, I’ve never been able to replicate the beauty and subtle gradients of the Acros Film Simulation in post production; the camera does it so much better.
If the JPEGs are not good enough or you want to make larger changes to the image, RAW is definitely the way to go. As mentioned above, I’ve transitioned to a mostly RAW workflow now that Capture One has the excellent Fujifilm Film Simulations built in. I can easily replicate most of the JPEG colours with the RAW file, and have lots of latitude for other adjustments.
If you go down the RAW path, I would suggest reading an earlier post where I shared a simple workflow on getting images to 90% of the final version with almost no time and effort required. I continue to use that workflow, especially when travelling, to get images out the door, and to save time so I can enjoy the sites, food and people of my travel destination. When I made that post, I took a bit of heat from a French photography forum where people took issue with the simplified workflow. Fast forward half a year and Phase One themselves posted a video of an efficient workflow that mirrors very closely to what I had originally wrote. I’d recommend watching that video.
As alluded to earlier, the process of importing the RAW and JPEG files to the RAW convertor ends up creating a backup of the images from the SD card, but I suggest taking it one step further so that you have at least three copies of an image:
- On the SD card itself
- On the internal drive
- On an external drive, or a cloud service if the Internet is fast enough
By having three copies, if by chance you desperately need to format an SD card, you can be safe in knowing you have two copies of the images so you’re pretty well protected if something goes wrong or your laptop gets stolen or lost. Please note that this backup section is focused on what to do while on the road. In a future and final instalment in this series, I’ll discuss backup and long-term storage strategies once you get home.
When we’re travelling, we want to keep things simple and efficient. Get into a routine and do the same thing over and over again. I use clear plastic Muji containers to store all my SD cards, batteries, external drive, and accessories and always put them back in exactly the same place.
When I get to the hotel room, I have the same routine every time:
- Take out the camera battery and put it in the charger
- Get the excellent Sandisk UHS-II SD card reader from the Muji plastic container
- Import all the RAW (and sometimes the JPEG) files into a Capture One session
- In Capture One, take a fast first pass of the images and ruthlessly cull them by giving “delete” images a red flag, and “keeper” images a 5-star
- Take a second pass and assign at least some 4-star images; if possible, rate all the images
- Edit the 5-star and 4-star images using the efficient workflow found I shared in a previous post
- Export the images using proper export parameters for the intended purpose (re-sampled for the output and sharpened for the viewing intent)
- Copy the entire session folder to an external Samsung T5 SSD drive to have a backup of the originals, the edits, and the exported images
- Since I don’t typically import the JPEGs into Capture One (to save battery power when rendering the previews), if the images warrant such safeguarding, I will go back to the SD card and also copy the original JPEGs over to the external drive at this point
I hope you’ve found the the first two instalments in this series useful. The third and final one will cover backing up and long-term storage of the images once you get home.