Digital Asset Management & Film Archival

January 9, 2009 at 10:28 am


Put yourself in this scenario, you have just received an e-mail about one of your online photos, the sender would like a hi-res copy for print (be it a competition entry/client/magazine/whatever), this is great news, but where did you put the original media??? If you’ve been taking a lot of photos for a while you could be wading through an awful lot of files or film to find one image, and that’s time that you either don’t have or could better spend on something else.

This is where Digital Asset Management (DAM) comes into its own. In this post I will describe the methods I use to store and catalogue my photographs in order that I can quickly locate the original media for any print or digital file. These methods add a very small initial overhead to storing your photos, but deliver an easily searched and cleverly indexed image catalogue.

For my purposes I use some software called Iview MediaPro, but Adobe Bridge, Lightroom, or any other photographic/media cataloguing software will work just as well. In order to use this method successfully you will need to have some of this software installed on your computer.

Organising your files

  • Folder Structure

    I organise all of my files in a very simple, but very powerful hierarchy of folders on my hard drive. The folders can easily be archived onto other media and backups can be taken at any point.

    I have a folder for each year. The folder format is: YYYY

    In the year folders I have a folder for each shoot based upon the year month and first day of the shoot. All of the digital originals and film scans for that shoot go into this folder. The folder format is: YYYYMMDD_Location_Subjects_OtherInfo

    In the shoot folders I have a folder where I keep all edits, in my case PSD files. I DO NOT catalogue edits. The folder format is: EDITS

    DAM folder structure
    © Ben Anderson

  • File Names

    Digital cameras do pretty well at giving your photos unique file names, but some will re-use the same filenames after counting though a particular range. By storing your shots in ‘shoot folders’ as described above it’s very unlikely that you’ll get duplicates in one place that will overwrite one another. Cameras insert a lot of metadata into the headers of your files, this metadata can describe exposure, time, date, image resolution, camera model, and much more, all of this is information that your catalogue software will import.

    Film scans on the other hand contain none of this information, if you’re lucky you will get the scan date/time and scanner model. It is VITAL that you use a numbering system for your scans. I use a very simple but, again, very powerful system which I will now describe:

    I store all of my negatives in film binders, be they 135, 120, 4×5, or 8×10. Each binder is numbered, the first being 0001. The negatives are inserted into archival film pages. Each page is numbered, the very first page being page 00010001 (the first 4 digits are the binder number – this stops pages being put in the wrong binders later), each individual frame is simply the frame number on the film. So, if I scanned frame 9 on film page 1 from binder 1, it would be named 00010001-9.tif This makes it exceptionally simple to locate an original film frame from a scan.

  • Cataloguing

  • File Import

    Every time I add original files into a ‘shoot folder’ that folder gets imported into Iview MediaPro – it’s just a drag and drop, the tool itself only ever keeps one catalogue copy of a file so dropping the same files in more than once does not create duplicates in the catalogue. This means that if you ever forget to add something you can just drop your entire folder structure in again, all the missing content will get added.

  • Adding Value

    Now that my catalogue knows about the files, I want to record some additional information about them.

    Star rating – Each photo gets a quality rating from 1 to 5 stars (* -> *****), you can use this later to thin down the catalogue, or simply to pick out your best images.

    Colour coding – At import time I generally do not assign a colour code, I do this as I work though processing the shots from a shoot, here are the codes I use:

    Yellow – This is the default colour, it means that the image has been tagged, starred and, obviously, colour coded, but no post processing has yet occurred. Assigning this colour as I process the images makes it easy to identify any images I’ve missed – especially handy when importing files from the past that I forgot to add, the newly added images will have no colour coding.

    Green – the image has been post processed (so a PSD should exist in the EDITS folder)

    Red – the image requires some post processing/is of interest.

    Orange – the image has previously been post processed but needs working over again

    Tagging – this is where the real power of a catalogue lies, by tagging effectively you can easily and effectively search your files for common elements. I tend to add names, objects, film type, location, and anything else I think might prove useful later.

  • What Now?

  • Locating Original Media

    Now that you have catalogued all of your originals, how do you exploit it? Easily, whenever you make an edit, make sure you follow your naming convention, keep the original filename or add the name as a tag to wherever it gets uploaded. Write the filename on the back of your prints. It can’t get much easier than that, now you will always be able to quickly find the original media for any of your edits.

  • Scalability

    If you take a LOT of photos, perhaps you are a pro or have simply just been shooting for a LONG time, you can split your catalogues into smaller chunks, each catalogue can contain just a year, a month, or even a single shoot. IView allows catalogues to be catalogued, so you can create a master file for the rare occasions where you need to search your entire body of work (or a smaller subset)

  • Conclusion

    You now know how to effectively keep track of your photographs, so get to it, the sooner you start the better. If you have a backlog of photos to be catalogued it will be daunting, but you may find some gems you’d previously overlooked or forgotten about. Have peace of mind that you will always be able to find your original media.

    • BennehBoy

      I keep buying bigger hard disks :D And I delete a lot of stuff that’s crap.

      The software I use has a backup option where you can spit out an entire catlogue or any sub section to removable media (or an empty HDD) and it will also create a new catalogue on there which contains just the backup set – it’s really rather cool.

      Glad you like the photos, been following yours via Ben Roberts for a while now.


    • Jamie

      I am jammy indeed, the 5D2 looks to be an awesome camera…

      Really enjoying your blog and this archiving method seems very decent – how do you cope when your catalog starts to get really big? Do you export to an external drive or DVD and then have that as a catalog as a saved reference (i.e. if you re-insert it you can continue editing the RAW files or what have you)

      P.s. if you are ever down in London or even further Brighton would be good to grab a pint

    • Daniel

      Always interesting to see how others do it. I myself, use Aperture and have done since the initial beta phase. The benefit of using Aperture is the library and management system, which is pretty damn impressive when it comes to finding, cataloging and ensuring images are all kept in place.

      Other benefit is that you can add a backup disk to Aperture and use that as a dump, so once all files have been imported and sorted/rated/stacked etc, i backup to my 1tb disk and then do a system-wide backup.

      Anal, but required :)