DPP Home Software Image Processing Managing Your Photographic Legacy: Part I

Monday, November 9, 2009

Managing Your Photographic Legacy: Part I

Taking a long-term perspective on creating your digital archive

There are countless ways to structure your library within your operating system’s folder structure, but getting organized here should be your first order of business. When, who, where and what are key pieces of metadata that I like to get into folder names if possible. I start with an eight-digit date because I find a chronological listing to be the most universal.

By now, all of us know that photography changed forever the moment we began to capture our pictures digitally rather than on film. Overnight, film was dead for most of us, and every exposure made after that had to be imported into the computer before it could be viewed at all. From that moment on, you had to manage every photograph you took in the computer. Photographs no longer degraded slowly, over time. Now they lasted for some unknown period of time and then would disappear instantly if (when) your hard drive crashed. Collectively, we had well over 100 years of history with film photography to develop effective methods of managing our celluloid libraries, but very little precedent or guidance on how to manage our exploding digital libraries.

Now that most of us have been more or less 100% digital for several years, we have some distinct advantages over that awkward beginning. We finally have large, fast and relatively inexpensive hard drives that are up to the task of holding our digital libraries. But do you have an effective strategy for building and organizing your digital library in such a way that it truly can be called an archive?

Building and maintaining a true archive of your working photographic library isn’t difficult at all. And it’s a useful effort, first and foremost because it acts to establish a mind-set of what you’re building in the long-term. After thinking about my own career and growing digital library for more than a few years, and then having the opportunity to meet and consult with literally dozens of top working pros on their digital strategies, I finally began to see that having a concept of building a lifetime body of work is the heart of the matter. Regardless of what you ultimately want your photographic legacy to be, organizing it as you build it will be infinitely easier than trying to do it later. In fact, I’m willing to bet that starting now and organizing as you go is the only way it will get done at all.

Why all the fuss about your legacy and the preservation of your work as a photographer? I believe that if your photographs are good, they will grow in value over time. I also believe that each individual photograph you take may or may not be valuable in itself, but that when they’re organized and preserved as a collection over time, the sum will indeed be greater than that of the individual parts. And if you’re anything like I was a few years ago, your digital library is a jumbled mess of various bits and pieces, unorganized folders and files scattered across several outdated external “backup” hard drives, discs and computers. If I would have been pushed in front of a bus, it might have been impossible for another person to pull together a meaningful view of the whole library.

But don’t let me scare you off before you see how easy creating a coherent archive of your work can be. In this article, I’ll describe basic structure and what’s important to get into your archive; in part two of the article, I’ll give you five easy workflow steps that I’ve devised for building a library and archive, and keeping them up to date.


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