6 Apr 2014

Tagging photos efficiently in Lightroom (with help of Keyword sets and keyboard shortcuts)

One of the features of the Library module of the Adobe Lightroom is the possibility of tagging photos stored in the catalog. Tags, next to collections, are invaluable when a photo has to be found quickly. The issue with tags is that they require some discipline to maintain them and to ensure that all the photos are tagged properly. Probably the best way to keep the catalog well tagged is to apply the tags to the photos during import or just thereafter. Otherwise the number of untagged photos just grows over time. This article is about dealing with a lot of untagged photos in a catalog in a efficient way, by using only the keyboard and not to type keywords at all during tagging.

Find the untagged photos

When I started sorting out my photos my catalog contained about 70000 pictures. To find the photos that are untagged I created a Smart Collection first. To do so select the option New Smart Collection... from the menu Library.
In the window that will open you can create a set of rules for this collection. To select untagged photos use the settings as shown in the picture below:

Click Create. In the "Collections" left side bar a smart collection will appear called "Photos without tags". In my case it contained about 3000 pictures (I have blurred the rest of collections just for clarity of this explanation):

In the next step the contents of this smart collection have to be copied to a temporary collection (I'll explain the reason for that in a moment). The easiest way is:
1. to select all the photos in the smart collection
2. to create a collection (menu Library->New Collection). In my case I have named it "Temporary - without tags". I have selected the option "Include selected photos" to make this collection in one shot:

So at this stage I have my working collection where the actual tagging will take place:

Why did I create a regular collection, next to the Smart collection? The reason is that the Smart collections are calculated in a dynamic way. So after every manipulation of a photo being part of the smart collection Lightroom checks if the Smart Collection selection criteria still apply. If not, the photo is automatically removed. In our case it would mean that we could manipulate a tag only once per photo. Directly after confirmation of the tag, the photo would disappear from the collection. Sometimes there are more tags required, sometimes we just make a mistake. Sure, Ctrl-Z (Command-Z) would rescue the situation, but we want to work efficiently, eliminating unnecessary mouse clicks and keystrokes.

Tagging photos quickly, just with a keyboard

The key to speed-up tagging is not to use the mouse (or touchpad) nor to type the keywords during the tagging. It is possible in Lightroom to tag the photos just by using the cursor keys, the Alt (Option) key and the numerical keys. Here is how.

Keyword sets

Lightroom offers the simple tagging tool, called a Keyword set. It is visible in the right panel of the Library module:
You can create as many Keyword sets as you want. Each keyword set has a name (in this case Outdoor Photography) and can contain up to 9 keywords.
The nice thing is that Lightroom assigns a keyboard shortcut to each keyword in the active Keyword set. Just select a photo, press Alt (Option) key and observe the Keyword Set panel:

Notice the small numbers (from 1 to 9), that I circled with red. These are the keyboard shortcuts that you can use to tag the photo! So if I wanted to apply the keyword Spring to a photo, I just need to press Alt (Option) and 4 key to place a tag. So no typing the keyword, no searching it on the list. Just Alt-[number].
It gets even better. With the combination Alt (Option)-0 you can change the selected keyword set. Alt-0 moves forward on the list of sets, Shift-Alt-0 moves backward.

Adding multiple tags is straightforward: just take different number. Remove the selected tag is done by pressing Alt-[number] again (in other words Alt-[number] toggles the tag).

So, provided you have prepared meaningful sets, the tagging is very quick: Change the selected photo with a cursor key, press Alt-[number key] to place a tag. If you don't have the tag in the current set, select another with Alt-0 or Shift-Alt-0.
If your tags don't contain the keyword you need, I suggest to skip such photo just for now and move on. Your Smart collection that you have created for watching untagged photos will remember it. In practice after finishing of quick tagging the number of untagged photos will be small enough to tag them manually in a limited time.
Creating the Keyword sets is explained next.

How to create a keyword set

Use the menu Metadata->Keyword Set->Edit... In the dialog that will appear type the keywords that you want to use:
If you are modifying the set, just press Change. To create a new set click on the list Preset and select the option Save Current Settings as New Preset.
Type the name of the preset in the dialog window, press Create. Finally press Change. Your new set is ready to use.

 The efficiency of the method

When I started with this method I had about 7000 untagged photos. In 6 hours I was able to tag 4000 photos in a meaningful way. I believe, it is not bad al all.

11 Mar 2014

On practicing the "semi-professional" photography - take the chance of an assignment

Doing a 'real', professional photo session is something I always wanted to try. There is however a problem - how to get such assignment not being a professional photographer? One solution is to actively search for them, starting in your own environment. Look for the opportunities by asking your family, friends, close acquaintances. It has some clear advantages: you are known to them, most probably they probably know your work, so you are not completely out of the comfort zone.
I have tried this approach lately. Everything started with an e-mail from my relative, asking for sharing of  a web shop of the jewelry made of glass, amber and metal.
When I saw the page I noticed two things: a real beauty of the offered products and not so good quality of the pictures showing them. So I thought "hey, I can do it better".
So I shared the page but asked if the jewelry maker wouldn't like to have better photos of his products.
After getting a positive answer I had my assignment.
I have arranged the session at the 'customer' premises and spent couple of hours photographing his products. We both had a lot of fun; I learned a bit about his craft, he was really thrilled by the results of my work.
It wasn't the real professional work, since I haven't earn a penny. But it was a "win-win" situation anyway. I have learned new aspects of photography, he got decent pictures of his products.

Next assignment will be much more challenging - a wedding of a good friend of mine. I'd better do it right, because I don't want to loose a friend :-). So I've been practicing for several months already.

15 Feb 2014

First photography DIY project of 2014 accomplished

Recently I have started the DIY project, which should end in the big (1x2m), sturdy  frame with detachable light diffuser or reflector, depending on the used fabric. The project is finished, and the result looks quite nice:
Front side

Back side
To check the quality I took several shoots using different materials: a shoot-through umbrella, a diffuser and the combination of two. All shots have been taken with the light source placed 1 meter from my face. I have used one SB-900 speed light flash, working in iTTL mode. I have compensated the light strength of the iTTL by -2 stops. The photos are not super sharp, because I had to operate the setup alone, using the remote trigger. So the lens focus was locked and I tried to keep the same distance from the camera during consecutive shots:
Shoot-through umbrella

Shoot-through umbrella + diffuser
First photo is the least successful in my opinion (let's not discuss quality of the model :-)). Note the blemishes on the chick and relatively high contrast around the ears. Second picture, taken with the screen only improves the blemishes.
The combination (putting the speed light behind the umbrella and the screen) produces the results which are to me most pleasant with respect to the softness of light. The idea of combining both light modifiers comes from Joe McNally (one of his online courses). Just to give an idea of the setup:

The diffuser gives a slightly warm color cast comparing to the umbrella, but it is not a big problem.
I have ended up with the budget for the whole project of about 70 EUR. Not bad, I'd say, considering the final effect.

4 Feb 2014

A potentially useful tip for all interested in practicing the Brenizer technique

No, it will not be yet another post about the Brenizer method. If one wants this kind of information, use Google or (even better), look at the instructions of the author of this technique.
Although it sound simple, it requires some practice before achieving repeatable decent results (at least, I still learn it). Just to mention a few aspects:
- Learn to pre-visualize the final composition,
- Choose the right focal length and the distance to the subject,
- Learn to move the camera properly during taking the shots.
The bottom line of this is that it will require quite some sessions and panoramas to be stitched.
And here comes the tip: at least in the initial phase choose the stitching software that works fast. Just to be able to judge the results quickly and move on.
I have started with Photoshop and its Photomerge function. It delivers good results, but it is slow, especially if the number of photos grows. There are alternatives based on the SIFT algorithm. They work amazingly fast. Autostitch is very simple to use, free, but with the limited functionality. Another that I have tried is Autopano Pro. It works also very fast and offers a lot of post processing options. It is not free, but the demo version is more than enough to practice the Brenizer technique.

26 Jan 2014

First photography DIY project of 2014 started

There is a light-shaping tool that I really would like to have in my bag. It is a big light diffuser/reflector/screen. By "big" I mean something with the dimensions 1x2 meters, for instance.
There are dozens solutions available on the market which one can buy. It is an option, but the available solutions are quite expensive (starting from around 200 EUR). So I decided to give a try and create such tool by my own. 
Basically it consists of a frame with a proper dimensions, a handle and the fabric which is stretched on the frame. Depending on the fabric the tool can be used as a reflector, diffuser or a screen.
There are many descriptions of how to make it on Internet, I have used this one as a starting point.
I have set some requirements for the final product before start:
1. It should be substantially cheaper than available products
2. It should be lightweight,
3. It should be portable,
4. It should be easy to mount (with limited number of parts)
5. It should be extendible and flexible (i.e. I wanted to be able to easy build frames of different sizes if needed, like 1x1m, 2x2m.

First part is accomplished. This weekend I have finished building the frame:
My requirements are realized, at least for the products based on a frame:
1. It cost 44.60 EUR (in the Netherlands). The price of similar products of Lastolite or Sunbounce are at least twice as much. 
2. The frame weights less than one kilogram.
3. It fits in a bag of 115x30 cm
4. It consists of 7 elements:

5. With the current set I can make a 1x2m frame as well as 1x1m:

The next step is to prepare the materials. I'll start with the diffuser.

Final note: there are collapsible reflectors/diffusers available on the market in the similar dimensions, starting from 49.95 EUR (google for Godox 150x200 for example), which are all-in-one packets (flexible (collapsible) frame, fabrics, bag). My project cannot compete with them on price. 
But I think that the frame is more versatile, since you can mount it on a stand. And it is easier to hold by a person if required.

18 Jan 2014

After a workshop with teenagers - some fresh thoughts

I have just finished a workshop about basics of photojournalism, news and reportage photography.
The audience were Polish teenagers (between 11 and 15 years) that had made a mini-reportage about their school, discussed the quality of their work and got some information about most important aspects of photojournalism: what are the rules the photo journalists must obey, what are the most important attributes of this kind of photography.
Looking at the age of the audience one can say that it is a "Facebook" or in general "Digital media" generation - surrounded by digital pictures all the time. There are different opinions about this phenomenon, but quite often people argue that it leads to the "photographic analfabetism" - young people cannot read the pictures anymore.
To be honest, I was also curious whether the group would be able to distinguish the vital aspects of the news and reportage photography.
To my surprise, they knew (or felt the importance of) quite a lot of issues of the contemporary photojournalism. For example they knew very well what the "photo setup" means (in contrary to the natural scene), they realized the importance of privacy. They knew about digital image manipulation and where it is applied mostly.
I see it as a positive side of the overall presence of digital media. Somehow together with it there is probably also emerging self-consciousness of the young consumers who are able to sort out what is real and what not and when is it ok or not.

11 Jan 2014

Back to Lightroom 5

It happens every now and then that we have to take our words back. I have to do it as well. But in this case I do it with a lot of pleasure. On my previous post on Lightroom 5 I have written about the issues with the stability and the performance of this version.
Recently I gave it a second try, this time with the version 5.3 of this application.
I am very pleased with the improvements Adobe made in this version. There are no stability issues, no unexpected crashes. The performance (as perceived by me) is very similar to the version 4.x.

So I decided to switch definitely to the Lightroom 5.