Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Photography Software: Missing Features and Frustrations

Photography is one of my long-time hobbies.  It started in my youth with a camera given to me by my grandparents—a Vivitar 110 with a built in flash—and continues to this day with my current Canon 7D digital SLR.  I am not sure what attracts me to the craft, but I enjoy being able to record events and interpret the things that I see in the world.  I purchased my first SLR camera about a year after graduating high school (a Canon T70 35mm).  Up until the turn of the century (that's 2000 not 1900) the one thing that most cameras had in common was that they used some form of film.

Canon T70 35mm Camera
Since switching to digital photography in 2003, I have come to realize that film and limited online capability did have at least one advantage:  you did not have to deal with image processing and upload software on a regular basis.  Instead, you dropped your film off at (or mailed it to) a lab where it was processed on your behalf.  As the web became more popular, you even had the option of receiving a digital version of your pictures on 3.5" disks or, later, CD/DVD for an additional fee.

Working with image processing and upload software can be a frustrating endeavor despite the greater creative control it gives you over your photographs.  I think the way I work makes it even more difficult (perhaps I am the problem here).  Nevertheless, I use Apple's Aperture for processing and organizing my photos.  Once processed, I like to upload my master set (photos that I have not rejected, but are not only the best of the best) to Kodak Gallery and make any prints from there if I need something that looks professional or if I just want to create a book of the year's photos.  I also tend to share a sub-set of those photos on Facebook and, more recently, Google+ so that my friends and family are easily able to see the best of a photo shoot from the comfort of social networking account.

Canon 7D Digital SLR Camera
My current frustration is with exports and uploads for photo sharing.  The key phrase here is "lack of integration and features."  While I find Aperture to be generally easy to use and powerful with excellent general photo export features built into it, its integration with photo software sites leaves much to be desired.  Sadly, this seems to be the case with Adobe's Lightroom (a.k.a. "the competition") as well.  Both allow plug-ins, but none that I have tried do exactly what I would like them to do—some do things that do not seem to make any sense to a rational human being.  For example, Facebook integration within Aperture happily uses the version name of the photo as the caption (instead of the caption).  That means if you want to have a real caption you have to change it in Facebook itself.  If you do change it, though, it changes all of your version names to the new caption within Aperture.  Yes, you read that right and Apple has yet to address it.  In addition, none of the plug-ins I have tried seem to allow you to "build" your caption from metadata or file information (e.g. Caption + Version + date taken, etc.) and most of these services' upload software seems to have the same limitation.  Even third parties don't quite do the job.  Incidentally, one plug-in that that comes close for Google's Picasa is Übermind's Aperture to Picasa Web Albums:  it is fast, uses Aperture's export settings, but it does not allow a custom built caption, which is a shame.

What makes all of this worse is that the various photo sites also do not integrate well with the social networking sites.  For example, while I could share my photos to Facebook from Kodak Gallery, people would be redirected to the Kodak Gallery.  The result is that I cannot tag people and it becomes difficult to keep track of what I actually shared (e.g. my 'best of' versus the entire album).  While there are several plug-ins for the Chrome and Firefox browsers (like Move Your Photos for Chrome) that attempt to help, I found the ones that I tried to be feature poor and inconsistent with respect to maintaining captions, EXIF information, resolution, etc.

Unfortunately, I have wound up with a cobbled together and complex photo sharing workflow once I have made my adjustments and added metadata:
  • I export all of my adjusted photos as JPG files.  (I would do this anyway so I have the final version of the photo stored after adjustments).
  • I use Kodak Gallery's upload software to move my photos into Kodak Gallery.  It does not pull captions from the exported JPG files, so I have the pleasure of copying and pasting them.  To make my life easier, I export the metadata from Aperture and load it into Excel where I can manipulate the caption to also include the photo's version name.  I tried to use the automator, but let's just say that solution was less than successful.  (Note:  I used to use PictureSync, but that seems to have died forever now.  That was a nice program because it pulled in the captions and allowed me to append additional information like the version name.  I still weep its demise).  UPDATE:  It looks like there was an update to PictureSync that allows it to work with Kodak Gallery again.  
  • I have been using Bloom to upload photos to Facebook.  It allows tagging from the software and you can create/manipulate albums before uploading.  Bloom also allows you to pull in EXIF data as part of the caption.  Unfortunately, it also puts the EXIF tag before it (e.g. "Caption/Abstract" and then the caption) and it does not allow for additional information outside of the EXIF like the file name.  I wind up deleting the tag information and adding the version name to the caption manually.
  • I just started using Übermind's Aperture to Picasa Web Albums.  This is a plug-in.  It is smart enough to pull the caption from the photo, but it does not allow for caption manipulation.  One nice thing is that you can use a custom export that does not interfere with my normal exports.  Nevertheless, I have to edit all of the captions once it is uploaded to Picasa before sharing with Google+.
I could solve some manual manipulation by just putting the version name in with the caption, but that just doesn't seem like the right way to go:  it would just confuse things and cause me to type the version names into the caption instead of a sub-set into the upload software.

So, what do I want?  Perhaps the impossible, but here it is:
  • A plug-in or set of plug-ins in Aperture (or Lightroom) that allow me to select the photos I want to upload, export them at the selected resolution, create or update a photo site or social network album with the requisite fields that the social network supports (e.g. location, date, album description, etc.), include EXIF information in the upload, allow me to customize the caption with metadata and file information, and set permissions/shares.
AND/OR
  • An application that does the same after I have exported the data.
AND/OR
  • A way to do the upload to one sharing site and have the sharing features copy the photos into the others in tact (that is, with captions, EXIF, etc.).  I would be happy to do the tagging separately.

In the end, I think my desires may not be achievable for some time.  Who knows, maybe I'll write a plug-in or set of plug-ins myself that does this someday.  For now, though, I'll keep looking for new applications and products and hope that one (or more) will eventually fit my needs.
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