“Damn! Damn! Damn!” – Said Rex Harrison*.

But was he talking about Digital Assets Management (DAM)?  Doubtful, given the era that he was singing in.

How many of us still have boxes of prints, some with curly edges,  and dozens of plastic slide containers lurking at the back of a cupboard waiting for that rainy day filing job?  In the glory days of film you probably only took photos on special occasions and,  even including a long holiday,  the years tally of images was probably in the low 100’s .   But, today you are probably taking  100’s of shots a month because of the ease of capture now made possible with digital imaging.

DAM or just plain filing images takes on a critical priority of  in today’s image space.  You need to decide on a strategy that fits your budget and picture taking numbers.  The aim of the game is to quickly find images well into the future without spending hours eye-balling squillions of shots just to find that special one of the meal you had or the selfie with everyone in the bar.

If you have a fairly up-to-date computer the operating systems of both major camps provide for an automatic allocation of image files to a “My Pictures” or similar storage location, on one of the computer’s built-in hard disks.  This is very much like having a storage unit facility and you just stand at the door and chuck the boxes in as they arrive.  When you need to find something you are in for a long hunt.   Plus, the chances of filling up the  drive quickly is high.

The overriding factor in this task is you must have multiple copies of your images.  These copies need to be stored away from each other so that loss and damage of any one of the storage devices doesn’t jeopardize your access to the images.   If your paranoia level is low you can get away with 2 copies, but as the  volume and potential worth of your image bank increases so should the number of copies move to three.  However, the law of diminishing returns kicks in and going beyond this will probably mean you spend more time creating your disaster recovery copies than working with the images.

You also have to consider that there are backup strategies best for disaster recovery and for day-to-day restoring of an image back to a previous (or original) version.  This blog is focussed on the former.

The DAM strategies available today are:

  • Use the Operating System File Management System only
  • Use a post capture processing (PCP) program that incorporates DAM functionality
  • Use a standalone DAM program

Each approach has its set of pros and cons.

Operating System (OS)

This is adequate if your total number of shots is in the low 100’s per year.  You need two portable storage devices, which act as your Master (backup) and your Work in Progress (WIP) devices.  Today, you are witnessing the  beginning of the demise of the spinning magnetic disk that has served us well since IBM introduced their invention in the mid 50s.  Your portable mass storage device should now come from the devices now known as SSD (Solid State Device).  However, the cost differential may keep you with magnetic disks for a bit longer.  You need to decide on how you will structure your folders/directories.  Almost any scheme will work so long as you are consistent in applying it. The major problem of this approach is that whatever cataloguing scheme you come up with it really only address one way of finding things.  If, for example, you have adopted a date based approach you can quickly locate all the images for a certain time period or set of periods but it doesn’t handle a subject based search very well.  Although, if you are careful to put in keywords and captions into your image’s metadata the OS file search function can now search these, albeit limited number, of fields.  If you want to use a more “library” approach with multiple search options available you should adopt the simple date shot storage  approach and use one of the following strategies.

Using PCP Programs That Include DAM Functionality

This approach requires you to purchase or purloin a program like Adobe’s LightRoom (http://www.adobe.com/au/products/photoshop-lightroom.html ) or ACDSee (http://www.acdsee.com/en/products/acdsee-16 ) or Phase One’s Capture One Pro (http://www.phaseone.com/en/Imaging-Software/Capture-One-Pro-7.aspx ) or similar.  Each have their adherents and you can only really decide on which is best for you by downloading an evaluation copy and giving them a thorough workout to see if both the PCP portion and the DAM functions will cope with what you want to do.  So long as you are well organized and take the time to add keywords, descriptions and captions (as well as other metadata) of your images the search functions of these programs will “pull” out just the images that match the criteria.  If the other side of this program produces the quality of image you desire then this is the way to go.

Use a Standalone DAM Program

However, a program that is a great PCP worker may not have the best cataloguing system and then you need to bring in the 3rd party alternative.  This is working on the assumption that the programmers have really done the best job possible in cataloguing.  Here you would be advised to go with Photo Mechanic (PM)  (http://www.camerabits.com/) or at a pinch Adobe’s Bridge if you have that as a part of your Adobe collection.  PM is a long standing and well refined program that has very high penetration amongst professional photographers due to its ease of use and ability to be integrated into the complete digital image processing workflow.  Adobe Bridge is, of course, tightly integrated into the Adobe suite of programs.

Should I go with RAID Too?

Redundant Array of Independent Disks, originally Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks is one hardware approach to provide a “bullet” proof set up that allows you to recover from the loss of one of more drives over a short period of time.  There are now eight variants of RAID (0 thru 6 and 10), each needs to be studied to decide which is best for your needs (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAID).  Perhaps a bit of overkill for still image photographers but almost mandatory with movie makers.

The Long and the Short

Regardless of the scheme you decide on you do have to go the hard yards to make it work.  Otherwise you will be in a much worse situation than the boxes of prints and slides still needing filing.

*1964, Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058385/?ref_=fn_tt_tt_1)

 

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