Photo workflow, early 2023 edition

I want to record my current photography workflow as a reminder to both my future and current self. (It has a lot of steps in it, and sometimes I forget them.)

iPhone X:

  • Take photo in the normal Camera app or
  • Take photo in the Halide app if I want to grab a RAW as well as a compressed file.

In both cases, the photo goes into the photo roll on my phone, and gets synced to my iCloud/photos account. Photos are 4032 x 3024px (12 MP). This usually clocks in around 1.5-2.5 MB per image for the compressed HEIC/HEIF files, and 12-13MB for the accompanying DNG/RAW file if I take one of those.

Fuji X-T20:

  1. Before I even get to going out and taking photos, it starts with memory cards. After some time spent with wiping old cards, I have given up on that, and I treat them as write-only media now, just like rolls of film. My Fuji camera takes SD cards, and they’re very cheap these days: about €15 for a 128GB (gigabyte!) card. I don’t take photos with this camera every day, and often not even every week, so a 128 card lasts me many months. After filling up a card I label it and pop it in a wee storage case I bought for them.
  2. Next comes the GPX Trail Tracker app on my iPhone. This is a simple app that does one thing really well: record my geolocation coordinates while I’m out on a walk. (Free download, €3.99 to get rid of adverts. Worth it!) Not everyone feels the same, but I find it enormously valuable to have geo coordinates on all my photos. My Fuji camera doesn’t have any built-in geolocation capabilities, so I need some way of adding them after the fact. (I tried a few different geotagging workflows before ending up with this one.) If I’m going out with the Fuji camera I try to always fire up this app and start a new “trail” before I go.
  3. Go out and take photos. Shoot in F + RAW (“Fine” JPEG quality). Image size Large 3:2, which is the native aspect ratio for the X-Trans III sensor. Uncompressed RAW, because MacOS can’t handle Fuji’s compressed RAW format. (Or at least, MacOS Big Sur can’t. Maybe later versions can.)
  4. Back at my desk, I unload the photos from the memory card onto SSDs. Hard disks should always be bought in pairs. I have two Samsung T7 Shield 1TB drives connected to my laptop via USB, one called “Photos Import” and the other called “Photos Import Clone”. I copy the photos from the SD card onto the Photos Import drive. I use a scheduled task in the the SuperDuper app to keep the Photos Import Clone backup drive up to date with its primary. 1TB of storage might not be enough for a professional photographer, but it’s quite enough for me for now. Once I fill them up, I’ll buy more.
  5. I’m not 100% happy with my folder structure for imports yet, but I’m working on it. Inside the DCIM folder on the memory card, my Fuji uses folders called NNN_FUJI, where NNN is a 3-digit number, currently standing at 117. Most of the time, I end up with multiple “events” inside a single such folder on the card. When I copy photos to the SSD, I want each event/batch import to go into a separate folder. So I make a new folder on the disk for each import event, named after the original folder on the SD card, with a sequential letter suffix and a short description. The folder structure on disk ends up looking like this:
    • / (root)
      • Fuji X-T20
        • 116_FUJI_a Short event/location description
        • 116_FUJI_b Short event/location description
        • 117_FUJI_a Short event/location description
  6. Next, geotagging. Step one of this is to export the recorded trail from the GPX Trail Tracker app, in “<trk> formatted GPX” format. I export this from the app on my phone to a folder in my iCloud storage, and wait for it to sync over to my Mac. Usually this only takes a few seconds, but sometimes, you know, πŸŽπŸ€·β€β™‚οΈ.
  7. I then fire up the HoudaGeo app (€46, and definitely worth it) on my Mac.
    • In the “Load” view in the app, I drag the .gpx coordinates file into the “Tracks” pane. I select all the photos from the new import folder on the Photos Import drive, and drag them into the “Images”pane.
    • In the “Process” view, the app will show the trail on a map, and will use the timestamps in the photos to match them with GPS coordinates from the supplied trail. Here I can tweak the locations if I want to, or, if I forgot to create a trail in the first place (oops) drag and drop the photos onto the map from memory.
    • In the “Output” pane, I choose which photos I want to finalize. (All of them, generally.) For JPEGs, the export process modifies the source file to add the geolocation information in an EXIF block. It does this without modifying the timestamp on the file, unless you want it to. You can mess around with time zone offsets in the export process as well. This is useful if I take photos in Scotland (or elsewhere) and don’t process them until I get home. For RAW files, the export process generates a sidecar .xmp file with the geolocation metadata.
  8. With all the photos now nicely geotagged, I import only the JPGs into Apple’s Photos app on my Mac. The JPG files from my Fuji are typically 11-12MB in size (6000×4000, 24 MP), while the RAW images are about 50MB. Most of the time I don’t process the photos any further, and there’s no need for me to bloat up my photos library by 500% at this point. The imported photos are automatically synced with my iCloud photos library.

At this point the photos from the Fuji camera eventually exist in eight separate places:

  1. On the original SD card, where they will stay. These files are untouched by any extra processing, and that’s how they’ll stay. This is pure archive now.
  2. On the Photos Import SSD, attached to my laptop. These files have been modified by HoudahGeo to add geolocation information, and they’ve been sorted into import batches per event/occasion/date.
  3. On the Photos Import Clone SSD, also attached to my laptop. This is a bitwise clone of the Photos Import drive, so this also has the geolocation modifications.
  4. On my laptop, in the local Apple Photos photo library. The app renames the photos along the way, and stores them in its own private library location. You can still export “unmodified originals”, but good luck finding where the app stores them in its own internal folder structure.
  5. In my iCloud photos library, on Apple’s servers, from where I can view them on my iPhone and iPad, and share them with others.
  6. Bonus location 6: because hard disks should always come in pairs, I have another external SSD that is the clone of my laptop’s internal SSD. Again, I run a scheduled task with SuperDuper to give me a bootable drive that is a bit-for-bit copy of everything on the laptop itself, which includes the Apple Photos library.
  7. Bonus location 7: because the SSDs are attached directly to my laptop, everything on them gets added to my online backup with Backblaze (US$ 7 per month)
  8. Bonus location 8: likewise, the Apple Photos library on my laptop is also automatically backed up to Backblaze.

I’m not paranoid. I’m protected.

Apple Photos

Once the JPEGs photos have been imported, I tend to arrange them into Albums based on the import for the event/occasion/date, named with the date of the event/occasion in them (in YYYYMMDD format) and arrange those albums into folders by year, so:

  • 2022
    • 20221225 Christmas Day
    • 20221226 Walk in Amsterdamse Bos
    • etc.

You’d think that this would make it easier for the app to keep all these albums sorted in a sensible order, but apparently not πŸŽπŸ€·β€β™‚οΈ. It’s good enough most of the time, though.

For imports from the Fuji, if I’ve been taking photos of birds or people, I’ll generally have a lot of bursts of consecutive photos. I cull these in Apple Photos, actually deleting the JPEGs I don’t want. It’s not so much that I want to save space in my cloud storage (I have 2TB, which is plenty for this workflow, for now) – it’s more that it helps keep the most important photos easily to hand.

This is the library from which Apple selects “memories” to display on my home screen, and where I look back to find my favourite photos of a year, or an individual event. I don’t typically need a dozen burst shots of a magpie taking off – it’s enough for me to just keep the best one. The fact that the originals (and the RAW versions) are still available on the SD card and on the SSDs if I need them is good enough.

Photo processing

Here’s the thing: I don’t generally process my photos very much once I finally get them into Apple Photos. I may make small tweaks to exposure, black levels and contrast, and I’ll often crop images. But I don’t do any extensive editing of the because I don’t know how. Yet.

I’d like to learn how to do more with the RAW files, but there’s a bit of a learning curve. Adobe Lightroom is one fo the standard tools in this space, but I’d like to avoid Adobe software if I can, because I dislike how it leaves behind background tasks and doesn’t clean up after itself. Capture One might be an alternative. I also don’t always appreciate subscription software, so I might give Exposure X7 a try.

In all of these cases I would probably benefit from a computer refresh. My current laptop is a 2013 MacBook Pro, which means it’s coming up on 10 years old. It was top-of-the line when I bought it, and it still works fine for most of my daily use, but it is starting to struggle with my photo library. On the occasions when I do open up a RAW file, it’s noticeably slow. I’ve replaced the battery pack in it once already, and I can tell from the slightly bulbous bottom plate (spicy pillows) and mere 2-hour battery life that it’s due for another. I’m trying to hold out as long as I can, though, because these things are expensive

Nice things 2022

Will there ever be a year that I look back on and go, “wow, that was an amazing year”? It would be nice. 2022 was miserable at work for the first eight months, but I turned things around by changing roles in September. In the first half of the year we were working hard to get Fiona ready to leave the house, move to Scotland and start college. This was a great achievement for her, but it was hard work for all of us. The kitchen renovation is wonderful now that it’s finished, but we were living in a construction site for the whole of October and November, and the actual process of buying the kitchen from Ikea and arranging everything was far from easy.

Actually, those were three things that were hard, but with a good outcome at the end of them. I guess we enjoy things more when we have to work hard for them?

Photography: I continue to enjoy the FujiFilm X-T20 I bought last year. This year I added two more (second-hand) lenses to my setup: an XC 50-230mm f4.5-6.7 and an XF 16-80mm F4. It took me a while to get used to both of them, and to figure out their strengths and weaknesses. I still don’t think I’m all the way there, but I’ve had some nice bird shots with the 50-230, and some great portraits with the 16-80. At the 16mm end it’s nice and wide for landscape, architecture, and group shots, while at 80mm it gets in close for faces. I took it with me as my do-everything lens on my work trip to New York and New Jersey in September. One evening our team took a trip out to the Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey. There were no races that day, but we wandered out of the stadium towards the track just around sunset, and the golden hour gave me some of the best portraits I’ve ever taken.

Black and white portrait photo of Abi. She is positioned on the right of the frame. She is smiling widely, showing teeth, with her eyes niched closed behind her rectangular-framed reading glasses.
Abi in Dwingelerveld. FujiFilm 16-55 F2.8 @ 32mm

In March Abi and I took a trip to Drenthe. We stayed at the Van Der Valk Hotel Spier-Dwingeloo and spent a couple of days walking around the national park Dwingelerveld. I had rented a couple of nice lenses from BudgetCam for the weekend, Fuji’s super-sharp XF 16-55 F2.8, and the ultra-wide XF 10-24 F4. I’ve never played with a lens that wide before, and whenever I attached it I would just kind of giggle a lot and exclaim about how much I could get in frame. The 10-24 is expensive, and it wouldn’t be my typical everyday lens, but I could see myself getting an ultra-wide prime at some point to add to my kit.

The radio telescope at Dwingelerveld against a clear blue sky. In the foreground are five display boards showing images from the construction, history, and scientific uses of the telescope.
The radio telescope at Dwingelerveld, shot at 10mm ultra-wide.

Photography as a hobby just continues to give me a lot of enjoyment. Obsessing over the gear, the mental focus I get when I’m concentrating on taking pictures, and going over the pictures afterwards to curate (and sometimes process) them. I’d be surprised if I didn’t talk myself into picking up another lens or two in 2023, but I’m not sure what they would be. An ultra-wide prime, if I can get one cheaply. Given my interest in portraits, the XF 56mm f1.2 R WR looks amazing, but also expensive. The older version of the lens, which doesn’t have weather sealing also has a great reputation, and is available second-hand for much less. (But do I want to be future-proof, and only choose lenses can resolve the full 40MP of Fuji’s new sensors in the X-T5 and X-H2, in case I want to upgrade at some point…?) The XF 150-600mm f5.6-8 would be spectacular for birds and wildlife, but at €2000 also way too spendy. Renting it for a weekend, now, that’s a different matter…

Something else I want to spend time on in 2023 is learning how to process my photos better. I’m going to write something soon about my current photo workflow, which I’m happy enough with for now, but which I know can be improved.

Plug-in electricity meter: Energy prices have been on quite a journey this year. To keep an eye on my personal electricity usage I bought a couple of plug-in pass-through electricity meters, and used them at my desk for a while to see how much all my devices were using. I found the results eye-opening. With electricity prices here hitting almost a Euro per kWh in the autumn, even a Mac Mini acting as a media server, idling along at about 25W most of the time runs at €0.60 a day, or about €18 a month. Those kind of numbers add up pretty quickly.

Generic pass-through electricity meter

Even though we’ve got a ton of solar panels and our net electricity consumption is low, using these meters has made me a lot more conscious about turning off devices completely, or putting them into proper sleep mode rather than just letting them idle. (Another example: our old subwoofer was sipping about 10W in idle mode. The “off” switch was inaccessible. The new “temporary” subwoofer idles around 9W, but it has an “off” switch on the front, and I use it.)

KΓΌhl Konfidant Air Hiking trousers: Bought these at Tiso in Aviemore when we were there in the summer. They’re lightweight, comfortable, fold up very small for limited-luggage situations, don’t restrict movement, have lots of pockets, and they look good on me. I have a KΓΌhl sweater my parents bought for me over ten years ago, and it’s still one of my favourite items. If these trousers last even half as long (and if I can keep my weight to a level where I can still fit into them) I’ll be delighted. I’ wore them a lot on holiday, and since then’ve work them a lot.

Creative Image Adore 112 Indigo Blue hair dye: Back in the early 2000s I used to bleach my hair, but I haven’t done anything else with it until this year. Then I dyed my hair blue just ahead of seeing Set It Off in Utrecht in November. Doing something off-beat like this is fun because I like the way it looks, but also because I like the way people react. All the way from “I didn’t think you were the kind of person who would…” to “wow, that looks great”. I’ve never had complete strangers comment on my hair before. I could take the wind out of my own sails and figure that it’s only because blue hair is extraordinary for “men of my age”. Or I could figure that I just look plain fabulous.

Man in blue

Abi trimmed my hair yesterday, and I re-dyed it today, six weeks after the first time. The original colour had faded significantly over time, going from a super vibrant blue in the first week to a lighter and shade after a week or two, but as new (greyish brown) hair growth came through and the blue discoloured even more, yesterday’s trimmings had a slightly greenish-yellow undertone. So going six weeks without a refresh is probably pushing it.

Today I didn’t go to the effort of re-bleaching it beforehand. The colour effect is very different. It’s much darker, and it looks, well, like I applied colour on top of existing colour. If I want to keep up the ultra-vibrant look, it seems that I’ll have to trim, bleach, and colour once a month. That seems like a lot of work! Before I grew out my beard in 2020 I could barely be bothered to shave even once a week. We’ll see how this balance works out over time.

Sonos One SL speaker: In the old kitchen we didn’t have a lot of work surface space to lay things down. We also didn’t have very many power sockets on the walls. But in the new kitchen we do. Because I like listening to music or podcasts if I’m cooking, I wanted to get a speaker that would be an improvement over playing audio through my phone’s old and tinny speakers. The Sonos One SL is connected via wifi, but it doesn’t have a voice assistant built in. Our household prefers not to have our devices listening in on our conversations all the time. I waited for Black Friday deals at the end of November, and got a unit for just over €100. It works with Spotify Connect, so I can just push any Spotify music straight to it, and it works seamlessly with Apple’s Airplay as well. Alex commented on its heavy V-shaped sound signature, but I’m not too concerned about an audiophile hi-fi experience in the kitchen. I think it sounds just fine.

Airpods Pro 2: Abi got me these for Christmas. I’ve had a pair of the original Airpods Pro since early 2020. I use them for hours of video calls at work every day, and also for listening to music and podcasts, so I’m very familiar with their performance and sound profile. The Airpods Pro 2 are significantly better, and the difference was noticeable from the moment I first popped them in my ears. The noise cancellation is far better. Transparency mode, where it passes through sound from the outside world is amazingly better – it sounds almost like I’m not wearing earbuds at all. Turning off the active noice cancellation features entirely illustrates how much sound is cut out by the physical plugs. Toggling between that and transparency mode is just mind-boggling. The increased battery life (6 hours?) is also welcome because my old ones were only giving me about 2 hours on a full charge.

Highland Holiday Cottages just off the A9 near Kingussie: We rented one of their cottages for a week in August, and it was delightful. The house was comfortable for all of us (although the showers were weak), and the location was hard to beat. Close enough to the A9 for easy access, but out of the way enough for peace and quiet. Decent internet access. Lovely walks nearby right from the doorstep. Kingussie only ten minutes away for shopping, and Aviemore about half an hour away for the cinema, more extensive shopping, and even Escape Rooms.

Abi resting near a cairn on the hike up Cruban Beag
At the top of Cruban Beag

LogSeq: I mentioned in my mixed media post in October that I’d started using LogSeq for note-taking at work. I feel slightly surprised that I’m actually still using it. I’m not generally big on “productivity tools.” Over the years I’ve tried a variety of tools for taking notes and keeping track of todo items, and none of them have stuck. LogSeq, on the other hand, seems to have found a niche for me – at least for now.

The way I’m using it is heavily skewed towards its journalling feature. I try to scribble down bullet-points of events and thoughts throughout the day: notable conversations, interesting findings and links, screenshots of the talking heads on Zoom calls to quickly track who was present. (Being able to paste an image straight from the clipboard — cmd + ctrl + shift + 4 on the Mac — into a note is essential.)

I also use it to keep track of my to-do list. I start each daily journal with a bullet-pointed list of my active to-do items, indicated with a finger-pointing emoji πŸ‘‰πŸ». If I start to work on one, I’ll change that to a walker/runner πŸƒβ€β™‚οΈ, and when it’s done I mark it with a tick βœ…. If an item becomes obsolete, I use a cross ❌. If I add an item, it starts with a “+” in front of the πŸ‘‰πŸ».

Each morning I copy the previous day’s list, and paste it as the first item on the new day’s journal. I remove any completed items, and I remove any “+” signs from items that were added the previous day. And the cycle begins again. I tend to think of a “good” day as one where I finish more items than I added, but I’m not sure if that’s a healthy mindset, or if it’s leading to me feeling frustrated about the days where I add more than I cross off. What I do know is that for the first time in a long while I feel “sufficiently organized”, and don’t find myself falling back to sticky notes pasted all over my desk and my notebook. And although I do still keep a notebook next to my keyboard at all times, I find myself using it less than I used to. I find the change interesting, and I’m curious to see if I keep up the habit in the new year.

Although I’ve started using it on my home laptop for taking academic notes, it feels cumbersome in that arena. Several classmates swear by Zotero, and I might give that a try instead.

Miscellaneous Other Stuff:

  • Having high blood pressure: not nice πŸ‘ŽπŸ» πŸ₯΄
  • Getting back to live music again: nice. πŸ‘πŸ»πŸŽΆ
  • Marathon walk around Amsterdam: nice πŸ‘πŸ»πŸšΆπŸΌβ€β™‚οΈ
  • Jules & Becca’s wedding in July: nice πŸ‘πŸ» πŸ’
  • Taking the Eurostar train directly from Amsterdam to London: nice πŸ‘πŸ» πŸ‡¬πŸ‡§ πŸš… πŸ‡³πŸ‡± πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Ί
  • Coming back from that trip with Covid: very not nice πŸ‘ŽπŸ» πŸ˜·πŸ€’πŸ€’
  • Seeing family in Scotland on a big family visit again: nice πŸ‘πŸ» 🏴󠁧󠁒󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 πŸš— πŸ‘¨β€πŸ‘©β€πŸ‘§β€πŸ‘¦
  • ROAD TRIPS: mixed feelings. 😐 πŸš— πŸ‘¨β€πŸ‘©β€πŸ‘¦
  • 3M Aura 9330+ FFP3 masks: nice, very comfortable πŸ‘πŸ» 😷
  • Visiting New Jersey for the first time: nice πŸ‘πŸ» πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ
  • Visiting a Panda Express for the first time, and trying their famous (meatless) orange chicken πŸ‘πŸ» πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ 🐼 πŸŠπŸ“
  • Managing to find a new Levis denim shirt in New York when every outlet in NL was out of stock: nice πŸ‘πŸ» πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡ΈπŸ‘–
  • Walking up the New Jersey side of the Hudson to the George Washington Bridge: nice πŸ‘πŸ» πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ 🌁
  • Magnetic knife rack rather than a wooden knife block: nice πŸ‘πŸ» πŸ”ͺ
  • Finishing the last of the taught modules (Employee Relations & Motivation) on the OP course: nice πŸ‘πŸ» πŸ“š
  • Making the decision to defer my research project by a year: nice (I’m getting an inside view of how my classmates are tackling it, without actually doing it myself. This will help me be better prepared next year.) πŸ‘πŸ» πŸ“šπŸ“‘
  • My parents moving to North Berwick: nice πŸ‘πŸ» 🏴󠁧󠁒󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿
  • Travelling in to Edinburgh on the train from North Berwick: nice πŸ‘πŸ» 🏴󠁧󠁒󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 πŸš†
  • Mastodon: nice πŸ‘πŸ» 🐘