This is a question many don’t ask themselves before they jump into a marketing plan. You may have been shooting for years and have a great supply of quality images, and the skills to handle any assignment that comes your way. But can you find what you want when you need to? Do you have a workflow plan in place? These are only a few of the hard questions that need to be addressed before you can truly reach success.
In the age of digital photography one of the most important components to add to your tool kit is a good digital asset management system (DAM). This is key to the organization of your photos, and should start with a good workflow plan. Whether you shoot in the studio tethered to the computer or on location to cards, setting up session’s folders is a key factor to managing your workflow.
The DAM system choices are endless. Most professional editing programs include something that will work, and there are many stand-alone programs. What you choose depends on several factors. The first thing to consider is the number of images you have to manage. Large collections may require a powerful system with search components. Second, consider your comfort level with the applications you use in your workflow and what each has to offer to your plan.
I can only speak to what works for me. Over the years I have collected roughly 30,000 images that I consider good enough for stock and that I have the rights to. Although I do not have a stand-alone program, I have taken the time to organize the collection into a system that works for me. This is set up in a folder file system that has a job/tracking code attached to each assignment, and a cross-reference file for the stock files. When an image is place in the file it gets keywords and metadata attached. Simply by searching keywords in the Spotlight on my Mac I can find any image that may receive a request very quickly. So, without spending a load of money, I have a very workable DAM. For me, this works, but I don’t sell stock directly (I go through an agency). This solution would not work if I had a larger file of work or if I was selling to consumers. If you have to face this, you need a system designed for this application. When you reach that point you should be able to afford the costs associated. This system also has a redundant backup that I keep in a safe, should the unthinkable happen and I lose the work I keep on hand.
I also highly recommend that you invest in external drives. These are coming down in price and come in all sizes and shapes. There are many advantages to storing your work “outside” your computer; safety and portability are two of the top reasons. But most importantly, external drives save space, wear and tear on your machine and will increase the speed and efficiency of your programs. The only things you should run on your internal hard drive are your applications.
Some thoughts on workflow:
For each project I shoot, I set up a main folder that has the job number, tracking code and includes all the necessary subfolders. This is always done before we start shooting. The first subfolder generally called Docs contains all the documentation for the job, work orders, contracts, property and model releases, invoices, balance sheets and any correspondences with the client. The second folder called Images contains subfolders with the actual work I produce for the job, since we shoot in RAW and convert all the work to RGB TIFFs, these are the two main folders in this subfolder. The stuff in the Image folder is akin to the “film” for the job, and for the most part is untouched. The next subfolder is labeled Deliverables; this contains what I will send to the client in the format, file type and size they have requested. Then, in some cases, I set up a personal folder. This may include out-takes I want to keep and or extra shots I made during the shoot that we may not have charged for. I’ll also place a copy of images in this folder that will have limited rights assigned to them so that I can include then into the stock portfolio when the time comes. By dividing up the files in this manner, I can find what I need when I need it and know what I have, and also know if there are pieces missing. These Job folders are then copied and safely stored on the redundant drives. (I know our accountant loves it when it comes to tax time, as he has all the info he needs and rarely needs to call me. However, he sees only the Docs folder—I trust him, but not that much.)
Your actual workflow practices are something you need to develop, and there are a plethora of live and online seminars if you feel you need direction. These can be general practices or specific to the programs you use. By all means, take the time to get a handle on this part of your photography business. It will pay dividends as you grow.
As always, please share your thoughts and insights on this subject, and suggest any other topics you want to cover in this forum.