Friday, 16 October 2009


Spent the last couple of weeks converting my workflow over to Aperture. As per usual I've not read any instruction manuals or the like, so this is purely what I've found so far.

Most of my work is shot in RAW on the camera - in my mind there is little point in shooting JPEG, and if there is ever the need, then there is also RAW+JPEG modes and plenty of batch converters as well. Until now, I have found iPhoto to be excellent for my purposes, and of course it has the useful attribute of being free on every new Mac.

Using an external piece of software, iPhoto Buddy, enabled me to manage different libraries for each job, and for the basic levels, straighten and crop adjustments that might be needed on each photo, then iPhoto was just fine.

However I was feeling the need to move up to the next level, and Aperture, for me at least, does just that.

  • It's reasonably priced - especially when I recall the conversation I had with a friend a couple of weeks ago regarding how much we used to spend on lab processing on an almost weekly basis!
  • It looks professional - it's made by Apple of course
  • File handling capabilities are top-notch. Once files are imported, backup is simply a matter of pressing one button. Changes made to photos are backed-up incrementally so edits can be backed-up very quickly. There are clever features for moving photos in and out of the library, which means they are easily archived. I think that best results would be achieved on a diet of large, fast hard discs.
  • One more point on the backup - I've not tried yet, but it should be possible to replicate the external back-up disc onto Amazon S3 for complete redundancy given a suitable internet connection.
  • I can now shoot tethered, which I've not tried yet, but will be useful for copy work
  • Extensible via Plug-ins, again more to come on this
Mostly, it just seems to work, which is surely a good thing.

I'll still need to use one or two of my custom renaming scripts at times, but this is more a result of the way I work at the moment than any failing with the software.

All in all, iPhoto is good, and for most people (and small organisations) would be an ideal image manager. If the need and the operator skills are there, then Aperture improves further on this base.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Thermal Label Printer

I've just taken delivery of a Dymo LabelWriter 400 printer - mostly to help me make sense of the mountains of "stuff" that I seem to own and carry around with me.

Installation is very easy, and the printer functions like any other MacOS printer, albeit with very small paper sizes!

My thoughts are already beginning to turn to investigating the some of the possible applications that the printer might have for photography and collections management.

Here is what I've come up with so far:
  • Temporary (?) labelling - label output is quick, easy and cheap. I can already think of one job I will be doing next month where the ability to spew out the numbers of the last batch of photos onto a batch of labels would probably make for less confusion later on in the process. The technology is thermal printing, and whilst we know that the labels won't be archival, I feel that they would make a very good stop-gap measure until there is time to do a proper marking exercise.
  • Machine readable labels - a little pet favourite of mine - bridging the interface between objects and computers. I've already been able to successfully output Code 128 barcodes onto the labels, using an open-source barcode generator outputting data from a PHP/MySQL database. And my twenty-quid barcode reader reads them perfectly as well.
  • I've run-off a few sample labels and will be using them to label up some of my own geological specimens, and as time passes, I'll report more on how it all pans out.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Lights, Camera, Action! at Chedworth Roman Villa

I've just returned from a day spent at Chedworth Roman Villa, near Cheltenham, filming a news article about the inventory work there. As the site includes a small museum, where much of the collection was built up during the Victorian era, the archaeological items in the museum all had to be photographed. 

A group of us carried out the photography in November last year, and perhaps the one item I should add to my toolkit is a thermometer - I'm pretty sure that the temperature inside never got into double figures all day! There were a lot of objects there to be photographed, and the total number is well over 1000. 

Between us, we chose some artefacts for the film crews to look at. I felt it was important to choose something of a reasonable size to show to the cameras, so we had on hand some carved pieces of stone, and a couple of floor tiles with animal footprints in them. Also we had a box of Roman Snail shells (Helix pomatia if you're interested) which can still be found on site (and in fact as far afield as Cirencester). 

You can read one of the stories in the press here:

and you can see the BBC article here:

I think it all went off very well, and shows nicely how to make an interesting story out of the seemingly mundane backroom task of cataloguing. 

Just as I finished packing up the equipment, it absolutely tipped it down with rain - perhaps if I'd hung around, the moisture might have tempted some of the snails out of hiding!

Friday, 23 January 2009

Crafty concordances, clever computer....

A reasonably common museum problem. Several hundred museum objects to be photographed, one set of old museum numbers, one set of new ones, and then after generating a set of camera numbers, we were to rename the camera files to some name relating to the new museum numbers.

How to make a concordance between the four sets of numbers - ordinarily I do this by hand as I photograph, but as soon as I renumbered the images, the original concordance we made on site became useless.

The solution required that we maintain a record of the original filename against the new renumbered file. I could have used paper, or even a spreadsheet, but that would have been quite time consuming and probably error prone.

I felt it could be done using IPTC data mixed in with my workflow, so here's how:

  • I used a piece of software called Exiftool
  • First, copy the original camera assigned file name into the caption field:
exiftool "-iptc:caption-abstract<filename" *.jpg
  • Bring the photos into iPhoto. It reads the caption field into it's description field
  • Tweak photos as required, changing the title of the photo to the new museum number, and setting the old museum number as one of the keywords.
Incidentally, at this point everything suddenly started to organise itself, as disconnected photos taken all around the museum began to re-arrange themselves by their museum numbers....
  • Export new versions of the photos, using your preferred settings. Ensure that you also export title and keywords, and use the title to generate the filename:

  • Finally head back to Exiftool and run the following command which gives you the concordance list that you were after
exiftool -T -filename -keywords -objectname -iptc:caption-abstract *jpg

which looks like

73606.jpg 23.3 73606 _DSC4876.jpg
73607.jpg 23.4 73607 _DSC4880.jpg
73608.jpg 23.5 73608 _DSC4882.jpg
73609.jpg 23.6 73609 _DSC4878.jpg
73610.jpg 23.7 73610 _DSC4881.jpg etc

  • Open the file in a spreadsheet of your choice, sort as required and carry on!