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Monday, April 28, 2008

Working The Flow

Whether on assignment for National Geographic or managing his massive stock archives, Frans Lanting's studio is constantly adapting to handle extreme challenges in digital-asset management

“We rename the files with an archival file name—FL + a four-digit shoot code + a five-digit sequence, such as FL1001_01234,” Fendler says. “This short-but-sweet file name allows us to reference any of the hundreds of thousands of images in the Digital Originals archive using only 12 characters.”

Whether on assignment for National Geographic or managing his massive stock archives, Frans Lanting's studio is constantly adapting to handle extreme challenges in digital-asset management

With a program called Better Finder Rename, a text file is created based on the EXIF capture data of each file. This batch file associates the original capture file name with its place in the archival sequence for the whole shoot, meaning frames from multiple cameras are integrated as one chronological sequence. Once the names are in place, an iView catalog is used to assign caption information to the files. Whole folders are batched with caption and keyword info. Crucial as it is, the metadata is kept to the basics.

At this point, the National Geographic files are spun off from Lanting's in-house system. Files are renamed according to the Geographic's specs—matching a five-digit sequence number to their own internal master file sequence numbers to ease communication about file names. The renamed RAW files are saved to a hard drive and sent by FedEx to National Geographic in Washington, D.C. Lanting is then able to work cross-country with his picture editor.

“The beauty of the digital era is that I can edit at the same time that my picture editor in Washington is editing,” Lanting explains, “and we can transfer edits in iView. We can work separately and in parallel. That way my picture editor and I can communicate and shape the edit, even though we're coasts apart.”

Eventually, Lanting travels to D.C. for final image edits, layout, retouching, color correction and prepress preparations. Those Geographic-edited RAW files will ultimately merge back into Lanting's in-house system, and the same sensibilities applied to those image edits will be applied to other selects that Lanting has culled from the take. The studio essentially creates multiple databases to house Lanting's own top selects, general favorites from the entire shoot, as well as outtakes. All are catalogued, stored and backed up, and all have their own unique requirements.

frans lanting
frans lanting
TOP: Gentoo penguin, Falkland Islands. BOTTOM: Melting iceberg, Greenland.
Long-Term Technology
Again addressing the studio's archival needs, Lanting's staff processes the original NEF files into DNGs for archival storage. The NEF files are batched through the Adobe DNG Converter at a rate of about 1,000 per hour, and saved with the embedded NEF files using lossless compression and a full-res JPEG preview. This single file contains all the information they could ever want for finding, viewing, and comparing the images. “They function as the equivalent of a mounted slide with original engraving,” Fendler says.

Shots are archived on a second 1.8 TB volume of the Xserve RAID. The iView catalog is saved as read-only, and any future edits become new versions. Selected images remain on the RAID, but the bulk of the shoot is offloaded onto a pair of SATA drives—one each from a different manufacturer to avoid the possibility of purchasing two faulty drives from a single run. One drive is stored in the studio, the other taken off-site for backup. The off-line drives are replaced every few years to ensure their reliability, and combined onto larger drives as the price-per-gigabyte continually falls.

Lanting's top selects are processed as high-resolution TIFFs , which are ultimately stored in an in-house database of images for licensing that uses a stock agency program called 20/20 ProStock. These “super-selects” are also produced as an online collection using Lightbox Photo web gallery software. Outtakes are stored off-line in external hard drives. When all is said and done, the top selects are stored on no fewer than seven distinct volumes (three off-site) as high-resolution TIFF or original RAW files.


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