One for the Nerds: Keeping Your Presets Current on All of Your Workstations – Automatically

If you’re not a digital artist, and don’t consider yourself a bit of a computer nerd, this post will probably be of little interest to you. I’ll try to entertain you with pretty pictures just to keep you from dozing off.

For the rest of you who identify with the above, what follows is very cool! At least I think so.

White Amiria

Before we begin, I need to mention that before you go mucking about under the hood of your computer, always make sure you have a backup of anything you may successfully or otherwise tamper with. Things can go awry if you’re not careful.

Now onto the fun! If you work on more than one workstation in several locations, you’re probably like me and experience disappointment when you realize that cool image plugin user preset you created on the computer in the studio is not on your laptop when you hit the road. Sadness. No one likes to do work twice, assuming you can recreate the brilliance exactly how you did it the first time. How can a photographer or graphic artist keep those presets up to date on both systems?

For example, when I make B&W conversions of my digital RAW files, depending on the nature of the photograph, I may simply play with the color sliders in Adobe Lightroom until I get the tonal balance I’m looking for. Clean and simple. Fast.

However, if I’m after something more like what I used to do with film, pushing the exposure a few stops when shooting, using grainier film stocks, altering developing times to affect negative density, using filters in my enlarger to affect contrast and the usual dodging and burning my paper to get just the look I’m after, sometimes I turn to one of the many software plugins that let me do digitally what I used to do chemically in the analog days.

Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro is one of those plugins that really helps me achieve everything I used to do with film. Except instead of spending hours in the darkroom with my fingers always smelling like fixer, I spend a slightly smaller amount of image processing time sitting at my computer in a properly lit room. And no more chemical fingers.

Ashley Klich

Ashley Klich

The only problem is that I work on many computers, depending on whether I’m in the studio or traveling. it’s hard to keep track of all of the presets I’ve created over the years with software such as Silver Efex Pro and a few others.

That developing look I created for Ana would be perfect for Jordan! Ah, but I did that in the studio and now I’m a thousand miles away on my laptop.

What’s a digital darkroom connoisseur to do?

The answer I’ve discovered is something called a Symbolic Link along with one of my favorite modern conveniences, Dropbox.

The short explanation is that my user presets all live in a Dropbox folder. Dropbox is constantly monitoring my computers for changes and additions whenever my various computers are connected to the internet. If I create a new preset on Wednesday in the studio and travel to another part of the world for a photo shoot on Friday, as long as the laptop I’m traveling with has been connected to the internet sometime since Wednesday, my user presets are always current on my laptop.

And conversely, any new presets I create during my travels, are updated on the studio workstation before I even get on the plane to come home. It’s a bit of tech sanity that I really cherish these days.

It’s certainly not a new idea to store documents and other little tech creations in the Cloud, but adding the Symbolic Link ingredient to the equation is what really makes it wizardly. It takes a bit of detective work and skill to set up, but once you have it done it once on all of your computers, you don’t have to think about it again.

The first thing to do is to find a little software helper that allows your computer to create Symbolic Links of folders or files. What is a Symbolic Link? We’ll it’s sort of like an alias or shortcut. But it’s a little more powerful in a fundamental way. Your computer is pretty savvy and it knows the difference between the original file or folder and an alias or shortcut of it. Likewise, most software programs store your presets in a specific folder in a specific place. Sometimes it won’t accept an alias of a folder as a real folder.

I use a little freeware contextual menu plugin for the Mac called SymbolicLinker by Nick Zitzman. I’m sure there is something equivalent in the PC world if your Windows machine can’t natively make Symbolic Links. Let me Google that for you.

Before I used Symbolic Links, when I would place my presets in my Dropbox folder and create an alias or shortcut back to them, very often my software app wouldn’t be fooled by the alias and just assumed I had no custom user presets when it launched. It simply didn’t see any folder there. No good.

A Symbolic Link folder, however, can fool the app. As far as it knows, it’s looking at the original folder.

I found that if I navigated to the presets folder for any image processing software I use, most often residing in one of my user libraries or preference folders and physically moved that folder to my Dropbox folder, then created a Symbolic Link of that folder in my Dropbox and moved that back to where the original preset folder resided, making sure the name of the link was exactly the same as the original presents folder, now in my Dropbox, everything worked like magic.

Jordan Face in Darkness

That Symbolic Link folder then points to the user presets folder in my Dropbox, and Silver Efex Pro, or whatever plugin program I’m using can’t tell the difference when it calls up my user presets. As long as I go through the same Symbolic Link folder creation process on all of my computers and place the Symbolic Link folders where my software is going to be looking for them, it’s always grabbing the most current set of user presets no matter what workstation I last processed my images on. Brilliant!

Sure it takes an intermediate level of tech knowledge and about an hour of time to set everything up on all of my computers, but now, no more, “What computer was I using when I was editing Amiria’s shoot?….” It doesn’t matter. I know all of my workstations are looking at the same presets.

The link above to Nick’s SymbolicLinker download comes with an easy to follow Installation Instructions page. if you like it, you can show your love by checking out his other fine software offerings of geekiness.

And as far as Dropbox goes, there are plenty of services to store your files in the Cloud. I just happen to prefer Dropbox. Very nice people who have a variety of Dropbox plans ranging from a free 2GB size to 1TB of Cloud storage.

As I noted at the beginning, this was certainly a lot of geek talk, so thanks for following along. Hopefully the photographs were enough to make up for the nerdy-ness.

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