There’s two things you should know about me: I’m lazy, and I’m terrible at being organised. It sounds like a recipe for total failure, right? But it’s what causes me to sit down and do things like organising my DAM (digital asset management) so I’m spending as little time on it as possible, and don’t have to sit there at 3am cursing as I edit new copies of images because I need to submit them for a Call For Submission I’ve only just heard about. I’m not perfect, and nor is my system; it’s a process of continuous evolution. But I’m hoping this series helps to put my thinking on DAM into one place, and a place where you can also use it.
This will be a weekly series of posts covering: an introduction to DAM, discussion of software and hardware options for managing your media files, how to name files and create sensible folder structures, backing up work, keywording and metadata entry (and what it’s good for), and why all those flags and coloured labels are in your cataloguing software, plus a few other things. The idea isn’t to sell you a magic bullet DAM system that I can guarantee will work – there isn’t one. The idea is to give you a framework based on my own system development that will help you create a suitable workflow for your own files.
Introduction to Digital Asset Management
Wikipedia helpfully defines DAM as, “Digital asset management (DAM) consists of management tasks and decisions surrounding the ingestion, annotation, cataloguing, storage, retrieval and distribution of digital assets. Digital photographs, animations, videos and music exemplify the target-areas of media asset management (a sub-category of DAM).”
In short, that’s everything from capture to archiving your work. It matters because your images have value. That value could be personal – the family photographs of your kid’s third birthday – or professional – that image of the Olympics that just keeps on getting reused by every publication around the globe. You want your images to be easy to find, easy to work on, and safe. And that is what DAM exists for.
DAM is everything from your personal habits, to the software you use to process and catalogue your images, to the hardware those images are stored on. So a good DAM solution needs to involve personal habits that you can stick to, good software for the specific tasks you complete (and an awareness of that software’s inevitable limitations), and quality hardware for storing and backing up files (you should have three copies of everything of value).
Let’s kick things off with a few questions that I think it’s important to keep in mind before and during planning your DAM system.
(1) Who/What Are You Shooting For?
You might be a photojourno who also photographs his family for personal memories, or a documentary photographer who also works with audio and video files, or a fashion photographer with a side-hobby in taking iPhone pics.
Whatever it is, get clear about what kinds of images you shoot regularly and who they’re for. This will matter as we come to make decisions about…………………………..
(2) What media do you frequently work with?
Regularly shooting RAW and exporting jpgs for your family and flickr? Or do your clients demand TIFF files? Just image files? Or audio too? You’ll benefit from considering this when it comes to choosing which software to use for managing your files, and how to plan your file-naming and directory structure. If you’re regularly working on projects involving a mixture of media formats, you’ll want to be able to track all of them from one software programme.
(3) What “finished files” do you regularly produce, and what are they for? How much time do you usually have to produce them?
I don’t make major adjustments to my images, but I do find I often have to reproduce images in a range of different files sizes and usually with scant time to do it in. So, for me, a cataloguing software that allows me to find these images, do minor adjustments where needed, and save exported images easily is a must.
On the other hand, I also like to work with a range of media files – images, audio, and video. So a software that can handle all of these is also much needed.
Choosing your software needs to be based on a clear idea of how you need to use it.
What hardware/software system are you currently using? How adequate will this likely be in 6 months? One year? Beyond?
As a general and important rule, all DAM systems should be scalable – it shouldn’t matter that you change computers, start using hard drives with twice the capacity, begin working on the road a lot, or change your software; your DAM system should be able to survive all these changes.
Overview of Cataloguing Software
There’s a range of cataloguing solutions, from the very basic “just keep an organised folder structure and hope for the best” approach up to
hiring your very own DAM ninja to do all this for you specific cataloguing software.
I use two of the three programmes I’m going to talk about here. I’d encourage you to look around at other programmes if these don’t fill your needs for keeping your work organised.
Expression Media 2
This was bought from Microsoft by Phase One back in 2010, but I’m using a copy from the Microsoft days. It’s crucial for me because of the ridiculous variety of files it handles. Jpg? Yep. Raw files? Sure thing. Audio? No problem. InDesign files? Just as manageable. Text documents? Right there and accounted for. If you work on projects using a range of files like I do, you will love this aspect of EM2. Alas, since being bought out by Phase One, it seems to be moving into more direct competition with Lightroom and Aperture, by concentrating development of the software on introducing basic image editing features. If they can nail this and still support a wide range of files, that could make an excellent programme but, somehow, I don’t hold out great hope. For me, Expression Media 2 gets used at the end stage of my work – managing projects once the basic edits have been done, and collecting different media together by project.
My personally preferred software for doing basic edits, managing my files before I’m done with editing and processing them, and my go-to software when I’m asked for “that image, but in black and white, and at 72dpi, please”. Lightroom will catalogue video files, which is great, but doesn’t offer support for other files types I need access to for projects – .wav, .mp3, InDesign files, and other stuff. If they can introduce this, I’d be inclined to give up Expression Media 2.
The alternative to Lightroom. Like Lightroom, it allows you to log video files but is limited when it comes to other media types. I’m not going to recommend using Lightroom instead of Aperture other than to say I just learned the Lightroom interface more rapidly and, seeing how Apple have “dumbed down” Final Cut Pro, I’m cautious about moving my image processing and initial cataloguing to Apple software that could end up going the same way. The Apple fangirl in me is kicking me for having to type that, but it’s true.