How I use online photo sites

I should probably start this post off by saying that I'm a but of an amateur photographer. I try to bring one of my cameras with me whenever I travel and take pictures that I think are interesting. I particularly like to take photos of my friends in interesting places, since then other people are more able to enjoy the pictures I take. I've purchased two Canon DSLRs, the original Canon EOS Digital Rebel and the more recent Canon EOS 450D (also known as the Digital Rebel XSI). I also have a point-and-shoot camera for when I need something more convenient, the Canon PowerShot SD1100IS. My main lense at the moment is the kit 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS, alongside a 55-250mm f/4.0-5.6 IS and the "nifty fifty" 50mm f/1.8.

I'm lucky to currently live in the United Kingdom, where it's incredibly inexpensive to fly to most places in Europe. I also have family in Upstate New York and Phoenix, AZ so there's never a lack of beautiful things for me to photograph. I don't do it as often as I'd like, but I always love when I end up doing it.

The problem is what happens when I finally get home and want to process my photos and post them somewhere so other people can see them.

Copying the photos to computer

The first step for me is pulling them off my camera and onto my computer. I'm lucky to have an 8Gb SD card on my small camera and a 16GB card on my SLR. This allows me to leave the photos on the card. I haven't done much research into best practice for photos storage on SD cards, but I figure that leaving them on the card gives me an automatic backup, and prevent me from driving up the write count on the card. Reading (as I understand it) is cheap to free, but writing costs every time it happens, eventually leading to failure of the card.

I've imported photos using Image Capture (for Mac), iPhoto (hated it), and just simply copying the files into a directory on my machine.

Photo organization

For me, the most natural way to store my photos is in a normal free-form directory hierarchy. I don't like having my photos hidden in some library or buried behind meta-data; I'd rather know where the files are so I can manipulate them manually if necessary. In prior versions of iPhoto and friends, this caused massive duplication of data, but it seems in the more recent versions this has gotten much better.

Reviewing and post-processing

I'm cheap. I don't do enough photo work to justify paying for Aperture or Lightroom, and I also have so many files that working with them has ground the software to a halt. This is a problem I can solve by making separate photo libraries and switching between them, perhaps one per year or something like that, but I haven't completely warmed up to that idea. So far I've played with both of the major photo management programs, as well as iPhoto and Picasa, which are both 'free' in some sense of the word.

Mainly I just move through the pictures I've imported and start tagging or rating them for upload. Since I tend to have the "nicer" camera of the group and get "better" photos, I'm asked very frequently to upload the nice photos I have, so I first work through the pictures I've taken of people. Normally I'm just looking for decent lighting and subject, and try to ensure there's nothing terribly unexpected or embarrassing in the background. I don't do very much retouching, but will try to remove any red-eye that shows up, and will try the occasional exposure/balance/contrast changes in order to rescue a badly exposed photo.

Uploading to Facebook

Facebook is here and it seems like it's going to be around for the duration. It filled a niche that was sorely needed and has ended up re-inventing the social networking landscape. Although there are several privacy issues, and definitely issues regarding what Facebook can and do with the images that are posted, but my friends and family use it so there's not much of a way around it. If nothing else, Facebook has the critical mass of users that make tagging photos such a beneficial process. Once the photos have been uploaded, I go through and do a quick bit of tagging and send the into the wild. This is probably where 90% of my photos are consumed.

Interestingly enough, especially with older family members, it seems they're not quite sure how to find multiple albums or to move past the first set of pictures they see. I posted two albums, due to the 70 photo limit on Facebook, with the first having all of the "people" photos, and the second having those landscape shots from my time in Iceland. I had multiple people post messages saying "this is all great, but where are the people?". I suppose that's a problem I'll never be able to solve, however.

What to do with the "other" photos?

The problem I'm struggling with at the moment, and which I'll elaborate on in a future post, is what to do with the other photos that I've taken. Some of them have nice composition and lighting with an interesting non-human subject don't get much or any traffic on facebook. I've never quite gotten the knack of bringing the true beauty of my subject to the viewer, or I haven't found an audience that is willing to appreciate it. I also have several duplicate versions of the same photo, slightly altered in composition or settings. These are a crutch I use right now to ensure I get a few shots that are usable from each session; I've not had a chance to sit and play as much as I'd like to take my photography beyond the amateur level.

So what do I do with the rest of the photos? I don't want to just delete any, unless they are completely unusable, because I'm a bit of a packrat and I have difficulty letting go. What if someone comes along and says "I wish you had this same shot of me, just from a slightly different angle"? While that's a fair question, it's also never happened.

What about all the non-human subjects I've shot, in particular the landscapes. They're great to go back and fawn over how beautiful everything was, but they don't get very far on a site like Facebook. Would they work better on Flickr or Deviant Art? How would I get people to see my photos and give me criticism and support?

Although I don't currently have the answer to any of these questions, I'm having fun working through them. I suppose that in the grand scheme of things, having the ability to take beautiful pictures and then worrying about how you can get them seen is a really good problem to have.




James N. Whitehead II is an author, computer scientist who is currently studying for his DPhil/PhD at the Oxford University Computing Laboratory. This blog is a collection of his thoughts, projects, snippets, photos and any other bits that come along.