Bernd Jul 28, 2011
In a sense, we are lucky to live in a digital world: we don’t need to deal with bulky boxes of negatives anymore. But of course, we still need to index and label our images, just as before, or it will be just as impossible to find an old image as it was in the days of film.
Any photographer who has been shooting for a while will have dozen of thousands of images in his library, sometimes hundreds of thousands. My library shows 42,000, and I have only been at it since 2006. That’s a lot of photos. If you don’t organize your library, and if you don’t do it early, you will have an impossible mess on your hands.
The whole process of organizing your images and other multimedia files in something relatively sane bears the somewhat pompous name of Digital Asset Management (DAM). You will have to pay attention to it, sooner or later, so the earlier you organize yourself, the easier and less time consuming it will be.
There are two basic solutions for DAM: you can either try to manage things manually via a carefully crafter folder structure, or you can use dedicated software to hold your library. In the past few years, advanced software such as Adobe Lightroom, Apple Aperture and Bibble Pro have been released, which integrate every step of the digital workflow in a single interface. They are by far the easiest and most efficient solution. I don’t want to sound like a billboard, but there is little doubt in my mind that buying Lightroom would be some of the best money you spend on photography.
There are a few important concepts in DAM:
The other major component of DAM is backups. As the saying goes, everybody needs to go through one major dataloss before getting serious about backing up. Just make sure it doesn’t happen to your most important images.
The truth is, nobody knows how to store digital files for a long period. Optical media (CDs and DVDs) only last a few years at best. Hard drives fail all the time, often with no warnings. Tape backups are better but still do not last forever. Storing files on the cloud (Amazon S3, dropbox and similar services) works well but still doesn’t scale to the many GB of digital photographs. And of course, even immortal media wouldn’t survive fire, flood or accidental erasure. For these reasons, the basic rule is to have multiple copies of your important files (raw and processed versions of your best images at the very least) and to store them in different locations. 3 copies in 2 locations is a good basic practice.
You need to backup at both ends of the workflow pipeline:
Backing up is a costly operation and a major hassle, but you will be glad you did, sooner or later. The only question is whether you have to lose important data before you realise this (I did).