Blog Post

Digital Photography on Macs

Editor’s Note: I’m planning on this topic spanning a series of 3, 4, maybe even 5 posts here on The Apple Blog. I hope that all you fine readers out there will add your 2 copper pieces to the mix here, as I would love to walk away with some better practices when all is said and done.

Among the regular things I use my Powerbook for, my photography hobby is near the top. I love taking photographs and snap away any chance I find. I shoot in RAW and so have somewhat of a processing workflow that I go through each time I download my latest round of pictures.

I suppose I’ll begin by laying-out my tools. I shoot with a Canon Digital Rebel XT dSLR. I’m not particular to the Canon RAW editing software, but have taken to Adobe’s Camera Raw for Photoshop CS2. I’m still on the iPhoto train, as it stores all my photographs. 99% of the time I upload to flickr and my private Gallery page from iPhoto, rather than from standalone apps. (iPhoto’s plugins for such things are probably what keeps me on board with it.)

My usual dis-jointed process is to go into Camera Raw and do my edits, Save those photos that I want to keep, out to a temp folder, and then run a Finder Plugin that I made from Automator to automatically upload those picture files to iPhoto. Then weekly I usually back up my RAW files to external drive to clear up some space on my hard drive.

As you can see, the process isn’t super streamlined. That’s kind of an issue for me – I like things automatic and simple. I like apps that take a lot of the leg work out of it for me. I’ve got some Automator ideas that I’ve been playing with, but I want to save those thoughts for a subsequent write-up.

So to start things off, I want to ask what your Digital Photography workflow looks like. What apps are you using? What process do you follow, getting the images from your camera to their final, ‘display’ place? What kind of archiving/backup methods do you use – RAW/photo files specifically here.

I’m certain you’ve got some slick setups, and I hope to poach some of those great ideas off ya, so let ‘er rip!

45 Responses to “Digital Photography on Macs”

  1. I shoot RAW with my Nikon D-50 and use the following tools:

    1. iPhoto for importing, organizing, and exporting to Flickr.

    2. I have an Automator workflow that converts selected Raw photos to DNG using Adobe’s converter. I have to do this, since Photoshop CS doesn’t work with D-50 Raw files otherwise, and Nikon’s plug-in has some issues.

    3. Photoshop CS for editing the DNG files. Finished TIF files are imported back into iPhoto.

    I’m really looking forward to trying Aperture. Despite what Chase seems to think, Aperture does indeed apply all edits non-destructively to your original Raw (converted) image, in a way no other app does.

  2. Chase-
    I am going to have to say you are very wrong, i do professional photography and i just started using Aperture and its not all apple hype. It does edit RAW and yes it does support RAW files. but hey i guess everyone has a right to opinion.

  3. Jon Glass


    I understand what you are saying. I suppose that if I had CS or CS2 and Bridge, I would not think about using DPP, but I’m stuck with lowly PS 7. Beyond that, I really like working in RAW, and saving out only when I must. I also have a number of years in Photoshop, but cannot afford to upgrade. Thanks for the heads-up on the tutorial. Nice site! It’s helped me grasp more of DPP.


    I think that you are 1. overstating the case for DNG. I’m afraid you have been reading Michael Reichmann too much. ;-) There is a case to be made for DNG, but I don’t think that the situation is really all that bad. The time may well come that certain RAW formats will be lost with time–for instance, if Minolta or Pentax fall by the wayside, and there is the issue with Nikon closing off parts of its RAW format as well. You shoot Nikon, I believe. If I were you, I would be frightened–very frightened–about what _Nikon_ are doing. However, since both Apple and Microsoft have begun including RAW support into their systems. I do not expect RAW support–even for older cameras to go away any time soon. And beyond that, _should_ DNG become the standard, which I have my doubts, the option is always there. Not only that, but there are open source converters for RAW conversion, which virtually guarantees that RAW support–even for older files–will not go away. Since the work has been done of creating the converts for older files, it’s a simple matter of keeping the software up to date. And there is too much vested interest on the part of too many photogs for these formats to just die.

    Furthermore, it is an issue that the manufacturers are also well aware of, and it is in their vested interests to keep their own RAW formats supported. They cannot say “We won’t support the D30 any more because we want you to upgrade” because even if I did upgrade today, I still have my images. If they decided to drop my camera, I would be far more likely to jump ship to Nikon or Pentax or Minolta… It is not in their best interest to appear to abandon older cameras. Therefore, I am not as concerned as you and Michael are. :-)

    Not, mind you, that I think it a waste of time to use DNG if you can. Go for it. You are certainly safer than not. It’s just that I do not think that DNG is really where it’s at, but time will tell. When Canon or Nikon start using it as their native format, then I will reconsider.


  4. mike doan- i have i used Capture 1 on a job where i was shooting with a Phase One 45 and my Nikon D2X and Capture one was so slow to make previews of files. I know the output from it is good but it took way too long for me to even consider it. I felt like i needed a Quad G5 with 16 gig Ram. and I think ACR’S output is on par to Capture 1’s or equal even though that is very subjective.

  5. mike doan- i have i used Capture 1 on a job where i was shooting with a Phase One 45 and my Nikon D2X and Capture one was so slow to make previews of files. I know the output from it is good but it took way too long for me to even consider it. I felt like i needed a Quad G5 with 16 gig Ram. and I think ACR’S output is on par to Capture 1’s or equal even though that is very subjective.

  6. Aperture is all Apple hype. They have all these catch phrases about not editing your original RAW file. But no RAW conversion software edits the original RAW file. It is all apple hype they don’t really support RAW just like I said before.

  7. ok Tony i haven’t used Aperture but i wouldn’t not use it. The conversion i have seen are very far superior from any other raw convertor out there. Also most people are not thinking about he longevity of their files and the archivleness of them. it really has not been an assure lately but so many more film companies have gone out of business and their are only like two or three places in US to get Kodachrome processed in the US. Who knows when that is the way it will be with the RAW files that you are using, This goes for everyone, shooting RAW is the only way to shoot with a DSLR because if you are shooting with a DSLR you want control. RAW gives you complete control, even more than when you shoot film. The problem with shooting raw right now is all the format except DNG are closed formats. You may not think matters to you but when you camera brand stops making there own software and you are using a computer that uses the old software doesn’t run the software(for alot of reasons, like the program doesn’t run on Power PC or doesn’t run on the lowly intel processor that the computer you are running uses.) So using DNG makes complete sense. DNG is an open format. but actually this sucks about aperture is that even though aperture is an open format and every other RAW converter that supports DNG supports all flavors of DNG, Aperture doesn’t. Aperture doesn’t even support all the RAW format it supports, and does support EXIf metadata in RAW files(which is built in) and doesn’t support XMP metadata with is totally documented and an open format. Hey, I love the mac platform and i am not switching but their are some major problems with the way Apple is developing their software. Aperture shows that they are not even extensively testing their software. they are just realizing bad software and expecting you to say “oh, their will be an update soon to fix it”. I have a new hi-res Powerbook and there is a bug where iTunes and it looks like anything that plays in mpg format including quicktime skips and echos randomly but when i asked a genius at the genius bar, they told me that they hadn’t heard anything about it and that apple would probably included an update very soon. That was a month an a half ago, and nothing. My iTunes has skipped twice while writing this post. I guess what i am saying with this post is that you can not rely on the software companies that are not supporting the formats that are open or the ones that are not that you are using are not worth using because they are just hindering you, as a user, creating what you want to with your photographs.
    I just want people to realize what is going on in the digital photography world and not be short sided because things are happening very fast right now.

  8. Daniel
    i have used both and now i am stuck on Aperture because i would pick aperture over adobe anyday, that is just for RAW files. but remember one thing, Aperture works with Adobe not against it. but if you were to ask me i would say forget reviews man, i am actually using it and i would say use Aperture.

  9. I’ve been looking into Aperture for camera RAW use but have read some less than favorable reviews lately. A comparison posted yesterday by was quite negative about Aperture. Has anyone else here compared RAW conversion between Adobe ARC and Aperture? Of the four links in the article, two were dead, though links #2 and #4 quite clearly show the differences. With Aperture there was severe banding in the shadows and a pronounced lack of sharpness.


  10. Thanks Mike, Chase & everyone else. I have been torn between getting a PowerMac or an iMac to use as my Photography machine, but the fact that you’re doing most things well on a PowerBook probably suggests an iMac should be well up to the task. Although having said that, I’m planning on using Aperture for as much as possible from what I have seen of it, and it does have some fairly hefty requirements.

  11. How do you find the Powerbook performance-wise with such a workflow? How is iView Media Pro, for example?

    Tony, I use a G4 Powerbook with 1GB of RAM. Managing my photos with iView Media Pro 3.0 is not a problem. I have read that iMP has performance issues when you’re catalog gets into the 30K range. My 2005 catalog is approximately 10K images and I have noticed any performance issues.

    The performance issue is with Capture One. Depending on how much I’m tweaking the RAW files, it can take awhile to convert RAW to TIF/JPG.

  12. 1. Shoot with Canon 10D in RAW
    2. Import into an iView MediaPro catalog (each year gets its own catalog) via a card reader. This creates a link between the catalog file and the CF Card
    3. Transfer files and reset links from CF Card to 160GB external firewire harddrive (now the iView Media Pro associates the files to the external hard drive in the catalog). Folders on the external hard drive arranged by year/month/
    3. Using iView MediaPro, review and delelte unwanted files
    4. Using iView MediaPro script, batch rename files using the files EXIF date.
    5. Selection files that I want to process to tif or jpg
    6. Create folders in external hard drive called /processing/project_name/raw/ and /project_name/tif/, and /project_name/jpg/
    7. Duplicate selected files to the same external hard drive into a folder called /processing/project_name/raw/. This is done via iView MediaPro’s transfer file feature
    8. Start up Capture One and set the “capture” folder to point to /processing/project_name/raw/ and the “output” folder to /project_name/tif/
    9. Use Capture One to do all RAW processing, color correction, exposure adjustment, focus, and croping; run the batch process to convert these into TIFs (at 300 dpi)
    10. Run Capture One batach process again to convert into JPG (dumps files to /project_name/jpg/)
    11. Processed images are burned to cd/dvd segregated by file type (TIF or JPG).

    I also do a monthly mirror of all RAW files to a second 160GB external hard drive. In addition, all RAW files to burned to cd/dvd by year and month.

    This is all done on a G4 12″ Apple Powerbook, 60GB hard drive, 1 GB of RAM.

    Wow, that took longer to type than it does to do.

  13. Since I travel alot, I catalog (download straight from my Canon Rebel XT to my PowerBook G4) to a folder that indicates the city or town I took the shot. Then, I use Bridge to pull the ones of interest and good quality for the various sets (folders) I have created. The photo sets include various architectural designs, people, furniture, etc…

  14. JON G –
    Thanks for the exhaustive blow by blow.

    I have actually used DPP – it was the first RAW editing tool that I used. As I’ve got over 10 years of experience with Photoshop, I simply felt more comfortable with the Camera Raw software that they provide. It does many of the same things as DPP, the work space is just more natural for me.

    DPP is a great app, especially if you don’t already own Photoshop/Camera Raw. If you’re using DPP, check out these video tutorials to get you up and running – they’re terrific:

  15. Jon Glass

    I also shoot Canon, but I have a lowly D30, which is a 3mp camera, and its RAW files are much smaller at a mere 3mb each. When you mention that you don’t like Canon’s software, which software is it you don’t like? Like you, I have not liked, nor used Canon’s own software, and have been using GraphicConverter for my work, in conjunction with RawView. Just this past week, however, I discovered Canon’s “new” Digital Photo Professional. Have you tried it yet? It has some wonderful editing features that make their older software pale in comparison, and mostly eliminate Photoshop for me, and it has fit fine into my workflow, as far as organizing my photos. I’ve only been using it for a week or so, but am very happy with it. Here’s what I do.

    First of all, I’m still using a G3 Powerbook (Pismo) upgraded to a 550mhz G4.

    My RAW workflow.

    First of all, I organize my photos by date. I use Canon’s own CameraWindow software to download. It’s pretty flexible, and automatically creates new folders for dates with images, or will add photos to folders that already exist. I also name my photo files with the date as well, but more on that later.

    1. Open CameraWindow, and download the images into this year’s folder, inside my “Pictures” folder. (in this case, named “2005 Folder”). I download straight from my camera, as it is simpler, and the software automatically updates the date and time on my camera to boot.

    2. As it downloads, it creates new folders, as needed, named for the date, in this format, “2005_12_22”. Inside are the raw files shot on that date, with their camera names.

    3. Once finished, Canon’s own ImageBrowser utility launches, so I usually rename my files with it, again, using the date, in this format: “20051222_001.CRW”

    4. Once renamed, I quit the ImageBrowser utility, and launch DPP. (Although, I could use DPP to rename my files–it’s just a tad bit less flexible than ImageBrowser)

    Let me add here that, since I use a date-based filing system, with nested folders, I have a built-in catalog that is easily backed up to my 500gb external, as well as a smaller external the size of my internal drive. Even better, I can use the Finder’s own column view to browse my catalog. I find it often faster and easier to just use this than it is to launch another app to do my searching. If I were using Tiger, I could even search metadata, but I’m fine with what I have. In fact, I have searched metadata in Panther, but it’s much slower, and I have to remember to index my folders first. :-)

    5. In DPP I sort and rank my photos. Obviously, not every photo is a “keeper” or worthy of extra effort, and I like to immediately pick those that I think are worth it, by giving them a ranking of 1-3. #1 rank is for perfect photos, #2, for those needing some work, but still quite good, and #3 for hopefuls that may or may not be worthy, but I will check out later. The rest just take up space on my hard drive. It is usually now, however, that I delete images definitely not worth keeping–really poorly exposed, or out of focus, or absolutely dumb (accidental shutter triggers, or other oopses)

    6. Sorting by check mark,I look at the “1” check marks in the editing window. Since Canon RAW files are very “soft” I apply sharpening in the RAW side of DPP, and save the “recipe” with all the files. Canon’s software really helps speed this up, by allowing you to copy recipes to the clipboard, and paste to all. Sometimes, I need to make white balance, exposure, or other adjustments, but typically, my #1s don’t need much.

    7. I open my #2 series, and work on those. Usually I save the changes.

    8. I open the #3 photos, but usually only to play with. I may keep a couple of them, but not always. I don’t like, however, to demote them.

    9. Back in the browser, depending on what I want to do with the photos, I can print straight from there, or can do batch processing of photos– I can export to jpeg or tiff, for importing into iPhoto, or use for the web, or copy to a card for printing, or archive to a CD. It all depends, but I have that flexibility at this point. It all depends on the final destination of the file.

    While I’ve only been using DPP for a week or so, it has quickly become a part of my work flow. I have used Graphic Converter in the past for this sorting process, but I much prefer DPP. If you shoot Canon and have not tried it yet, you owe it to yourself to at least try it. Since you save changes to your RAW files as merely “recipes” and you don’t actually change the file, You don’t risk your photos at all. Of course, DPP isn’t the only software that does this, but I like how it is implemented.

    I would add that, having seen what Aperture can do, if you are a pro, you ought to give it serious consideration for its organizational capabilities alone. There are also others that have been mentioned, and I think that iView Media Pro is probably the best, but again, if you are a pro. If you are only doing this, like I am, for a hobby, then try DPP. Or, you might want to give Graphic Converter a whirl. It is very fast, and has far more capabilities, including ITPC captioning, etc. and it can do RAW conversions, as well (Just turn off the option ‘Don’t convert camera RGB to sRGB’ as checking that option will give you flat, muddy photos–and because of this, I don’t recommend it for RAW conversion, except for web work) But Graphic Converter ought to be in your arsenal in any case.

    Those are my thoughts, and a culmination of my fray in digital photography of about two years (being a film photographer before that).

    -Jon G.

  16. JESSE –
    As Andrew noted, The Nikon D50 and D70 are good choices, as are Canon’s Digital Rebel line – the 300 and the 350D (also called the XT).
    My father in law got the D70 right before I planned to. I was set on it, but after playing with it (having no previous canon/nikon/photography biases what so ever) was not so sure. Then the Rebel XT came into the world, and I checked it out, and loved it. Everyone will have their own preferences, so go to a local camera store and hold them, play, and see what ultimately feels right for you.

    CHASE –
    Between your comments, and the bit I’m starting to read in “Real World Camera Raw with Photoshop CS2” I think my mind is made up. Thanks!

  17. Tony-
    I am using a new high resolution 1.67 GHZ powerbook with 2 Gigs of Ram, until about a month and a half ago i was using a 800mhz titanium powerbook with 1 gig of ram. i haven’t had any problem working with my raw files on my powerbook as i try to hold of as long as possible to actually making and opening a huge tiff file in photoshop and just use Camera Raw hosted by bridge. And compared to the jump from my old powerbook i am not complaining very much.

    as far as iView media pro i like the newest version of it. I only really have one problem with it and that is a problem with writing metadata to the actual DNG or RAW file. all the XMP metadata is just xml and so you can open up an XMP file or a DNG in a text-editor and edit the metadata by hand(which is mainly useful when edit metadata templates) but when i sync metadata i have added in iView it makes the metadata unreadable in a text-editor. i know it probably doesn’t matter as it is still able to be read by photoshop, bridge and iviewmedia but i worries me in the long term not to conform to the standards that are set(and that iview says it follows.)

    so you may not care about all i just said but for me as a photographer who shoots alot and needs to be able to view all of his images whether or not i am connected to my RAID i think it is necessary to using a browsing software to work with files and a cataloging software to make ..well a catalog. I used to use Extensis portfolio before CS2 came out but it is not really made for a single user but is geared for server and multiple user setups, as is most of the other digital asset management software.


  18. As someone who’s wanted to get into a little bit more professional photography, at least profesisonal looking I’ve been thinking of getting a new camera for awhile but I don’t really know jack about them. I know I want a digital camera and I know that I want it to be of the more “prosumer” type with the exchangeable lenses, etc… but I have NO IDEA what is a good starter/nice/cheap/amazing camera would be.

    Any thoughts to help a newbie? (I currently use an ultra-cheap Samsung variety, you know – the kind you find at WalMart… what can I say, christmas gift last year).

  19. Aperture works with Adobe Photoshop 1 in 1. So in uploading i use Aperture to edit my RAW files and then export them to Photoshop furthering my editing doing things i can’t do in Aperture. But Aperture does more than iPhoto ever could and I only use iPhoto to store and hold pictures on my computer nothing more. if you want to know more and need anything just let me know. you can visit me here: My Siter

  20. I keep it pretty simple. I take photos with my Kodak EasyShare, transfer them via a USB card reader, then place them in folders by the month after naming the files. I use Photoshop to do any color corrections or any other minor alterations. I also have a PC, and pretty much do the same process with that.

  21. 1. I shoot RAW with a Nikon D50, depends on which lens i am using also depends on the workflow. but i will tell you what is a norm for me.

    2. I download them using a card reader to either my 17″Powerbook or my 15″ Powerbook in to a folder on my desktop.

    3. then i upload them to Apple’s Aperture program. i do all of my actually editing in there, export them and then save them.

    4. (if needed) i will open them up in Adobe and do what i need to in there to fine tune anything i need. (i use an automator action to do this.)

    5. then its saving as jpegs to another folder and then uploaded to iPhoto. (another automator action)

    6. then depending on what i am doing with them, i will resize the image and save for web in Adobe Photoshop. (also a automator workflow)

    7. then i will upload to either flikr and/or photobucket for web displaying on my site.

    8.if i am selling them, i will actually print the actual size of image or close to the original RAW image.

    no thats not detailed but it is a quick summary of what i do.

  22. CHASE –
    Wow, you didn’t leave a thing out! Thanks for the details. I’ve considered getting into the DNG format, but haven’t made the jump just yet.

    TONY –
    I’ve only used a Powerbook (previously a G4 1ghz, now a 1.5ghz), so I’m just ignorant to the wonderful world I’m missing out on… It’s fine – though iPhoto can be somewhat sluggish when I get up around 4000 photos. I don’t use iView Media so can’t answer to that exactly. But for my RAW editing and everything else, it does well enough.

    BLALOR –
    RAW processing is just the same as film processing – but you’ve got more power with the former. So you spend time instead of money processing your shots. Everything’s a trade off.
    With RAW, you get around a 10mb file, as opposed to a 2 or 3mb file in JPG format. Why? It collects a lot more data during the exposure, so in processing, you can really bring out the colors, lighten an underexposed shot, etc, etc, etc. When I first tried RAW, it took some getting used to, and I ‘saved’ some otherwise poorly shot photographs. Now I’ve got a feel for my manual settings, and don’t have ‘save’ as many as I do, tweak for best results.
    The RAW images will only result from the manual settings on the XT (I can’t speak for other cameras), when you set to a RAW format. But your presets will only shoot in JPG. So try both. I think once you see the power that RAW holds, you’ll be hooked.

  23. I’m looking to buy a Rebel XT soonish; I want to get back into photography. I’ve been reading a lot of reviews of the XT lately. It’s probably been 12 years or so since I last did any kind of photography with a SLR, so I’m re-learning a lot of stuff. The capabilities of the DSLR platform (and SLRs in general) are exciting, but I’m put off by all the post-processing I hear about. I’m extremely ham-fisted with Photoshop, and really hope to confine my work to the *camera*, focussing on shooting pictures, not massaging them on the computer afterwards.

    What are the disadvantages of just using JPEGs? What about using the XT’s RAW+JPEG feature? I have been thinking I’ll make use of that whenever possible, so that I don’t have to deal with RAW files unless I’ve got a great shot where JPEG isn’t good enough.

    I currently have a Canon S200. Automator’s caused me more problems than it’s solved, but I do have a workflow that gets kicked off by Image Capture when I insert a card that moves the files to a folder and then imports them into iPhoto once they’re safely on the hard drive. I’ve played around some with GPS Photo Linker and my GPS, but that application isn’t AppleScriptable, so I’m less inclined to use it as part of my normal “workflow” (if you can call it that). iPhoto’s pretty stubborn about noticing new metadata once an image’s been imported, so you pretty much have to do that stuff before importing.

    I use Connected Flow’s Flickr Exporter to upload to Flickr, and I used to use the Gallery exporter for my local gallery install, but I’ve gotten away from that now that I’ve gone pro with Flickr.

  24. I also shoot with a Rebel XT. I download my images from a USB2 Card Reader onto my iBook and have a Automator Workflow setup that uses iView MediaPro to rename the files, attach better Finder icons to them, and embed the media thumbnails. From there I have to organize them myself into a folder that iView watches for changes. From there I decide which images I want to print or post to my gallery (I use a homemade system that uses MovableType to do most of the work). I haven’t been shooting RAW long but I am thinking about adding a step to my workflow to convert the Canon RAW files into DNG files since they are most likely more future safe.

  25. How do you find the Powerbook performance-wise with such a workflow? How is iView Media Pro, for example?

    I have put off setting up a decent workflow until now as I’m working mainly on a Powerbook which is sometimes a bit less than adequate performance-wise for this type of use. I’m hoping to get a G5 (or maybe Intel based) machine in the New Year before I dive in.

  26. 1. Shoot RAW images with Nikon D2X with GPS connected to camera to embed GPS metadata into each image.
    2. Download files to Powerbook with firewire card reader
    3. Organize and Rename RAW files with Adobe Bridge and place in working folder
    4. Convert all RAW files To DNG with original raw files embedded in DNG using Adobe DNG converter
    5(?). possibly, i haven’t decided yet, recover edges using DNG Recover Edges Utility
    6. Apply Custom Metadata templates using Bridge
    7. Star and label DNGs using Bridge
    8. Edit final picks using Adobe Camera Raw, I apply setting but I don’t create a new file yet
    9. Archive all DNGs to RAID
    note: Up until this point i haven’t had to open photoshop once because i process all my files with camera raw built into bridge instead of in photoshop.
    10. When I am ready to print the photos I save the final DNG photos as tiffs
    then I selectively sharpen the files using unsharp mask and a custom made edges mask and save files as a PSD to differentiate between the files that have been sharpened and haven’t been sharpened
    11. Output on an Epson 7800 using Bill Atkinson’s Custom Profiles for the 7800/9800
    12. Archive sharpened files to RAID
    13. use custom actions to make thumbnails and correctly sized files for my website.
    14. archive web files to RAID
    15. Use iView Media Pro 3 to create a catalog of my archive so i can always view my archive from my powerbook even when i am not connected to my RAID

    well i think i covered everything in my workflow.