With each shoot, assignment, or category that your digital images are arranged for storage, the following tips will allow you to expand and adopt more advanced digital asset management strategies to your system. At the very least the following tips are what I suggest. For more info, please refer to the suggested resources and the tutorial: How to Store Your Pics: Storing Your Files With A System
- First set up a folder structure on your hard drive for your assignment as mentioned in the tutorial “Setting Up Your Files With A System.” This can be done within your operating system or with a file browser such as Adobe Bridge.
- Download captured camera files to the “ORIGINAL” subfolder in your project folder. Using a USB or Firewire card reader will not only speed up the downloading process but will allow you to drag-and-drop the files. This also eliminates the need for any 3rd party software to “import” files onto your hard drive.
- Organizational tasks to “ORIGINAL” files should be done early. Before you start working with your images, use a file browser such as Adobe Bridge to organize your captured images. Do this from the start so future versions of each file will be consistent with the originals. These early tasks should include : batch rename, rotate, delete files as needed, and give each image a star rating. This is the best time to add the most basic metadata to the original files such as: your contact info, copyright warning, usage terms ( if needed), and add keywords to large groups of files with similar content. Learn how to add this basic metadata to your files today! For more specific keywording tasks, it is faster to use a cataloging software such as iView Media Pro, or Extensis Portfolio.
- About star ratings. Rate your images with a file browser such as Adobe Bridge. This will organize your images based on their value. Otherwise all your work is sitting in the same virtual stack.
- Back-up copy 1. Now that you have downloaded your files to your hard drive and completed the organizational tasks, it is time to make your first back-up copy of the captured files. This should be done immediately, and completed before you reformat your compact flash storage card. Save the back-up copy to CD/DVD or to a second hard drive designated for back-up copies.
Note about back-ups: I use hard drives for both my primary storage and for back-up copies. This is done with back-up software to mirror or “clone” the primary hard drives to their back up hard drives. A back-up drive can also be “synchronized” by updating it with changes made on the primary drive.
At this stage of my workflow, I still burn a CD/DVD for use as an “off-site” back-up copy. This version becomes my 3rd copy and stored in the event of a hard drive failure, or if a worse event occurs.
- Reformat CF card. Once images are at the very least stored on both a hard drive and copied to a CD/DVD for back-up, it is now safe to reformat the compact flash storage media card.
- PhotoShop time starts with creating a “master” file. Now that you have set up your project folders, organized the files, and made a back-up copy, you can start working on your images. This can be done at any time on an as-needed-basis, but make sure you are working with a copy of your captured original. When it comes to a top rated JPEG original, open the file in PhotoShop, then use “SAVE AS” to save the image as a TIFF file to protect it from additional JPEG compression. Label this TIFF file to designate it as a master file by adding the suffix “masters” or “M” to the file name. Save it to the “MASTER” subfolder in your project folder.
TIP: Setting up the initial project folder makes this system expandable and adaptable for the future. Not all files need to be made into master files. You already decided which files were most important by rating them using the star system. The idea of creating master files on an “as-needed” basis will help maintain your sanity.
- Working with master files. All retouching work should be done on a duplicate layer or on a new layer. Use adjustment layers for global image adjustments, such as levels, curves, color balance, etc. Go to: Layer’New Adjustment Layer. Never do PhotoShop work on your original captured files. Create a master file, and try to make sure all your work is non-destructive and completed on separate layers to allow future adjustability. Creating the best master file starts by capturing in the RAW format and doing all the PhotoShop work in 16 bit. However, a master file can also be your best current adjusted version of the image.
If your not using adjustment layers, shame on you. Their usefulness is self explanatory so use them for your adjustments and thank the photo Gods for this blessing.
- Save layers on all master files, and embed the working color profile into the file.
- Create derivative files for “sharing” your work. Keep the high res TIFF master files for image adjustments and portfolio printing. Create “derivative” JPEG files for email or web, or flattened TIFF files for client delivery. The shared versions of an image derive from the master files since they will be corrected versions of the originals. These derivative files go into their designated subfolders in your project folders, making your system expandable and adaptable for the future.
- Be aware of compression. Don’t resave the same file at various JPEG settings in PhotoShop, or float it back and forth from JPEG to TIFF or PSD, and then back to JPEG. The JPEG format uses an algorithm that compresses data. It is okay to compress once at the time of capture, but when you reopen and save the file again as a JPEG it will reapply compression. Repeating this cumulatively long term to a file will create a heartache, especially if this was your only copy of the original captured image.
- Catalog your image database! Use catalog software to keep track of your work. Cataloging software empowers a photographer! It increases your vision over your entire database. Images are searchable. Organizational tasks such as adding metadata, keywords, labels, to-do lists, rating, sorting, and grouping are now as photographer friendly as changing lenses. A catalog provides a global vision of your entire image database, and without a catalog images can easily be out of sight and out of mind. If you feel computers have no soul, the biggest benefit you’ll find is the ease at which you can get your images out of the computer. Sharing tasks such as creating contact sheets, proof prints, CDs, DVDs, slideshows, Quicktime movies, emails, and web galleries allow you to quickly get your work in front of others.
iView Media Pro and Extensis Portfolio are two well regarded catalog softwares. They both offer excellent support to photographers and image users.
- Educate yourself. Learn how to add metadata to files. It is easy to build templates to speed up tasks such as adding copyright or contact info into a file’s metadata. Learn how to back-up your work and do this on a scheduled basis. If you are not using a catalog software, try downloading a demo version to test the waters before investing all your time on something that might not work for you. Seek out books, online tutorials, and workshops on digital asset management. For more info on the subject, a must read is The Dam Book – Digital Asset Management for Photographers by the mighty efforts of the very knowledgeable photographer/author Peter Krogh.
No stars. Images worth keeping, but not necessarily worth sharing. Important enough to save for future reference or they may have elements in the image worth keeping for composite work down the road.
“Shared images.” Anything that is worth printing, showing to a client, emailing, or for use in a web gallery should get 1 star.
Images that are the best of the shoot get 2 stars. Determined by client or photographer.
A client’s final selected image(s), and portfolio level images receive 3 stars.
Four star images are the best of your portfolio.
I sparingly use the 5 star rating as only a temporary marker. It is an attention getter to remind me to do work to a specific image. The image will get rated with a more appropriate star rating soon after. Color labels for files can function in the same way and are available for use in Adobe Bridge and with cataloging software.