This article is all about how to keep your files safe on your computer as well as making them easy to find in the future, and improving the productivity of your photography workflow. By following these simple instructions, you can make sure that you never lose a photo again.
Before I get into talking about importing, I want to make a very important point about setting up your camera properly. If you want to have an organized workflow, then you need to make sure that your camera is set to the correct time and date, and that means changing it every time you’re in a new time zone, or when the clocks go back or forward. Your photos will often organize themselves in date order, so even just a few photos with the wrong date can mess up the whole system. My tutorial is going to be largely based around Apple’s program Aperture, but everything I’m talking about is easily relatable in Lighroom.
You can import your photos by just plugging in your camera mostly, but this does have a habit of confusing some programs and runs a lot slower. What I like to do is to use the very cheap memory card reader and plug that in via USB. Side note – if you’re using SD cards, you may well find that your computer or printer has a card reader built in, like on a Macbook. I would say that using a card reader makes the transfer roughly 3 times faster, which is important when dealing with large RAW files, and you can still transfer your photos if you’ve drained the batteries after a long day of shooting. When you plug in your card, the import screen should pop up, and from here you’ll have a few options.
As I said, the options may be slightly different for Lightroom, but the ideas and processes are basically the same. When you go to import files, it should look something like this. As you can see, it’s very basic, and although it will do the job, there are some much better options that you can add to improve it. Name the folder that you want the photos to go in, making sure it’s all spelt correctly and not in block capitals, so that it’s easy to read.
The first thing you’ll want to do is to rename the file name to something that you can recognize later on and search for. This isn’t as relevant for when you’re editing in Aperture or Lightroom, but when you export the photo somewhere, or you’re using an external editing program, it’s important to know certain details about it. When you select the ‘Version Name’ drop down menu, you’ll find a choice of options at your disposal, but I personally like to customize my own.
The whole of this step is available in Lightroom too. Click on edit in the drop down menu, and you’ll see that there’s a range of options for you to choose from to customize your own file name, exactly how you want it. Click on the plus icon in the bottom left hand corner to make your own and name it whatever you want. Then, in the ‘format’ line, you can drag in different functions to add to the names, so for example, I always customise my names, so I’ve put that in first. I recommend everyone follows my process. I then add date and time, with an ‘at’ between it, followed by a hyphen and an index number (which you can’t see because it’s below the first line). Now every import will look something like ‘CUSTOM NAME – 2011-04-14 at 05-33-47 – 1’. Click OK, and you’re all done.
If you’re anything like I am, then you’ll want to make sure that your photos are always safe, so the best way to do this is to make copies as you go along, and that means importing to more than one location. If you select the import setting tab just above, you can select ‘Backup location’, so that you can add another destination for your photo import. What this does is makes duplicates onto another hard drive that you select, so that if your computer was to die, you would still always have a back up. Just to confuse you, I’ve named my external hard drive ‘Aperture Library’.
After this, you should be all done, and your screen will look something like below. Click on import, and your files will import to your library, while backing up to an external location, keeping all your hard work safe.
When it’s done, an alert will pop up and ask if you’d like to delete the files, and I trust my software and know that nothing is every truly lost with flash cards, so I choose to do so. If you’re not so sure, then don’t take the risk, you can always delete them from your camera later. Once all of that’s done, it should be safe to remove your card from the computer.
Backing Up / Referencing
This step is unbelievably useful to laptop users, because the price of good hard drives can be very expensive. I call this step backing up, but what you’re really doing is referencing each file so that it’s no longer on your computer, even though you can still see them. By referencing the file through your chosen software, it will keep the preview intact and allow you to browse the files much quicker, but removing roughly 90% of the file size to an external location, freeing up the room on your laptop. This means that you can organize terabytes of files from your laptop, without ever having to worry about running out of room, and mirroring your files mean they’re always safe.
To do this, you select the files that you want to move, and go to file>reference masters. The screen below will pop up, and as you can see, it’s really easy to follow; you simply select the hard drive you’d like to store the files on, and because we put in the time during the import, just leave the subfolder and name format to the folder name and master name. Depending on the amount of files that you’re managing, this may take some time, especially if you’re doing it for the first time, but it’s well worth the effort.
This next step is very important to keeping your photos safe. You will want to back up these photos to another hard drive, because when you delete the duplicates that you originally imported, you’ll only have one copy left. This isn’t expensive anymore as hard drives have gotten incredibly cheap. To make sure that these photos are safe from fire or theft, I like to give the hard drive to a family member to hold on to, that way, if anything were to happen to the original, I would be covered, and I see family often enough to back up to the second hard drive too. Once this is done, it’s safe to delete the original backup from the external hard drive.
While your hard drive is plugged in, you’ll notice that all of your photos have this icon in the bottom right hand corner, symbolising that they’ve been referenced. You can work on these files as you normally would with absolutely no problems or loss of speed. I recommend a USB powered hard drive for this, as otherwise you’ll have to carry around a plug and much larger hard drive.
When the hard drive is removed, you’ll notice that there is now a red line going through the box, which looks like the image below. This means that the hard drive is plugged in, and while you can still browse the files, you can’t edit or export them. The whole process of referencing files is best if you shoot in RAW as they take up a lot of room, but if you don’t, you may choose to shoot in JPEG and manage your files how you would every other file on your computer.