Aside from being a catchy acronym, Digital Asset Management is an incredibly important concept in the world of digital photography that is too often overlooked.
The American Society of Media Photographers, or ASMP, created a website titled "DPBestFlow," dedicated to this vast topic with funding from the Library of Congress. One of the most important concepts is developing a workflow for storing, organizing, and preserving your images that is efficient and allows room for growth. Their website provides detailed approaches to this that are considered industry standards by most professionals.
If you’re like most, finding a way to store and organize the thousands of photos you take can be a daunting task. Ideally, you want a methodology that allows you to save your photos consistently so they can be searched for later with ease. Cataloging software such as Lightroom makes this process much easier to manage as it saves preferences and file-naming conventions for consistent application over time. The key is to develop a system that is standardized yet unique enough to identify individual assets.
At the highest level, I have a hard drive with a folder titled Lightroom. Within this folder are two separate folders: catalog and images. I maintain one Lightroom catalog only and a separate folder with all of my image files.Within my images library, there are folders for every year with subfolders for every shoot that year. When I import new images into my catalog, I also create a new folder under the respective year titled “YYMMDD_Shoot Description.” By naming each folder with a year, month, and day format for the shoot, Lightroom automatically sorts my entire collection of shoots from that year in chronological order, which is logical and easy for me to refer back to later. If I need to move images around or rename them, I do it directly in Lightroom only. Never do it at the disk level, as this overrides the Lightroom catalog and causes confusion for the software.
Furthermore, I created a file-naming template for my images that is applied to every photo imported into Lightroom, every time. It is “MBowers-[YYYYMMDD]-[filename number suffix].” I chose this naming convention for several reasons. First, by inserting my name into the file, I provide an additional layer of copyright protection as it will be pretty obvious this photo belongs to someone. Second, by using the date format of YYYYMMDD, I am again creating a way for the computer to automatically organize my images from start to finish, which is the most logical way to review them. Finally, by retaining the filename suffix generated by the camera, it creates another way to organize the images chronologically as well as tie back to their original name in the event your file import does not execute properly.
To create your own import preset, start a new import and under "File Naming," look for a dropdown titled "Template" where you can create a custom name that will then be available automatically for every future import.
In short, metadata is all the information about your photograph. This includes where the image was taken, what time, your aperture, ISO, and shutter settings, as well as copyright, tags, or keywords. Some metadata is embedded automatically by your camera at the time of capture. Other metadata will need to added manually, ideally at the time of import. Some examples are keywords, copyright, licensing, and the photographer’s information.
Keywords are words or phrases that you associate with a picture to describe the subject matter, style, uses, or connotations of the image. They can be applied in bulk at the time of import and refined after editing to be more specific. For example, my wife and I traveled to Big Bend National Park last week. During my import into Lightroom, I applied keywords that were relevant to every image from that trip such as "big bend," "national park," "vacation," and "desert." Once the images were edited down to my favorites, I went back in and applied more specific keywords, such as the names of anyone in the photo or specifics such as "mountain" or "cactus." Keywords can be a pain to consistently add, but are incredibly helpful for searching a large database later on. They also improve your images’ searchability across the web.
Of equal importance is adding copyright and general information to your image. Again, I have a preset saved that allows me to add this information every time I start a new import. Here is a screenshot of the information I embed into every one of my images automatically upon import:Why is this important? Because this information is embedded in the metadata of your file, it goes with it everywhere in its electronic format. This helps ensure others know the photo is yours if they wish to use it and allows you to take credit if the image is stolen or posted somewhere without your consent.
An additional aspect to metadata is assigning ratings. This comes in many forms, especially in Lightroom, as flags, picks, colors, stars, etc. It again serves as a means of sorting and organizing your photos according to a scale. Of course, there a several approaches to this task and no one way is right. The key is consistency in whatever process you do decide on such that the ratings remain relevant. My workflow after importing starts by assigning pick or reject flags to my images. Once I run through the entire folder, I go back a second time, filter the results for picks, and assign star ratings of one, two, or three stars depending on how much I like the image. Then, I begin the editing process, starting with the highest rated images first. Assigning ratings to your best images will allow you to search for them quickly later on across your entire database.
Perhaps the most important topic covered yet is backup. To have a catalog with thousands of images and no second copy is like driving without insurance. Even the most expensive hard drives will eventually meet their end, so it’s simply a matter of when, not if.
Anyone managing digital files should have a backup. Period. Several if possible. Start by purchasing two digital hard drives with enough space to grow into. Assign one as your primary drive and the second as your backup drive. If you have the funds, it is recommended to have a third drive that is also a backup but stored offsite at a location different from your primary and secondary in case of an accident or emergency. Consider a cloud solution as well.
Periodically perform a backup from your primary to your secondary. This depends on how often you are working on your primary drive, but in general, if you import a new set of photos or do some heavy editing, it is probably a good idea to back up afterwards. After a shoot, I save my images directly to my desktop first. Then, I import them into my Lightroom catalog, embed metadata, keywords, ratings, and do some editing. When I am done, I immediately perform a backup. Rarely do I skip this step, and it has saved my butt several times. Only once the backup has been performed do I format my SD card and delete the files from my desktop.
There are several programs to use for backing up. Just Google “backup software.” The program I use is ChronoSync for Mac. It’s $25 for the express version and allows you to save your sync settings for consistent use. The program automatically compares the files from your primary drive to your secondary and ensures they match up. Sure, you could manually copy files directly from one drive to the other, but there is no way to remove files that have been deleted since your last backup.
This step cannot be stressed enough. If you are not backing up your images regularly, you are exposing yourself to some serious pain. If a hard drive fails, the best case scenario is spending a ton of money to save the files. Worst case: you lose everything. Do yourself a favor.
Digital asset management is a huge topic that covers a lot of concepts not mentioned here. I spent a great deal of time researching DPBestFlow when I started out and can assure you the topics covered here are important and applicable to most everyone. As always, questions and comments are appreciated!