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Where are my photos? 2: More basics of image management

For Part 1 of this post, go here.

Handles for your photos: metadata
Photo library management programs
Adding metadata you need
Back up!

If you’re filing in a structured file system, system, but the system isn’t giving you all the options you need, there’s a better way. There are digital asset management programs, they work, and can eliminate a lot of guesswork. You may have one on your computer already, but aren’t using it to it’s fullest potential.

Handles for your photos: metadata

First you should know that photographs have several “handles” you can grab onto if you only know what they are and how to grab them. Images taken with digital cameras and even scanners include metadata within the file. The camera or scanner, including the model, the serial number, the lens and the serial number of that, the date and time of the exposure and much more is baked into the image. (Well, “baked into” may be an overstatement, because the info can also be stripped out.) For example, let’s look at this image:

Southwest Harbor, ME – 7 August 2014. The Dock at the Claremont Hotel. The Narrows at the entrance to Somes Sound can be seen on the left.

Here’s a screenshot of EXIF metadata, created by the camera, and modified after I imported it:

Some of this information is easily seen by selecting the file, right clicking it, and looking at the file information. But a lot of it is visible only to programs designed to find and use it. This screenshot was from my Lightroom catalog; more on that below.


Photo library management programs

There are some free programs, including two that are included in Mac or Windows computers. Google’s Picasa works, and it’s free, although I find the interface a bit clunky for business purposes—it’s really designed for personal and family use, as are iPhoto (Mac only) and Windows Photo Gallery. Adobe’s Photoshop Elements includes both image editing and image management tools, and is also worth looking into. And ACDSee has another robust cataloging tool, and they have a compatible image editor. All of these, though, are really aimed at personal and family users, and are not ideal for business use.

Adobe’s Lightroom (Mac or Windows) is a program designed for heavier duty. The one most widely used in the industry, and the one I use, is Lightroom. Both also will perform a great deal of image editing without resorting to more powerful and expensive image editing tools like Adobe’s Photoshop.

The advantage of a management software solution is that it will read the metadata placed into the image file when it was made, tell you when it was altered, and will also allow you to add information both when you import the image to your drive and at any time later.


Adding the “handles” you need
What kind of information might you want to add? Info like who or what is in the photo, what project it relates to, product SKUs, when it was published, where it was published, whether the product has been retired, whether there are model or property releases related to the photo, whether there’s a usage license expiration date, … you get the idea. Here’s a screenshot of some of the metadata I added to the image of the dock above:

And here’s another screenshot of some keywords I added:

In my system, I use the chronological file structure I outlined in Part 1 of this post in conjunction with Lightroom, so I can easily search by date, by client, by keywords, and more.

Those are the basics, and should get you going.


Backup! Backup! Backup!

One last thing. Have a robust backup system. Hard drives fail. All of them will, eventually, but some are more prone to failure than others. (Drive manufacturers have a rating called “Mean time to failure” which describes what you think it does: the mean time it will take for a drive in a product line to fail. So to start with:

  • Keep your images on a separate drive from your operating system and program files
  • Back up to a second drive, preferably using a backup program that verifies data transfer rather than just a file copy
  • Back up regularly
  • Keep a backup copy off site

What’s the best fling solution for you? That’s for you to determine, but this should give you some ideas to get you started. You can also check out Peter Krogh’s The DAM Book, a very helpful resource.

Meanwhile, if I photographed for you, I’ve got your images archived, and I can find them.