I’ve had a lot more time to spend on photography these days. Given our recent trips to Alaska, India, and Singapore, I’ve also had the opportunity to take some pretty interesting pictures. The natural question, then, is what do I do with the two thousand pictures from these trips?
I’ve found three products that I’m pretty happy with: one for photo processing, one for Internet display, and one for making photo books.
Since I got the Nikon D200 last year, I’ve been shooting in RAW format. For those that don’t know, RAW format saves a lot more information about the picture than JPEG. RAW saves exactly what your camera sees whereas JPEG processes what your camera sees and compresses the file, resulting in the loss of a great deal of information. The additional detail RAW captures can be very valuable when you need to adjust exposure and make other fixes. The downside is that RAW files are much bigger (which is easily mitigated by ever-cheaper memory cards), and that you need special software to process RAW files (you can’t just plug in your camera and view them). I started using Adobe Lightroom, and I have to say, I’m pretty impressed (though I haven’t really used a lot else, so I don’t have much to compare to). Though the Lightroom interface leaves something to be asked for (it’s pretty unexciting and a bit complicated), it handles the task of image processing very well. The organizational capabilities are excelled, with the use of collections and keyword and attribute filtering to make it easy to find and work with photos. The editing features are also quite powerful, allowing from basic things like cropping and fixing red eyes to exposure correction and color manipulation. I’ve just started – it’ll take a while to really master all that it can do. Once I’ve got my photos into Lightroom, cleaned up (correct exposure problems, crop, straighten, etc), and converted to JPEG.
Once I was done processing our pics from Alaska I decided that I’d make my first photo book. I looked at a few options online and was able to see an actual, physical example of one service (a fellow student in a photo processing class had one) – My Publisher. I was pretty impressed with the print quality and the paper quality of My Publisher and so I gave it a shot. The software is pretty easy to use (though it certainly has some frustrating features – the inability to sort imported images so you can place them chronologically, and the changing of fonts when you add pages. I didn’t realize the second issue until my photo books actually came – with some pages in a different font! However, their customer service and support have been stellar! The product itself has been reasonable. I ordered photo books of Alaska and Singapore, and both arrived about a week after ordering. The quality came out okay – some pics looked stunning, and some showed imperfections (which I couldn’t see in the RAW files, suggesting that it was a printing issue). That said, I would like to try another service just to compare (you don’t really know if something is good or bad until you have something to compare it to). Overall, I would recommend the books, especially with the discounted pricing from Costco.
Finally, I recently opened a SmugMugaccount. I’ve had friends that have used it for years and raved about it, but I never got around to it. I decided it’s time to finally give it a try. Reading many online reviews, SmugMug beats the competition hands down. Their photo display is simple yet beautiful. There are no ads alongside your pics, and there isn’t a lot of loss of detail in the uploading and compression process. Viewers can even buy pictures from there if they’d like. Now the service isn’t free, which can be a turn off to many in the age of Shutterfly, Picasa, and many other free services. But given the ability to customize and the display of pictures, I think the price is reasonable. Customization can be done either way – either using their pre-built templates for the not so tech savvy or creative, or total customization (which, to be honest can be quite difficult) if you are technically inclined. Oh yes, the other great feature: security. You can either leave albums public, hidden (which means they’re public, but a link isn’t displayed – so the only way people can see an album is if you send them the link), or password protected (which, as the name suggests, can only be seen if you’ve given someone the password). If you’d like to see a real example, just wander over to the Galleries section of my website.
So, all things considered, I’m glad to have added some more structure to my photo workflow. I need to spend a lot more time with Lightroom to better understand all it can do for my pictures, as well as get several years of photos imported and cataloged (the latter, catalogging, is likely to never happen). I would also like to get more photo books made from past photos like our trips to Jamaica or Mauritius. So much to do, so little time!