There are innumerable posts and videos about using the tools built in to Capture One to process your images to achieve certain looks… this is not one of them. Rather, this outlines the steps I take before I get to that stage. Before I get started I’ll quickly mention that I hopped on the Lightroom bandwagon from the first Beta, and jumped ship after v. 6.14. I moved to Capture One at that time, and although it has its own quirks (and frustrations), I’ve been mostly happy with it ever since. I’m currently using Capture One Pro 23. I should warn you that this post is (typically) both long and detailed. Some might mark it tl:dr and move on, but if you stick with it I trust you’ll find something of value.
Okay. All digital images start their lives as information collected by a digital device. We’re going to get a little specific here and limit ourselves to digital cameras. A digital camera is essentially a computer with a lens stuck on the front, and an image sensor that measures the light coming through the lens. There are a lot of details and specifics to that process we’re going to ignore here, but it’s worth noting that digital cameras don’t capture images. Digital cameras capture information that can be manipulated to look like an image. The information we get from the camera comes in the form of a raw file (NB: all digital cameras capture raw information. Not all digital cameras give you access to that information.) This information can be loosely separated into two types. The first is image data – the 1s and 0s (in computer terms) that can be assembled to make an image. The second type is what’s known collectively as metadata. This is information about the image. At the moment of capture the camera make, model, serial number, lens information, exposure information, date, time and possibly other data (like GPS location) is collected. Later one can add more information to this metadata, such as copyright information, name and contact information for the photographer, keywords and a lot more. Collectively this is known as DAM (Digital Asset Management) and a good DAM system can make a world of difference. As I’ve been known to say, it doesn’t matter if you have 3000 or 300,000 images; how easy is it to find the one image you’re looking for? In large part, that’s what this post is about.
There are two ways to develop a good DAM system. One is at the beginning of your photography and the other is the day you realize you have 70,000 images and no idea how to find anything. I recommend the former, but you can still work with the latter.
No matter what software you’re using to catalogue (NB: this is in a general sense) your images, there are tools to filter and to group your images. Therefore you can dump all of your images into one virtual bowl and use the tools provided with your software to sort them out. I don’t. While I do use those tools, I also (even though it may be redundant) organize all of my images into folders. To start with, I keep all of my current-year images (and everything related to them) in the Pictures folder on my hard drive. In this way, by backing up the Pictures folder I back up all of the images – and everything related to them. Previous-year images are stored in the Pictures folder on an external hard drive, and both my internal drive and that external drive are backed up to another drive. Backups are an entire topic on their own.
Because I’m managing both Marcia’s and my images, I have folders labeled Marcia’s Images and Mike’s Images. Within those folders, images are sorted by camera, by year, and then by month. Again, all of this is contained within the metadata of each image, but this file structure makes sense to me. You get to decide what works for you.
Capture One offers two different systems for image management: Sessions and Catalogues. More information on these file systems is available on their Learning Page, but essentially a Session is better for someone who is doing shoot-specific work. Examples would include a wedding photographer or a product photographer, where the images for Jane and Dick’s wedding have no relationship to Bob and Carol’s wedding, and Company A’s images are separate from Company B. A Catalogue is a better way to amalgamate images taken over time. NB: One can import a Session into a Catalogue and one can even have the same image in a Session and a Catalogue but be aware that image processing in a Session will not be reflected in the Catalogue, and vice versa. For me, I use Catalogues, but I also have a Session that I use in a specific way. I’ll explain that in a bit.
Now, in order to work with images in a Catalogue (Capture One, Lightroom or whatever), or a Capture One Session, one first needs to import the image into the catalogue/ session. What this does is copy the file’s metadata into the catalogue and create a reference within the catalogue to where the image file exists (on this drive, in this folder…). The software also creates a .jpg preview to use within the catalogue. Yes, catalogues can also read and work with rendered files (.jpg, .tif, etc.) and to some extent, video files. Importing a body of images can be a long process, so rather than importing images from my camera directly into Capture One I first copy them from the card to a folder on my Desktop. This is an extra step, but for me it serves several purposes:
1) File Renaming
There are several reasons you might want to rename the images coming off your camera – branding and SEO (search engine optimization) are good examples, but the most basic reason is much simpler than that. You don’t ever, ever want to have two files on your computer with the same name. It doesn’t matter what type of files they are, and it doesn’t matter if they’re on different drives, in different folders… where you have two files of the same type with the same name you have the potential to have one overwrite the other.
Our cell phone images are named with the date and time so they’re safe, but the images from my Sony a7RIII for example look like this: _DSC0000. This works well until you get to _DSC9999, but then it reverts to _DSC000 again. You see the challenge. What I want is to convert _DSC3256 to DSC23256. Now, to be fair, Capture One has very advanced file renaming facilities. It’s enough for a blog post in itself. However, within all of that they don’t offer the one strategy that I want/ use. They do have several dumb counter options, but I’ve encountered too many errors and have given it up. Instead I use a freeware program called Bulk Rename Utility (BRU). It’s Windows-only, but I assume there is an Apple equivalent. Feel free to leave a comment if you can recommend one.
This is what the BRU window looks like (click on the image to see it larger).
As you can see, I’m using a simple renaming of swapping _DSC for DSC2. When I get to DSC29999, I’ll change it to DSC3 for the next image. As mentioned, depending on your requirements both Capture One and BRU have extensive renaming functions, but this works well enough for me. I simply copy the files from the SD card to a folder on my Desktop, select all of the images and rename them, and move on to the next step.
2) GPS Tagging
Although one can get dedicated GPS receivers for digital cameras, accurate image location isn’t necessary for much of my work. I do sometimes want to know locations for something like uploading images to iNaturalist, and for that I use my cell phone in cooperation with my camera. On my phone I used an app called Geotracker to generate a track file (basically a recorded list of where I was in terms of latitude/longitude, every 3 seconds). I export this track as a .gpx file. Capture One doesn’t work directly with .gpx files but it will read/ record GPS information in the image metadata once imported. To get there one needs to add the GPS information to the image metadata and to do that, I use another freeware program called Geosetter (Windows only but there are likely Mac equivalents – if you know of any, please leave a comment to that effect). The Geosetter window looks like this:
Both Geosetter and Bulk Rename Utility are offered for free for personal use, but if you appreciate them, please send in a donation in whatever amount you can afford. I’m not going to explain here how to use Geosetter to link your image files with the .gpx track file, but I will mention this. The .gpx file is set to UTC (Universal Time or Greenwich Mean Time) and you can offset it to whatever time zone you find yourself, but make sure your camera is set to the same time as your GPS device. It doesn’t have to be to the second, but if the two times are different the locations will be offset, depending on how fast you’re moving. NB: When you add the GPS information to the files’ metadata and save the results, rather than overwriting the original files, Geosetter will create copies. So if we had DSC21876.arw to start with, that file will be renamed DSC21876.arw.original and a new DSC21876.arw with the geolocation information will be created. Once you’re satisfied with the new versions you can delete the .original files.
Two more notes regarding GPS tracks: First, if you’re using your cell phone to generate a track file, keep in mind that it’s a cell phone and not a dedicated GPS device. If you’re in the woods, especially in heavy tree cover, the signal may be spotty and the location thrown off. It doesn’t happen often, but I have had specific data points show up a very long way from where I was. It’s best to review the track file map before creating the .gpx file. Second, if you’re sharing your images to social media, be aware of the geolocation information you’re uploading. In Capture One one can choose to include or exclude geolocation from a file export, but if you’re uploading directly from your phone keep in mind that geolocation information is shared by default. You may want to share images of your new home, but may not want to broadcast to the world exactly where your new home is. And in Africa (for example), poachers have been known to use images uploaded by tourists to target specific areas to find elephants, rhinos, lions and more.
3) Image Review/ Culling
Okay. Now that we’ve renamed our images and added GPS data we’re ready to import them into Capture One, right? Well..? You could, but keep in mind that when you import a group of images Capture One will need to reference each file’s location (where it is or to where you want it copied), read and copy the metadata for each file and generate its own preview for each image. If you’re like me, and depending on how many images you’re uploading, you might want to go through and cull images from the shoot before going to the trouble of doing all that.
Some people use third-party apps like Photo Mechanic, XNViewMP, iMatch, etc. to do this, but be very careful when managing your file metadata with more than one program. I’ll add some links at the bottom of this post to articles that address this, but basically you don’t want one program to overwrite all of the metadata you’ve laboriously added in another. Rather than using a third-party app to cull images, I use Capture One to do so. Wait…didn’t you just say…? Let me explain.
As I mentioned at the top, Capture One has two ways of working – Sessions and Catalogues. A session is usually specific to one project (a camera shoot or one event – a wedding, a week-long workshop or whatever), and within the Session structure it creates four folders: Capture, Selects, Output and Trash. All images imported to the Session will be copied into the Capture folder. We don’t want to do that (yet). In a Capture One Session’s Library pane – underneath Session folders and underneath Session Albums – it says System Folders:
This is a list of all of the drives and the folders contained within that are currently accessible by your computer. Since we began this by copying the image files to a folder on the hard drive (e.g.C:\\Users\Me\Desktop\Photographs\Sony A7RIII) if I go to that folder in the System Folders tree it will show me all of the images I copied off the SD card. Here I can go through, compare and fairly quickly remove any images not worth importing to Capture One. For a recent upload, I copied nearly 800 images from the SD card to my computer’s hard drive. These I renamed and added GPS information where I had track files. I then opened my Capture One session, went to that Desktop folder and went through those images. NB: These images haven’t (yet) been imported to a Capture One session or catalogue. They’re just sitting on the computer, and I’m reviewing them from there. For this group I narrowed the nearly 800 images down to a little over 200. It’s that reduced list that I’ll import to my Capture One catalogue, and at 80MB each, this saves a lot of time and hard drive space. There are a couple of things to note:
a) I use keywords a lot in marking/ filtering my images. I have over 3000 keywords and nested keywords in my catalogue. I add keywords in stages. Shoot-specific keywords (year, camera, location, etc.) I add to every image upon import. I have a Keyword preset that I use for this. I also have a Metadata preset that adds contact/ copyright and other information and every imported image gets this as well. At this point in my workflow I’m mostly just reviewing/ culling images, but sometimes I’ll add a keyword or two as I go. These keywords will be written to the images’ metadata and carried along when I import the images into the Capture One catalogue.
b) While I’m mostly reviewing/ culling at this stage, sometimes I’ll make a few adjustments to an image to see if it’s worth further attention. Any adjustments made at this stage will also be carried forward when I import the images into my Capture One catalogue.
c) In a Capture One catalogue or session, when one deletes an image it is simply marked as deleted and stored in the Trash folder within Capture One. Later one can empty the Trash folder and Capture One will ask if these images should be deleted from disk or simply removed from the catalogue/session (while remaining on the disk). Here we’re just browsing images stored on the drive in the System Folder tree. Because of that, if one deletes an image, it is deleted from the disk. Period. There is a confirmation bubble asking permission, but if the user says yes, the image is permanently deleted. Be careful with this. What I do at this stage is to mark any images to be deleted with 1*. When I’m finished looking through the latest group of images I can filter only the 1* images and have a look through them before deleting them.
d) A lot of the work I do involves making multiple captures to be combined into panoramas and/or HDR images. A single output image can involve 3 to 30 or more base images. I can create output images at this stage (using either Capture One or Photomatix, PTGui, etc.) and if I’m happy with the results I can delete the base images without having to import them.
e) The latest versions of Capture One have a Cull window view, and using this view groups images that have similar subjects no matter when they were shot. For example, for a wedding shoot the Cull window would group together all of the images of the bride. This can be handy, but I don’t use it much because unlike the regular Capture One Viewer one can only view one image at a time. One can go back and forth between images and between groups, but I tend to make more than one image of the same subject and then bring them up together in the Viewer to compare them side by side.
At this point I’m ready to copy my images into my Capture One catalogue. As can be seen in the image below, my Keywords preset and my Metadata preset are selected. Note that “Include Existing Adjustments” is also checked. This will carry forward any image adjustments completed while reviewing/ culling.
I mentioned earlier that some people prefer to use third-party software to do their image reviewing /culling, keywording, etc. but I prefer to remain within Capture One and this way I ensure that there are no metadata conflicts.
Okay, that’s it. Now go out and make some images!
P.S. There are over 100 tutorial posts on our blog now, relating to Lightroom (previous versions), Capture One and photography in general. They may be found here.
P.S. II, the sequel. As I mentioned, here are some links relating to working with metadata in Capture One:
Metadata in XMP sidecar files – Capture One
Using Metadata in Capture One – Image Alchemist
Sync Metadata Between Photo Mechanic And Capture One – Image Alchemist
Update: May 18, 2023
Two things I meant to mention in my original post but forgot somewhere along the way…
1) One of the great features of Capture One is that it is eminently customizable. Tools, toolbars, keyboard shortcuts, Styles/ Presets and much more allow you to set up Capture One the way you want it to be. Once you’ve aligned your tools and toolbars, etc. the way you want them, it’s best to save the Workspace, and you can create more than one Workspace for different needs. For example, I have different Workspaces depending on whether I’m working with one or two screens. As far as Styles/Presets, Capture One ships with some, you can buy others, and you can also make your own.
Now, all of that information (and much more) is held in one place. In Windows it’s a hidden folder, so you first need to instruct Windows File Manager to allow you to see hidden files and folders. The folder is: C:\Users\whatever_your_username_is\AppData\Local\CaptureOne NB: There is also a Capture_One folder – leave that one alone. I don’t know the folder location for Macs, I’m afraid, but if you know please leave a comment for others to use. Within the CaptureOne folder are a series of subfolders for different aspects of the program. Here’s the kicker. If you ever need to uninstall/reinstall Capture One, everything in that folder will be wiped out and replaced with the defaults from the install file, so what I suggest is before uninstalling, and even before upgrading, copy the entire CaptureOne folder to a different location on your hard drive. I label the folder CaptureOne and today’s date. Once you’ve reinstalled/upgraded your program, if anything’s missing you can copy it back into the hidden folder. I usually copy the entire Capture One folder back with one caveat: do not overwrite any newer files. You simply want to replace what’s missing.
2) I use keywords a lot – i.e. I have over 3000 keywords and nested keywords. One (unlikely to be remedied any time soon) bug in Capture One is that if you use nested keywords a lot, from time to time (and there’s no logic to it that I have discovered), Capture One will also – at random – add other keywords from your library into the nested stack as well. It doesn’t happen every time, and the unintentionally nested keyword won’t likely have any relevance, but it happens. Moving keywords after the fact is an ugly process, so if you use keywords just be aware of it.