Adobe Bridge

Wow, what a great title for my first article on Adobe CS3 Bridge. Really, I came up with it myself. Me, you ask? Well, I’m kind of a manual/mechanical guy. I’m a photographer, and somewhat of a computer geek. I have always preferred cameras that can work without batteries, and have all the shutter speeds and f/stops work. I capture images in digital format almost exclusively for both my commercial photography and my personal work. So far I haven’t found any of the new-fangled digital gear that is mechanical, but the manual settings are all available. Just keep lots of batteries handy to power the sensor.

I guess the very first step in all this was installing Adobe Creative Suite Premium CS3 on my computer. I am using a 15” MacBook Pro 2.33 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 2 GB of RAM installed. Apparently I was lucky in that I had not installed the CS3 Beta on my laptop – my install was painless, although I did go do other things for a while when it became apparent that I had time to kill. I like having icons on my dock so I can drag individual files and drop it on the application I want to open the file with. I manually put the PhotoShop and Bridge icons on the dock by dragging them there from the applications folder.

So, why Bridge? Well, Adobe puts it in with PhotoShop for free. Gratis. No charge. I like free, especially when you get something for free that really works. I can load up raw files from several different cameras; the Nikon images display along side the Canon shots, something neither manufacturer’s bundled software will do. The same folder can have tiff, psd and gif files — you can see them all. Bridge just doesn’t seem to care what kind of images you feed it. What Bridge really does well is show your images, allow you to sort and rename them, rate them, and perform automated actions all without breaking a sweat. In doing so, it really wants a lot of your computer’s horsepower. I usually try to have nothing else running when I am going to use Bridge. Bridge CS3 seems to run quite a bit faster than Bridge CS2.

Since I have a manual/mechanical mindset, you probably guessed I only shoot in raw format. My current Sinar back, the eMotion 22, only shoots in a proprietary raw format. With the release this summer of Exposure, Sinar backs will have the option of writing out the raw camera files to Adobe dng format. Sinar users of Bridge probably already know that the native sti files that the eMotion backs shoot are not compatible with Bridge, but this should change with the ability to have native Adobe dng files out of the back. With my Nikon gear I can choose raw, jpeg, or a combo of raw + jpeg. I have tried it all ways — when I first started, I only shot jpeg. Mostly it worked, but occasionally I had the problem of blown exposures. Then I started shooting raw + jpeg, and I only used the raw file if I had need of it. Then a major event occurred: Photoshop CS2 was launched with much better raw file support, and the inclusion of another program, called Bridge. CS2 has moved aside for CS3, native for Intel Mac’s. These days I shoot only raw, and do a lot of processing in Bridge to streamline my workflow.

“Bridge Over Troubled Image Management” isn’t a great title, but it does tell you a little about what I think. Managing my images is a lot of trouble. I shoot a lot of images, therefore, I have to be able to store and retrieve a lot of images. On a recent two day location trip to Austin, Texas I shot almost 1,000 images on two different camera platforms on three different assignments. In six months, or more likely after I have slept once, I won’t be able to find those images unless I do some work on the front end. Bridge is the perfect tool for my workflow.

One of the things that I do to help find my images is to batch rename my camera files. Somehow _ABC0936.NEF just doesn’t do it for me, and when you shoot ten thousand more images, you’ll have another image with the exact same name. (Nikon’s default naming convention for sRGB images is DSC_XXXX.NEF, and _DSCXXXX.NEF is default for Adobe 1998 RGB files. I’ve renamed my prefix in the camera menu to be “ABC”.) I’ve adopted a file naming convention taught by photographer Seth Resnick, and so far it is working great for me. I start with the date (images shot on my trip to Austin would be 20070419 for April 19, 2007), then the location (I abbreviate Austin AUS, Memphis is MES, New York City is NYC, just try to be consistent), and then the subject in hopefully one or two keywords (Red River is the street in Austin where I shot some personal images of walls that regularly have flyers stapled on them). So the first of my new file names will be 20070419AUSRedRiver001.nef — too long? I considered going to a two digit number for the year, but it makes searching for the year less effective. Anyway, this naming convention allows you to search for the image name in a number of ways: by the year, by the month, by the city or location, and by the subject keyword. There are ways to further search for image tags within the metadata, but that is for another column.

So, being a manual guy, I plug my compact flash card into my very handy eFilm firewire reader and watch the icon magically appear on my desktop. I command-click on the desktop and choose to make a new folder, and title it with the root of the filename; this one will be 20070419AUSRedRiver. I then open the icon for my eFilm reader and get to my camera files directory, hit apple-A to select all the files, and drag them to the new folder I created on the desktop and drop them there. I don’t delete the images from my compact flash card until later. When it is done copying the files, I drag the compact flash card to the trash or command-click on it and select the option for eject.

Now, we can get started with Bridge. Click and drag the image folder and drop it on the Bridge icon.


 

This will open the images in the folder in Bridge and start us on the path to successfully storing these images. If you used CS2 Bridge and now have upgraded to CS3, you will see familiar fields. The interface is a nice improvement over CS2 Bridge: a darker background gives more distinction to your images, the default panes are logically set up to view thumbnails in the middle of the screen and the highlighted image in the top right, and easier to use filters that let you sort your work. One important slider is at the bottom right of the window — this slider controls how large the image previews are. Slide it to the left to see a lot of little bitty previews, and slide it to the right to get to see some detail in the larger preview images. I prefer to see 4-6 images in each row depending on how complicated they are. Now, the first order of business: I start by quickly deleting any images I think are totally unusable. You know, the ones I accidentally shot of the sidewalk when the vertical release button was enabled, the ones that the CEO has his eyes closed, and, well, you get the idea. There is a reason I do this now, you’ll figure it out in a few paragraphs. Highlight the first image, and look at it in the preview pane. You can drag the pane edges to resize it to fit your need. If the first image is fine, hit the right arrow and take a look at the next image. If you need to delete an image, make sure only the one image is highlighted, and hit the delete button. At least the first time you do this, a dialog box will pop up to make sure Bridge knows what you really want to do. You can choose to simply reject the image (which doesn’t actually delete it), delete it, or cancel all actions. You can make the dialog box never appear again, but you probably want to think about it before checking that box. I just want to delete this image, so I click delete. Repeat as needed to quickly look through all the images.

Now we need to select the images we want to rename, and Bridge makes it easy to do so. Click the first image in a series you want to rename, and then hold the shift key and click the last image. All the images in between the two should be highlighted now. If you want to select all the images in the window, you can use the traditional “select all” command of apple-A. And if the images aren’t in sequence, you can individually select or deselect an image by holding the apple key and clicking. Now that we have a selection, command-click on any of the images in the selection and select “Batch Rename” from the menu.

Now the fun begins. Bridge gives us many options for file renaming. First, we need to decide where the images are going to go. I usually rename in the same folder, but you can choose to move or copy to another folder. In the middle of the dialog box there is a section on the new filenames you want to create. The first time you use Batch Rename, there may be just one option. When you click to expand the list, you’ll see text, new extension, and more options. I select date, and this opens up a new option to the right, and in that pull down menu you’ll see date created, today, etc. Then the third box shows the format that we want the date to assume; I select YYYYMMDD to fit my naming convention. To go further, I click the + sign in the button to the right of this last field, and a new set of fields appear below. I select text, and then put in my text of AUSRedRiver. Again, I click the + button to the right and select sequence number. If there are 99 images or less, I just use two digits, but if there are 100 or more images to rename, use the appropriate number of digits to support the number of images. If you don’t you’ll get an image with a name like 20070419AUSRedRiver0(1).nef instead of 20070419AUSRedRiver10.nef. Bridge will keep each filename unique, but it will be harder to read.


 

Below this area you have the option to preserve the current filename in the metadata. It is fine with me to do so, but like I mentioned, I don’t relate well to the original filename. The bottom of the dialog box is the proof of the pudding: a preview showing the current filename, and what the filename will be when you click Rename. This is your proofreading chance. Don’t worry, if you do happen to make a mistake at this point you can rename the images again. Click Rename and in a few moments (or longer, depending on the speed of the computer you are working with), the filenames will be renamed.

A lot of the time when I shoot events, I will have to provide jpg previews of the images to the client. Bridge makes this simple. And yes, you guessed it: this is the reason we deleted the obvious lousy pictures at the very first step. When I make previews for my clients to look at, in the past I would get questions about missing images… I didn’t send them image number 44. It was because the CEO of the company had his eyes closed in frame 44 that I didn’t send it; my mistake was naming the images before I deleted the shot. (Of course, as I mentioned you can rename the photos more than once, but it saves time if you only have to do it once.) Now when we make jpg previews, they will be in numeric order with (apparently) no omitted images. Plus, the CEO will never suspect that he may have appeared at least once in a less than flattering image.

Movies have ratings, so why not my images? After my initial edit to get rid of the garbage, I do a second run through the images to rate them. A quick trick is to select all the images and hit apple-1. This applies a one star rating to all the photos in the folder. Then as you go through and look at the images, you can easily assign higher ratings. Anytime an image is highlighted, hitting the apple key at the same time as a number from 1 to 5 will rate the image with that number.


 

I give my favorites a 3 or 4 rating, and the absolute best shots a rating of 5. In the top right hand of the window you can choose to view all files (the default setting), or view only images with a certain star rating or higher. After editing, I usually take a quick look at all my 4 and 5 star images. Click the Label tab at the top of the window and you can see the new rating system for selects, seconds, approved, etc. In this way, Bridge works like many art directors want to work. With the label you will see a color coding — a select is red, second is yellow, etc.

I’ve still got this folder of images on my desktop. This isn’t where it will reside forever, although some stay there longer than they should. I currently archive in two ways: external hard drives and DVD’s. After editing, renaming, rating, etc. I will drag the whole folder to an external hard drive. Next, I drag the folder to my Pictures directory. Then, after the move is complete, I will drag the folder from the Pictures director to my Toast icon and burn a DVD backup of it. Mark the DVD with the folder name(s) that are burned on it. Make a habit of taking the DVD backup home, or if you are working at home, take it to the office.

So, how do we quickly make previews of 50 images (or a set of high resolution psd files) and let Bridge do all the work while we go get a California roll? That is the subject of the next article in this series, Raw is to Cameras as Sushi is to Tuna. A companion article, Bridging the Language Gap, goes into further detail on Bridge, keywords and metadata.

Adobe’s Bridge is included with Photoshop CS3 and CS3 Extended, as well as Adobe Creative Suite Design Premium, Design Standard, Web Premium, Web Standard, Production Premium… plus it comes with the stand alone products Illustrator, Acrobat Professional, Flash Professional, Dreamweaver, Fireworks, After Effects Professional, Premiere, Soundbooth, Encore and Contribute.