The Case for Bridge

Bridge Grid View is one of several user-selected layouts for viewing images. The Grid is modeled on a traditional lightbox.

Story and photos © Jerry Ginsberg

A little history

Once upon a time, a lot of photographers did very well with film photography. 35mm slides, the old reliable, did a more than adequate job for us and the great majority of book and magazine publishers. We sent out a couple of vinyl pages of 20 mounted 2×2” slides and usually scored a hit.

Then came the digital revolution. And make no mistake; this has been a true technological revolution. Kodak and Nikon may initially have been on the cutting edge of the seismic shift as it pertains to photography, but such subsequent changes as smartphones, social media and cloud computing are all facets of the very same upheaval.

Around 1990, a group of very bright people created Photoshop. Overcoming a few less robust competitors, Photoshop quickly became the standard for processing digitally captured and scanned images in the new world of the digital darkroom.

Adobe’s ancillary program Bridge was born soon after. After several years and great advances in the feature sets, depth and breadth of these software tools, some streamlining seemed to fit a market niche. Enter Lightroom.

Fast forward to the present & Lightroom

Lightroom has many wonderful features and is probably adequate to handle most reasonably well shot digital captures on its own. Its clever database concept seems to be a really great idea.

That said, Lightroom’s Library module (aka the Catalog) makes my head, as well as those of a great number of erstwhile Lightroom users, simply explode. The Catalog containing the database itself and the folder/s of actual image files are completely bi-furcated. Therein lies both the beauty and the very big rub inherent in Lightroom. While that structure certainly keeps the workflow non-destructive, it also sows the seeds of the counter-productive lack of synchronization experienced by a great many and perhaps even the majority of Lightroom users. Once these two components get out of sync, reach for the industrial strength headache remedy. Such Catalog confusion is so widespread that several books and online courses – one even titled “Cleaning up your mess in Lightroom” – have been created in an effort to address the problem.

Nevertheless, Lightroom remains a big hit with many photographers.

In the age of Lightroom, here comes the heresy.

Not one to embrace change easily, I have opted to stick with the well co-ordinated combination of Bridge and Photoshop. They work elegantly together; in much the same way as a well practiced athletic team. (Pick your favorite sport.)

As an equestrian, I see it as the analogy of a well coordinated team of horse and rider.

The System

After sorting, re-ordering, batch re-naming and ranking large folders of RAW captures, many exceeding a thousand files, with great visibility in Bridge’s grid mode, I can then process the selects with wonderful fluidity in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). *

Once processed, there is a choice of three good options:

  • Done – saves the edits to a very small .xmp sidecar file attached to the image file – which still RETAINS ITS RAW STATUS. 100% non-destructive.
  • Save – allows the saving of the image as a Tiff, PSD or your choice of another file format with the edits performed in ACR baked in.
  • Open Image** – opens the image in Photoshop as an 8 or 16 bit file with the edits contained in the .xmp file baked in. The original RAW and sidecar files can be retained. Once opened in Photoshop, this new file can still be saved as RAW.
  • (Cancel simply closes the file without saving any changes made to the .xmp file since the last Done or Save.)
ACR Basic Panel is where optimizing a file begins. Its many important adjustments can be made 100% non-destructively. The controls and functions of ACR are identical to those found in Lightroom’s Develop module.

ACR Basic Panel is where optimizing a file begins. Its many important adjustments can be made 100% non-destructively. The controls and functions of ACR are identical to those found in Lightroom’s Develop module.

Photoshop ®

The advantages of using Photoshop are many. Those most often cited are the several more powerful retouching tools and the ability to employ Layers, Masks and by implication, Blending Modes. My workflow involves saving layered master archive files as .psd and in some cases, .psb.

More often than not, these files can contain as many as 25-30 layers. Frequently, such layer stacks include multiple layers of the same Adjustment such a Curves or HSL, but with different Blending Modes.

These important functions are not present in Lightroom.

Another unique feature found only in Photoshop is the LAB color mode. This is a great benefit when employed with discretion and skill on just the right images. 

Searching

Ah, but what about the searchability provided by the Lightroom Catalog?

Well, here I might depart from what many will see as the convenience of a searchable database. First, we should know that Bridge will allow us to filter by any number of criteria, but only in a folder already open, whereas Lightroom’s Catalog module can search for any image, present or not, for which it contains the appropriate image-specific metadata.

Back to searching. My folders, both film and digital, are filed alphabetically by location rather than subject. Naturally, most contain numerous sub-folders.

Since I am photographing primarily landscapes and old buildings, I have no need to file by year. If shooting subjects such as events, weddings, portraits, etc., I would file by name.

Although I have photographed most all of North and South America and several chunks of Europe and the mid-East, I can visualize my images and quickly find a given waterfall, mountain, palace or castle, etc. while indexed by location.

This boast was borne out recently when I received a request from a magazine for an image of an extinct lake.

I quickly called to mind just the right shot, opened a single file drawer and extracted a Kodachrome transparency holding an image that I had made many decades earlier. You’ll forgive me if I avoid mentioning just how many decades.

The whole process took under 60 seconds. Not bad.

As it happens, I am able to get away with using my recall as a search engine because, as some have observed, I seem to have “an obnoxious memory.”

Naturally, I must concede that overall searchability is a valuable benefit. Of course, all searches are predicated upon your having previously attached the appropriate keywords and related metadata to the image files. For those with searchable websites, that is perhaps the most convenient method – and it’s combined with the additional security of cloud storage.

Granted, this may not work as well for everyone.

In the alternative, cross-filing by both subject and location or other criteria should serve to facilitate most searches to be performed without Lightroom’s infamous Catalog.

* Whichever road you choose, remember that the processing tools and options available in Lightroom’s Develop module and Bridge’s ACR are absolutely identical.

** One can also export from Lightroom to Photoshop. Somehow, however, it just isn’t the same, at least to me.

Happy editing !!!!

Jerry Ginsberg is a widely-published photographer whose landscape and travel images have graced the pages and covers of hundreds of books, magazines and travel catalogs. He is the only person to have photographed each and every one of America’s National Parks with medium format cameras, with a visit to the new Indiana Dunes National Park coming soon.

His works have been exhibited from coast to coast and have received numerous awards in competition. Jerry’s photographic archive spans virtually all of both North and South America, as well as fascinating places in Europe and the Middle East. More of Ginsberg’s images are on display at www.JerryGinsberg.com, or email him at jerry@jerryginsberg.com.