The new standard workflow in professional photography

I wrote an article some time ago about how European companies would be the major beneficiaries of Adobe’s exit from the perpetual license market. At the time, I highlighted Affinity Photo and Capture One as two of the software solutions that would be able to grow their customer base. I believe the tipping point has come, and the combination of those two softwares is the one we will see emerge as the major alternative to the Lightroom+Photoshop (or sometimes ACR+Photoshop) combo.

newworkflow

I use both Affinity and Capture One, and believe that while Capture One is superior to Lightroom in many, but not all, aspects, Affinity is now capable of doing 90% of the things previously done in Photoshop. There are a few missing items for Affinity, too, but its price point and the ambition of its development effort make it an incredibly compelling option right now.

Affinity Photo does not yet have a great RAW converter built in, but this is currently undergoing a major overhaul for the 1.7 release. So as of right now, use of Affinity does depend on having a RAW converter accompany it, but as I’ve written recently, there are many to choose from.

The point is that Affinity Photo and Capture One Pro are programs that are sufficiently full-featured within their own niche that, taken together, they enable unlimited editing opportunity. Now, having said that, I would be the last person to deny that the same is true of a combination of, say, Darktable and GIMP, as a very good open source alternative. But professionals who want some level of technical support will currently still turn to the Affinity/C1 solution.

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10 comments

  1. What do you think would be a good data management program to use in place of LR? I have an extensive keyword list, with hierarchies and everything, and I’m wondering if I’ve imprisoned myself in LR because of this.

    • Hey, I’m currently preparing an article on just that, but many RAW converter/DAM now include Lightroom import – I currently believe this is true of at least AlienSkin Exposure, On1 Photo RAW, Capture One and darktable. Darktable is free, and the others offer trial versions that afai am aware work without restrictions.

      Until I can complete my article, try this: Backup your entire system first. I hope you’re already doing this anyway – if not, 4TB external USB drives are around $99 and a good investment at this point – use Time Machine for macOS; for Windows, I’ve heard good things about Genie Timeline, or use either Rsync (free), Unison (free), and/or Windows’ built-in Backup and Restore – the latter is for making system images and will not typically allow for individual files to be restored, so it’s good to have, but ideally the system image will never be needed because it will take a rather longer time to restore. This is why I’ve recommended Rsync and Unison, which allow for individual files to be restored.

      Then put a copy of your library file in some temporary place so that no files you care about will be altered and no backup restore necessary. Then let your chosen trial software(s) import it to see what you get.

      NOW, the bigger question is, what happens after you’ve imported your library into the new app and continued to build it, and then you want to switch again. Many softwares now do Lightroom library import, but I don’t think any do, say, AlienSkin Exposure library import, or On1 Photo RAW library import. Since you already have this concern with your commitment to Lightroom, you obviously wouldn’t want to get yourself into a corner with a new software, either.

      So I will also be looking into that in my article when it gets done. It’s a complex subject matter, though. Some partial exchange will always be possible between any two packages, the most basic mechanism usually being xmp sidecar files. So if you want to try to find out by yourself if you can “get back out again”, I would suggest looking for the xmp sidecar mechanism in your candidate software – check that it has it, and try a re-ex/import to see how much gets transported across.

      Hope this helps, and good luck, for now.

  2. Awesome reply. I’ve been curious about DT for quite a long time, but I haven’t decided on investing the time to give it a full investigation just yet. I’ve got “barely capable” hardware right now (I tried to upgrade to portability with a modest performance hit which backfired), so I might fully “start over” in 2019 with a new computer with real power, maybe a desktop since I’ve heard they are making a comeback.

    • You are welcome.

      If you start over, I would recommend getting an SSD for internal storage (even 1TB is now quite affordable) while very regularly backing up to an external HDD as a minimum (if you have no particularly private content, cloud backup is another option you can use in addition to local backups).

      Also remember that in most cases, RAM makes a far greater difference to performance than CPU clock speed, so get yourself 16GB or more. And more cores are also better than greater clock speed, at least as long as you’re dealing with applications written with performance in mind. Affinity Photo in particular as of the upcoming 1.7 release will be able to take advantage of any and all graphics cards in your system, so that’s the last thing I would give any thought to optimising if money is not an object.

      But switching to an SSD alone will make a big difference – have you tried one in either of your current machines? They’ve just crept to under $150 US for 1TB, and prices are coming down fast.

      • Fantastic advice. In the olden days, I used to build the occasional computer for myself or for family/friends. Do you still recommend a build-your-own approach, or are there any brands of ready-to-go systems that you would recommend? Do you think I can write another hyphen-laden sentence? Hope you did.

        I am a hobbyist and don’t have a high volume of photos to store, so I have a 1TB USD HD on my little laptop that I transfer photos to, and I also have a 1TB Google Drive account that is less than half full. So storage isn’t going to be a big problem. Even so, I do intend to get SSD drives all around when the time comes.

        Anyway, thanks for the discussion and for keeping up with your blog. It’s a hard task, so congrats on your good work!

        Cheers!
        JCD

      • Well, don’t let me talk you into a 1TB SSD if 500GB would serve you fine. The prices right now pretty much scale so that 500GB are half the cost of 1TB – so you’d be in the market with $75 US for a 500GB drive. The reason I generally suggest 1TB is because your applications should also ideally run from the SSD, and SSD should never be quite full to allow their inbuilt redundancy to work.

        In a nutshell, they have firmware that predicts which cells are going to die, and then silently kinda shadow-copies those contents to new cells already. Capacity of an SSD then shrinks over time as cells die and can no longer be used. So I would probably leave an SSD with 20-30% free space so that if 10% of cells die, you still have space for the redundancy to do its thing. Depending how much you use it, the SSD will eventually die after 5 to 15 years as most cells then collapse around the same time. Data lost from SSDs in this way is not recoverable, so I always suggest having a USB HD drive alongside it.

        It’s a shame we’re having this conversation now, as Crucial had some Black Friday/Cyber Week deals on their 512 and 256GB models. Basically, I think that’s inventory that’s not huge in demand right now as the higher specced models become more affordable, so if you’re willing to go with a smaller drive, you may be able to snatch a good deal. Check just after the gift season if you’re interested, prices will no doubt ease up a little then.

        As for external HD drives, if you were to buy one new now, nothing less than 4TB capacity would make sense – if memory serves, you pay about $59 US for 1TB and $99 for 4TB. If you’re using something like Time Machine, your external (back-up) drive should be a bit bigger than your internal one so that you can save multiple versions of your work on the external drive, and recover earlier system timepoints if needed.

        That’s just to explain why I personally would combine something like a 4TB external (back-up) with a 1TB internal (workhorse) drive.

        Then you asked a question regarding ready-made workstations vs. DIY. There are many price points at which you could get a machine for doing photo work. If you’re processing a 50MP image, your needs will be different to when you’re processing 16MP images. A recent magazine article suggested spending around $2200 for an AMD Ryzen Threadripper machine with 16 cores and 32GB of RAM. It’s a machine that would last most people a long time.

        However, if you look at used branded hardware, you can get a very decent machine for $500 and then add RAM and an SSD if lacking for maybe another $200. It wouldn’t have the above specs, but you would’ve saved $1500. When I just checked prices, I looked at Dell, but I expect you’d get much the same deal from HP, Lenovo, Asus, Fujitsu, etc. – and, so some say, Apple.

  3. What’s your opinion on using USB thumb drives as storage? Or even using SD cards? Just never format them and when they fill up, like a roll of film, stash them somewhere and keep them as extra copies. I never knew the details about SSDs and how cells die over time. Thanks for the new info.

    • Hi Jason,

      You’ve kind of asked the mother of all questions there, the main problem being that many of the storage technologies we use haven’t been around long enough that we know how many years, decades or centuries they can potentially last. I’m wondering if I should write an article on this.

      Indeed, USB sticks and SD cards are super cheap right now relative to SSDs, but they can’t match higher capacity hard disks on price per gigabyte. Hard drives are also generally faster in transfer rates.

      Next is the question of reliability. I believe the industry standard for archiving is magnetic tape. Not something you’re likely to want to use at home. Also, there are two optical disks available at “consumer level” that have communities of believers in their long-term storage abilities. One is the Verbatim DVD-R UltraLife Gold Archival Grade, and the other the Japanese brand Taiyo Yuden. In 2014, Sony and Panasonic announced a new optical disc format (or set of formats) called the Archival Disc. They were intended to store 300GB, 500GB or 1TB per disc. Facebook has a robotic storage system that relies on DVDs, to ensure your embarrassing frat party pictures really DO last forever, or late granny’s posts and diaries.

      So with that mentioned, back to your question. First of all, I don’t believe the USB standard and its backwards compatibility will disappear any time soon, or perhaps ever. I think we’ve come a long way from the floppy disk cataclysm. Freshly written and otherwise unused USB sticks are thought to have a lifetime of 5-10 years. SD cards are probably similar. Hard disks should last a rather longer time if untouched, the main problem being that even modern drives can still go kersplat if dropped in the wrong way (mainly height, but also hardness of the recipient surface).

      My personal experience with flash drives has been that they retain their data over long periods of time, but I’m thinking months rather than years. I might check out some older sticks that I have knocking about to see if I can find corrupt file tables or files.

      The best advice I think anybody can give in terms of picture storage is that in addition to keeping the digital files safe, you should also get them printed. If you keep them away from direct sunlight or other strong (esp. UV) light sources, quality photographic papers (Kodak Endura, Fujifilm Crystal Archive) will remain quite stable for the first 25 to 50 years and then begin to fade. I would suspect they remain recoverable for quite some time thereafter. Some pigment inks can last even longer, as you may find documented in reviews occasionally published in printed magazines.

      Oh, and a little footnote on formatting SD cards – while you’re right that this contributes to the degradation of the card, the effect may be smaller than generally assumed, as only the first few megabytes (the file table) get written. The rest of the data is left untouched and, with certain losses, recoverable (data stored in the file table won’t be recovered, such as the file name or directory location). One claim I saw was that flash memory as used in SD cards or memory sticks can be written 3000-5000 times, so formatting cards once in a while is probably okay if you’re using them in the typical record-transfer-format-record cycle. It may in fact be true that the file table sectors gets more writes if you delete files. But that’s just an aside – I understand that your proposed plan is to store and stash.

      But in summary, I’m not sure anybody has explored exactly how long various types of flash drive will last if left untouched. Most of the predictions I’ve seen seem to be theoretical in nature. I think if one were to embark on such testing, the problem would be that by the time one had solid data on, let’s say, reliability over the course of 10 years, the originally tested product may no longer be available in the market, and conclusions wouldn’t necessarily apply to whatever was in the market by then. Two pieces of advice seem to apply to a range of storage solutions, and that is regularly copying data to fresh media (maybe every three years to be on the safe side), and being aware that the failure rate is highest within the first few months. However, that last piece of advice obviously will not 1:1 apply to a strategy where you don’t touch the storage medium again until years later.

      I hope any of this is helping you find a solution.

  4. All of this is helpful! Thanks for your reply. My 2019 resolution will be to start making photobooks!

    Lots to consider when the time comes to build a new system.

    • Making photo books can be great fun. One more piece of advice – if you go with a lay-flat binding (sometimes called “Leporello”, accordion, concertina or orihon), you get the option to print across two pages and not have part of your photo disappear into a paper canyon. I find that quite an advantage.

      And good luck with the new system, curious to hear how it will turn out.

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