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A Picture-Editing Checklist

Over this holiday weekend, I resumed my often-postponed effort to go through the pictures that have been piling up in my photo-album software. How far behind am I? Let's just say that it was a major victory when I recently finished sorting, editing and labeling all the shots from my big annual vacation--of 2006.

I might be faster about this if I focused a little less on the details, but I don't want the electronic equivalent of a shoebox full of unsorted 4-by-6 prints. I also want to improve as a photographer, and to me that requires getting rid of photos that don't work and fine-tuning the ones that do.

Putting together photo albums is also naturally slow work. Between the inherent distraction factor of flipping through old pictures and the dozens of editing commands available in most digital-photo programs, it's easy to lose your way.

The best way I've found to stay focused is to stick to a pattern. Instead of trying out every available edit and tweak on each picture, I'll limit myself to the handful that yield good results most of the time. The idea isn't to chisel each shot into a state of perfection, but to come up with a collection free of the more obvious flaws, and which I can then refine further in my nonexistent spare time.

Here are the steps I take in my current photo-album program, Apple's iPhoto:

* Rotate the picture to the proper horizontal or vertical orientation (usually unnecessary, now that cameras do this automatically)
* Enhance (most of the time, this doesn't yield a notable improvement, but some shots get distinctly better with this automatic fix)
* Fix red-eye artifacts (again, some cameras now do this by themselves)
* Straighten (I am apparently incapable of holding a camera parallel with the horizon)
* Crop
* At this point, I'll click iPhoto's "Adjust" button and play with the slider controls to fine-tune exposure, lighten shadows and reduce noise.

I'll write a caption for the photo next. That should be easy, but with shots taken more than a few months ago I often find I need to turn to two extra sources--Google Maps and Wikipedia--to help me remember where I stood and what I looked at. (Having GPS built into cameras would largely eliminate that worry, but we're not quite there yet.)

I'm sure there's room for improvement--other photographers have set out a more rigorous workflow--so here's your chance to offer your own suggestions. What's in your usual photo-editing routine?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  January 22, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Pictures  
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Ah, it's taken me years to perfect this, but I think I've finally moved beyond horrible iPhoto uncategorized mixed albums to a working workflow. I now use Adobe Lightroom.

I have multiple catalogs setup - one for archives, then separated by date (where I used Aperture to import all my old iphoto libraries scattered across several computers and firewire drives). I have another catalog for family photos, lighthouses, and then my mega catalogs by year for Nationals photos. I open the relevant catalog and import into a folder name by date then description under the catalog directory (so they all end up in chrono order).

After importing (where you can mass assign keywords to all photos - works awesome and translates to Flickr tags), I run through and 'X' all the throwaways. They remain in my catalog, but I can filter them out on my grid view. Then I run through again and 'P' (pick) all the good photos. From there I filter down the view to my picks and edit them. Somewhere in there I add keywords (inning, player, whatever) and captions (easy to fill box on the right of each photo). If I don't want to mess up my original photo, I can make a 'virtual copy' and play with that instead. And Lightroom always gives the option of reverting back to the original.

I love it - this has made me SO much more organized! Plus, I keep my catalogs on an external drive, so I can open them no matter what computer I'm on.

Posted by: misschatter | January 22, 2008 11:56 AM | Report abuse

iPhoto is one of Apple's missteps. For me, anyway. I store images by year, month, and event. iPhoto won't do any finer grained storage than year, then event.

I do use it for red eye reduction (import, fix, export). Picasa for Mac should replace that.

I do the sorting as I go along.

The hard part is that I took pictures on film for 20 years. Someday I've gotta start digitizing them. What I need are a good slide scanner and a good negative scanner. Scanners that have feeders so that I don't have to feed several hundred slides, and more negatives, by hand, individually.

Posted by: wiredog | January 22, 2008 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Wiredog, there are services that will scan your negatives for you at fairly cheap rates (under 25 cents each). I don't remember any names but I'm sure you can search for them.

Posted by: Jon B | January 22, 2008 1:29 PM | Report abuse

There's a local company that will do them for $0.5 or so. Same place I get images printed. They are careful, and do good work.

But a scanner, with a feeder, that could do negatives and slides, for under $1000, would be cheaper.

Posted by: wiredog | January 22, 2008 1:53 PM | Report abuse

And I thought you were a pro!

Posted by: steve ballmer | January 22, 2008 10:48 PM | Report abuse

OK guys !!!

Now for organizing and e-mailing [sharing] photos of real estate addresses, etc., I find Photoshop Starter Ed quite nice. One click and photos that seem to be too dark, instantly come to life.

I once shot some basement shots in a Baltimore property, that had so many cobwebs, etc, I didn't even want to walk into the place. After clicking once, kapoof, it was like dark photos suddenly were illuminated.

THE PROBLEM WITH PHOTOSHOP STARTER EDITION is the choice of available e-mail clients these photos can couple to sucks royally.

No G-Mail option, no Earthlink Mailbox option, Outlook EXPRESS ONLY Option. I would consider upgrading, but not for bucks with these very limited e-mail coupling options.

Posted by: | January 23, 2008 2:51 AM | Report abuse

I have to say, I follow much a similar process as Rob, but I use the GIMP for editing. It's powerful enough for anything I could ever want to do, plus it's Linux therefore it's automatically 1000x more fun.

Posted by: karen | January 23, 2008 10:05 AM | Report abuse

GIMP stopped working after I upgraded to Leopard. Something about the X11 version, I guess (which I also tried to upgrade, but it still won't work). Got a fix for that, Rob?

Posted by: misschatter | January 23, 2008 1:35 PM | Report abuse

I. too, use iPhoto for general editing and have 3,000+ photos in my library. But, I use Photoshop elements 3 for finer work. As others point out, iPhoto really isn't that good at sorting and classifying photos and unless the shot is fairly recent, it's a somewhat arduous task to find something. But, probably the real issue is my laziness in categorizing, labeling, assigning keywords, etc. It just needs to be easier to use.

Posted by: Jim Glass | January 23, 2008 2:01 PM | Report abuse

wiredog, et al:

I've had an excellent film scanner for some time now and I have to say you're better off using a service (the market leader right now is, high quality yet low prices because everything's shipped to/from India). The reason is simply time - I average at least 20 minutes a slide, so depending on how you value your time, it's ridiculously cheaper to use a service (and a lot less tedious and frustrating).

Posted by: aclark-va | January 23, 2008 2:16 PM | Report abuse

To stay on top of digital photos (and those I scan), my first priority is getting them into a catalog and tagging them with keywords; edits and sharing come later. I used Photoshop Elements or predecessor for last 5 years for cataloging but recently moved to Lightroom primarily because it handles digital RAW files better. Workflow is: copy to a network drive, folder by month and year; import into LR; delete poor or duplicate shots, straighten them out; assign keywords that apply for family, place, event, holiday, etc. When I want to share them (email, Flickr, Snapfish, view on Apple TV or print), I use the keywords to filter and then manually select the best pictures into a Collection. Then I use the editor w/i LR (crop, exposure, red eye, spot remover) or Photoshop Elements for more extensive edits. The challenge/discipline is assigning the keywords. But it saves tons of time downstream. Last weekend, it took me minutes to pull together 100 photos for an AppleTV slide show of my kids, their friends, at our beach club over the last 4 years because I had the photos tagged accordingly in a catalog.

Posted by: picsob | January 23, 2008 3:25 PM | Report abuse

To you list of minimal edits, I'd add one click on "sharpen" (but no more than one click) when warranted. It can make up for a variety of shortcomings.

Posted by: Arlington | January 23, 2008 5:10 PM | Report abuse

As a senior citizen who has discovered the joy of digital photography & photo editing programs like Photoimpression that came with my Canon camera, as part of my organization process, I now am striving to make slideshows of my family members & numerous fun vacation trips as well as any blooming vegetation (or living thing in my yard, i.e. birds, deer, butterflies, etc.) I have found the free download of Photo Story 3 as an easy application & I was able to purchase a program for viewing these presentations in a DVD format for television viewing. I also now store copies in my Safe Deposit box for further insurance!

Posted by: Carole Blish | January 24, 2008 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Rob, crop should come as the first step (unless you need to rotate or straighten the picture). Reason : if you do editing on the whole picture (as opposed to on a defined area only) such as enhance etc. the program should not have to take into account areas that will not be in the picture in the end.
I concur with Arlington in adding sharpening, which should always be the last step.
GIMP is indeed a powerful editor, and free, although can be a little strange at times.
Photoshop Elements is quite capable, and often comes bundled with Canon scanners (that is how I got V1 and just recently V5). There are many free plug-ins available for it which are a snap to install and add significant capabilities.
I realize that some of what I mentioned is beyond your needs, but adds to what has been mentioned in the comments.

Posted by: csavargo | January 24, 2008 10:08 PM | Report abuse

Keep it real simple.

1. Load Pics to PC
2. Review in Vista's Photo Gallery
3. Delete pics that don't work
4. Post pics to Google's Picasa photo album
5. Share album link with family and friends

Posted by: illa | January 25, 2008 6:59 PM | Report abuse

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