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Monday, June 18, 2007

Digital Asset Management

Keeping track of the images that pay the bills requires a foolproof system

Digital Asset Management Film required a simple filing system. Mine consisted of slide sheets grouped by subject and stored in a file cabinet. I maintained simple notes on the slide mounts for dates, subject and location, plus a basic database. This worked well for me—until I went digital.

Digital hits us with a one-two punch that demands a complete rethinking of image management. We shoot more than ever, and this increased volume of images requires review on a computer screen, which calls for a naming scheme. While I don't claim to be the brightest guy in the world, it didn't take long to figure out that several thousand images with names like “_E7U1343.CR2” was going to make finding the photo I was looking for more difficult. Taking control of an exponentially growing image collection necessitates a thought-out digital asset management (DAM) system.

Different Software Choices

Whether you use a Macintosh or Windows system, there are a number of options available for organizing and finding images. Those with more basic needs might find that Adobe Bridge (part of the CS2 package) or File Browser are all they need. Both programs offer batch-renaming and the ability to add metadata, such as copyright and keyword information, and integrate well with Photoshop. ACDSee is another excellent option for Windows users, as is Lightbox for Macintosh fans. Both applications include a number of features for cataloging images, plus the ability to catalog images on CD or DVD. The main drawback to these programs is their bulk. For most pros, there are too many features that we don't need, such as image editing and project creation. We want to find our images fast and then use Photoshop or another imaging tool to edit them. A secondary drawback is that most photo browsers work directly with the source file. In contrast, a DAM system is a database that contains thumbnail shortcuts to the original file. Programs like iView MediaPro are outstanding—delete a thumbnail in iView MediaPro and you only delete the thumbnail from the catalog—the source image is safe.

Professional Options

Two excellent DAM applications, Extensis Portfolio and iView MediaPro, are both designed to meet the needs of the professional photographer. Available on Macintosh and Windows, each takes a very different approach to doing common tasks. I won't recommend one application over the other; just like camera systems, you'll have to choose which feels right to you. If you work with a group of photographers or need to share your entire library with others, Extensis is really your only option, with its Portfolio Server edition.


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