Is it not so simple to ask for one integrated photography workflow tool? It really is about as bad as finding a good photography bag – the people designing them have such a narrow focus, they completely miss the boat.

Let me define a few terms:

  • NFA -- Narrowly Focused Application
    • Describes a program that does one or a subset of things very well. However, there is little integration, even on a simplistic level to branch out to other facets of the workflow.
  • JAT -- Jack-of-All-Trades
    • This would be a candidate to represent the complete workflow and attempts to do so. However, because it has tried to be many things, it has a few flaws that prevent it from replacing the entire flow.

Here’s my current workflow.

The Shot

Currently done with my Nikon D70, RAW format. I have a 1 GB CF card and a much smaller spare. If I don’t have my laptop with me on a trip, I take an old Hyperdrive (basically a CF & SD reader that you can plug in your own hard drive). Simple and efficient (i.e. no LCD display). At its core, the Hyperdrive is an NFA, though one I can tolerate. Ideally, I would love to just use my iPod as a portable storage device (PSD), but the speed and battery life of such options make this impossible.

The Catalog

iMatch. Period. When you’re dealing with tens of thousands of photos (potentially much more), there simply is no other way. Others try, but none come close to the feature set you really need to manage a large photo collection. The draw back is that it’s a NFA. However, as I will discuss later, the catalog is the key piece in the workflow. It really starts (and would end) here.

The Conversion

Currently I use Phase One’s Capture One LE software for RAW conversion. It’s a very good NFA. Unfortunately (and I wish I knew this at the time I bought it), it doesn’t save your edits in an XMP sidecar file. This makes it hard to reproduce tweaks in the RAW conversion. Ideally, you could incorporate this functionality into the Catalog, where it would save you’re processing information (similar to the way Picasa does it, but in sidecar files instead of a proprietary database).

The Stitching (Optional)

For panoramas, the next step is to incorporate the processed images into PTAssembler. This is a very good NFA and I wouldn’t need it integrated. I’ve dabbled in HDR photography, but I haven’t come across a good tool, no yet produced a great image set that would require a good tool. Maybe someday.

The Publishing

The last step is the final cleanup, resizing, noise removal, etc. performed in Photoshop. Its a muscle application, and in most photo cases is overkill. A simple tool set for the basic case is all you really need. This is not to say that you can replace Photoshop from the workflow – it really is absolutely essential. I’m just saying that in a majority of cases, you don’t need its power.

Bottom line, what is the answer to all this? Really, for me the answer is integrate RAW conversion and minimal photo editing into the Catalog or add powerful cataloging features to a RAW conversion/photo editing tool.

The two JAT applications that immediately come to mind are Google’s Picasa and Adobe’s Lightroom, with Lightroom being the muscle application. However, they both lack the cataloging capability that I really need, which is truly unfortunate, because I think Lightroom is a great tool (and Picasa is free).

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Mario (the iMatch developer) has any plans to add these two features. iMatch includes a very rudimentary set of photo editing like color correction, red-eye removal, etc. but it doesn’t save these changes in a XMP file – it requires you to do a “Save As.”

Currently I’m trying the Lightroom demo. It looks like it might not interfere with iMatch, and replace most of the need for Capture One and basic Photoshop – combining Lightroom with iMatch would at least improve the workflow. However, Capture One is better at processing panorama shots. Lightroom is much better when dealing with standalone individual shots (much, much better in fact). I haven’t yet mastered the workflow yet, but so far, I’m leaning toward the purchase. I’m impressed at how fast it really is, considering the images are located on my NAS and I don’t yet have a gig-e connection.

It looks like I have until the end of the month to make the decision. Adobe has a $100 off if you buy by April 30th. Though, even then, it’s still a hefty $200.