This would probably be as good a time as any to talk about color space. I’m not going to go into much detail, as this is supposed to be a beginner’s guide, and the intricacies of color management are not really suitable, but it’s worth a quick mention. A color space is a map of how colors are displayed and represented on various devices, from cameras to monitors to televisions and so on. The only 2 color spaces you are likely to find in your camera (and then generally only in DSLRs) are sRGB and Adobe 98 RGB. The “RGB” bit means Red, Green, Blue – this is the mode used to capture imagery, whether in still cameras or video, and generally the mode used by monitors and display systems. Things that get printed physically are almost always in CMYK color space – standing for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key (black) in case you’re ever asked in a pub quiz!
When you’re just starting out, don’t worry about color space, as you’re unlikely to run into many serious problems if you just let your camera take care of it. You may find the occasional print comes out looking nothing like the way you shot it, but frankly that even happens to me as a professional! If you have the choice in your camera, and you’re getting into things like color management and a proper workflow, then choose Adobe 98 space, as it will allow you to capture a wider range of colors. sRGB is perfectly OK, and is very commonly used on the web (for example) but it captures a slightly narrower range of color. Of course, in the same way that you can shoot in RAW and retain lots of information, then choose to discard some of it when you process your files out to jpg or similar, you can shoot in Adobe 98, and then convert to sRGB further down the line. LIke I keep stressing though, I’m only mentioning this to be thorough – it really won’t concern you for a while yet.
Workflow is a fancy word that gets chucked around in all sorts of places, I certainly use it all the time, and feel very clever when I do. As a photographer, even an amateur with no aspirations to ever earn any money from your photography, your workflow will be important. Despite being a buzzword, all it describes is how you manage the process of your images and files from capturing them, to their final destination – whether that be a website, a print, a client or sharing them with friends and family. With a course of this nature, I’m not about to go into enormous detail, I just want to give you a few outlines, and a few things to think about.
Here are some golden rules:
Always keep any “master” files. Your exact methods may vary, but say you shoot in RAW mode, and then use jpegs for the web or other methods. Don’t delete those RAW files! By all means get rid of any totally useless ones, but don’t delete them a month or so later just because “Oh, I’ve posted everything on Facebook now”. Those master files, whatever format they’re in, are your originals – think of them as the mould from which you can make all sorts of different options – lower resolution copies, different file formats, different crops and so on. If you make lots of changes to an image, but then get rid of the original, you’ve got nothing to go back to if you decide at a later date you want something different.
Decide on a naming convention, and try really hard to stick to it! When you’re just starting out it might not seem like a big deal, but a couple of years down the line you’ll be so grateful you were consistent from early on. Call your master files something, and any different versions of them something else. Same goes for your folders – decide on a pattern of “raw files”, “jpegs”, “low res” or whichever system you fancy, and then stick to it. Most modern software will let you pick different folders to export to or create them automatically. A consistent system like this will save you so much confusion as time goes on, and prevent you from spending hours searching your hard drive for elusive images.
Back things up at least twice. Use an external hard drive, and cloud storage, or add a RAID array (no, I’m not going into any detail about RAID here!) Storage is so cheap now you’d be daft to try and economise here and risk losing images. For what it’s worth, I back up to 2 different hard drives, and the cloud, but I’ve not always been so thorough, and I have lost images over the years. It’s not fun, I can tell you.