what’s happened to my image?
How often have you searched for a digital image file and all you found was an outdated version? Or, wasted hours rifling through stacks of CDs and everything on your hard drive, because you couldn’t remember the name of the file you were looking for?
Well, take heart, there are things you can do to handle your images the way you handle your other data. You can easily manage them by following these few basic rules:
1) keep everything and keep it all in one place
At the risk of using excessive amounts of storage space—keep everything you acquire on an external hard drive and back up your photo files regularly.
2) rename all your image files
Anything is better than the original numbers and letters that come with an image. If you use something like Adobe Bridge, set it to automatically embed the original file names as metadata: you don’t want to lose touch with your sources. The Bridge also batch-renames which makes life a lot easier if you’re working with many files.
3) use simple and consistent naming protocols
Create clearly labeled folders and sub-folders to file the images systematically. Use codes in the new names that will allow you to easily recognize what you have. Use a consistent ID numbering system—one that will always remain the same. Avoid catalog numbers or titles, because they can change or are the same in many cases (i.e., untitled). You don’t have to put everything in the file name—that’s what metadata is for (see below).
4) leave alterations in the original image file
It you rework an image, say you crop it, keep the change as a layer. To borrow a bit of wisdom from the conservator—never do anything that can’t be undone.
5) don’t store unnecessary images in your cataloging tool
Save high resolution images (for print) separately; they shouldn’t go in your online catalog. Images for use on the internet should be saved for the web. Images should reside on your server and be linked to your catalog. Try to avoid management systems that convert images to data.
6) go crazy with metadata
Embed metadata in each image such as its source, photographer credit, copyright, even textual documentation. Label images (“original,” “substandard,” “replacement”). Rank images (“reject,” “approved”). Add keywords (for your own search purposes). And here’s where you can use your catalog numbers.
I hope these simple rules will help set you on the right track towards improved image management. I’m sure there will be loads of questions. Just let me know.
a word of advice
Although it’s important, I didn’t mention anything about advanced image enhancement (i.e., retouching, color correction, etc.)—a huge investment in time and specialized knowledge. The rules above were chosen based on the assumption that your image files are ready to go. If your images need lots of work, then find someone who really knows what they’re doing, give them this article to read, and have them do it all. Your time is better spent with other things.
Roger Shepherd is the Creative Director of panOpticon.
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