Monday, April 15, 2013

Lightroom 5 Beta Features

Lightroom 5 beta version has been released, here are some of the main features that have been added:

- Clone and Heal tool now available right inside Lightroom, one of the most sought after feature users have wanted.
- Spot removal tool now provides a B&W view which enhances your ability to see the spots in a sky for instance.
- Slideshow allows you to mix stills and video clips.
- Auto perspective correction tool available as part of the lens correction adjustment area.
- Ability to create smart previews on import, which allows you to edit images stored on disconnected drives.
- Overhaul of the vignetting tool, now becomes a radial tool which can be applied based on an area or areas selected by the user, not on the center of the image as was the case with earlier versions of Lightroom.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Photo Mechanic Keywords

In the last post I mentioned how useful Photo Mechanic (PM) is for adding keyword information to your images. Keywords are important for anyone who posts their images online either to a personal web site, photo sharing, stock or wire service. They assist search engines be it a local site search or an entire web search via Google when people are trying to locate images of a particular object or person etc.

 I'm not going into details here about adding and applying keywords to your master list or to your images using PM, the user manual explains how to use the keyword dialog just fine. I will however try to explain one feature PM provides that is beyond the basic functionality of a simple linear keyword list. PM allows you to use a nested vocabulary or a hierarchy lists of keywords which builds out keywords based on parent / child relationships as well as synonyms.  For instance a "Cow"  is a "Farm Animal" and could be referred to as a "Bovine". So the keyword phrase "Farm Animal" is the parent keyword of "Cow" the child, and "Bovine" is a synonym keyword for "Cow". The more descriptive and inclusive your keywords are the better the chance a search engine will locate one of your images over another.

 PM comes with a basic vocabulary of keywords, it's intended to illustrate how the hierarchy menu of the "Structured Keywords Panel" works. You can also look at the supplied keyword text file behind it to see how to build your own. The Keyword Panel comes with a list of Regions from around the world and another for Animals, which I soon discovered was very incomplete. I decided to look at their text files to see how I could build my own, ones which would relate directly to the subjects that I normally photograph. I'll try to explain how the text files behind the "Structured Keywords Panel" dialog box work and how you can build your own custom structured keyword menu.

 Start by opening the main Structured Keywords Panel which is accessed on the menu bar through "Image / Structured Keywords Panel". I highly recommend that you first make a copy of the vocabulary file that ships with PM this way you can revert back to the factory list that shipped with PM. This is done by hitting the "Save' button located in the lower right area of the panel, a typical save dialog box will ask you where to save this file. The "Merge", "Load" and "Save" buttons are very important going forward when modifying the vocabulary files create outside of PM with a standard text editor and I'll explain their use later in more detail. 

 With any text editor that allows you to save files in the UTF-8 format (ex: Windows NotePad) you can now open the file you just saved.  You will notice that the menus are displayed based on the order of top to bottom and the amount of indentation for of each column of text. The columns must be indented by using the TAB key only, if there are spaces used to offset your columns you will find that the menus you're trying to build won't line up properly. Each indented column represents the child of the previous column of data or its parent to its left. The keyword menus are ordered left to right the same way the columns of text appear in the text files, left most data appearing in the 1st or left most menu column, followed by the next column etc.. The flyout or expanding menu to the right is determined by the order in which the text appears in the file top to bottom. Note, PM will automatically sort your data alphabetically within the parent/child relationships after you import it so do not worry about the order in which you entered in your text. Synonym words that appear in bold in the menu are encased in curly brackets {} and should appear in the same column of data that they represent for a group of keywords, or indented one level to the right if they are representing a single object. 

 One thing that needs to be covered is how to added keyword files into PM and how to save or backup the ones that you use and may wish to share with others. This is where the "Merge", "Load" and "Save" buttons are used:

 Save - Always do this first before making any changes to your structured keyword list menu. This is your backup and the only way to return to the previous version before you initiated a change. You can also use this if you wish to share your keyword list(s) with another PM user.

 Load - Overwrites the current structured keyword list or lists that appear in your Structured Keyword Panel menu with the contents of the keyword text file you are importing. Only the contents of the text file you are adding will appear after load has completed.

 Merge - Will append your current structured keyword menu with the contents of the new text file you wish to add. If you want to use the lists that I've created you can select only the ones that interest you and use the merge button to add them into your structured keyword menu one at a time.

Using the FREE files that I have supplied is pretty simple. Go to my  Photo Mechanic Keyword Vocabulary page and download the zipped files that interest you. I suggest that you 1st make a backup copy of your current structured keyword list using the "Save" button before you  "Merge" the contents of my file(s) with yours.

I have created keyword list of the following Flora and Fauna with their Common and Scientific names:

North American Birds, Canadian Insects, North American Dragonflies and Damselflies, Canadian Butterflies, North American Mammals, North American Reptiles, North American Amphibians, Ontario Wild Flowers.

Also available is a list of Canada and US nature areas, which includes:
National, Provincial and State Parks, Nature Preserves and Conservation areas, Wildlife Management Areas and Bird Sanctuaries, National and State Forest, Arboretums and Botanical Gardens

Another more localized list of my area: The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Golden Horseshoe parks is also available, it includes parks from: The City of Toronto (amalgamated), Niagara Falls, Grimsby, St. Catharines, Hamilton,  Burlington, Oakville, Mississauga, Pickering, Ajax, Oshawa, Milton & Halton Region

Friday, April 5, 2013

Photo Mechanic

Recently I've added Camera bits' Photo Mechanic into my digital photography workflow. It has become my first step, getting the images off my memory cards and into the computer.  People try to compare Photo Mechanic to Adobe's LightRoom or Apple's Aperture they are separate tools and excel at doing different tasks. Photo Mechanic (PM) has not replaced the use of LightRoom (LR) in my overall workflow, it just proceeds it in my order and replaces some of the task I was using LR to preform. 

  PM is a image browsing tool that is used by most photojournalists who are normally under the gun to get their images to their editors quickly and with accurate IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council) metadata. Their images must be captioned/tagged with Location, Date, Event information, Photographer's name, Subject's name etc...  along with any keywords that will be used by their wire service data base.  Selecting a few of their best images and properly documenting them must happen as quick as possible, for sports photographers often at half time or between periods of a hockey game for instance. PM is one of the fastest image browsers on the market, and allows reviewing full size or even 100% zoomed RAW images instantly as they appear on your hard drive (or you can point PM directly to your memory card).

 The PM application does not provide any photo editing ability and even with all of its metadata capabilities it does not provide any cataloging features either. It does however provide a lightning fast way for you to import, browse, sort, document, star rate and keyword your RAW or JPeg images. You might ask, but Lightroom (LR) will do all of that and allow me to edit images and it creates a database catalog of my files, why would I use PM?  Again simply for its speed, the main advantage PM has over LR is that you can start scanning through your images as they are being imported and unlike LR you do not have to wait for each image to be rendered before it can be displayed full screen. Flipping through your images is as fast as you can hit the next key (right/left arrow key), try that with LR. Sure LR might be able to keep up if you selected full size rendering on import, but you could wait hours for the import process to complete. PM will allow you to import ("Ingest" in PM terminology) from multiple memory cards at once (naturally you must have multiple card readers), create unique directories, make a backup copy to a 2nd drive, rename files and apply IPTC metadata all at once. If the files on your memory card are split up into multiple directories PM will combine them into a single directory on your hard drive, or you can request that the directory structure be retained when copying your files over to the hard drive.

  Speed was the main aspect of PM that sold me on using it, the other was its metadata features. Being able to leverage the existing EXIF data created by your camera along with an easy to use interface to update the IPTC information was a bonus. PM creates variable names that reference in whole or in part the contents of each EXIF data field created by your camera. You can use these variables to auto populate any other IPTC data field or to create the file destination directory name used during the ingest (import) process. Also using the IPTC Stationery Pad (dialog box) you can quickly set default copyright, usage permissions, photographer's name and web site information. Other fields like caption, location, client information and keyword fields can also be set in the Stationery Pad before you ingest your images into your computer.

 Key wording is important for photographers who sell their images on stock or wire service sites and is mandatory for photojournalists. The average hobby photographer may not want to spend the time adding keywords to their photos but if you post your images on line, keywords may help generate traffic to your site since they are often used by search engines. PM comes with a stripped down version of a commercial keyword catalog available from Controlled Vocabulary which can be upgraded to a full version for a fee. You can add your own keywords to a master list via the interface using the IPTC stationery pad or by creating tab formatted hierarchical text files which can be imported into PM directly.

 I have built some keyword catalog files for myself that you may find useful for your images. In my next post I'll explain where to find these FREE files, how to move them into Photo Mechanic and briefly explain how you can build your own using a simple text editor such as notepad. The keywords you build into these files not only save you time but they provide a consistent entry of correctly spelled words and allow you to include synonyms like scientific names that represent a species of flora or fauna.

   Photo Mechanic may not be for everyone but being able to quickly delete the garbage images and flag, tag and keyword the keepers before importing them into LightRoom for me was well worth the $150 price tag. Download the trial version and see how you can flip through your RAW files at lightning speed, you will be blown away I'm sure.