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Where are my photos? 1: Basics of image management for the non-photographer

Justin O’Daffer, of Colossal Media Group, painting a mural advertising a Grace Jones concert.

Whether you do marketing for your company, handle social media for clients, or are a web designer, you need to be able to find images. I get calls and emails from clients that go something like this: We can’t find the photos you took for the XYZ Project and we need another copy of the photo of the left-handed painter using a right-handed brush.” (As I said, the question is “something like” that. I’ve never, to my knowledge, taken a photo of a left-handed painter using a right-handed brush. Just saying.)

They can’t find it because they don’t have a system for digital asset management—that’s what the process is called, and at the enterprise level, which is to say not the you-and-me level, there are people in charge of such things. If the business is you, or you and Jane, the manager of digital assets is you, or Jane, and you may not yet have a system.

You need to create a filing method that is easy to implement and which will allow you to find the images you need without a lot of fuss. The best method for you will depend on your needs. Do you have product lines, or service lines, by which you want to search? Do you have images that relate to clients that you need to find? Create a file folder structure that makes sense for you. Let’s assume you’ve got a law firm, and need to track employee headshots, executive portraits, and event photos. and that each has several variations, either so images can be replaced after they’re published once, or because you need different sizes for different purposes:

print publicity
print publicity
group shots
print publicity
Executive portraits
in groups
2014 holiday party
2015 training workshop

That’s probably overdoing the filter, but you get the idea.

Products can be tricky

2011 models
Nimbus 2000
catalog photos
production photos
Cumulus 5000
2012 models
2013 models
2014 models
2015 models
2016 prototypes

If your products have SKUs, you can organize by those, although it’s a bit tricky if you file by name but want to retrieve by SKU or the other way around.

Another way to structure files is by arranging them chronologically. I use this method, although I’ve got a cataloging program that tracks the images so they’re retrievable using any of several criteria. But if the catalog breaks, I at least have a way in without it. Here’s the basic structure, which is organized by year and date:

20150103-XYZ Advertising
RAW camera files
Retouched files
Delivery files

I name and organize the dates YYYYMMDD so they’ll automatically sort chronologically. If I have to, I can easily find, through email records, invoice, or the like, when the assignment was shot, so I can then get to the images.

There are ways to automate the creation of file structures so you can easily add to your assets, and so the oricess becomes repeatable. Post Haste is a program that will do this for you. It works on Windows and Mac platforms, and it’s free. (I use it to create a deep file structure for video projects.)

Video project files are numerous and large, whether you’re only dealing with finished video files (which may be in multiple formats for multiple platforms) or the working clips, which may be from multiple cameras, and which may include audio clips, but the principle is the same.

These methods are pretty basic, but they may be better than what you’re using now. In the next post, I’ll take you to the next step.