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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2006-04-14

Some Pretty Revolutionary Stuff - that is really not all that revolutionary...
By Vincent Laforet

Photo by Vincent Laforet

Photo by Vincent Laforet

Vincent Laforet at work in his home office.
What I mean is: in the past few months I've been able to work with Apple on changing my workflow in ways that have the potential to make my life incredibly easier on so many levels - the irony is that most of the tools that I am using have been around for years. When Apple announced that they would be entering the world of Still Photography with their announcement of Aperture - that was a really good thing for all photographers everywhere. While some are worrying about the impending demise of our craft - Apple clearly thinks otherwise. One of the great developments is that Apple has changed the way they develop their software to adopt to the way we as photographers work - for one they have included a "provide feedback" menu item in their software. While that's far from "revolutionary" - it's the first time they've ever done this with any piece of software they've ever released. More importantly - they've sought out the feedback of a wide range of photographers and are listening - and responding.

I was lucky enough to meet with Apple when I went to PhotoPlus Expo this Fall and quickly became intrigued with Aperture. At first I was floored. Then I lost interest and was in fact turned off by a few things. And now that I've gotten to know the software better and that I better understand its strengths in areas that were overlooked by most other software to date, I use it for almost everything I do. I'm not going to talk about Aperture though in this article - instead I wanted to share some stuff that is not as well documented that I think could really make a few of your lives easier. And the kicker is that everything is either free - or relatively cheap.

1. Let's start with the simplest way to improve your workflow - and cheapest - it's free and part of OS 10.4 - Automator. Automator is a powerful scripting app that allows you (or more to the point your computer) to perform repetitive tasks quite easily... it's Apple Script on steroids - with a much more user-friendly interface. I use it for many things and most often in combination with Transmit - a cool FTP app that I never really used until now. I've been using OsXigen and Fetch for years - but I've recently made the switch to Transmit because of its Automator integration - and that made me purchase it in a millisecond. The Automator actions/capabilities come with the App. (There is alternatively a free Upload to FTP Automator application that you can download at: http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/automator/ and many others at http://www.automator-actions.com/ just so you know.)

I also use Transmit because it also offers a nice little widget plug-in and is incredibly stable and informative on the progress of your transmission and upload speed as well (which is the reason I chose it over the free Automator FTP actions.) The scripts I describe below are also available for free on my site in the "Resources" section (http://www.laforetvisuals.com) - and I welcome SportsShooter.com members to create their own scripts and share them with everyone.

The script you'll find on my site can be used in many many ways... and is highly customizable.

For now - the simplified version can be applied to a "hot" folder... i.e. whenever you export an image from Aperture or CS2 or any other application into this folder - the files are instantly transmitted in the background to the site you specify in the script. In fact you can alter the script and have it:

a. Copy the files into an "Originals" folder (that you create somewhere on your desktop) so that you can save your JPEGs at the highest compression settings from your editing application for archival purposes

b. Copy those files (using the Move Finder Items" in the Automator lists of actions for the finder into another folder - where they can either be compressed at a lower setting or first downsized and then re-compressed at a low setting - so they can be sent faster over a slower Internet connection or when you're on a very tight deadline.

c. The script will then move the files to the a "Sent" folder you create and label them in "green" so that you know they completed the entire cycle of the script successfully. I even added a little text action at the end that speaks to you to let you know that "Files are Sent" or " xxxxx" whatever you want your little machine to say to you... and you can even pick the voice. You can of course create numerous versions of the same script - one for high-speed connections for example and other for slower speed connection or very tight deadlines that you apply to a separate "hot" folder...

Photo by

Automator
This action/workflow is highly customizable - and can be made to send the same file to a variety of servers at once (all with different compression and size settings - even watermarking) or can be saved as a finder action - which means you can "Control - click" or right-click on any image / file / folder on your desktop - and go down the Automator section of the pulldown menu and find the action you previously created - and boom once you release on the appropriate script your files are off!

Why do this? I'll tell you one of the things that slows me down the most on deadline is opening a file up in Aperture / Photo Mechanic / Photoshop - exporting it to my folder - and the switching to the finder - hunting down that file - and dragging and dropping it over to my FTP window. I invariably lose track of which file has or has not been sent - and if my connection drops I often don't know where I left off... with these scripts you don't have to worry about it. Simply Right-click on your photo in Aperture - and Export the Master or Version to your hot folder... and the file is automatically sent. If you need to do some careful localized adjustments (such as dodging/burning or layering) in Photoshop - then create an action there that will automatically save the file (and close it once it's saved) to the same hold folder. Again - off it goes in the background. You can continue to edit your next photograph and not worry about dragging and dropping that file in your finder onto your FTP app - the computer is doing that for you.

The beauty of this for me - is that it's all built into your OS software (if you're using a Mac and the Tiger OS of course...) you don't need to buy anything - and you really don't need to be an expert in the Automator application. Spend a few minutes looking through the scripts that you can download from my site and you should be able to get a handle on the scripting rather quickly. It's highly intuitive once you get it - like most apps. And there are an unlimited amount of free actions out there for all sorts of software. This will allow you to set up six different folders on your desktop - one for each client you regularly contribute to - with different compression / size settings, ftp addresses, naming conventions associated with that client - you name it - Automator can do it. So when you're ready to submit your file just drag it onto one or three or all of the appropriate folders - and the computer NOT YOU takes care of all of the resizing and FTPing - while you spend more time enjoying your life. In fact you could always make a seventh folder - which you drop the file into - and Automator will then copy the file to all six folders for you - one at a time...

2. Let's take a look at the most expensive of the bunch ($250 or so) which is really quite cheap given how powerful of a tool it is: Apple Remote Desktop (ARD). This software has been around for ages - and it's mostly been used by IT people who want to check the status of their servers from home - or who want to fix or update computers around the office without leaving the comfort of their chair. The idea is simple - and just as importantly the software capability (to receive ARD commands) is built into everyone of your OSX 10.4 system preferences. What you can basically do - is to control your computer remotely. In my case - I can (and am in fact doing this as we speak) browse my Aperture Library on my computer at home from a moving train (via my Verizon wireless card.) I can export files to my ftp server or my PhotoShelter (http://www.PhotoShelter.com) account (using my home's Cable Modem connection instead of the Verizon connection on my laptop on the train.) I can check my e-mail, or get an address. I can in fact do pretty much anything that I could do were I actually sitting at home in front of the computer (with the exception of plugging and unplugging drives etc... obviously.)

Photo by

Apple Remote Desktop
So why would you care? Have you ever DESPERATELY needed a file that's on your computer back at home? Have you ever tried calling your wife in a panic or friend and begged them to find that file or CD for you on a computer with software that they are unfamiliar with, and to get them to FTP it to you or e-mail it to you - and you need it within a few minutes from now or you're dead??? Have you ever told a client that yes "I've shot that person/thing before" and wanted to show them the image right then an there? Would be pretty cool no? If the image is already in PhotoShelter, it's easy. But if it's not, with Apple Remote Desktop you can still access files on your computer at home.

In fact if a client calls you and wants you to sell them a file - you can log onto your computer at home and upload the file... when you're on the road thousands of miles away...

The only limitations that you need to know are:

i. Your computer must be on (you can set it to turn on and off automatically on a schedule btw - go to your system preferences and to the "Energy Saver" window - on the bottom right you'll see the "Schedule Tab."

ii. You need to enable Apple Remote Desktop access in your Sharing Preferences in the system preferences. (Enabling ftp access and Remote login will help you do other things as well.) Please note that this DOES open you up to certain risks - if someone knows you username and password - they can get into your computer. What I've done is to create a special account (under Accounts) for this with limited access - and told Apple Remote Desktop to only allow users to log in under that account.

iii. You need to know your IP address and your computer at home cannot be behind a firewall (or make sure your firewall settings allow you to have certain ports open to use ARD or talk to your IT people and ask them to help you set this up - I'm not going to get into that here - because frankly it's seldom a problem for me and a bit too complicated to get into.) When you try to access your computer at your office - you likely won't be able to get through unless you get the IT people to give open up access to you computer.... this is also true for stadiums etc - while most won't block incoming traffic some will have firewalls, and some cable modems, and most WIFI routers do have built in firewalls etc. If you're trying to have you editors access your computer while you're on the road - you just need to either ask to have a static IP address assigned to you when you order a line for a big event - or need to meet with the IT people to make sure they know you want to have your editor access your computer remotely - and they should be able to help open the proper ports and unlock certain security measures. Even in Torino for the Olympics - where everything was "NOT POSSIBLE!" - we were able to get this done with a little begging and charming.

If you are simply trying to access your computer at home - you likely won't have any problems at all (as long as it is plugged directly into your cable modem or DSL connection.) Again - whenever you put something in between the two (firewall, Airport, router) it complicates things - but you'll just need to spend a little more time configuring it to work long-term.

So how do you find out what your IP address is? Simple: Go to "http://www.whatismyip.com - that's it. It will give you a number such as: 70.192.159.194 - that is your address. And in fact you can log onto your computer at that address from anywhere in the world - even if you don't have "Apple Remote Desktop." Simply press Apple + K when you're in the finder - of in the finder under the "Go" menu - "Connect to Server." As long as you remember your computer's username and password - you can browse all of your files on your computer right now - and download them etc. The only limitation is the upload speed of your home connection (most important factor) and the download speed of your computer on the road.

(A few notes: IP addresses and networking are not the most intuitive thing at first - it frankly gives me a headache. But you need to understand one simply principle: there are a few different types of IP addresses:

1. Some are "private IPs" that cannot be accessed from the outside world (for security reasons.) i.e. you can access other computers within your office, while others from outside your office cannot access you.

2. Some are "public IPs" those are the ones I use - they are the ones that lead you straight to you cable modem and computer - if you put an airport or ethernet HUB or other device between your computer and cable modem - it complicates things - because it may in fact be giving out a different IP and not your computer's... so to keep it simple for the first time you do this - plug the modem directly into your computer and see if this works. Long term - it is MUCH safer to have such a device between your computer and the Internet as it will add a layer of protection between you and hackers worldwide...

3. Some are "static IP addresses" and those are the best. Most ISP will give you one if you ask for one - and others may or may not charge you a fee - the nice thing is that address is permanent... more on that in part iv.

4. There is also a service you can look into: http://www.no-ip.com that gives you yet another alternative...

iv. If you are simply using your cable modem - your IP address will change every once in awhile - or when you reset or unplug your modem for example. There is a great little utility however (that I set to start up every time my machine boots) that will actually e-mail you your IP addresses whenever it changes. It's called Ipanema and can be purchased for all of $5 at http://www.ifthensoft.com

So that's that - it's the most complex to get through the IP/Networking/Firewall issues at first - but well worth it for me. It's already saved my bacon a number of times. Not only can you use this to go fetch files on your computer back at home - but you could also use this to have your editor back in New York access your computer in Beijing at the 2006 Olympics... they could copy your files over - browse them in any editing software and well - do everything you could yourself - but REMOTELY - while you continue to shoot... the only limitation again - is the speed of the internet connection. It's a bit slow on my Verizon card on a moving train - but more than bearable. The alternative is Fedexing a DVD/Hard drive to you... and that's not nearly as quick...

3. Another very very nice way to do this is to store your files on PhotoShelter, an online archive and image distribution system started by the same guys that started SportsShooter.com. If a client wants an image fast, and it is already in PhotoShelter, sending an image to them via FTP directly from PhotoShelter takes advantage of their super-fast network, and doesn't limit you to slow cable modem or DSL upload speed. You can even send multiple files at once... try that at home!

Another nice thing about PhotoShelter is: if your hard drive fails, your home is flooded, or you scratch your archive DVD - you have them backed up on RAID servers (mirrored) on the US East and West Coasts - so even if LA falls into the ocean you're cool... and your archive (i.e. life's work) is not only accessible, but also safe.

4. Speaking of other ways to "be prepared for the inevitable disaster" that will always occur at the worst possible time - i.e. your hard drive fails when you are on the other side of the planet - it's a good idea to create Disk Images of all of your software installation disks (good in case your 2-year old scratches your original installation disks too) - you can do this with "Disk Utility" which comes with OSX - or use other software such as "Super Duper" or "Carbon Copy Cloner" or even "Toast." You can then either:

a. Store them on your iDisk on your .Mac account.

b. Store them on a flash drive/jump drive/external hard drive whatever - that you travel with.

c. Even on your iPod.... which you can in case you don't know mount as an external HD - it's a hard drive in the end - so if you're ever desperate for space - erase the "Lost" video episodes on video iPod and you've got 60 gigs of space... I also always travel with a CD copy of Disk Warrior in case my computer crashes - and I need to try to recover the hard drive.

Even if I have to re-format the drive - I will have my installers on any of the above devices - and can be back up an running on my (or someone else's machine.) It goes without saying that you should of course copy your serial numbers onto a text file that goes everywhere with you - or put them in your address book...

5. I don't know about you - but while getting a new machine is a joy at first... transferring all of my files, folders, applications etc - can be a total nightmare... finding all of the serial numbers etc - ugh. Most of you know this already - but for those who don't - Apple's Migration assistant will do this all for you - automatically... so when you "migrate" from your current machine to the next - it'll be easier than ever. The assistant can be found in your Applications / Utilities folder...

6. The Olympic Workflow: I'm not going to go into this much - because an article has already been written about it on Apple's site - and I've also included instructions and a link to that article on my site (http://www.vincentlaforet.com) under the "resources" section - with pretty good instructions. You can download the scripts from there as well btw - all for free. The idea here is that we developed a script that allows you to simply stick your disk in an "Voila!" You're done. The script does the following all on its own without a single push of a button on your part:

i. It copies all of the files from your CF (or other card) onto your computer automatically.

ii. It then separates the RAW files and JPEG files if you're shooting in JPEG + RAW mode - and puts the RAW files into a separate folder.

iii. It then copies the JPEG into a dated/time stamped folder into your PUBLIC folder in your Users folder on your computer - into a High Res Folder (the typical JPEG file from a Mark II is 2-3 MB)

iv. It then creates a new folder and then scales down the original JPEG files form the High Res folder and saves them as more highly compressed JPEG files into the Low Res folder - this takes the large 2-3 MB file and creates an 1100 pixel-wide image that is saved to around 40-60K! That means that your 4 Gig card can now be downloaded by your editor by dragging the Low Res folder (which is anywhere from 5-8MB) instead of 4 Gigs! Obviously saving you and him/her a HUGE amount of time.

Obviously this ties in right into the IP instructions I mentioned above. The editor need not have ARD - but can simply log onto your computer once you provide him with your IP Address and username and password for that account (that only allows them to access that public folder - not the rest of your private files on your laptop.) Part iv. can be modified in anyway you want - and you can set the settings to scale the images down or up - and set your own compression settings. We found that 1100 pixels was just right and that a 50-80K file was more than good enough to judge if an image was sharp or not... Step 4 can of course be completely skipped if you're lucky enough to have a very fast connection from your shooting position or editing room (i.e. a T-1 or T-3.)

And the script can do so many more things. It can be modified to do unlimited things - such as automatically sending the Low Res Folder to your ftp site (or your office's) followed by the High Res Folder (if you have a fast enough connection/time.)

I hope this helps some of you - I know that it has really made my life so much easier. These actions are not limited to photography btw - you can also create one for resizing an image automatically and applying a watermark and automatically putting it into a new "Mail" message... just with the right-click of a button (or control-click) on the file in the finder...

Good luck and have more fun enjoying your life and making photographs - and less time behind the computer!


(Vincent Laforet is as contract photographer with The New York Times.)

Related Links:
Laforet's member page
Laforet's personal website
PhotoShelter

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