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Workflow and Organisation Tips For Photographers

Robin Whalley shares his tips on managing your digital assets.

| General Photography
Words and images by Robin Whalley -

In an earlier article I recounted my story of nearly losing my entire image archive and described some steps that could be taken to hopefully prevent you a similar experience. In this article I will walk through the other aspect of managing your digital assets, how to organise and retrieve your image when you need them. If you haven’t already done so I would suggest reading my other article as I refer to some of tools described previously.

My workflow starts with copying images from my memory card to the computer. How you make this transfer is much less important than where you transfer the images to. My own approach is to copy my files from memory cards to a holding area on my Drobo hard disk storage. I then create a second back up of the holding area to an external hard drive using a tool called SyncToy which is a free backup utility from Microsoft. Here you can see a screen shot of the holding area on my Drobo.

 Workflow and Organisation Tips For Photographers: Computer screenshot

You can see I have used further folders within the "Holding Area" to organise my images by the camera or by scanned film type. Within each camera type I then have a separate dated folder to hold all the images from a shoot ready for me to process them. Only once I have the images successfully copied, checked and backed up will I format my memory card.

My next step is to manage the naming of my files (I shoot almost exclusively in RAW but you can use the same approach if you shoot JPG). I have my digital cameras set to use continuous numbering so that each image will receive a unique number. This works well with some cameras such as the LX5 where the naming convention is a folder number followed by an ever advancing frame number for example "P1030002". The 103 is an incrementing folder number which increments by 1 each time the last 4 digits cycle past 9999. Other numbering approaches however aren’t so unique. Take the following example from my 5D MKII "_MG_2064" where the last 4 digits continuously advance until they reach 9999 and then they return to 0000. This leads to duplicate file names once you have taken 10,000 images; something that’s very easy to do with today’s digital technology.

To overcome the duplicate file name problem and to assist me in managing my files, I rename all my files ready for processing. I do this using my image cataloguing software which I will explain more about later. My approach is to prefix each of the existing file names with additional information as follows "RWhalley_5D_2011-06_". Clearly the "RWhalley" element is my name and can sometimes help those using my files distinguish them quickly from other peoples work. The "5D" is the camera model I shot the image with and the “2011-06” is the year and month the image was taken. Unless I manage to shoot more than 10,000 images in a month with a particular camera I should be safe from creating a duplicate file name.

I am now ready to keyword and catalogue my images to help with the task of organising and finding them in the future. To do this you will need a software package that allows you to assign keyword information to your images, also known as IPTC information. There are a number of software packages on the market such as Adobe Lightroom or Microsoft Expression Media (now Phase One Media Pro) and it is well worth investing in one of these if you have a lot of images to manage. Adobe Photoshop will allow you to view and edit information in your images such as keywords however you need to process files one at a time which is far too time consuming.

One of the big advantages of tools such as Lightroom is you can batch up similar images and process them all at once. If you are considering investing in a cataloguing programme I would suggest you try out a few as people definitely gravitate to one or the other. I for example have Lightroom 3 but I do all my keywording and cataloguing in Expression Media which I have been using for many years when it used to be called iView.

My approach to keywording and processing images is as follows:
  • Apply my standard copyright and contact information to all files
  • Apply location information to the "Location", "City", "State" and "Country" fields
  • Add a description to all images
  • I do a bulk sort for Landscape orientated images and tag these with the keyword "Horizontal"
  • I do a bulk sort for Portrait oriented images and tag these with the keyword "Vertical"
Next I review all my images in the folder being processed and rate them using a star rating. 1 star = keep, 2 stars = keep and process for a stock library, 3 stars = process for print sales. Any images with no stars are then deleted. This allows me to focus my keywording efforts onto those images that are most valuable to me as keywording takes time. For those items with 2 or 3 stars I now add additional detailed keywords to describe what is in the image, the time of day, weather conditions, colour, emotion etc. Below is a screen shot of the Expression Media keyword panel for an image that has been processed.
 Workflow and Organisation Tips For Photographers: Keywording

Having fully keyworded my batch of images I process them into the DNG format (Adobe’s digital negative open file format) for long term storage. If you shoot JPG then you don’t need to bother with this as the converter (free from Adobe) only processes RAW files. The reason for converting the files is a bit of long term insurance. In the future, some RAW file formats might not be supported but as the DNG format is open source, it’s likely it will continue to be supported long term. Having said that, I also embed the original RAW file inside the DNG file as I have found some RAW converters either don’t support the DNG format or that it results in a colour shift. When this happens I just use the DNG converter to extract the original RAW file for processing.

With my keyworded and converted images it’s now time to group them into batches of 4GB. Each 4GB batch is placed into a uniquely names folder e.g. DNG0095 where the last four digits increment for each new folder. The folders are then moved to the “Processed” folder on my Drobo and copied to a DVD (2 copies as per my previous article). I then use the SyncToy utility to backup the folders on my Drobo to an external hard drive.

In my cataloguing software I add all the newly processed image files to a master archive catalogue. This allows me to brows every image I have ever captured and keyworded, but also provides great search features. It’s very easy to search for all images in a particular location or with a certain combination of keywords e.g. “Bamburgh” and “Sunrise”. Alternatively I might want to filter my catalogue to show me only those images that have been sent to an image library. Searches, even of sizeable archives are virtually immediate and allow me to recover the original RAW or DNG file. Where I process images and submit them to stock libraries, I also catalogue and store these in the same way in case I ever want to submit them to new libraries. Below is a screen shot where I have filtered my catalogue to show only images containing the keyword "Beach".

 Workflow and Organisation Tips For Photographers:

This might all seem a little complicated at first but once you get the hang, it’s much quicker than you might expect. Also, being able to search and retrieve any image from hundreds of thousands of images saves a lot of time and frustration when compared with trying to remember what is in your archive. If you don’t already do so, I would strongly advise you take steps now to manage your digital assets.

Take a look at part one of this tutorial: Managing Your Assets.

Words and images by Robin Whalley -

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