While there are many ways to select keepers after a photo shoot, and an equally large number of software to it with, here is workflow which I found to be the most efficient for my style of shooting. The software I use is PMView Pro which is available for Windows, eComstation and OS/2 for only $50 USD. Just to be clear, I have no affiliation with PMView Pro, it is simply an excellent image viewer with great usability features. Those will be described below as part of the workflow. If someone would know a software for Linux with the same usability features, please let everyone know by commenting on this post.
Every workflow is based on assumption and personal choices. The workflow below satisfies my requirements for selecting keepers:
- Delete is my friend. Typically, I delete forever 90% of my shots. While storage itself is cheap, managing storage is not. This is one incentive to delete a high percentage of images. Doing so also creates a more poignant collection of images.
- All shots come in as JPEG. There are almost no modifications to any of my images. Rotation: landscape to portrait occurs a fair bit and slight horizon adjustment occurs less than 0.1% of the time. Cropping, panoramic stitching and HDR merging: less than 1% of the time. The implication is that other than for panoramas, it is easy to see whether an image can be a keeper.
- Photography is my art, not image editing. Therefore, I try to get the best images I can in the camera. If it is not a great image in the camera, it gets discarded.
- With the exception of lossless landscape-to-portrait rotation, the original files never get modified.
And now for the workflow. After copying all images from a memory card into a temporary directory, the first image is opened in PMView Pro. It normally takes two passes over all images to get the set of keepers. While I strive to not shoot when I know it will not work, a number of lesser images always show up. The first pass is used to get rid of all bad images. A good image needs no context, if it is good when not measured against any other images, then it is good. The second pass is to get rid of redundent lesser images. At this point it is important to have seen all the images during the first pass, as a relative judgement must be made. The process is therefore as follows:
- Open the first image and view it in full-screen fit-to-screen mode. In PMView Pro this is done using the F3 function key. If it is not configured to fit-to-screen (it should) then CTRL-0 will do it.
- If the image has the wrong orientation (nearly always a portrait image shown in landscape), apply a lossless JPEG rotation to correct the problem. It helps here to setup PMView Pro such that CTRL-Left applies a clockwise lossless JPEG transformation and CTRL-Right applies it counter-clockwise. Otherwise just use the context menu. It is extremely clever that PMView Pro does not alter the file date when applying a lossless JPEG transformation, otherwise all portrait images would sort out-of-order.
- If the image shows poor composition, an uninteresting subject or a major default such as excessive blurring or being out-of-focus, delete it. Pressing the DEL key followed by the ENTER key does that and moves to the next image.
- If the image has not been deleted, go to 100% view using CTRL-1. Use the arrow keys to pan around. Here I look for smaller defects such as softness from vibration or excessive image noise. Delete the image if any unacceptable defect is found. Here again it is very efficient to directly have hotkeys to go to 100% and fit-to-screen modes directly, instead of zoom-in/out which require multiple key presses.
- Go to next image by pressing PgDn (Page Down). This should bring up the next image in fit-to-screen mode. Here, PMView Pro’s hotkey makes particular sense as it keeps the panning keys separate from the keys used to navigate between images. In other software like Irfanview, you get trapped as soon as your zoom level is such that panning becomes necesary.
- Repeat steps 1 to 5 for each image. When the last image has been seen, PMView Pro automatically returns to the first image.
- Now that all images have been seen, the images are compared with very similar images to choose the best image for each main angle of each subject. Start at the first image again. If not at the first, pressing HOME brings you back there.
- If the current image is unique with respect to subject or major perspective, then it is now becomes part of the set of keepers. By major perspective, I mean that no other images exists which shows the same subject with a similar point-of-view. Press PgDn to move on.
- If the image is not unique as per step 8, then it must be compared with similar images. The most common case is that the most similar images are before and after the current image. In this case, use PgUp and PgDn to peek at those images, using CTRL-0 to zoom at 100% when differences are minor. If you know that there is further a similar image, then use CTRL-o to get the file-open dialog and choose the Open-in-new-window option to view the similar image. Use ATL-TAB to alternate between the two. Delete the current image using the DEL key if one of the similar ones is better. PMView Pro never gets confused when deleting images from within itself.
- If the image is part of a panorama or HDR bracket, then move it to a new and separate directory. Those will be dealt with later.
- Note the file name of any image which requires cropping or lossy rotation. Do not, under any circumstances, perform a lossy operation here. Note that cropping a JPEG is almost always lossy.
- Once all images have been seen in the second pass, move them to their final destination. The organization of such final destination is reserved for a future Blog post.
- For each set of images to merge, either by panoramic stitching ot HDR blending, perform the merge in your favorite appropriate software. In the case of panoramas, consider the ultra-simple, super-accurate and free Autostitch.
- If a resulting merge is satisfactory, move the output to a directory for merged images and keep the individual images in the directory of un-merged images.
- If the resulting merge is not any good, then delete it and all images which were used to form it. At this point you may be in another program then PMView Pro but do not worry, PMView Pro will skip over any images which have been externally deleted.
- For each image which required a modification, perform the modification in your favorite image manipulation software such as Photoshop Elements and “Save a copy as” or simply use “Save as” in PMView Pro. Be careful not to ovewrite your originals and place the saved copy into a directory which is clearly identified as being for manipulated images. It can be extremely important to know which images have been tampered with.
OK, so with 16-steps it may seem like a long process but it is not thanks to PMView Pro. The way most actions can be performed with a single hot-key means that most of these steps take a fraction of a second per image. There are other cool features in PMView Pro too such as batch conversion, caching of variable size thumbnails and file management designed for images. One such example is the file-replace dialog which shows the images side-by-side along with metadata to help decide wether the override should be accepted or not.
PMView Pro also supports an independent window to show EXIF data which is great for analyzing sample photos for camera reviews or to learn about how camera settings affect the photograph. Using CTRL-I, a floating always-on-top window with EXIF information is displayed. The great thing about this window is that, unlike a Properties dialog, PMView Pro’s navigation features can be used while the window is displayed. This means that you can move between images while keeping an eye on the EXIF information and pan-and-zoom around too.