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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

“There's no doubt about it,” Lanting says, “what we're doing today is infinitely more complicated and process-oriented than when we were handling film. The process is more complicated, but it also enables us to do things that simply weren't possible even five years ago because we can move the images instantly around the world. I can work with my picture editor coast to coast, plus we can develop projects that wouldn't be possible in the film era. The Life Project (www.LifeThroughTime.com) is a good example of that. We're working with other entities in other locations and other countries, putting together the multimedia performance with Philip Glass' music. For the performance, we worked with a video editor; for the traveling exhibition, we worked with labs in Europe; and for the website, we worked with yet another entity. None of those endeavors would have been possible if we didn't have such a sophisticated system for processing, archiving and circulating high-quality image files.”

frans lanting
Tree-fern forest, New Zealand.
Along with archiving the images he's currently shooting, Lanting points out the studio also maintains a huge analog archive of film originals. Not only have many thousands of those transparencies been brought into the digital system, but early scans must be brought up to new standards as well.

“We've squeezed most of the gold out of a film library that contains many tens of thousands of edited images. From that, we've created a super-collection of 9,000 images at high-resolution on our licensing website,” Lanting says. “Our standards are evolving. The whole system is much more fluid now. In the future, our workflow is bound to change to meet the needs of an expanding collection. It's the ever-changing nature of modern collections.”

Part of the genius of the system—involving so many disparate pieces of software and hardware—is that at any point, a faulty or underperforming piece of the puzzle may be removed and replaced by better technology. It may make for a more cumbersome process, but the modular protection is there, even more than in the film era.

“It's a lot simpler to think in terms of original Kodachromes or Fujichromes and a couple of dupes,” continues Lanting. “Typewriters were a hell of a lot easier to use than computers, too. But when you start thinking about writing a novel, there are a lot of advantages to working with computers. It's the same thing with photography. We've developed a sophisticated workflow with all kinds of systems, processes and redundancies so that we're able to work with the images in a number of ways that simply weren't possible in the past. We are in total control of the images that go out. Plus, we can do certain things in 20 minutes that previously would have taken days, if not weeks.”

See more of Frans Lanting's photography at www.lanting.com.

Evaluating Workflow Software Options
By Tony Fendler, Digital Imaging Manager At Frans Lanting Studio

At Frans Lanting Studio, we're always evaluating the latest and greatest in photography- workflow tools. We're certainly looking to the future, when we might integrate one or more products like Apple's Aperture, Adobe's Lightroom and/or Microsoft's Expression Media (the new name for iView MediaPro) into our workflow.

One of the things we like about iView (and hope will continue with Expression Media) is that it's a flexible tool that allows us the freedom to tailor it to our needs. All-in-one solutions are more difficult to integrate into an existing workflow, and while they certainly have their place in the market, our needs are somewhat unique, and we haven't found how we can best make use of them in our process (yet).

It's quite possible that Aperture or Lightroom will prove to be where Frans' digital capture workflow ends up. As a specialized capture tool, Photo Mechanic has some powerful features. The integration of a database in Lightroom and Aperture may yet prove to be a smarter way of working. We're still evaluating their capabilities and limitations.

It's also a question of scale. We're using a highly customized dedicated web gallery solution to present our images to clients worldwide. While the web gallery modules in both Aperture and Lightroom create professional results with minimal effort, we haven't had much incentive to migrate 9,000 images to either solution when our Lightbox web gallery is working just fine.

Frans Lanting Photography is a micro-stock agency, which is just the right size to use consumer products to meet our needs. We've pushed iView to its limits, and reaching those limitations leaves us just short of hiring a development team to create a custom SQL database solution. If we had many more images in our database, we'd begin to flirt with the changeover point for investment-to-return on such a solution.

Lightroom and Aperture provide all-in-one solutions that incorporate portions of Photoshop, iView, Lightbox, Photo Mechanic, SuperDuper, Toast and other stand-alone applications we use to accomplish the same tasks.

An all-in-one solution that could take over our whole workflow would have to incorporate a point-of-sale system, contact database, web sales, licensing database with rights tracking and client billing, fine-print production tracking and the most robust image database available. I'm not sure such a system exists, but it would still bulge at the seams as the business changes and grows. The flexibility of each application doing one thing well is attractive to a small business that's moving and growing every day.

I don't want to suggest that we won't integrate Aperture or Lightroom as they evolve. We're keen to take part in the development of what may prove to be a revolution in the digital-imaging workflow. In fact, I'd say the overarching theme of our workflow is one that's in constant flux. There are always new challenges and new tools being developed with which to meet them. We keep up with the latest developments because they hold out hope of making our jobs a little bit easier. Using new, more elegant tools is one way that we work toward our ultimate goal of accomplishing more by using less.

Lanting's Equipment
Nikon bodies and lenses

Photo Mechanic software
SuperDuper software
iView MediaPro (now Microsoft Expression Media)
Better Finder Rename software

SanDisk Extreme III and IV CF cards, 2 to 8 GB
Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch
Epson P-5000 portable viewable hard drive
WiebeTech ToughTech mini hard drive enclosures
Seagate Momentus 120 GB 5400.2 2.5-inch FireWire hard drives
Seagate and Hitachi 750 GB SATA hard drives
WiebeTech SATADock
Apple Xserve RAID 5 18 TB systems


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