End of Hegemony

For months now—one could even argue years—I've been unhappy with either Lightroom or Capture One. I've gone back and forth several times, thinking I had settled...until the next frustration came along: the Lightroom curves bug (which finally seems fixed as of this week), Capture One's glacial catalog browsing, Lightroom's historically soft raf rendering, Capture One's bulk re-linking failures...and on and on and on. Both applications have their pros and terrible cons, neither rival what Aperture could do in terms of asset management. Then the GFX 50S comes along and only Lightroom supports its files, taking Capture One completely out of the running—again (1). It all feels like one long, very annoying game of whack-a-mole.

Maybe it's the sun finally shining for a couple of hours, my brain thawing and neurones stirring...but last saturday—after injecting a bit of oxygen into my system—I simply asked myself: why? Why do I need one app to rule them all, one uber catalog always ready to serve and dig into my entire visual history, warts and all? And the answer came back, loud and clear: I don't. I need access—of course—but nine times out of ten I need final images, not my entire archive. The four or five stars files, processed and ready for output. Those unrated and one star images? I keep them around because I'm a pack rat, because I've been known to revisit shoots and find images I had missed initially...but that's it. It's not an ongoing necessity.

Sometimes we do things because we've always done things: I became a professional photographer with Aperture—its logic, its feature set and its rationale for a DAM becoming the only window into my image library. This week, I simply left all of that approach behind.

Shiny New Master Catalog

Instead of fighting it, I've embraced the back and forth and now edit my images in whatever app strikes my fancy—whatever works best for the job at hand. The addition to my workflow that makes all of this possible is a new Lightroom Master Catalog that contains only processed images. All final images are now exported to an EDITED (YEAR) folder on my hard drive and imported to this master catalog (by running the Synchronize function). Images edited in Capture One contain C1 in their file name, ditto for Lightroom (LR)—making it easy to spot their origin at a glance if I need to re-process or look at other files from the same session/date; I chose Lightroom for the cataloging task because it's still the fastest and better rounded of the two, overall.

Here's the system I've put in place:


It's not as simple as a single app/catalog and yes, it's slightly more work. But the freedom it brings is like breathing again:

  • Choice of processing/editing application.
  • Fast catalog browsing (no adjustments or raw/DNG files to render).
  • Browsable archive of all processed images (Photos and Amazon).
  • Cloud backup of all processed images (Photos and Amazon).

Now, these are full resolution JPEGs I'm exporting, not huge 16bit TIFF files. They're meant for sharing and viewing, for this blog, for KAGE and any project that fits. I'm still backing up the master files and I'll still be exporting other formats from their original catalogs as needed.

As you can see in the diagram, all cloud operations are automatic: Amazon syncs the year folder and I use a Hazel rule to take care of the Photos side (2). This means I no longer have to think about it; anything in the master catalog is also viewable anywhere. Why Amazon on top of Photos? Because it's part of our Prime membership and it's unlimited—may as well use it as a fail-safe. And why not use LR Mobile synced to the master catalog instead? Because it's not an actual backup, because it's not full resolution and lately...yup, you guessed it: it's been buggy as hell. I'm getting randomly pixelated images that are completely unusable. Always amazing to see how easily Adobe breaks its own tools on a regular basis.

Is this the best workflow out there? Certainly not. But I'm finally liberated from the constant, nagging indecision surrounding my choice of image editor. If something should happen to me, the master catalog and Photos library will also provide the equivalent of a shoebox containing my best images, at full resolution and processed the way I wanted them to be processed. Legacy is an issue to think about in the digital age.

I'm feeling strangely light and future-proof.


1. This is all the more frustrating because it's artificial: if you convert GFX files to DNG and change EXIF to PhaseOne IQ250, Capture One can magically edit the images without a hitch. EVEN from compressed raw files.

2. Hazel is an OS X automation app. The rule I've set up does three things: it scans the year folder once a day, adds a Cloud label/tag to any untagged images and sends them to Photos. The only problem with this setup is that it's an import, not a sync—any changes to the original images will force them to be imported again as duplicates.