Joe and Mary Ann McDonald's

Wildlife Photography

January 2004

Question of the Month

What is my initial DIGITAL WORKFLOW?


Two years ago I wonder how many people would have any idea what 'workflow' meant or implied. Today, it's a term getting some use, and it must, for working with digital files and the whole digital process is an entirely new world, quite different from the world of working with slides. While we're still processing film -- Mary has a zillion year's worth of images we still need to get to agencies and into our files, and I have almost a 2 year backlog because of our travels, it is scary to see how so many of our stock agencies are either asking for digital files or are asking for scanned images -- since their sales are becoming website based.


As of September, I started shooting with a Canon 1Ds camera Mary bought me for my birthday. Nice present! Since I was still a film shooter, and since I hadn't seen that much call for digital from our agencies, I decided to use my 1Ds as my 'second' camera -- shooting the 'normal' stuff with Digital and saving my best shooting opportunities for film. If I thought I had a potential Nature's Best or BBC photo contest contender, I'd switch to film, if it was just mundane material -- images that I may have shot many times before -- then I shot it with Digital.

In this way, I shot all of a Triple D game farm shoot, much of a Glacier N.P. visit, and most of our Yellowstone Photo Tour. In Kenya, I followed the same practice, but as the trips went by ... I became more and more lured by the DIGITAL. By the time I was in Rwanda, filming gorillas, I used DIGITAL most of the time, and only shot film when the shooting conditions were exceptional. In Rwanda, low light was the norm, and although both Mary and I got some really outstanding results shooting Fuji 400, much of the time I shot at ISO 400 or 640 with Digital, so that I had speed, exposure latitude, and the comfort of shooting a lot of images without worrying about the waste.

Since I've returned home, I've found that several of our stock photo agencies are either accepting, or requesting, digital files, and I know I'll be doing a lot more digital in the future. And although my procedure may change with time, what follows is what I'm doing right now-- OR WILL DO IN THE FUTURE -- like burn a CD of my RAW files immediately!


1. Shoot the digital images, in RAW format, and download these, via a card reader, to my laptop. In a future Q of the M I'll explain why you must shoot in RAW! Believe me, you will shoot in RAW after I show you this!

2. IMMEDIATELY, BURN A CD of the raw images. I did not do that on any of my fall trips and I am paying the price now! I had a great illustration of the beauty of shooting RAW (a future Q of the M) and I'm afraid I may not have saved it when I was converting and writing DVDs. Scott Kelby, in his numerous Photoshop Books, including his latest, Photoshop CS for Digital Photographers, stresses this point and until you get burned, like I have, you don't realize its importance.

Case in point -- besides losing or misplacing a file on cheetahs, I also merely downloaded to a Lacie portable hard drive almost my entire Triple D game farm shoot. This was done on a Mac laptop, but later I tried reading the portable Lacie on my new laptop PC, after I loaded the software. It wouldn't read it, so when I tried downloading it back to my Mac, it wouldn't read it either! Net result -- I lost the shoot! From now on, I'll have CDs with me to download my RAW files, and after they're safely burned, I'll then work on the images, on the computer, before converting to TIFFs and then burning to a DVD disk.

3. Edit the RAW files on the laptop (or desktop). Once the images are secure on a CD, I'm free to work on the downloaded images on my laptop, which are in RAW. Typically this is giving me about a 9 megabite file, which, when converted to TIFF, becomes a 62 mb file. Obviously, once this is done, writing to a DVD makes more sense -- otherwise I'll have aboutr 15 images on a CD -- a pretty unmanageable amount of CDs to carry on a trip!

Working RAW files can be a headache. In PS7 you really need the Adobe Raw Plug to preview images. In PS CS (8), the RAW plug in is built in. What I was doing (AND I NO LONGER AM!) was this:

In CS, I'd open up my raw images using the new File Browser, expanding the File Browser preview to make a huge window that gave me a pretty good idea about the exposure, composition, and, to an extent, focus. But I could not determine CRITICAL FOCUS in this way, so I'd have to click on the Preview window and open up the RAW image in the RAW image converter. Then, I could zoom in on the eyes, or whereever, of my subject and determine if the image was sharp or not. If it was, I'd just click 'Cancel' and return to my File Browser and go on with the next image. If it was not sharp, I'd right-click (on my PC) the selected image and then select DELETE, removing it from the file. Then I'd go on to the next image and again click on it, check focus via the RAW image converter window, and repete the process. This was tedius and time-consuming.

My friend Chris Gamel, a professional photographer now living in Utah, suggested several programs to shorten this tedius process which could be down-loaded off the web on a free trial. One of these is now my NEW WORKFLOW.

The NEW WORKFLOW for images once they're in the computer:

I down-loaded Phase One's Capture 1 SE software ( which processes RAW images. There are several versions of Capture 1 available -- I tried the SE version for the price but I'm going to switch to the PRO version, which will work on my MAC and my PC. Further, the software is legally licenses to the owner to use on as many machines as he/she uses, provided they're used by the owner one at a time. Nice feature!

The Capture 1 software allows me to preview my RAW images in whatever size Preview window I wish to use -- I use a fairly large one, as well as having a choice of 'thumbnails' to scroll through. I keep my 'thumbnails' fairly small since I'm looking at each one, sequentially, in the Preview window. This window shows a very sharp rendition of the RAW image, but because of screen limitations I can't see the image at 100% (that's pixel view, not image -- I can see the entire image, which I do, my selecting 'Fit to Screen' in the image choice for the Preview window. If I wish, I can go to the drop-down window and select 12, 25, 33, 50, 100, 200, 300, or 400% view, but there's no point going beyond 100 since the image begins to pixelate. But there's more --

There is a FOCUS tab (there are also tabs for Exposure, White Balance, Capture, and Develop) which selects a small rectangle within the Preview screen which magnifies to 100%, giving an excellent determination of focus. There are two settings here -- a softness, which is the default and shows the image as it basically is, and a 'standard' which can be clicked on to provide a view similar to what the image would look like when a sharpening filter is applied.

At any rate, between Previewing the Image with Capture 1 and then zooming in, via the Focus Tab, on a critical area to determine focus, I can check out sharpness in one program, in one quick step! If I choose to delete the image, again, a right-click gives me a pop-up menu where I can click delete, which ships the image over to Capture 1's trash bin. This is a great failsafe because that trashbin must be opened, which brings up thumbnails again, before it can be emptied. I've saved myself several times by mistakenly deleting an image I wished to retrieve.

Capture 1 is a RAW workflow program, and accordingly, it is super fast. Images feed into this program from a CD or DVD much faster than they do into Photoshop's File Browser, so the workflow is enhanced right off the bat. I love the program, have been using it for two-whole-days as I write this, and I've editted through material that was taking me hours (over many days!) via my old method. I'm not a huge fan of reading documentation so I pretty much only skimmed the Capture 1 Read-Me file (which they strongly recommend doing first!) before diving into the program. I got far enough along on that (since the controls are similar in many ways to doing RAWs with PS) that, when I was finally dead-ended, I could read the entire Read-Me file and understand exactly what Capture 1 was doing! So, my learning curve was less than a day!

4. Batch process to label files. Capture 1 has some super provisions for batch processing, especially in the Pro version, and I'll cover those in a future Tip or Question column. For now, assuming you're only using PS 7 or PS CS, and you go through your own tedious image-editting procedure, I'll finish up with my last steps:

Back in PS CS, I select the images that I want to rename via the File Browser's menu, under Automate>Batch Rename. I then provide a generic name, like Mt. Gorilla RAW 333 so that I'll know, in the future, that my previously labeled CETI 4279 is actually a Mt. Gorilla! This is still a RAW file, with nothing done to it other than renaming, and perhaps rotating to a Vertical format. Generally I'll 'control-click' the images I want to have the same, basic generic raw name, like Mt. Gorilla (for adults without obvious sexual distinction), Mt. Gorilla Baby RAW 111, Mt. Gorilla Mother RAW 222, etc. All my gorilla babies, then, have Mt. Gorilla Baby RAW 111, 112, 113, etc.

5. My last step, for now, is to go through the RAW files, in this case the Mt. Gorilla RAW files, and open them up, 'tweak' the image if necessary -- via Capture 1 or PS CS, and do a 'SAVE AS' where I give the new 62mb TIFF file a new name. If I've converted and saved a Mt. Gorilla Baby RAW 119 file, the new 'SAVE AS' file in TIFF will read however I wish to name it, which might be 'Gorilla, Mt. BABY 119' which will always tell me that 119 is the same number for my RAW version, should I need to return to the RAW version later.

This might be very important if you're entering photo contests like the BBC where they may request a RAW copy along with a TIFF to insure that the image is real and not manipulated in anything but standard image-management tweaking.

6. Once those images are renamed, for now I'm placing both the RAW and the TIFF copy into a separate folder than the one that is holding the RAW files that I haven't converted. I'm still thinking this part through -- I might simply keep TIFFs in that folder, which will probably be written to a CD or DVD. On my server's hard drive I'll store a small jpeg version of the TIFF file for reference by anyone looking for images. I'm not doing that yet -- I'm still editing, so


I'll write it up, or simply paste it 'as is' in a future column, and give you the credit! It would be great to hear how people are managing their digital files, especially in these ways:

1. Storage -- accessory super gig-hard drive? Multiple DVDs or CDs?
2. Referencing images -- small jpegs? Print-outs, either full page or 'album covers' for DVDs or CDs?
3. Retrieval -- how do you find images later?

Moose's and David Cardinal's Digital Pro 2 does handle this end of things, but I've been away from that program since our fall trips and I don't have firm suggestions to give at this time. I will be looking very closely at their program (which I have and reviewed earlier) for this critical phase of Digital Image Management. Let's hear what you do, too?

 Learn the complete "how-to's" of digital photography at our

 Just learning Adobe Photoshop and really get started in digital imaging?
Optimizing the Digital Image in the Digital Darkroom

 Familiar with Adobe Photoshop but want to master the techneques? Check out our UNLEASHING THE POWER OF PHOTOSHOP
Applied Photoshop for the Photographer


Previous Questions of the Month




 Camera Techniques

 In the Field

How would you meter these images?

Why should you know Manual Mode? 

 The Sunny 16 rule -- is it worth knowing today?

  How do you shoot silhouettes?

 How would you meter these challenging images?

 Who should go Digital,
and when?

 What do we really think about digital photography?

 What do we think of the Canon D30 digital camera?

 How long will film be around?

 Is an L-Shaped Camera Bracket worth the Money?
You bet it is!

 Using Zoom lenses with tele-converters and extension tubes -- can you use both together?

 What the heck is the Scheimpflug Law?

  Reciprocity Failure

 What is the Best Composition?

 Are Image Stabilization Lenses Worth the Money?

 Hyperfocal Distance

  How do you determine distances?

 Should you have a depth of field Preview button on your camera?

 Flash and Tele-flash Techniques

 What is the most versatile remote release camera firing system?

 What the heck is a Plamp?

 What is the best flash for closeup and
macro photography?

 How do you shoot high-speed action images?
 How did I photograph that flying wasp?

 What is the Fotronix's
Flash System?


What is the Big Lie?
Tfhe truth about Kenya's Tourism--it is SAFE!

 How can you attract insectivorous birds to your feeding stations and bait sites?

 How do you make things happen in wildlife photography?
 What is our Favorite bird-shooting location?  What are our Five Favorite Shooting Locales?  Which binoculars do we just love to use?

How Easy is Whale Photography?

 What is the best
Game Caller?

  How do we carry our film when traveling?
 Is NANPA for you?  What is NANPA and how will it benefit me?

 Is it time for a summer NANPA Summit?

Contact us by e-mail:

Or FAX us at: (717) 543-6423.

Return to Home Page.