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Basic Workflow

Basic RAW Workflow

The workflow laid out below assumes you have a Canon (or Nikon) DSLR and you're shooting with one camera at a time and are not using Adobe Lightroom to convert your images. Also the renaming program is Windows only, in Mac OSX you can use Automator to rename the images or download Name Mangler.

Step 1: Download the images

The first step is to download the images to a folder on your desktop.

  • Windows: right click on an empty spot on the desktop, pick "New" from the menu that pops up,
    then pick "Folder"
  • Mac OS X: Control-click (or right-click, if you can) on the Desktop (Finder),
    and a menu will pop up, select "New Folder." You can also hold down shift and command,
    and press N to create a new folder.

Now you want to rename the folder, "New folder" has a nice ring to it, but it won't serve your purpose.
Name the folder by the date the photos were taken. To keep the folders organized in the computer,
the best way to type the date is YYYY_MM_DD. So if the images were shot on January 31st, 2008
you would name the folder 2008_01_31.

Place your memory card into the card reader, open up the folder containing your RAW images and copy them to the folder you just created on your desktop. You are shooting RAW aren't you? There is no reason not to, and you'll have so much more control over your images and the quality after conversion is MUCH better than capturing in JPG format.

There are many different types of memory cards and card readers, some people plug their cameras directly into the computer and download images that way. As a rule you're probably better off using a card reader, transfer rates tend to be a LOT faster and you'll have less wear and tear on the camera. Also, using the camera to download images drains the camera's battery.


Step 2: Rename the files

Now that you've got the image files on your computer, it's time to rename them. When dealing with thousands of images (as we tend to do) there is a very good chance that if you keep the file named as-is, at some point you'll end up with more than one file with the same name. I've had bad things happen to my own files in the past, and have heard of others having similar issues that this step could've stopped cold.

Almost every camera on the market today uses a 4-digit numbering scheme to name files.
There are generally two naming modes, for Canon Cameras they are:

  • Continuous File Numbering: lets new files made on a fresh card start off where the
    last file numbers left off. (Nikon calls this "Sequential")
  • Auto Reset: bad. (Nikon: "Normal")

If you use Auto Reset then each time you change the card (or reformat) the camera will
start at file IMG_0001.JPG again, which means over time you'll have hundreds of files all
called IMG_0001.JPG.

This wreaks havoc later if you want to put them in the same folder or use them in the same job.

If you set file naming to "Continuous," the camera will keep counting up until you
get to file IMG_9999.JPG before it resets to IMG_0001.JPG.

DO NOT STOP HERE! I know you're thinking:
"But, now I'll only have duplicate file names every 10,000 images, that's not so bad."
Yes it is! We want unique file names, and we want to be organized so 5 years from now we
can find that one particular shot we're looking for. Stick with me!

For renaming I use a free program called A.F.5 Rename. Sounds appropriate no?
It lets you quickly and easily rename 5 or 50,000 files any way you want.
The way I want to name them is this: YYYY_MM_DD_XXXX.CR2
(or NEF or whatever extension your camera spits out.) By naming my images with the
date and 4-digit number the ONLY way you'll have duplicate file names is if you
shoot more than 10,000 images in one day.

I load the files into A.F.5 Rename and I have already set the program up with my
naming preferences. Under the first "Type" box select "ModDate" this tells the program to
look at the "Date Modified" property of the file and "Value" tells the program how you
want the ModDate displayed. yyyy_mm_dd_ will rename the file to the
4 digit year, 2 digit month and 2 digit day.

The underscore character helps keep the numbers spaced out so they're more readable.
The second "Type" box is set to "Right," this tells the program to look at the existing filename,
from right to left, to the right of the dot. The Value "4-1" tells the program to grab the 4 numbers in order.
In the image above you can see the file IMG_2443.CR2 will be renamed 2008_01_31_2443.CR2

This part took me a while to get just right, all you have to do is copy the settings!

Once you have the settings exactly as I have above, go to A.F.5 Rename's "File" menu and
click "Save" give the setting a name (I chose Standard for mine) and the program will remember
these settings for you. Click the "Rename" button and you'll see the the list of names swap places.
A.F.5 Rename will remember the filenames until you clear the list, or close the program,
so if things didn't go quite right, you can click "Rename" again to get the original filenames back.

Step 3: Folder Organization

If there are images from different days, they will have different dates in their names,
any images that don't belong in the 2008_01_31 folder I would move out to another folder,
2008_01_30 or whatever the date happens to be.

If you have a huge back catalog of images you want to rename according to this scheme
(I had over 28,000 images in the can by the time i came up with this) you can change the
first Type box to "String" and manually enter the correct date in the Value box.
That's why we saved the ModDate settings, now and again we might want to
change how images are renamed.

Here you can see the folder structure and how everything stays neat and organized.

Step 4: Import into the DAM Program

Now you need to import your photos into your RAW converter or
Digital Asset Management (DAM) program.
I have found Adobe Lightroom to be an excellent and powerful program.
Nikon Capture, Canon RAW Image Converter or any software that came with your
camera isn't necessarily the best program to use, basically the camera manufacturers
have to put something in the box for you to use, or people would complain.
They're "good enough to get the job done," but "good enough" shouldn't be
good enough for a professional photographer.
I have also used Capture One, Apple Apperture and Adobe Bridge.
C1 is expensive and clunky in my opinion, Apperture is a resource hog,
it is slow and not very intuitive (it is also Mac only) and Bridge isn't very
powerful when dealing with a few hundred images at a time.

That's why I prefer Adobe Lightroom.

I found this way to work the best for me, it keeps the folders in lightroom organized the same way as the folders on my harddrive.

As you can see, with the images imported into Lightroom, we've maintained the same folder structure. To do this simply go to the file menu and select "Import Photos From Disk." Use the option to "Import Photos From Current Location" and browse to your "Raw" folder and tell Lightroom to import it. Now when you add a new day folder of images to the directory, open Lightroom, right click on the month folder in Lightroom and click "Syncronize Folder..." (see image below) from the menu, Lightroom will look at the month folder, see that you added a new directory and present you with an import dialog. When adding a new month directory, right click on the year folder in Lightroom, and pick syncronize.

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