My Top Five Favorite Mac Applications

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It’s no exaggeration to say that my 5K Retina iMac is the hub of my business, and to a large extent my creative life as well. But the applications I use are equally important in getting quality work done, so I choose them very carefully.

In a recent workshop I was asked what some of those applications are, so I wanted to share my top five and why I like them so much.

But first a little personal history.

I started using computers around 1982 when I was 15, so that tells you how long they’ve been a part of my life in some way or another. I’ve probably owned or used every generation of Apple computers going back to the original Mac Plus, which I regret selling to pay part of college tuition.

Fast forward 30+ years, and I’ve integrated computers into almost everything I do professionally. That’s encouraged me to use computers as efficiently as I can so that I can spend as much time as possible away from computers, out in nature, or with my family.

So with that said, these are the applications that have remained on my computer(s) while others have come and gone. They play important roles in my ability to run a successful business, teach workshops, write articles and books, and manage my digital photography.

For me the measure of a great application is one that manages to be both powerful and flexible, yet doesn’t get in the way of what I want to do. It needs to be intuitive and feel like a natural extension of my mind and how I think. These are high ideals for sure, and no application that I know of yet achieves this completely. But the closer they come the more I commit to using them over the long term.

A big part of success with any tool is the commitment to mastering it’s power. Going deep with an application requires an investment of time and patience, but the rewards can’t be measured if you value the creative side of your brain. It helps you move forward instead of getting in the way.

So here are my favorite five applications on my Mac.

Adobe Lightroom

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As the central hub of my photography, I spend a lot of time in Lightroom, yet it always feels like time well spent. I rely on LR to catalog and manage all of my photography (DSLRs, aerial, iPhone), and also edit and develop my images, print them, share them online, and even make books. I also use it to manage all of the images I create for my website and promotional materials. When I get commercial requests for my images, I can find the images I need with a few key strokes, and that means I keep current and potential customers happy.

No software is perfect and LR has several shortcomings. But as an overall photography platform, I think its workflow and increasingly powerful toolset is hard to beat.

Evernote

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The power and flexibility of Evernote continues to impress me even after using it regularly for over five years. It’s my digital filing cabinet where I store all sorts of information that I rely on daily. Workshop itineraries and logistical information, favorite quotes, field notes for specific images, blog post ideas, reference photos, print sales, receipts, and the list goes on.

Because it’s available for every platform (web, iOS, OS X, Windows, Android) and stays in sync across all of them, I can capture things on my iPhone and find them waiting for me when I return to my laptop or iPad. I’m working on a separate article on how to use Evernote specifically for photography and printing, so stay tuned for that.

Ulysses

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I write a lot, and have used many different writing apps over the years. I prefer a writing environment that offers “distraction-free” writing yet has powerful features to edit and export what I write.

Ulysses is great because it has all of this, plus it’s like a “writing studio” where every document I work on is always accessible without having to open and close separate documents. If you do any kind or writing, long or short form, give Ulysses a try.

Omnifocus

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Task and project management is critical for me in order to stay on top of all of the various projects I have going on at one time. GTD is a very popular system for managing tasks and projects, and Omnifocus is a great app that implements the GTD system.

I rely on Omnifocus to make sure I’m working on what I need to work on, and keep things from falling through the cracks. It’s available for the desktop and all iOS devices, so it’s always with you when you need to capture tasks or ideas, or act on them in the future. The iPhone version is great since it’s always with you ready to capture ideas or tasks. The less you have in your head, the better you can focus on what needs your undivided attention, like making photographs or spending time with family and friends.

While I also like to use a notebook and pen to capture ideas and tasks, it all winds up in Omnifocus if it’s important.

Airmail

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Email is part of our daily lives, like it or not. While Apple’s default Mail app works great for many, I prefer Airmail’s interface and advanced features. It supports Markdown which I use regularly, works better with Gmail accounts (and uses Gmail keyboard shortcuts), and integrates with other apps like Evernote.

Email can easily get out of control if not managed carefully, and for me that’s extra important given how much I communicate with customers, students, and friends online. (Here’s a great review of Airmail.)

Final Thoughts

I hope these apps and my thoughts on them inspire you to think about what apps you use and why. What are your top applications? Let me know in the comments below, as well as your questions or feedback. Thanks for reading!

Apps And Guides For Migrating From Aperture to Lightroom

In the short time since my last post about migrating from Apple Aperture to Adobe Lightroom, several new resources have emerged to make the switch even easier.

First, there is now a dedicated app called Aperture Exporter than retains metadata like ratings and comments, project hierarchies, and image settings and adjustments. It’s available on the app store for $14.99.

Also, Adobe has published a detailed guide to migrating as well, with an upcoming migration tool to be released soon.

While switching from one editing application to another is never an easy thing to do, I think it’s great that these resources are appearing and providing real options for making a switch without going crazy. And if any of you are having a difficult time with Lightroom, I’m always happy to help.

More Reason to Choose Lightroom For Your Photography

With the demise of Apple’s Aperture, their pro level application for managing and editing images, several people have asked me about options and how to migrate their image libraries. There hasn’t been a huge demand for information however, because I think a majority of photographers have been using Lightroom for some time, and it was plain to see that while Adobe has been agressively updating and improving Lightroom, Apple seems to have forgotten about Aperture and serious photographers in general.

I’m a huge fan of Apple and have used Macs for over 25 years. But I always trusted Adobe more when it came to digital imaging. When Lightroom was released in beta form in 2006, I committed to it and haven’t looked back. And with the current version 5.5, I think it’s safe to say that as an overall platform for image management, developing, sharing, and printing, there is no better option available today.

Of course no software is perfect, and Lightroom has its weaknesses. But nitpicking what it doesn’t do well ignores what it does incredibly well. I want tools that allow me to accomplish my creative goals in the simplest, most effecient manner possible in most if not all scenarios. Yes there are times when there is a better tool for a very specific situation, but that may only be a small part of your overall workflow. Photoshop is always on standby when I need lots of editing power, but for me that is a rarer and rarer occurence. 90% of my workflow is in Lightroom, and that makes managing and editing my images fun – yes fun. It wasn’t always that way, but learning Lightroom so that it gets out of the way and lets me think about creative decisions and making the most of my images is hugely liberating. I regularly come home with hundreds of images and look forward to editing them in Lightroom. That only happens when you commit to the software and learn how it works so that it becomes your assistant, not your enemy.

For example, may users do not know how to use the Auto-Sync function. Lets say I had my tripod setup at the edge of the Hudson River  during sunrise, and made a series of images during a 5 or 10 minute span. Maybe I did this a few times during the course of my shoot, so I wind up with 4 to 5 groups of images sharing similar compositons and lighting conditions—all too common for landscape photographers.

When I import these images into Lightroom, I select all of the images in a group, and then develop the one I like the best. With Auto-Sync turned on, any adjustment I make will be instanly applied to every other image I selected in the group. When I’m done editing, I have essentially edited the whole group of images, and only need to adjust an individual image depending on how it’s different from the others. This speeds up processing tremendously, make the time I spend in LR more efficient, and lets me spend more time outside, not behind my computer. This works equally well for portraits, wildlife, sports, or any other situation when you have a similar set of images.

Think about how this speeds up workflow and efficiency. Does it work perfectly 100% of the time? Of course not. But 80–90% of the time is good enough for me, especially when I factor in how much time I spend editing over the course of an entire year.

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Here I selected the first image to edit, then held down Shift to add all the other images from the series to the selection, Then I enabled Auto-Sync via the small switch.

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Now I edit the main image as usual. Every adjustment is automatically applied to the other images. When I go back to Grid view, all images look identical and I can then make specific adjustments to others if needed. 

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BTW – I generally average about 45–60 minutes editing an image I really like, sometimes longer if I can’t quite decide when I’m done. But that may be after some reflection and time. But editing times have dropped considerably since I started doing more in Lightroom and less in Photoshop and other plugins.

For those who were using Aperture and want to migrate to Lightroom as pain-free as possible, I recommend John Beardsworth’s guide found here.

I’ll be writing more about Lightroom workflow in the future because I truly believe it can have a profoundly positive effect on the enjoyment of digital photography and your ability to keep creativity alive and well.

Photo Journal: Trail Light, Hudson Valley With Lightroom Video Tutorial

Trail Light, Hudson Valley / Olympus OM-D E-M1, 1/30sec @f/5.6, ISO 800, 40mm, no filters

Trail Light, Hudson Valley / Olympus OM-D E-M1, 1/30sec @f/5.6, ISO 800, 40mm, no filters

“And what, sir, is the subject matter of that painting?” (Critic) “The subject matter, my dear good fellow, is the light.” (Claude Monet)

I often talk about light as being a subject, not because it’s my orignal idea, but because once I began to look at light in that way, it changed my photography. Many others have influenced me in regards to this idea, from great painters like Claude Monet and JWM Turner, to current photographers like Jay Maisel.
In “Trail Light, Hudson Vaklley”, I certainly reacted to the mood, the fog, the deep greens, the gesture of the ferns in the foreground, and diagonal design of the composition. But it’s the light that makes it come together for me in a way that exceeds all of the individual elements I mentioned. Without that particular quality of light, I probably don’t bother to stop and setup the camera.

I’ve been up this trail countless times, and never felt inspired before to stop and make this picture in this spot before. You never know what’s possible unless you leave yourself open to awareness and discovery, and the possibility of seeing more than what is in front of the camera. Who knows how many other pictures I’ve missed because I wasn’t truly present, aware, and willing to suspend my pre-judgements about what I thought was possible. Lets just say more than I want to admit, and others I just never even had a clue about. I just didn’t see them. And I almost missed this one as well.

This is the path of vision, and seeing, and of maturing as a human being. What experience in life can’t benefit from a little less judgement, and a little more acceptance of what is. Waiting for conditions to be perfect rarely pushes us creatively.

My point is that as landscape photographers we must react to whatever is happening in nature, on an emotional level. Simply reacting to light and shadow is not enough. You must see something in what you’re photographing that others don’t see. That is something only you are capable of, no one else.

Watch my Lightroom workflow for this image in the video below – any questions, please let me know!

Watch on Youtube here

Harness the Lightroom 5 Develop Module for Creative Impact

I’ve been talking a lot about creative workflow recently—in my workshops and talks, and at my recent presentation at B&H Photo. While the word “workflow” is used quite often these days, I think it’s most useful when there’s a specific context and purpose that drives that workflow. In other words, following steps with a specific creative vision instead of the steps just leading you forward.

This is what I like to think of as the “why” instead of the “how.”

The biggest challenge I had when I first started shooting digitally was figuring out how to develop each image in a productive and efficient way. It seems like more often than not I was fumbling in the dark, waiting until something caught my eye on screen, and then seeing where that went visually. That approach however, presented some problems. How do I know when I’m done? What am I trying to accomplish with each image? How do I use the tools properly? Am I using all of the tools or am I missing out on some special magic technique, filter, or plugin, that will improve the image dramatically?

I’d spend hours obsessing over details, making small changes, trying to decide if the image was getting better or worse. Do you know the feeling? I’m willing to bet you do.

But slowly I began to realize what the problem was. I was failing to carry my original vision through the entire process or “workflow” of the image making. The reason I had pressed the shutter button had been lost once I sat down to interpret my capture. Once I began to approach the processing as simply a continuation of my field work, I became much clearer about workflow, and about why to make an adjustment versus how. And that’s how I developed my own “creative workflow” that I use on every image I make.

I’ll have a lot more to say about this in the future, including how to create your own workflow, but watch the video replay of my talk at B&H specific to Lightroom 5 for a continuation of these ideas.

Feedback, comments, or questions? I’d love to hear form you, so please let me know below.

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