Digital Asset Management 1
Digital Asset Management 1 deals with some of the basics of what we also know as DAM, intrinsic to the success of any photographer wanting to streamline his/her workflow.
As people in our workshops try to get a handle on organizing their photographs and coming up with a sensible and efficient work flow, we hear lots of confusion about where the images are stored and many questions about what to do about them so they can be found in the future. Speaking of which, all of the ones I included in this blog, I found really easily!
First, I will suggest (sacré bleu!) that there are some great programs that very inappropriately use the word “Import.” I prefer Expression Media 2’s use of the work “ingest” much better, as I think it is far less confusing. That said, let’s start at the beginning, step by step. I’ll describe what I do.
There is no one right way. Just as there are probably four or five ways to accomplish any task on the computer, there are as many and more ways to cope with your images. You have to find what works best for you, but this may help those of you who are overwhelmed by the process or who want to refine their work flow.
When you import/download images from your card reader (never directly from your camera because of potential damage to same if the computer experiences a power surge), you are importing them into folders on your computer. You create those folders, probably in a folder called “My Pictures/Pictures” or some such that the computer already had waiting for you when you bought it. Let’s start by setting up your system.
Folders in the File Cabinet
Think of “My Pictures/Pictures” as a file cabinet. Within that file cabinet are drawers, and those drawers contain dividers and file folders, in this case yours. Arnie’s and my folders are very simply named so that they will self-sort chronologically. The format I use is YYYMMP-VeryShortDescription, or, for example, 215012-BCPA-NO:
- YYY=three-digit year (215), or if you prefer, YY=two-digit year (15) – are you really going to be around in 2115 or 2215? For me, the problem with two-digit years is that 98 (1998) will show up after 11 (2015). Some people prefer a four-digit year. The choice is yours.
- MM=two-digit month (01)
- P=number of project within that month (2, in this case)
- – is an easy visual separation, but some people prefer an underscore (_) that is more universally accepted; I don’t like it, since if it is involved in a link, the underscore becomes part of the underline in the link, so you don’t know if there is a space there or an underscore!
- BCPA lets me know this was a workshop
- -NO tells me it was one in New Orleans
In two-photographer households where the images end up on the same computer, add an initial after the date string. In this case, for Arnie, his folder is almost the same, with the addition of an “A”, or “215012A-BCPA-NO”.
Sometimes, the folder name is very simple, such as last month’s 215102-DE. In all cases, note that because the year comes first, these files will always sort in order. The third project in September will come before the fourth project that month. Many pros use some variation on this system, and if it works for them, it will probably work for you.
Some people do sub-folders by day/date. I don’t, because all that information is in your file metadata, put there by the camera at the moment you click the shutter. If I am looking for a photograph of a vineyard I did three years ago in France, for example, I don’t care what day it was shot and certainly have no burning desire to wade through three weeks’ worth of folders to find what I’m seeking. Think about it. Twenty-one folders or one folder? Twenty-one folders or one folder??? Hmmm!
In Lightroom, in Library module, Grid view, click on Metadata in the gray bar above the “light table” If Date does not show up, right click on the right side of one of the label bars and select Add Column. Then choose Date.
Now, under your folders in the left panel (SHIFT-TAB if it doesn’t show), select Pictures/MyPictures. Back up to that gray bar above the light table, open up each later of date. You will find that there are not only years, but months within those years, and not only dates, but the days of the week that go with those dates. Pretty cool, huh?
Image Files in the Folders
The first thing to remember in naming your image files is that there is a limit of 32 characters, including the extension; you know, that dot whatever-extension (.dng or .jpg or .tif, etc.) that can be universally read by any computer. That leaves you with 28 characters to spend as you see fit.
Although computers are getting more universal as time passes, there are still some operating systems that do not like spaces, so I would suggest avoiding spaces in your names.
In naming our image files, I stick to an echo of the folder name, with a slight variation. We add “ZAP-” (Zann and Pinkerton) before our filenames, since we publish a lot, both on the Internet and elsewhere. That “ZAP-” sets our image apart from someone else’s who might use the same naming convention. Before you read on, know that we often recommend a simpler naming convention for those less computer conversant. That approach will follow after the next three paragraphs.
I also turn the year into three digits. This may be unusual, but I set up this convention back in the early 80s when I turned pro, and it has worked for close to 35 years. 1982, for example became 182, as I figured there was little likelihood that I would live to see 2082, and 182 used one less character space than 1982.
Referring back to the 215102-DE folder above, my first image would be labeled ZAP-215-102-001-DE.dng. The hyphens aren’t necessary, but it is the convention I set up, and I can easily see the year, month, and “frame number”. In the case of two photographers sharing the same computer, Arnie’s is ZAP-A215102001-DE.dng. At a quick glance, because one has an A and the other does not, and because one has hyphens in the numerical portion and the other does not, I can see instantly which are Arnie’s and which are mine. If that file ends up in a collection (more about this later), I can instantly see it was from Delaware.
Finally, and this is a subtlety, I always use lower case for the extension. That is another visual aid in quickly seeing where that photograph was made. Look at the difference between ZAP-215-102-001-DE.dng and ZAP-215-102-001-DE.DNG. See what I mean?
As noted above, there are many people on this planet who are not computer conversant. Their strengths and talents lie elsewhere. For them, we recommend a very easy naming convention using the native camera file name. FirstnameLastname_Nativecamerafilename.dng. Thus, Arnie’s might be ArnoldZann_DSC6953.nef or, because we choose to convert to dng, ArnoldZann_DSC6953.dng. If you use the native camera file name, there is never any chance that you will overwrite another file. The important caveat here is that your camera is set to continue its file numbering, rather than resetting every time you reformat your card. If your camera file numbering rolls over after, say 9,999, the chances are slim that you are going to be overwriting a file in another folder far removed in time.
Let me talk a little bit about camera raw versus JPG/JPEG. For those who don’t know, jpg is a PC extension, while jpeg is the one used by Mac. We shoot in camera raw quite simply because we want to take full advantage of what a digital image can offer, including very sophisticated post-processing. Camera raw gives you a much wider gamut (range of colors and tonality) than does jpg. JPGS/JPEGS are great for the Internet and e-mail (another form of using the Internet), or even for family snaps, but the gamut simply is not as great as with camera raw.
Those who shoot for newspapers, and sometimes weddings, etc. will need that fast-to-process and send out jpg/jpeg format, but you may still want to shoot in RAW with the addition of the jpg/jpeg feature.
One of the potential downsides of camera raw — and remember, we are not talking DNG, rather CR2, Nef, etc. — is that some of the top camera manufacturers no longer support their earliest versions of camera raw. In addition, none of them has guaranteed support of current and future versions down the road. Don’t panic! Some years ago, Adobe made a twenty-year commitment to supporting their version of camera raw, DNG or Digital Negatives. They have a converter, downloadable at Adobe, for converting most manufacturers’ camera raw files into the DNG format. Because Lightroom updates so often, it usually can do this for you as part of the import/ingesting process.
What happens after 20 years? Realistically, if Adobe doesn’t want to have millions of photographers surrounding their headquarters with malevolent intent, they will give us the tools to translate our collective zigabytes of photographs into the next form, whatever that might be. Remember 30 years ago, none of us could probably have imagined shooting without film.
But what happens to your original files? DNG files have the same integrity as your original NEF or CR2, etc. files. You have the same gamut range, the same ability to perform the identical, sophisticated, post-processing tweaks on your image files. Personally, I don’t even keep our original NEF files once I make sure they have successfully been converted into DNG and backed up. Most of our compatriots take the same approach. Where you may want the native camera’s raw file is if you choose to use their software which is notoriously sluggish.
Most experts will tell you that to even most of the discerning eyes out there, you will not be able to tell the difference between a Canon/Nikon-software-processed image using the native raw file and a Lightroom-processed one using the dng format. It is interesting to note that Hasselblad and Leica, both of whom used to have their own, proprietory imaging software, now ship their cameras with Lightroom. ‘Nuf said.
OK, now that you have figured out what naming conventions will work for you, and you know that if you can, you really should shoot in camera raw, let’s get down to the first step, transferring your image files on your card to your computer. Remember, importing and downloading really mean the same thing. Either way, you are getting the digital images onto your computer.
If you don’t have a card reader, run, even gallop, don’t walk to your nearest supply house and buy a good one. As noted above, the camera manufacturers really advise against downloading directly from the camera for good reason. Your camera is a computer, and if your laptop or desktop experiences a power surge or some other variation in power, for example, that could kill your camera. Believe me, a card reader is a hell of a lot cheaper than a new camera body! We recommend NOT being tempted by an off brand. While there are exceptions, stick with Lexar or Sandisk.
There are various programs one can use to download or import your images, including Bridge that is included with Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop Elements, Expression Media 2, etc. I happen to use the latest version of Lightroom. I also prefer it for renaming my files. Having said that, the other programs work just fine. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” as the old saying goes. Remember, you are importing your image files into a folder on your computer, not into the program itself. We’ll talk more about that later In Part II.
I noted above that we shoot in camera raw. That means, I need to convert them into DNGs. I do this when I download our image files. At the same time, I add basic metadata from a template I have already created, including copyright, contact information, project number (those first six numbers in the file name … 215102).
While the images are downloading and being converted, I can go inside, do some laundry, take care of a few dishes, catch up on some phone calls, even have a glass of wine!
Once the download is complete, I do some serious editing. There are two schools of thought on this one. Arnie keeps everything, as he quips with a mischevious smile in his eyes, “They are all masterpieces!” You can imagine “the look” I give him! Me, I know when I shoot that the light got better, or that the person’s expressions improved, or that I don’t want to celebrate a “vertical smile” of one of our participants, or that I found a better composition, so I tend to cull the earlier shots, keeping the later, better ones. When I say better composition, I am not including different variations that I like for a particular scene.
It is true, a photograph that doesn’t grab you today may be your favorite in five, ten years. Even with that in mind, I have no problem deleting those noted above..
After culling, I rename the photographs. That way, if one goes missing, I can instantly tell. If, say, a project goes up to “frame” number 982, and I select all my DNG files in that folder and see that only 973 files are there, I have reason to panic and had better find out what happened. Arghhh! Again, for those less computer savvy, we recommend that simpler renaming convention.
We have addressed a number of items in Digital Asset Management 1. In Part 2, I’ll talk about those confusing elements of “importing” your digital photographs “into” your imaging programs.
Originally published October 2008 and most recently revised December 19, 2015
If you enjoy our blog(s) …
Please SUBSCRIBE. It’s easy to do by clicking on the appropriate link at the top of the right column.
Comments on the blog are always encouraged and welcome.
We also hope you will LIKE this and SHARE this blog with those interested in photography by clicking on the buttons below. We also hope you will check out these links: