Special Announcement:

Digital Asset Management Seminar,
December 12th 10:00am - 2:00pm
Kensington MD

Digital Asset Management, An Overview

The adoption of Digital Photography by the marketplace has occasioned many changes in the life and work of professional photographers. An entirely new way of shooting, evaluating, delivering ,and storing photographs has become necessary. One of the most important aspects of Going Digital is Digital Asset Management.

In the film world, there was an evolved way of shooting, handling, delivering, and storing film-based imagery. Although is easy to overlook in hindsight, the expense and complexity of film storage and retrieval was a time - and space - consuming, expensive, task. First you needed a place to store the film, often an entire room. It was populated with filing cabinets and light tables, as well as numerous other individual items, from notebooks to hanging folders, from loupes to slide pages: in many cases, dozens of items had been added to the workflow - some at significant expense - so that a photographer could efficiently organize, store and deliver images.

While the Digital Camera may look like a film camera, everything from shutter click onwards has been changed. Everything except what our clients want to do with the image. Like a gutted building with its facade intact, the exterior may look the same, but everything going on inside is different.

One of the most critical challenges - and opportunities - of the Digital Workflow, is the the efficient and reliable cataloging, storage, archiving, and retrieval of images. It is a challenge because if done wrong, it could lead to personal, artistic or financial disaster. (Consider the total loss of a high-budget, undelivered job. ) It is an opportunity because Digital Capture offers an ability to organize photographs like never before. Properly archived Digital Images can be taken to market - either as stock, assignments, fine art, or portfolio - at a fraction of the incremental cost of film-based imagery.

For Digital Photographers to succeed in the market, it is essential that they develop an efficient and reliable way to organize (store and retrieve) their photographs. The cost of light tables, filing cabinets, hanging folders, slide pages, an entire room to store them in - indeed even the cost of the film medium itself - was not insignificant. And so the cost of a dedicated archive machine with calibrated monitor, multiple hard drives, back-up media, off-site storage, is also not insignificant. A professional photographer should not expect that the storage of, say, your life's work, can be done for $150. At least not yet.

So let's say that you bought the hardware, and that you're willing to buy the software. How do we evaluate the task ahead? There are several important components to a successful Digital Asset Management system.

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Guiding Principles for a Successful Digital Asset Management System

1. It must be streamlined enough to integrate into the workflow.

2. It needs to be able to migrate to the next platform/media format.

3. It must be comprehensive.

4. It must be reliable.

Any failings of the above could make life very difficult for digital photographers.

If the workflow is not streamlined, then it will be impossible to keep up with. Folders of poorly-named, uncataloged pictures will accumulate on hard drives, and - even worse - on CDs throughout the studio. Important pictures will be duplicated numerous times to the point that current versions will not be identifiable. Important images will be erased or thrown out.

For this reason, keywording must be done on a regular basis, and images need to be stored in one designated space. Keywording should be done at the time of upload: at a minimum, job and subject name shoud be entered. It is very quick with many programs to enter short list of important keywords into a file's record, so that it will come up in searches later. A specific machine needs to be specified as the server, and master copies of files need to be kept there in an orderly fashion.

One part of the simplicity equation is the portability of the organizational data. Subject matter description, or license information, for instance, that is written into the File Info of a picture can live with each successive iteration of a file. You can write your name, the name of the subject, the client name, and the license granted - into the actual file itself. For this reason, you need to find an IPTC compliant (works with File Info) Digital Asset Management Program. A smart Digital Workflow can enable a photographer to attach his name or contact information into thousands of files in seconds.

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Any person who has been using computers for a decade or more surely has, in a drawer somewhere, documents on unreadable disks in unreadable formats. File formats, storage media, even operating systems become obsolete. When this happens, it becomes hard to justify the effort to retrieve the information, especially if you are not exactly sure what is stored on each of those hundreds of disks in that drawer. For this reason, I think the only workable primary storage media is hard disk. In most cases, the cost to migrate photographs off of ejectable media (CD especially) onto the new software/media/OS will be so great that the files will simply languish on their spindles. And once these files become two generations obsolete (as a combination of either software, media or OS) virtually none of them will ever be seen again. They will be lost to history, and lost as income to the photographer.

Here again, IPTC-compliant Digital Asset Management can be of great help in the migration process. If your organizational data (Copyright, license, subject, client and photographer selections, for instance) is written BACK into the original file (or a readable sidecar file), then all of your work organizing the images can be ported to new software/Media/OS comparitively easliy. While not all DAM programs can write IPTC, they can all read it. If you put your data (Keyword= portfolio, for example) into a form readable by other programs, you will be much more free to migrate to a new program as better ones come out.

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Digital Images need to be consolidated in as few catalogs as possible. A well-structured catalog can be searched quickly, even if it has hundreds of thousands of items: while searching through multiple catalogs is likely to be more time consuming, and less complete. Making your catalog comprehensive enforces some important discipline on the digital photographer. It means you put the images in one place, and that means that you are more likely to organize with the same parameters each time. Additionally, the single catalog protocol enables the photographer to check the integrity of his entire body of work periodically.

Finally, using a single catalog is much more likely to enable a successful, efficient upgrade when the next software/media/OS comes along. This benefit alone makes the single-catalog archive desirable. Consider that you have several years worth of work - maybe hundreds of thousands of items - cataloged with a particular software/media/OS. When you move to your new G7 computer, or your Linux3 Computer, or the new Photoshop CS4 with voice activated archiving control, or to multi-terrabyte optical drives- you will need to gather ALL of your digitized work (only one copy of each version of every file that you want to keep). If you end up with multiple copies of each file, or missing files, or worse, weeks of sorting digital files only to end up in a morass of duplicate and missing files- then you will wish that you were simply migrating a single, comprehensive archive from one software/media/OS to the next.

This challenge may be two years down the road, or it may be five, but it will surely come before too long.

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All data storage (even film, of course) fails eventually. Data storage must be redundant and reliable for the digital photographer. Fortunately, compared to film recording and storage, digital storage is economical. Due to factors outlined above, I feel strongly that the primary storage media should be hard disk. It is cheap, fast, and pretty reliable. Because all hard disks eventually fail, however, your images also need to be stored on back-up media, either DVD or tape. (CD, while nice for delivery, is too small to do any significant back-up with). Additionally, no back-up is really a back-up until it is stored off-site.

The principle reliability worries are human error, malfunction (mechanical/virus), fire and theft. Human error must be addressed with simplicity. The back-up process must either be automated (with a program such as Retrospect) or it must be very simple. Malfunction should be addressed by multiple copies of a file, including preferably archiving to write-once media (DVD) that is not succeptible to virus. Fire, of course is a threat to either a film or digital archive. But unlike a film archive, it is easy and cheap to entirely duplicate a digital archive for off-site storage. Theft is perhaps the most scary. One could be fairly sure that a burgular would not make off with your filing cabinets, should he be rummaging around your studio. That G5, however, makes a very tempting target for a thief. Again, off-site storage is the answer.

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Digital Asset Management Programs.

Currently, on the Mac platform, iView MediaPro is the best archiving program. It can enter data into Digital Originals, manage an archive of more than 125,000, and works intuitively. Although it worked well with Photoshop 7, there is a serious metadata glitch with Raw Files and CS. Expect this to be addressed early in 2004. There is not a solid choice on the Windows side, but this is a fast and ever-changing landscape.

Storage and Back-up:

Images should be stored on Hard Drives in the computer, and on additional set of drives off-site. 120 Gigibyte drives are currently at a very attractive price point. They can be used as 1. Firewire, freestanding Drives. 2. Bare drives that are put into a Firewire case for the transfer of the data. or bare drives that can be hooked up to the ATA bus in the computer. Additionally, Images should be burned to DVD for virus-proof storage. Although DVD longevity is unknown, it is expected to be comparable to the best CD (gold) lifespan. Dye-based CDs are considered to be comparitively short-lived.

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