Processing my digital photos part 2

In part one I started describing my work flow for handling digital photos and gave my reasons for developing and using it. This part starts off by inserting a new step in my previously described standard work flow. Before making the image files read-only I now add information to the EXIF data contained in the files. Adding information at this point in the work flow ensures that title, location, etc., info will stay with the photo through all edited versions and copies.

While a quick look might make you think EXIF is a nice consistent standard, my research quickly made me realize this is not the case. EXIF is so flexible that it is more appropriately thought of as an un-standard like PCB Gerber files (RS-274). As with RS-274, EXIF is so flexible that it is not practical for any one program to be able to handle all the possible variations.

The best solution I found for handling the majority of variations in this image metadata is ExifTool by Phil Harvey. This tool set is a Perl library and command line program that can manipulate nearly any piece of EXIF data. While a command line tool is very handy a GUI shell is often desirable and one is available for ExifTool at the HBx Hobbypage. The program, ExifTool GUI, gives you a file manager type interface that makes it even easier to edit EXIF image metadata.

I start off updating the EXIF data by batch adding information like artist and copyright using the command line ExifTool. The GUI tool gives me a shortcut for using the command line tool, when you right click the image’s directory you can select the “Open Command Window Here” item (AFAIK, this capability comes from Windows it isn’t a custom bit exclusive to the ExifTool GUI app). Selecting this menu item gives you a command prompt already located in the image directory ready to accept the command with parameters.

As a time saving shortcut I keep a little text file that has examples and previously used parameter sets. I construct a new command line or copy a previously used one from the text file and paste it into the command window. Here’s an example of a command line I’ve used to mass update image metadata.

"C:Program FilesEXIFtoolexiftool.exe" -Artist="Paul Hutchinson" -Copyright="Paul Hutchinson" -City="Disney World" -Province-State="FL" -Country-PrimaryLocationName="USA" *.jpg

Pressing enter updates all the images in the directory with this new/changed metadata in one quick command. The next step is to update the unique information like the image description using the ExifTool GUI program itself. If some images use the same data (e.g. exposure/composition variations deserving of the same title) then I use standard multiple selection techniques before activating the data editing function.

Once I have all the EXIF data updated, it’s now time to set the read-only attribute of the original image files so that they don’t get accidentally overwritten. The fast way I use is to press Control-A to select all the files in the ExifTool GUI and then press Alt-Enter to open the the standard Windows multiple file properties dialog box. When the multiple file properties dialog opens the “Read-only” checkbox is already in focus so, all I need do is hit Spacebar to mark the checkbox and then hit Enter to change all the selected files to read-only. This is easier to do than to describe in writing, after you’ve done it a few times it will become a fast four keystroke/combination keystroke operation (Ctrl-A, Alt-Enter, Spacebar, Enter). If you don’t or can’t get into the groove of using this quick keyboard operation, then give up on ever being efficient with computers and go ahead and click your way through the process using that killer of UI efficiency the mouse ;-). As an aside why can’t every computer user just stop clicking for Copy/Cut/Paste operations and just use the so much more efficient Ctrl-C/Ctrl-X/Ctrl-V keyboard combinations instead :-).

The next step is to convert the image files to a loss less format in preparation for editing (Note, ExifTool does not alter the image data so, even though technically it’s re-saving a compressed format, there is no data loss). For this conversion step I use PaintShop Pro’s batch conversion feature and its loss-less PSPimage file format. First I select all the originals in the PaintShop file browser (organizer in new versions) then select the “File-Batch Process…” menu item. This opens the batch process dialog with all the files listed in the “Files to process” list box. I set the “Save Mode:” to “NewType” and in the “Save Options” I select PSPimage in the “Type” drop down list and set the “Folder” to the root of particular images sub-directory structure (e.g. D:My Pictures2008-04-19). Finally click the “Start” button in the dialog and watch as the files are converted and copied to the new location.

With the files now in a safe format I can edit away to my hearts content knowing that if I screw things up royally I still have my originals to start over with. That’s all for part two in the series, part three will cover how I take the edited pictures the rest of the way to web/CD albums for others to enjoy.