Review: Rob Sylvan’s “Taming Your Photo Library with Adobe Lightroom”

sylvanYou’ve got thousands of images on your hard drive, hundreds more on memory cards you just filled, and you just installed Adobe Lightroom. If you’re new to LR and don’t proceed thoughtfully, disaster can be lurking. Image organization is often a neglected part of post-processing. It’s unappealing and for many (me included) organization is not a strong suit. If you’re eager to start editing images it’s easy to lapse into bad habits for what I call “inflow,” getting my images into LR so I can develop them.

When Rob Sylvan‘s book was announced I signed up for pre-order, and have  since recommended it to many. Taming Your Photo Library with Adobe Lightroom is a must-have for new LR users and anyone who has yet to establish their own workflow. (Judging from what I see in the Lightroom Help Group on Facebook, there are plenty of experienced LR users also struggling with this.) While it is mostly oriented towards new LR users, almost anyone can benefit from a careful reading (me, for instance). The book begins with an elegant description of the concept and functions of the LR catalog, which new users often find difficult to understand, and then moves on to basic LR setup. Subsequent chapters address the Library module and the import process, file management, using collections, managing metadata (including keywords), catalog maintenance and backups, using presets and templates, workflows, integrating with LR mobile, and troubleshooting.

Having learned a workflow, what is left to the readers is to develop the discipline to stick to it, and Rob’s book can’t teach that. But, it’s easier to be disciplined when we know what we’re doing and why, and we realize the benefits that come with efficiency.

Corrupted SD Cards

Corrupted SD Card⇐ Has this ever happened to you? You’re importing images into Lightroom or Photoshop and one or more of your images has multicolored streaks or part of the image is missing altogether. The images look fine on the camera’s LCD, but in your software, at least some of the images are a mess. Panic ensues.

What happened? Your card has gotten corrupted, and before I go any further, the answer is, “no, the corrupted images probably cannot be salvaged.” There is a program called “Zero Assumption Recovery;” however, it does not appear to be compatible with recent camera file formats. You can still try it. Likewise, CHKDSK may be able to recover your work. Again, you’ve got nothing to lose by trying it. (Disclaimer: I have not tried either of these techniques. Try at your own risk.)

There are several possible causes. Turning off the camera while it’s writing images, a malfunctioning card reader, improperly or incompletely formatted cards, or a failing card can cause this to happen. However, the most common reason appears to be a faulty or failing card reader. It happened to me and I never was able to figure out how, but I trashed the SD card, took a few precautions, and it hasn’t happened since. Quality SD cards are robust and should last years; however, stuff happens. I’ve read of photographers who have accidentally run an SD card through the laundry and were still able to download images. In contrast, CF cards are a bit more fragile.

The reason the image may look fine in your camera is because it is displaying an embedded, low-quality JPG file, not the entirety of the image file itself. Unfortunately, this means that the card can be failing and you have no idea until it’s too late. How do you prevent this?

  1. Use top quality SD cards from Lexar, SanDisk, etc. I’m always surprised at people who spend $1,000 or more on a camera and then put cheap cards (or batteries, but that’s another story) in them. The pleasure of saving a few dollars will evaporate if you lose images.
  2. Format the card in your camera before each use. Formatting resets the file pointers on the card, essentially refreshing the file structure. It takes about 15 seconds, tops.
  3. Use a quality SD card reader when importing/transferring images. Again, SanDisk and Lexar make high-quality card readers.
  4. Use the card reader built into your laptop/PC if it has one. The more direct the connection between the card and your computer, the less likely you’ll run into problems.
  5. For the same reason, it’s probably best not to use a USB hub with your reader.
  6. If you can’t import/copy from one USB port, try another port.
  7. I discourage people from using a cable to transfer images from a camera to a computer. For one thing, it introduces more complexity. Your PC uses drivers from your camera manufacturer and a cable is one more thing to keep track of, and it’s slower. Again: direct is better. However, if you’ve run into a problem with your reader, it’s worth it to try again with a cable.
  8. When you import, lock the write tab on the side of the SD card. This prevents you from over-writing or deleting the images on the card until you’re sure you’ve imported the images.
  9. If you use Lightroom, it consider copying your images from the card to a temporary folder on your computer, inspect and delete the obvious duds, and then import  (ADD) from there. I use ACDSee  to inspect images. It’s much faster than Lightroom.

In addition to formatting your cards each time, another preventative measure, assuming your camera can write to two cards, is to make the second card a back up, so you have two copies of the same image file. And, while it won’t prevent card corruption, this is another reason I prefer to use smaller capacity cards (32GB) and not fill them before putting in another card. If there’s a problem, I won’t lose a full day’s efforts.

If you do experience this, consider tossing the card. Unless you’re absolutely sure of the cause, you’re better off spending a few dollars on a new quality SD card then taking a chance.

The Photographer’s Ephemeris

TPEFor virtually every landscape photoshoot we want to know where the sun will be at any given moment. Whether it’s the blue hour, golden hour, sunrise or sunset, we are bound by the sun and if it’s a night shoot, we want to know the phase of the moon and where it will be. And we don’t just want to know it for today, we want to know it days, weeks or months in advance anywhere in the world. And as if that isn’t asking too much, we want this info to be simple to understand and visual. Photographers want to see a depiction of these astronomical facts, not stare at a list of numbers followed by headache-inducing mental contortions. Fortunately, there exists a free computer program that does all of this and more.

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