Why Every Photographer Should Give a DAM

Why Every Photographer Should Give a DAM

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.  

File Management

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.

Here is a screenshot of my primary drive. Within, I have a folder titled "Lightroom" and two separate folders: one for my catalog and another for my images — clean and efficient.

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.

All of my images are saved into year folders and then individual folders for each shoot. By using a naming convention that begins with YYMMDD, Lightroom automatically organizes my folders chronologically.

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.

Metadata

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.

When importing, this box appears empty. As you add keywords to your images, it builds a database of keyword suggestions that allows you to easily assign commonly used one in your toolbox.

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:

Creating a copyright and IPTC template for importing images is incredibly easy and useful. This information will go everywhere your image does in the digital world and is essentially your calling card

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.

The rating of your image appears in the bottom right of the thumbnail. You can then sort your entire collection of images or a single folder by using the filter buttons.

Backup

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.

A screenshot of the ChronoSync interface. An affordable and highly effective program for backup routines.

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.

Summary

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! 

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31 Comments

Tam Nguyen's picture

Def should mention the 3-2-1 backup principle: 3 copies, 2 local, 1 offsite. Your local backup is as good as no backup if the site gets flooded or fire.

The Rule of Three also applies to media, three types of media so ideally if you was really paranoid you'd include tape back up and Ultrium drives aren't that expensive these days. Plus tape is far less prone to temperature changes, mechanical failure and physical damage.

Mark Bowers's picture

Hey tam, I did mention having a third backup in case of emergency or accident

Adam Chandler's picture

Great tips! What's your choice for cloud backup?

Mark Bowers's picture

Hey Adam! If I had to choose probably Dropbox or simply Google Drive b/c it syncs up with all of my accounts. Cloud storage is a good idea for smaller files and simple uploads but for a major backup involving 2,5 or 10+ TB's of data it will take FOREVER to finish. Get yourself some fast USB3.0 or Thunderbolt drives and use those instead

Anonymous's picture

Shooting 4k video and raw files from a D800 makes finding cloud backup hard so I store my drives in a fireproof, waterproof safe thats bolted to the floor of the office.

Mark Bowers's picture

You beat me to it Greg-Cloud storage is simply too cumbersome for backing up huge amounts of data

Thanks for sharing! Nice summary.

Mark Bowers's picture

Scott thanks for viewing! I had a hard time keeping it concise b/c there is so much info to cover. Please share if you think it will help others.

Anonymous's picture

Sorry, but I think that your headline is a bit misleading: The article describes your way of managing but I couldn't see any reasoning why one can't live without. Just telling one way how to manage images might even limit people in their quest to find a suitable way: I am rather sure that your way would not suit me (as our mileage will surely vary and I do not use LightRoom). No doubt, it is good to have a system (which works for oneself) how to find images (and I think that was also true before the digital times). Having backups is always a good idea, though.

Mark Bowers's picture

To each their own Ralf! I try and reiterate that my examples are just that and not mean to br ideal for everyone. To simply discuss the concepts without examples would be a rather boring article. At least we agree on backups

Anonymous's picture

I think that we might agree on even more than backups. To me the "DPBestFlow"-Website seems to be a good starting point for planning a Asset Management. I think that it would have been very interesting to read why you chose your steps (or how/why LightRoom supported your aim). It would give (additional) food for thought if it makes sense for own habits or how to achieve something similar with other means. On the other hand, the article might have got too long in that case. As bottom line: implementing an asset management system is not easy, needing lots of planning thoughts but helps in the long run to find images quicker.

Oleh Brevus's picture

Very cool useful tips about metadata and fileranaming) thanks! already applied.

Mark Bowers's picture

You are welcome Oleh! Feel free to share if you find it useful for others

Dani Maczynski's picture

Thanks again for this post Mark! I wanted to share the link to Libris here in case anyone is interesting in checking out our digital asset management solution: http://libris.photoshelter.com/ . Also there are lots of relevant case studies, tips and guides that everyone can find through our blog.

jean pierre (pete) guaron's picture

You're a braver man than I am, Mark - very sensible advice, but a topic which is bound to generate argument and controversy, because there's no "one size fits all". And the arguments will drown out your message.

However. As you rightly point out, anyone producing any significant number of photographs NEEDS a cataloguing system. And a sound storage and back-up system, to store, preserve and protect their photos.

Where to, from there, is personal choice and preference.

What works for one person may prove totally unsuitable for another. A professional photographer needs a system that enables prompt location of relevant photos for particular jobs or clients - and other access, too, because the photo[s] may be needed for some other reason.

EVERYONE needs to give due attention to storage, but not everyone has the same resources. Personally I am not using the Cloud for storage - one cloud-based storage system in the US went into Chapter 11, and all its customers lost all their data files.

Beyond there, it was generous of you to make available details of your own systems, Mark - they can be copied & imitated, or simply provide a source of inspiration for people to come up with some ideas of their own. Either way, it is a very timely and useful article.

Mark Bowers's picture

Jean,

Just about every article I write produces some level of discontent lol. I think a lot of the nay sayers are trolls to be honest and then there are some who just like to agree to disagree. Regardless, like you say there is no one size fits all setup here. I would argue there are best practices, which is what DP BestFlow attempts to summarize, but you should read through their content, understand how it fits into your workflow, and then make an informed decision about how you want to proceed moving forward. The biggest issue I have seen among colleagues is developing a plan but not being consistent in applying it. A workflow is only as good as you are in executing it so no sense in coming up with a plan and not sticking to it. Hopefully this helps others, please share if you believe so!

Campbell Sinclair's picture

If you live in Australia and like the majority of internet users a cloud based server is useless with adsl. Its for downloading only.

Hello everybody,
this is my very first post, I just signed up on fstoppers, I have been following the community for a while and I think you are a nice and competent one.
Just my 2c about backups: I currently use a mixed strategy. I shoot mainly raw and I use Lightroom as DAM. The whole library and the catalogues are held on a Mac which is locally backupped by Time Machine. After shooting and developing, I select the nicest pictures and export them to jpg importing them in Apple Photos which is automatically saved to iCloud, this allows me to have them available on all my devices. Besides, the raw library and catalogues are uploaded to an Amazon based cloud drive, in increments. I feel the cloud as the safest way to keep the raw files, I understand that it may take a very long time to upload the library to cloud for the first time but it is just once, afterwards you can go by (quite) quick increments.
One more consideration: take care of the license agreements behind the cloud subscriptions, often they imply some sort of rights of usage of your files from the service provider.

I would really consider a second backup and not trusting Time machine too much. It is known to fail sometimes. And the files aren't easily readable. Time machine is nice, but I also used Carbon copy cloner as well.
my 2c :)

Right. Actually, before switching to Time Machine, I used SuperDuper to make incremental clones of my disk. Now I think Time Machine can be fine as long as I know there is another full backup of my picture files on the cloud

Anonymous's picture

Concerning the upload to the cloud: it depends very much if a delta of the changes to the DAM database can be uploaded. If not, the whole database needs to be transferred every single time. It is also worth to remember that the computer is switched on long enough (after finishing the editing of images) to be able to upload all changes / file additions into the cloud. If this isn't the case, data corruption, e.g. unreadable database, lost images, etc., might be in the store: Depending on your service provider/uplink speed, uploading a huge database or many images might take a long time: Without being sure that the upload finished, there is a real chance that the copy does not exist in the cloud.

Mark Bowers's picture

Very good point Ralf. If there are files on your primary that were deleted since you last backup you would want these reconciled during your next backup along with new files that were added. This is an attribute of a valid syncing software such as ChronoSync

There is one thing missing in this article that is key to file management. It's knowing which files to keep and which ones to get rid of, and then having the discipline to do so. Let's face it, most photos are not worth saving. Accepting that will make the task of file management far more easier.

Mark Bowers's picture

Peter this is a great point. It is difficult to objectively assess our own photos much less delete them. But we all can probably be honest by admitting most of what we have is not worth keeping on precious hard drive space. After picking and rating my images I usually go through a few more times, perhaps let it sit a few days and then delete. Absolutely necessary to do this, I hope others read this comment thx

yes. this is a big one. I often go through my old images and delete images that I don't really need. Hard to do that when they are new. I've deleted thousands of images going through old folders. It's a learning process like everything else :)

Good article! You said that you were using only 1 Lr catalog. Many peoples would use more catalog, aka 1 per year or even sometimes one per semester.
So what do you think of a catalog per year? Is it worth it? Regarding the speed of Lightroom.
So far I have one catalog from 2006 to 2016. But for 2017 I'm still thinking if I should start the system of one catalog per year.
What do you think (everyone)?
Thanks :)

Mark Bowers's picture

Hey Robin,

Thanks for viewing and commenting! This was always a big debate in my class and the overall consensus amongst my peers and professors was that one catalog was really the most ideal approach unless there were extenuating circumstances. I have never noticed the speed of LR diminish as a result of my single catalog and I have tens of thousands of images primarily all in RAW/DNG format. The question of " why would you need more than one catalog" was constantly posed and from my perspective, I could never think of a good reason. Even if you wanted to separate business from personal imagery, you could do this using a separate file folder structure within your single catalog. Having more than one simply means you have to a backup more often for each catalog and constantly close or open catalogs to get to older images. Also, you would lose the precious functionality of being able to search your entire database by keyword, date, location, etc.... Just my opinion, there are a lot! And I am sure someone will disagree b/c that is the nature of online oped's and well, photographers in general lol ;) Hope that helps! Please share the article if you think it helps others and follow me on Instagram if interested @ markbowersphotography

Thanks for the feedback. I like the idea of having everything referenced in one place. I keep looking at pros and cons of both. Great tips for the import of pictures into Lr by the way! I didn't know you could import pictures with a different names. I have to look into that.

Adrian Acosta's picture

This is a great article, thanks for sharing. I already started in working with my own workflow following your rules.

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