Workflow Madness

by Micah Walter

While traveling to Washington DC last week I ran into a photographer friend of mine whom I hadn't seen in quite a while. After catching up we started talking about some of the writing I had been doing for Inside Aperture. Apparently he had been keeping up with my posts and articles but had been reluctant to try the software out for himself.

We talked about some of the great features in Aperture. I even opened up Aperture on my laptop and showed him how you can easily make Web Albums, organize your photos, and rapidly add all sorts of keywords and metadata with just a few clicks of the mouse.

I have to admit, he was mildly impressed. He really thought it was a nicely design program, but coming from years of using Photoshop and PhotoMechanic to edit and organize his images, he was, admittedly stuck in his ways.

So, I asked him what he knew about non-destructive image editing. He looked at me curiously. It was sort of one of those, "yeah, what's that all about" moments. So I started to try and explain. I began by asking him to lay out for me his workflow from end to end. The bar napkins started to fly.

"Well" he said. "When I shoot in JPEG mode, it is pretty simple. I just import the images with PhotoMechanic, tag the best shots and open them in Photoshop. I then make my adjustments and save them each as a new file on my Desktop. This way I still have the original file. But, when I shoot RAW (which I am doing more and more these days) the process is a little more complex."

He continued, explaining to me one of the most incredibly tedious workflows I have ever heard of. So, here it is. I will do my best to keep a running tab on the number of files, megabytes and software used in the process.

First, he starts out by importing all of his Nikon RAW files using PhotoMechanic. The files are copied to two separate locations so that there is an untouched backup copy on a separate disk at all times. PhotoMechanic makes nice work of this task with it's Ingest Disks function. So far, he has two RAW files from his D100 at 10 megabytes each.

Next, after making his selects in PhotoMechnic he opens the RAW images in Nikon Capture and begins to make adjustments to contrast and exposure using Nikon's RAW conversion software. Each image is saved as a new "adjusted" RAW file. So for each select he now has three files, totaling about 30 megabytes.

Once he has saved his RAW files, he then converts each one to an uncompressed 16-bitt TIFF file weighing in at about 17 megabytes a piece. He opens this file in Photoshop CS2 where he adds a number of layers for dodging and burning, dust removal and other fine adjustments. Once he is finished, he saves the files as a PSD document which can jump to nearly 100 megabytes depending on how much work he does. So far he is now up to around 150 megabytes per select, and five files.

He showed me how he organizes all these files on his hard drive using the Finder and a system of cleverly named folder so he can keep tabs on them. I was actually very impressed with the system he had thought up and then I realized he hadn't made any files for output yet.

He went on to explain that he normally makes a finalized TIFF file form the layered PSD file, and from this he makes all of his output files, such as smaller JPEGs for the web, or cropped TIFF versions for print. I asked his how he came up with this system, and he explained to me that when he started shooting RAW, he sat down and tried to come up with a system that would give him the best quality and maintain a good deal of redundancy.

He told me that although each select can run him about 150 megabytes or more, and involves more than five individual files, he thought it was ultimately necessary in order to realize the power of his RAW files. Otherwise, he explained, he may as well just keep shooting Jpegs, starting from the original every time he wanted to make a new version.

So, I asked him what he would think about a single software application where he would be able to do everything he just showed me using just one Master RAW file and one backup copy. He was pretty excited.



I spent the next ten minutes or so showing off my Aperture library. I pointed to a Project containing a shoot with over 300 RAW files, and I used it to explain to him what non-destructive image editing was. He was astonished to find out that even though I had made five or six different Versions from a handful of selected Masters, that in fact the Master RAW file itself had never been touched, and as well, each version was simply a set of instructions and not another image file. He was also impressed with how seamlessly I could send a version of any image to Photoshop and have it come back, stacked with its Master and neatly organized with the rest of the shoot. I could see the wheels starting to turn in his eyes. He was amazed by how easy it was to find images, and some of the more powerful features of Aperture that I have come to take for granted.

By the end of his tour of Aperture on my laptop, he was amazed. I showed him on the Apple website how he could download a trial version. He said he would download it as soon as he got home.

We parted ways and I thought about how Aperture has really improved my life as a photographer. I thought about how backbreaking the amount of tedious work can be for someone who shoots RAW and has to go through all those hoops, just to get an image out the door. I have been using Aperture since it was first released, and I never looked back. The whole experience has really made me wonder how many photographers are still out there using the Finder to organize their massive photo libraries. It's sort of a scary thought!

Here is a breakdown of his current RAW workflow compared to my Aperture RAW workflow.

His Files:
  • 2 Copies of the original RAW file - 10 meg each.

  • 1 or more adjusted RAW files for each select - 10 meg each.

  • 1 Uncompressed 16 bitt TIFF conversion from the adjusted RAW - 17 meg each.

  • 1 Layered PSD file from the TIFF - 50 to 150 meg each depending on layers.

  • 1 Flattened 16 bitt TIFF from the PSD - 17 meg each

  • As many output JPEGs, TIFFs, PNGs or anything else you can think of from the TIFF. These are kept on disk so that he doesn't have to make them over and over from the TIFF file in Photoshop.

His Software:
  • Camerabits PhotoMechanic

  • Nikon Capture

  • Adobe Photoshop CS2

  • Finder

  • iView Media Pro

  • Toast

My Files:
  • The Master RAW file - Backed up with Aperture's Vault to one or more external hard drives. I also use Crashplan to backup all of my files online to multiple locations around the country.

  • PSD files - On occasion I will need to make a layered PSD file for fine tuning an image. This also gets backed up via the Vault and Crashplan.

  • Output files. Whenever I need to output a file I just do it from within Aperture using a preset. I usually don't keep these.

My Software:
  • Apple Aperture

  • Adobe Photoshop CS3

  • Crashplan


2007-05-01 20:04:03
Hi Micah Walter,
Nice stories of raw workflow madness!
I'm the one who is real fan of Photo Mechanic but after reading your stories, I'll try Aperture again.

Best regards,
Boonwed Teo

2007-05-01 20:09:26
Nondestructive image editing--doesnt PS3 do that with the sidecar files? Also, the ability to, in Iview, make highly custom templates is something important to my workflow. Is there some way in Aperture to customize the web template with logo and email / web links? This is the one thing preventing me from embracing Aperture--after a few days of playing with it-it seems I need the Iview web function still...-PS your blogs about Aperture v Lightroom were insightfull, thanks!
2007-05-01 23:52:04
Great post - recognized too much of it. I love Nikon Capture NX and struggle to let it go, but with parallel workflow nonsemse. Must stop. Must try harder with Aperture.
2007-05-03 18:06:35
The whole reason I moved to Aperture was with one purchase I knock out 3 programs I used in my former workflow. Your friend's workflow reminds me of my old set up.

How are you finding Crashplan? How are you using it in conjunction with Aperture? Surely you're not backing up your library with it?

2007-05-05 21:34:08
I'm new to Aperture, so this is one of those posts that makes me wonder. There is no way I'm giving up PhotoMechanic. So far as I can tell, Aperture doesn't have anything that compares to PM's stationary pad. I can import to two locations at the same time so if one drive crashes, I have a backup. I think this guy is probably in the same boat as me... he'll use PM for ingesting and captioning, then move the raw files to Aperture. From there, it almost elimintates Photoshop and iView.
2007-05-06 01:44:51
I'd love to use Aperture as my 'live' workflow tool but it's impossible as the captioning tool is next to useless when compared with PhotoMechanic's. If Apple would take some time to work on the caption window, and take a leaf out of PM's book, then Aperture might be able to handle pressurised deadline press work at a live sporting event.

At the Monte-Carlo masters I tried my best to use Aperture as my 'live' tool but I ended up taking almost 10 mins to get an image out of the door and the awkwardness of the captioning was very painful. For now, at least, Aperture is my post-event DAM. PM is unbeatable for working on a tight deadline or at a live sporting event.

John G.
2007-05-10 14:40:36
Hey Micah, this sounds like you are referring to ME...:-(

However, my 'madness' takes place in a PC world, but I would suspect the Adobe Lightroom solution is similar to your Aperture solution.

I can see the advantage of 'non-destructive' editing, with one exception.

I think it is important to write basic IPTC identifying data to the original RAW file. Relying on maintaining a pairing of RAW original and XMP sidecar file in an archive is a disaster waiting to happen.

I've got boxes of old photos with nothing written on the back to identify who or what they are to prove my point.

2007-09-26 04:09:11
a) he can tag his files in nicon caputre (0-5 or stars or lables)
b) he should know he can save the raw setting with nikon capture back to the nikon .nef in a non destuctive way, even snapshots of different settings can be saved...
c) he can use digital proof to finalize for special media with profiles
e) he could batch process all files for his needs
most features can be found in aperture/lightroom, but not all

reading the manual is appreciated ,-)