What s in a Name? Or, How to Manage your Digital Assets

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What’s in a Name? Or, How to Manage your Digital Assets

It all started with a simple question – How do you tag your pictures to make sorting through them and finding a particular image easier? It was a question that seemed to resonate with the others in our group of photographers so I thought I would share a little more about my approach here.

Digital Asset Management should be an integral part of your workflow. Gone are the days when you could probably recall the details of the shoot or quickly flip through a sheet of transparencies filed in date order. Most photographers now have a huge library of images that is continually growing, thanks to the ease of digital photography faster than you can manage. Without some form of system that allows you to quickly identify an image, the image is most likely to remain lost on your hard drive. A means of cataloguing and searching these images is vital or the images simply become files that have no purpose, taking up valuable space on your hard drive. Here is how I approach the problem.

Step 1 - Renaming

Having downloaded my images to the computer and created a backup my first task it to rename them. This ensures each image on my hard drive has a unique name. Whilst my camera is set to continuously increment the file name for each shot, it only has 4 digits so can only cope with 9,999 shots before repeating a name. I overcome this by preceding each image name with some additional information which is in the format [name_year_camera_image_variant]:

• Name is my name i.e. “RWhalley”.

• Year is the year the shot was taken e.g. “2010”.

• Camera is the camera used to take the shot e.g. “5D” or “NEX5” etc.

• Image is the image number the camera applied at the time the image was taken e.g.


• Variant I use to distinguish between different versions of the same file e.g. “BW” to

indicate a black and white version of the image. I don’t do this often but it does come in useful.

Renaming the images is much easier than you might think as most software for managing photographs has some form of bulk renaming tool. I use Lightroom and iView (now Expression Media) personally but I have also used Adobe Bridge for bulk renaming. This also brings up an important point about Digital Asset Management Tools. To manage your images properly you will need to invest in some form of asset management tool. These are essential for tasks such as bulk and individual keywording, cataloguing and search and retrieve. I can’t begin to think how to manage images in volume without one of these tools so it’s a sound investment.


Fig01 – bulk renaming of files in Lightroom 3

Step 2 – Contact Information & Copyright

Next stage in my workflow is to apply basic contact and copyright information into the images. Different asset management tools will take a different approach. Lightroom for example applies all my contact and copyright information into each image file as the image is imported. The information is written into the metadata of the image so that it can easily be read by other programmes. For example, if someone came across one of my images on the internet and wondered who the photographer is, reading the IPTC information would not only give them my name, but also my contact details and copyright notice.


Step 3 – Grading the Images

Having created a catalogue containing the images I want to process, the next step is to rate the images. For this I use a star rating system:

• 1 star = a keeper image that whilst I may not use, I might one day have cause to use. • 2 star = an image that will be cleaned up and have full keywords applied before

submitting to a stock library.

• 3 star = an image that will be offered for sale as art work. Such images will also have

key words applied and may also be placed with a stock library.

At the end of this process I will delete the images with no stars. Typically these will be blurred; underexposed or just have problems that are not worth correcting. I also tend to delete those images that are just too much like the good images but might not quite make the grade for whatever reason. Another step I take later in my workflow is to add a coloured label to each image as I process them. This tells me if and to where I have submitted the images.

Fig03 – Images showing a star rating and colour label

Step 4 – Add a Basic Description & Keywords to all Images

With the images rated I move onto applying key words using my cataloguing software. Again, different applications approach this task in different ways but the same principles apply. Every image gets a description to help me find it again. Descriptions can often be applied to multiple images at the same time making it quite a valuable thing to do. I also apply location details into the Location, City, State and Country fields in the IPTC information fields.

Next up are the basic keywords of Horizontal and Vertical depending on the orientation of the image. Again the software packages I use have functions to automatically select all images with a Landscape orientation or a Portrait orientation. Other generic keywords describing the image are also added e.g. “Indoor”, “Outdoor”, “Night”, “Day” are applied.


Step 5 – Keyword the Best Images

Having done this for all images I move on to add all the detailed keywords to those images with 2 or more stars. If I’m not going to use a 1 star image there is no point adding more keywords than I need to be able to find it in my files.

Step 6 – Backing up Processed Images

With all my images processed I batch them into folders of approximately 4.3Gb and number each folder uniquely. Each folder is then burned to a backup DVD as well as being moved onto my Drobo storage system. There is no need to file images in folders based on date, location etc as all the information to find an image is actually in the image itself as well as in the cataloguing software. When the time comes to find a sunset image I just open up the catalogue software and run a search. All suitable images are then shown on the screen and I can browse through them.

Fig04 – Search filter applied to a catalogue in Lightroom 3

This may all sound like hard work but with in excess of 50,000 images to manage its actually a huge time saver for me. I never need to look for more than a few minutes to find a suitable image from my collection. Also, because of other information I have added to the file (which I didn’t cover above) I can see where I sent the file or if it’s a limited edition print, how many prints have been sold to date and how many remain in the edition.

Whilst there is much more to Digital Asset Management than I have covered here, I hope this does give you the bare bones of a system you might be able to apply for yourself. It’s a huge timesaver for me.


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Until next month. Robin Whalley