28 April 2009

Digital archiving: Photoshop Elements

It's been a while since I set out to explore archiving software. My trials have expired a long time ago, but I made notes as I tested so the only thing missing is to write it all together. First out is Photoshop Elements.

Version explored: 6.0
Yes, I know that Version 7.0 is already out. However I own a license of v6.0, so I wanted to have a go at that. I've tried to figure out what's new with version 7 from forums and Adobe's website, and it seems to me that most of the improvements are in other areas than the archiving bit.

So let's see if this "entry-level" product has anything to show for itself.

1. Magic words
PSE v6 supports hierarchical keywords. However it does not store the assigned keywords in the file metadata (XMP or IPTC), so you can't expect to retrieve your keywords when working in other applications. However it will gladly import keywords from XMP and IPTC assigned by other applications when importing images.

I also tried to assign some keywords to a Raw file (into a sidecar file) in LightRoom to see if PSE would detect it. No response. However it detected a few other tags, like "title" and "caption" when I updated the thumbnail in PSE.

As a standalone system, PSE is quite adequate for assigning keywords. It also has a very nice way of tagging the thumbnail view so that you can see what kind of keywords you have assigned to each image.

Note: One improvement to version 7 is free-text search. According to a test in the Norwegian journal Fotografi, it's a significant improvement in searching functionality. However, it seems that version 7 still holds all the metadata in a proprietary database only. No writing to the IPTC or XMP in the file system.

2. Image Version handling and bundling
As long as you do your editing within PSE, you can choose to save your files as New Versions of original files. PSE will then group the files in a Version Set, and group the thumbnails as a stack. You can save files in different folders on the disk, or even on different disks, if you like. This applies also to raw file development using Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). The developed file will also inherit all metadata from the raw version.

You can also stack images manually.

Further, there is a function for autodetecting stacks. This function browse through your thumbnails, and make suggestions for stacking based on image similarity and proximity in time. And it works quite well, too. Sluggish for folders with a ton of images, but still.

It is not possible, however, to detect new versions of an image created by other applications.

3. Backup, restore, and migration
PSE has built-in functions for making backups of both the database (catalog) and the images. However, since keywords are only stored in the database and not in XMP or IPTC, it is difficult (if at all possible) to migrate the archive to other platforms from PSE.

4. Support for offline archives
PSE does retain thumbnails for offline media, if you use PSE to copy the files to the offline medium. Otherwise PSE will just claim the file is "missing". Compared to the other programs I have looked at this is kinda primitive.

PSE does not support branching out one part of its catalog.

5. other stuff
I can't help liking the interface of PSE. It is clear-cut, tidy and comprehensible. To a happy snapper who just tries to manage his or her memories, this is a great program. The main downside about the archiving part of PSE ("organiser"), is that it is a bit too proprietary in its way of handling the metadata. It doesn't readily allow other applications into its workflow.

And speaking of workflow, the weakest part of PSE is the editor. It does not support any serious editing in 16-bit colour depth (eg. layers), and the version of Adobe Camera Raw bundled with PSE is quite stripped-down compared to the version that goes with the CS series of Photoshop and LightRoom. It is possible to configure PSE to use an external program as editor, but then you lose all its versioning capabilities.

In all, I think PSE is a nice tool, but too proprietary. Since all the metadata is only stored inside its catalog (database), and not in the files or sidecar files, it will be difficult to migrate to a different system down the line. This is not the way I want to go, but many people would do just fine for a lifetime with this software. Provided it stays compatible with shifting computers... :-)

25 April 2009

Best vs. Good Enough

In the process of making some prints from Canary Wharf and other parts of the London Docklands, I suddenly remembered one picture I was quite pleased with at the moment of capture. A night shot of the pedestrian tunnel under the Thames between Cutty Sark and the Isle of Dogs.

So I ventured to find it. A search on keywords brought up nothing. Cursing myself for not putting keywords on my images I began browsing. It took me 20 minutes to realise that it was not among my raw files.

Could I have used a compact camera for this shot?

Browsing again, I found my image. Taken five years ago with the Altoid-box-sized Optio S. Sporting a whopping 3 megapixels, ad with plenty of noise and some JPEG artefacts. It does look nice in blog resolution, doesn't it? But could this hold up to an 20x30 cm enlargement at all?

Well, to make a long story short, it did. Barely, but it did.

However, as I worked with this, I came over another pic produced by the same camera. And believe it or not, this pic holds exellently up to 40x50 cm! I have even sold one, printed in that size on watercolour paper.

Food for thought on the pixel-peeping mega-race. The best can sometimes be an enemy of good-enough.

20 April 2009

Practice, practice...

Just a couple of km's from my house there is a little lake. It's surrounded by 'burb houses, well-paved footpaths, benches, soccer fields and a small measure of forest. It is also a protected wetland nature reserve, due to the large number of bird species stopping by on their migrations or nesting there.
It's also where "all" of Oslo's bird photographers hang out on a nice afternoon.
I stopped by one day, saw many familiar faces and had a couple of good conversations. As the new kid on the block I tried to absorb not only the patterns of bird behaviour, but also the human counterpart. There seem to be both dos an don'ts to observe if one wants to fit in snugly. Because, to the old guys, lake Østensjøvannet is not primarily about Getting The Good Picture. It's about a good place to practice the craft, not the art, of bird photography. How to make the most of a bird in flight, how to train your reactions when a sudden conflict between courting males erupt into a fight.
It's so easy here. Relatively speaking. Short way to the parking lot, lots of familiar faces, and a good range of species to practice on. From the sedate greylags to the sky-zipping house martins. And picking your day, or even just time of day, you can practice whatever type of light you desire.

Pentax K20D, FA*600/4, tripod. f/7.1, 1/320s, ISO 400

For me, the session was really humbling. All of my shots were badly framed, out of focus, simply bland, or any combination of the three. If I want to be serious about wielding that damn beast of a 600mm I'll truly have to rehearse it. A lot.

13 April 2009

Courting cormorants

Farne Islands, UK.
Pentax K20D, DA*300/4

09 April 2009

Easter birds of prey

AlunFoto and family is having a good week off, in the good care of friends in Newcastle, UK. One thing we have done is to visit the Birds Of Prey Centre at Kielder. The kids were awed by the birds, and even more so when allowed to handle some of them during the feeding show.

In principle, it saddens me to see birds like these in captivity, but the way this centre can help to instil awe and respect for the birds in children makes it nearly tolerable. Further, the birds held at the centre are bred in captivity and would therefore have slim chances in the wild anyway.

All things considered, I think this enterprise is a Good Thing.

Here's a shot of one of the keepers with a white-tailed eagle.