Through the Gadling Lens: how I manage my photographs while I’m on vacation

Last week, I received an e-mail from Gadling reader Nick:

Can you spend some time discussing what happens after you get home from vacation – photographic workflows, etc? That’s one thing that seems to be missing.

As it happens, I’m currently on vacation: last week, we had friends staying with us in Houston, and this week my family and I are in New York City, so this topic is pretty timely. That said, I’m not entirely sure I’m the right person to be giving advice on this since:

1) I’m a photoblogger. I update my blog, Chookooloonks, often, and readers tend to expect almost daily photographs from me.

2) I take an obscene number of photographs. Really. Like hundreds, sometimes almost one thousand shots a day. Especially on vacation.

3) I’m generally not an expert on archiving photographs
. Okay, honestly? I’m really pretty bad at it. But when I get back home, it’s at the top of my to-do list to sort out. So look for a post on that later.

So, anyway, unless your a pro photographer, you likely won’t feel the pressure to take as many photographs as I do each day, or feel the need to publish your images daily; still, my method of managing my shots when I travel for pleasure might be helpful to you, and provide you some tips and tricks to managing your own vacation shots. In addition, I’d love for you to share your own methods and workflows in the comments below (especially if you’re a professional photographer). And again, what I’m discussing here is not about photograph archival, just managing my current workflow. We’ll deal with archiving in a later post.

And so, on with the show:
1. I pack with photo management in mind. I’ve written before about how i pack for a trip, and those words from 8 months ago generally still stand: in addition to my camera and lenses, I take a very large memory card (a minimum of 2GB), and my laptop computer. In the last 5 years, at the very least, I don’t think I’ve ever taken a holiday of more than 2 days when my laptop hasn’t accompanied me. My sister laughs at me that I never leave my laptop at home, but the reason becomes more apparent, below.

2. Each day, I take tons of photographs. I can’t stress enough: i take a lot of photographs. A lot. Like, for every composed shot, I often shoot at least 5, sometimes 10 images. If my subject is in surrounded by constantly varying circumstances (like the water fountains, above), sometimes I take even more. It’s all about the law of averages: if I take 10 photographs of one subject, at least one of them is bound to be one I like. The same is true for any photographer, particularly if the photographer shoots digitally. That’s the beauty of digital cameras — you can see your work immediately.

Two notes about this, however:

(a) First, even though I’m taking multiple shots, don’t misunderstand: I’m not asking my subject to pose-and-readjust for each shot. These are shots taken in rapid succession, quickly squeezing the shutter. This sort of rapid-shooting technique is often easier to do with a digital SLR than a point-and-shoot, because point-and-shoots often have a delay in the shutter release. No matter. Still take more than one shot. Also:

(b) I rarely delete shots just by looking at the small display on the back of the camera — I actually only delete them if they’re OBVIOUSLY out-of-focus (and sometimes, not even then), or the camera misfired. You often never know what images you think are great (but actually aren’t) or which images you think are lousy (but actually aren’t) until you see them on a computer screen. Resist the temptation to delete. This, my friend, is the reason you packed that large memory card.

3. Each day, I download all of the photographs I take onto my laptop. Yup, that’s right: I download every day. Usually in the evening, usually with a glass of wine at my side. (Of course, I’m the mom of a young child, which means my clubbing-in-foreign-cities days are over, since our evenings out usually end at our daughter’s bedtime; however, if your night doesn’t end until the sun comes up, morning might be a better option for downloading your images). The upshot is that basically, I like to start each day with an empty memory card.

When I download the images, here’s how I do it:

a) I create a folder just for that day. The name of each folder that I create starts with the date of the day I shot the images, in yearmonthday format (e.g., today’s date would be captured as 090709). I do it in this way so that over the years, the days’ folders will naturally be in chronological order. Occasionally, I’ll add a little additional information — so the folder that contains the image of the Statue of Liberty, above, might be labeled “090707ladyliberty,” if most of the images shot that day were in and around the statue.

b) The day’s folder is stored in a general folder called “photography.” I could, I suppose, put each day’s folder on this trip in a folder entitled “New York City trip,” but I don’t. Generally, all my days’ folders are just stored in my photography folder, but I generally find them pretty easily, because of the steps that follow.

4. I scan the photographs I’ve just downloaded, picking some of my favourites, and doing some preliminary Photoshopping. I will admit that I might be somewhat singular in including this step — most people I know wait until they get home before they begin processing their shots. However, In the past I’ve mentioned how I use Photoshop as a tool of expression, rather than a tool of deception, so this generally means that I can edit my photographs pretty quickly. Besides, since I shoot hundreds of photographs a day, the thought of sitting down to finally go through my images at the end of a holiday is pretty intimidating — I’d rather just look through them daily, remembering particular moments at were funny and special, as well as critique the day’s work, so that I can remember not to make any similar mistakes on the following day.

5. If I have an internet connection, I upload some of my favourites. Again, because I’m a photoblogger, this often means uploading a favourite image or two onto my blog; however, even more importantly, this means uploading my images to my Flickr account. For those who might not be familiar with Flickr, this online service allows you to upload and store images onto your own private account (for free; or, if you’d prefer, in a paid pro account which allows you to upload unlimited images per day). You can set your account to be public (so you c
an show all the folks back home what you’ve been up to), or private, so only you (or your family or friends) have access to the images. Some notes about Flickr:

a) Flickr allows you to tag your photos with various keywords, as well as group them into various “albums” — so you can place all of your vacation photos in a group called, “My Excellent New York Adventure, July 2009,” for example. The beauty of this is that when, 4 years from now, I’m looking for an image of the Statue of Liberty that I took, I can simply do a search on my Flickr photos of “Statue of Liberty,” and it will pull up the images I took in July 2009, complete with the date that I took the shot (which Flickr automatically stores from the information embedded in the photo by my camera). I can then go back into my “photography” folder on my hard drive, and go to exactly the specific date I took the shots.

b) On Flickr (and in general, anytime I upload an image onto the web), I only share low-resolution images. There are ways on Flickr to protect your images from being taken, but frankly, it’s not that hard to bypass them. So while I save my post precious photos offline (or make certain images private on Flickr), I also limit the amount of use a person can make of one of my images by keeping them relatively low-resolution.

And that, my friends, is about it. Once I get home, I really cull through the photographs, finding ones that perhaps I didn’t notice before, adding Photoshop finishing touches, and deciding which ones I want to print — and this is relatively easy to do, because I’ve already organized the shots by day, and pretty much know where everything is. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I have yet to really nail how I archive my photos once I return home and put on these finishing touches — but over the next few weeks, I hope to hone my process, and share it with you in a later post. In the meantime, I’d love to hear any tips you might have as to how your organize your photographs while you’re traveling. And, as always, if you have any questions, you can always contact me directly at karenDOTwalrondATweblogsincDOTcom – and I’m happy to address them in upcoming Through the Gadling Lens posts.

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.
Through the Gadling Lens can be found every Thursday right here, at 11 a.m. To read more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.