ANY CONTRACTOR who has discovered the advantages of taking photos to document everything going on at a jobsite, ordinary or unanticipated, is likely to benefit from easy organization and editing of those pictures.
With a film-based camera, the tendency among most users is to minimize the number of images recorded to save film. But that economizing can be ultimately counter-productive if the aim is to adequately document a project to cover all bases.
That limitation doesn’t exist using a digital camera with a large-capacity memory card. It is just about effortless to photograph elements of a project each time you walk the job, starting from the estimate phase and continuing on to substantiate progress and document any developing problems for later discussions and for historical (and indisputable) documentation.
Depending upon how long the job proceeds, it is possible to end up with hundreds of job photos and a potentially daunting task of keeping them organized in a meaningful fashion.
Enter software to the rescue.
Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.0 is a digital imaging solution for organizing, managing, editing and sharing photos, and it has many capabilities that can assist in managing and maximizing the benefits of project photos. The software integrates two Adobe programs: Editor (for making changes to the graphic images) and Organizer (the genesis of which was Photoshop Album) for categorizing the collected graphic images for easy access.
The software imports from and works with photos from digital cameras, mobile phones, card readers and scanners. It also works with images stored on hard drives, on CDs or on other remote media. The photos don’t even have to be on the computer in order to start the organizing. It is possible to view images still on the camera or memory card as soon as you plug it in, enabling users to import all or selected photos only. For those photos stored on media outside the computer, the software stores a thumbnail image at a fraction of the hard drive space that a photo stored on the hard disk would require.
Photoshop Elements can automatically track photos received by e-mail from other project participants or downloaded from the Web. And you can send photos in the opposite direction, downloading photos from the desktop to Palm OS handhelds and compatible mobile photos, for portable documentation.
A nifty screen-space-saving feature that could come in handy when taking multiple shots of the same task, product or problem lets users Stack groups of photos in piles, available for easy expansion.
Editable keyword Tags simplify complex searches, such as searches for job photos that include X and Y or include X and Y but not Z, and allows users to cross-reference all photos.
The calendar-based Date View feature enables users to browse by day from a view of any selected month, facilitating easy locating of recent photos in sequence, as well as historic photos from an earlier phase of a project. The first photo taken on any particular day is the defaulted thumbnail, but it’s easy to change the photo thumbnail to one more emblematic of that day’s snaps.
Other capabilities include compiling of all photos for each specific project into its own “collection,” which is pretty much like a distinct photo album for each job, storable on video CDs or easily shared as Web-based photo galleries. (It can be a lot easier for contractors to burn pictures to a CD and hand the disk over to a potential client than to maintain a graphics-rich Website.)
The program enables users to save all photos and albums as Adobe PDF documents, which can be read by anyone with Adobe Reader software, free from www.adobe.com.
On a construction job the lighting conditions frequently are not ideal for picture taking, even when using a digital camera’s built-in flash. The editing capabilities in Photoshop Elements 3.0 can rescue most compromised photos by using just a few of the one-click commands provided in the Quick Fix feature. These include automatic adjustments to common photo problems in lighting (corrective action for photos that are too light, too dark, washed out or murky), color, contrast and sharpness (handy for rescuing fuzzy photos resulting from movement of the subject or the photographer or from low camera battery).
The corrections can be applied to the whole photo or to any user-selected part of the photo. Side-by-side comparisons of “before” and “after” previews show results instantly. A reset button undoes any change instantly, enabling quick risk-free experimentation.
Other editing features include a Reduce Noise filter that can clean up grainy areas of photos taken with low-resolution digital phones, and a Shadow-Highlight filter for adjustment of contrast between background and foreground.
William and Patti Feldman provide Web content for companies and write for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at [email protected].