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You Are Here:  Home  >  FAQ  >  Business  >  Image Management

Image Management

Table of Contents

Chapter Word Count: 6156
1 Introduction  (183)
2 Deconstructing Image Management  (238)
       2.1 After Shooting Pictures  (240)
       2.2 Grouping and Selecting Images  (401)
       2.3 Scanning Film  (620)
3 Photo Editing with Digital Photography  (313)
       3.1 Monitors and Color Calibration  (652)
4 Archiving Photos  (1234)
       4.1 Cost Considerations  (299)
       4.2 Image Database Software  (1364)
       4.3 Summary (612)

This page has 23 images dated from
Oct 7, 2001 to Aug 1, 2009
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1 Introduction

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Luxury Hotel
(Havana, Cuba)
caribbean, cuba, havana, horizontal, hotels, island nation, islands, latin america, nacionale, restaurants, photograph
Have you ever been to a one of those gorgeous five-star hotels with opulent chandeliers, sixteenth century rugs and 10th century tapestries hanging from the wall? You think to yourself, "I could live here." But then the janitor comes out of the closet door, and you unintentionally glimpse inside and see a dirty, disorganized mess, with unpainted drywall and exposed pipes. The dripping condensation evokes a sickly smell of mold and mildew, so you quickly look away. And that's when it hits you: it's all a facade.

Welcome to the janitorial closet of the photography business. Like the hotel, you got sucked in by the glamour of the lifestyle: taking pictures of European hamlets, ancient architecture and Gothic cathedrals. But before your pictures end up on the cover of those glossy travel magazines, you have to do the dirty work necessary to make it all possible. Come with me behind the steel door, where it says, "Employees Only," so we can discuss how you get those photos from the camera to the client. Luckily, it doesn't smell that bad.

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Camping en Route to
Machu Picchu
(Peru)
ancient ruins, andes, architectural ruins, clouds, inca trail, incan tribes, latin america, mountains, peru, stone ruins, tents, vertical, photograph
Despite my flowery characterization, what makes some of the backroom photography work distasteful is not so much the work itself, just the volume of it. Therefore, it's all the more important to be make it quick and efficient so you can get the yucky work out of the way and get back to the fun part. What we're going to cover here is what you do after you take pictures so you can prepare them for sale.

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Slide with Imprinted Mount
mountain, business, slide, horizontal, lark, mountain, business, slide, lark, photograph
To be comprehensive, we're not just talking about digital photography, even though your final product is a digital image. You may be shooting 100% digitally now, but you might also have a large collection of film-based pictures from days gone by that you want to incorporate. Indeed, over 90% of my images are from my film days, even though I never even see them anymore. That's right, even before I ever owned a digital camera, I still managed my entire business with digital photos, the result of scanning my film. In fact, after I scan film into digital format, the original slides usually never see the light of day again. So, we can't remove film from the equation just yet. The good news is that much the process of dealing with film is remarkably the same as it is with digital, so combining these processes will make everything easier.

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Thien mu Pagoda Entrance (1)
(Thien Mu Pagoda, Hue, Vietnam)
asia, entrance, horizontal, hue, pagoda, thien, thien mu pagoda, vietnam, photograph
As you take pictures, you should always document what the picture is, or where you were, so you can prepare it for image management, whether for presentation, archival or sales. When shooting film, immediately upon finishing a roll, I write the date, location and subject on the film canister itself. If I return from a big trip and dump 50-100 rolls on the counter of the photo lab, I now know which pictures were which. I then tell the photo label to label the slides on the slide mounts (see adjacent photo).

This process is even easier when shooting digitally because the camera embeds timestamp information into the digital image data (along with other shooting data, like camera settings, etc.). Here, I know where each picture was taken simply by sorting images by date and reviewing my itinerary. My digital camera happens to have a recording option so I can record voice memos as to the subject or other helpful information. Another good option is to just take a picture of a sign or literature that you may have available. (As you can see, I hate to stop to write anything.) Also, since I download photos to a portable device (laptop or photo hard drive), I name the directory (or folder) into which I place each set of pictures. (See Photography Equipment for a longer discussion on this.)

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48" Bretford Light Table
lighttable, business, horizontal, lark, lighttable, business, lark, photograph
Another process that's specific to film is organizing slides. Once they come back from the lab, I put them on a light table and look at them one by one. Because they're already organized by location when I processed them, this part of the process involves sub-sorting by subject. At this point, it's identical to editing digitally; instead of a light table, I bring up the photos in an "index" format (using Photoshop) in exactly the same manner as the physical slides. In both cases, I group like-subject photos together, such as animals, people, buildings, landscapes, art, etc. For slides, I make separate piles. For digital, I place them in appropriately-named directories (folders). It is also during this process that I throw out pictures I can't use (usually for technical reasons, like bad light or undesirable motion blur, out of focus, bad facial expression, etc.). One third is tossed out on this pass.

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Finding the "Best of Series" isn't always easy.
(Venice, Italy)
couples, europe, horizontal, italy, montage, panoramic, people, venecia, venezia, venice, photograph
After initial sub-sorting and editing, the second phase is a more focused look for the best image from each subcategory. At this stage, I would rather only deal with digital images because there's no reason to stick with film anymore. Upon reviewing the details of slides with an 8x loupe, I then affix a "green dot" sticker to the slide mounts for those pictures that are to be scanned. (This is very useful if you ever have to go back rescan something, you don't have to sift through the lot to see which you chose last time.)

I am now left with about one third of the total number of photos I took. (Note: earlier in my career, I had a lower ratio of quality pictures, presumably because I wasn't as skilled, despite my mother's claims.) Even though I've got a third left, don't assume that these are all different photos. Many are groups of similar-but-different pictures. (See photo example.) Having "duplicates" of good photos is like an insurance policy if something happens to a slide, or you need different takes on the same subject, different orientations (horizontal and vertical), facial expressions, and so on. The total number of images that are rather "unique" from one another is often far less than the "third" that's remaining from the first two edits. This is (and should be) true of digital as well.

off-site.gif Sprintscan 4000 Film Scanner
business, lark, business, lark, photograph
This section deals specifically with film; there is no cross-over with pictures taken with a digital camera. However, since most people who are thinking of starting a photo business still have a lot of film, this section remains important to discuss. The objective, of course, is to scan film to make a digital version, which is used for the rest of the photo's life, whether for printing, the web, or delivery to clients that license images. Digital images are stored together, regardless of the original media the photo was shot with.

I scan my slides using an boslete Polaroid Sprintscan 120, which scans slides and negatives (35mm as well as medium format), up to 4000 dpi. To give a sense of 4000dpi of raw 35mm film, this equates to about 5400 pixels in the long dimension, by 3800 pixels in the short dimension. For a complete discussion on image resolution and DPI, see DPI (Dots per Inch). This is an important read because it will not only give some context on how digital scans compare with digital-camera counterparts, but it's also important to learn how DPI is used in the commercial world.

magnifier.gifgallery.gif(More Images)
Color/B&W Digital Composite
(California, USA)
animals, dogs, eyes, horizontal, sammy, photograph
Because images are your assets, it never makes sense to scan images at a lower resolution than what the scanner is capable of doing. Similarly with digital cameras, you should never shoot pictures at a resolution less than the camera's highest capacity. You always want to get the most data you can out of any device, whether it's a scanner or a camera. You can always reduce the data later, but you can never add pixels back in to make a bigger picture from a smaller one. (Well, you can, but it's like getting cosmetic surgery: the real thing is always preferable, and there's a limit to how much you can do before you look, well, ridiculous.)

The most common beginner's mistake is to assume you'll save time and money (disk space, CDs, etc.) by scanning at low res first (e.g., just enough for web viewing), and only make high-res scans later if there's a need to make a print or sell to a client. The assumption that appreciable time or money is being saved is erroneous. I learned the lesson the hard way; in the first few years of my photography career, I followed this logic, and only scanned images at a low resolution because I didn't want to deal with buying big disk drives and storing large quantities of high-resolution pictures. Only a few years later did I find that I had thousands of images that were virtually useless to me on a practical level. If someone ordered a print, I had to go back and find the slide and rescan it (plus edit it to match my original scan), a process that wouldn't have been necessary if I'd just done it right the first time. And when you've got orders coming in fairly regularly, this can be a huge chunk of time. Since it takes almost the same amount of time to do a high-res or low-res scan, the cost of the extra storage media (disks, DVDs or CDs) is negligible.

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A Photo Shoot
(San Francisco, California, USA)
california, horizontal, jan, panoramic, people, san francisco, wahl, west coast, western usa, photograph
Once the film is scanned, you have a digital image that is pretty much where the process begins for digital photography. That is, if you scanned the pictures according to categories, and placed the newly created digital image into an appropriately named folder, you should have a directory tree that looks exactly like it would if you'd shot digitally. The only thing left to do with slides now is to store them for archives, discussed later.

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Dust on a Digital Image
Canon 1Ds
vertical, business, dust, lark, business, dust, lark, photograph
Whether I shoot film or digital, the final image must be digitally corrected for dust, color balance and other anomalies. This concept is surprising to many people who are under several misimpressions. First, film scanners are not like digital cameras where they take pictures of the "film" to yield an identical copy. In fact, scanners never scan images correctly, but then, they aren't really designed to either. Their goal is merely to approximate the colors as closely as they can without losing valuable image information, and to minimize the amount of "noise" from darker, shadowy areas. Odd as it sounds, those two objectives are at odds with one another. Picking up detail without introducing noise does not result in an "identical copy" of the slide. You have to make appropriate digital adjustments to correct the image back to the original film (or the "reality" of the scene as you may wish to remember it).

It turns out that images from digital cameras require exactly the same thing, although to a considerably lesser degree. That is, digital images can capture the real-life image better than a scanner can look at film emulsion. The problem with digital cameras, however, is that dust gets onto the digital sensor when you change lenses, so you have to edit them out. As you get more sophisticated with your photography and your art form, you eventually find that just about every image needs adjustments of some sort, whether it's color calibration, contrast or hue control, or even artistic necessities (conversion to black and white, for example). There are many books on how to digitally correct, alter, fix, or even abuse photos digitally, and it is beyond the scope of this chapter to discuss those techniques. Suffice to say, it's a vital process of the "commercialization" of your images.

While I don't discuss digital editing techniques, what I can discuss is the most important piece of computer equipment you own: the monitor. Unless it is color-calibrated, what you see may not be what your clients sees, or what you get in print. No matter what kind of monitor you have, it always needs calibration. The quality of the monitor affects the degree of accuracy you can achieve, but not necessarily how quickly it gets out of calibration. That is more of a function of age. Cathode tubes just wear out over time. So, if you're using a cheap monitor, you can still calibrate it (and should), but depending on how seriously you want to take your photography, your second biggest investment in this business (behind your camera gear) is the monitor.

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Stinkfoot
(Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA)
america, jackson hole, north america, skiers, snow, stinkfoot, united states, vertical, winter, wyoming, photograph
Researching which monitors are "best" for photo editing, you will find nothing but expensive choices. Fortunately, you don't need to buy the most expensive monitor for superb results. Better still, you can do pretty well with mid-range monitors as well. Here are some quick guidelines:

blue-bullet.gif CRTs are better than LCDs

The traditional CRTs, which look like huge TV sets, have habitually been more accurate for colors than LCDs (liquid crystal display). However, the demand for quality LCDs is growing, so the new products are coming fast and furious. At the time of this writing, Apple's Cinema Display, which is like a high-definition TV, is able to render color accuracy like the best LCD. But its price tag hardly makes it worthwhile unless money isn't a concern. (And wouldn't that be nice! But we can't have everything.) Of course, this is not likely to remain the case for long, so do current research on current LCD versus CRT comparisons, along with their price ranges, before making a big purchase decision. Either way, the CRT option is never a mistake, and will almost always cost considerably less than an LCD.

blue-bullet.gif Size Matters

For serious production work and reliable quality, a 21" monitor is the best choice. Once you get to this size, most models and brands are good. (One doesn't build a monitor this size using cheap parts.) The importance of size is not just so you can see as much of an image on a page as possible, but because you have enough real estate to do other things as well. This is often grossly underestimated as a matter of productivity. I've had perfectly good use from PC monitors that come directly from the manufacturer, as opposed to buying specialized ones from specialized monitor companies. That said, I have also purchased a 22" LaCie Electric Blue as a refurbished product from the company at several hundred dollars off the "new" price, and it's been perfectly good to me. When I was getting started, I was happy with a 17", then a 19" a few years later. But then again, prices weren't as low as they are today.

blue-bullet.gif Dot Pitch

This is not just a nit-picky techie spec; it's important, despite its confusing definition. You want to look for monitors that have the lowest dot-pitch you can find. The current "best bet" monitors have a dot pitch around .24 and .25. (LCD's usually rate around .29.) This refers to the ability for the monitor to render a pixel properly.

blue-bullet.gif Calibrate!

No monitor is worth anything if it's not calibrated, and the only way to reliably calibrate a monitor is by using a monitoring device that sticks onto the front of your screen and tells you how to adjust the red, green and blue levels (or that does it for you). These cost a couple hundred dollars, and they vary in quality and feature sets, but even the worst ones are vastly superior to you're doing it yourself. Unless you have such a device, you've wasted all the money you spent on your monitor—any monitor.

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PrintFile Slide Page
sleeve, business, slide, horizontal, lark, sleeve, business, slide, lark, photograph
Storing images for long-term archives is extremely important. For slides, I store them in PrintFile side-loaded slide pages (chosen because the page will be hanging from its side from the top of the box—see photo). I buy the PrintFile pages from my pro camera store, but the boxes can be purchased at any office supply store. (Those sold by photo companies cost two to three times as much for just about the
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Storage Box
slides, slide, business, horizontal, archive, tech, lark, storage, box, business, slide, lark, box, photograph
same thing.) The PrintFile pages hang inside these boxes using hangers that you buy along with the pages. (They are not sold together.) I usually have each box represent an entire country or a sub-region, and then segment the pages inside by sub-regions, topics, or specialty subjects as described earlier. I even hang normal folders for brochures, receipts or other information collected from the trip.

For digital images, I store the color-corrected scans and digitally captured images onto DVDs, which can hold 4.7G of data per disk. (I may use lesser-expensive CDs for smaller collections, or if I'm sending a disk to a client.) Because the number of images that can fit onto a DVD, it's impractical to make a photo "index print" because there are too many images. Instead, I print a list of the directory hierarchy on the disk and place it in the inside of the jewel case. When looking for photos, I know what disks to look at based on this info.

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Star Gate
(Havana, Cuba)
caribbean, cemeteries, cuba, gates, havana, horizontal, island nation, islands, latin america, south america, stars, photograph
I always store digital images in TIF format, not JPG or GIF, since TIF does not lose data when saved to a file on disk, whereas JPG and GIF both lose data in smaller sizes. What I mean by "lose" data is that the by-product of storing image information in these formats is similar to how a copy machine deteriorates image as you make copies of copies. For your own archives, you want to save the original data, so use TIF. Use JPG to send copies to someone, or for use on the web. JPG will print just as well as TIF, so long as it hasn't been deteriorated from rounds of open/save sessions.

Some digital cameras have an option to save images in RAW format, which is specific to each camera brand. The reason to shoot in RAW mode is so you can change white balance settings after you download the image. For example, indoor lighting is called "incandescent light," which looks very orange if the white balance is set for standard daylight. Shooting in RAW mode saves an image in a state where you can change the white balance to match that indoor light, thereby correcting the colors appropriately. Whether you shoot in RAW mode or not (I don't) is entirely a matter of personal preference (or workflow). However you capture images in your camera, you'll want to archive your edited image files in the TIF format, at the least. You may also choose to save a RAW format copy as well, if you feel it important to your workflow, but the importance of saving in TIF is that it's a standard that will always exist. RAW may not. If you ever change cameras, or your camera manufacturer changes the specifications on their RAW format, your future ability to edit your old archives of unsupported RAW image files will leave you with nothing. If you have a copy in TIF, at least you have something.

The media you use to archive images is critical. There are horror stories galore about how photographers lose years with of photos because their hard drive failed, or a virus ate them, or their CDs somehow suffered the mysterious "bit-rot." So, the main strategy here includes the following:

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"Did I do something wrong?"
(Greenbrae, California, USA)
babies, baby face, boys, infant, jacks, vertical, woo, photograph

blue-bullet.gif Redundancy and Device-independence.

As a general rule, you should always think of your PC as an expendable device that can suddenly become useless at any given time. Therefore, you need to archive images onto some other device besides your computer. You can have an extra hard drive, which you can then attach to any computer, including one that's not the type you have (or used to have). Secondly, you can use removable media, like CDs and DVDs. The key to these is that they are device-independent. That is, any kind of computer can read CDs or DVDs, whether it's a PC running Windows, or a Mac, or a Linux machine. Even non-computer devices, such as televisions and other entertainment electronics toys can read photos from these media. You can even plug them into photo printing kiosks. So, if your computer ever breaks, and you upgrade, or even change brands, your removable media and your external hard drives will just plug right in. But, which of these should you use? One or the other, or both? There are advantages to each, so let's review:

blue-bullet.gif Removable Storage.

Write-once media, like CDs and DVDs, assures that your data will not suffer from viruses, or unintentional/accidental file removal. Even the curious and probing fingers a toddler who loves blinking lights cannot remove the data from a DVD or a CD. Both these formats are good, but DVD is preferred because has more data capacity (4.7G vs. 700M). Please note, however, that you only want to use "write-once" disks, not the "RW" disks that let you erase and rewrite perpetually. As inviting as it is to have such convenience, their archival ratings are poor. Instead, using RW disks for short transfers of data, like if you make a special collection to take to a client, to give a presentation, or to tote your images to the local photo kiosk.

While most PCs come with CD and DVD drives that can read/write, I highly suggest using an external DVD drive that can connect to any computer. Again, if your system is down, you can take your DVD drive to someone else's computer, which may not have one. (Make sure you keep the installation software disks!)

blue-bullet.gif Hard Drives

The reason for using an external hard drive is for convenience. That is, having tons of DVDs sitting around can be cumbersome, especially if you find you have to go back and search for images often. They are also bothersome if you need to update an image, or add to a collection, it's problematic to constantly rewrite DVDs (which you have to do once you get confused about which of several disks marked "Scenic Sunsets" has the image you really need. If you have a hard drive plugged in on your computer that houses several thousand images, it's quick and easy to get to them.

Hard drives have the additional benefit that you can take one with you on trips in the event you get an order and you need access to your high-res images. Usually, you can fit your entire professional career's worth of photos onto a manageable number of hard disks, but the same cannot be said of DVDs. I personally carry a back-up hard drive with me on trips, along with my laptop, so I can fill any order anytime.

The main disadvantages to external hard drives are these: first, they can break, which brings us back to the main advantages of DVDs, which are less susceptible to damage. Similarly, unlike DVDs, external drives are writable by the computer while it's in operation, which can be damaged by a virus.

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Cave Temple Exterior (3)
(Luang Prabang, Laos)
asia, buildings, cave temple, caves, exteriors, horizontal, laos, luang prabang, temples, photograph
Cost is a concern because you're buying lots of storage media, and different media costs vastly different sums of money. However, it eventually breaks down to dollars-per-gigabyte of storage. The cheapest option—and, as it turns out, the most convenient for back-up and recovery—is the cheap hard drive. I usually buy the least expensive product from the best manufacturers, which usually means a 200 to 400 gigabyte internal 3½" hard drive with a speed of 5400rpm from Maxtor or Western Digital. At the time of this writing, they cost anywhere from $100-200 with pricing dropping fast. The slower RPMs (revolutions per minute) mean that access times are slower than what you normally find on the main hard drive on your computer, but because these are back-up disks, you don't need high-performance drives. They're going to sit in a cool, dry, dark place somewhere in your house (or at your parents, or at the bank), only to be brought back occasionally for re-archival, or for recovery.

Here's another hint: don't buy the disks that are sold as complete "external drives." Instead, use internal drives and purchase even less expensive housings for them. It's essentially the same thing once you plug the two together, but buying in parts ends up costing half the price. You let your toddler assemble it and plug it into your USB or firewire port on your computer. It takes a while to format the drive and copy images to it so you usually do this overnight. Then unplug it and store it. (Oh, don't forget to label what's on the drive. Make a print of a screen-dump of a directory tree from a file browser that shows what's on the drive, and then scotch-tape it to the drive's enclosure.)

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Snowy Church
(Bodie, California, USA)
antiques, bodie, california, churches, ghost town, horizontal, snow, state park, west coast, western usa, winter, photograph
Ok, now that you've got your images all scanned and archived, what do you do if a client calls and asks for a vertical image of a boy with a dog at a beach? Chance are, if you've shot for many years, you'll not remember each and every picture that might fit this description, or where to find them. Here's another scenario: someone asks to license an image for a food magazine, but only if it hasn't been published by another magazine in the same industry. Lastly, try this one on for size: you need to find all the images that have been purchased as prints by customers in your own state so you can generate a thumbnail contact sheet to present to the franchise tax board whose auditing your records to see if you've properly paid your sales taxes.

What all these scenarios have in common is they require records of what you've got, information about it, and where to find it. Storing images is one thing, finding and recovering them is another. And then tying them into an accounting system or a customer base is yet another. Here is where things get technical, and thus, tricky to address, because of two problems: different software products are more or less appropriate for different kinds of users. And, different kinds of businesses may need different kinds of data. If this isn't hard enough to solve, there's the reality of whether you can even use such products (if they were to even exist) because they may require your having a PhD in computer science. This disparity between people's needs and their abilities often leads to a dead-end.

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Bewildering Choices
(USA)
babies, black and white, boys, crosses, eyes, faces, horizontal, infant, jacks, photograph
Your options to address this problem vary greatly. Dozens of general accounting and database packages are available, any one of which can work. Filemaker Pro is great for just about any business, and allows you to build and configure whatever you need. The problem is, it's time-consuming, and requires a willingness to be a nerd for a substantial period of time. (That said, anyone that's been involved with home-based businesses before will find such programs perfectly adequate.)

And then there are products that are specific to photo businesses, which tend to pigeon-hole you into a particular kind of model that may not be yours. (This is often frustrating because these also have great ease-of-use features.) Extensis Portfolio, InView/StockView, FotoBiz, iPhoto, and others, all have great strengths and serious weaknesses, even though none of them will do everything you need. In the end, you may have to do what the rest of us have reluctantly learned: pick and choose best-of-class products to do each of the different tasks. In that spirit, here is some advice on how to approach your research:

blue-bullet.gif Research product reviews and see what users have to say about them.

Read discussion groups and find photographers that do the type of business you do, and see what they use (and why).

blue-bullet.gif Test-drive products.

You should never buy any of these products without first downloading trial versions from the net and seeing how comfortable you are with using them.

blue-bullet.gif Build a checklist of needs.

My list follows:

checkbox.gif Keywording and Image Descriptions

magnifier.gif
image (41)
(Stinson Beach, California, USA)
beaches, california, horizontal, marin, marin county, north bay, northern california, stinson beach, wedding, west coast, western usa, photograph
I list this first because it's usually the main function of an image database. All photo db products do this, but some make the process easier than others. For me, I have thousands upon thousands of images, with thousands more added per year. I need a system that can allow me to quickly and efficiently add new keyword and description data to images en masse, as well as individually. This is much harder than people think, and every program approaches this problem in radically different ways.

checkbox.gif Relational Database Capabilities

Do you want to have your customer database, image database and sales database all integrated into a single package? Some do this, others don't. There are pros and cons, but the biggest problem is that it's a complex programming task, which introduces three concerns: product reliability, data integrity, and cost. When doing research, look very carefully at these, and consider the experiences of users whose business are most similar to yours.

checkbox.gif Web Support

Photo database packages vary considerably in their support for web-based applications. That is, some will create web-pages of your images (which you simply upload to your web server), and others will also create a template for searching your image data (which you also upload to your server). This is a quickly evolving feature of image database products, so look into what is "currently" good at the time you need this capability. (Be sure you know what your web server platform is so you don't buy an incompatible product.)

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Pink Flowing Fog
(California, USA)
california, flowing, fog, horizontal, marin, marin county, north bay, northern california, pink, rolling, san francisco bay area, west coast, western usa, photograph

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Some all-inclusive packages understand the photo business, so they have predefined forms for you: invoices, bills, statements, and in some cases, templates for contracts. It will also determine your profit/loss at any given time, determine your sales tax obligations, and graph business trends. To a large degree, these are convenient and flexible, but I don't consider this a determining factor in whether to use it for your database as well because that part of their function is often quite lacking. The main advantage to having it integrated, of course, is that you can cross-reference photos with financial transactions, but you can only know whether this suits your needs by doing research and test-driving products. Such products may be more important for a stock photography business than a wedding business, for example.

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If you run the kind of business that has you constantly sending out marketing materials, email newsletters, or portfolios to clients and you need to track this information, you may value having a database package that has strong integration with sales and marketing contacts. A good package will be one that can cross-reference image and sales data with marketing activities so you can see where your marketing dollars are working for you. Needless to say, you need to have a customer database somewhere, but whether you need it in your photo database and what features are supported involves an understanding of your needs, and additional research on current products.

checkbox.gif Data Portability and Image Integrity

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Lavender Oils (5)
(Hvar, Dalmatia, Croatia)
croatia, europe, horizontal, hvar, lavender, oils, perfumes, photograph
An issue that usually doesn't occur to people until well after they've committed to a product is the permanence of your image locations, not just the data it creates. Specifically, image keyword data is most often stored in a separate database—a file, which is separate from the photos. This makes sense, but if you decide to move your images around on your disk, or change directory hierarchies, or rename images and folder names, your database may not function properly anymore. Some DB programs require images to remain where they were when you originally created the database. For example, if you find the image you want in the database, and now need the high-res version, it may only report where it was when you created the DB, not where it's new location is, or when you moved it.

On the other end of the spectrum, products like iPhoto on the Mac actually make the photo itself part of the database. This retains integrity, allowing you to move the data to a new computer. However, you've also just lost control of where and how you store your images independently of the database. You either move them both together, or neither.

The tradeoff here is that data integrity within the database often competes with the objectives of flexibility outside the database, so you have to pick your evil. This underscores the importance of being able to export data into a database-independent format. An example of this would be a "flat file" format that can be read by any database, as well as a standard text editor. (This is a highly inefficient way to manage a database, but the goal here is to merely export the data to preserve it for back-up or archival purposes, not to use it. This is especially true if you ever plan to migrate to a new or different database later.)

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Looking Back in Review
(San Francisco, California, USA)
bridge, california, golden gate, golden gate bridge, headlands, hiking, horizontal, jills, national landmarks, san francisco, west coast, western usa, photograph
There are many people who are satisfied with their products, but there is general consensus that no one product even approaches perfection. Some people just don't bother using any of them, instead choosing the old-tech method of paper and pencil (or the old noggin). Others pick a product, perhaps mistakenly, and stick with it because they have too much invested in it to back away from it, which is a mistake I highly advise you avoid.

When I was getting started, most photographers were excited about Extensis Portfolio, which only handles image data (not customer info or sale data). When I did research online, I found many large stock agencies, newspapers and other media companies were highly dissatisfied with the product because they said it was slow, it crashed a lot and totally incapable of dealing with large numbers of images. But, individual photographers who were more like me said they never had such problems, and the that the easy user-interface was a dream to work with. So, I went and bought it.

Sure enough, it's features worked as well as advertised, and the user interface made it easy to assign many keywords to many photos, which was my only need at the time. However, as my business grew, so did my image base, and I ended up running into exactly the problem that I had earlier dismissed: the program became greatly unstable.

I considered migrating to other products; PhotoBiz looked like a good contender with its business management tools, but the keywording and other features that were so strong with Portfolio didn't justify moving over completely. Similarly, InView/StockView had strong points that prompted further research, but at the end of the day, I realized that I was in a no-win situation. It was a zero-sum game, and moving products would merely trade one set of problems for another.

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Building Reflections
(Sardinia, Italy)
black and white, buildings, europe, italy, reflections, sardinia, towns, vertical, photograph
Over time, I eventually chose a strategy of using best-of-class products to handle different aspects of my business, rather than depend on one product for everything. For example, I used Extensis Portfolio for years beyond what I would have recommended to anyone else, but only to do one thing and one thing only: keyword and categorize new images as they come in. For that, it was sufficient and useful. Once keyworded, I would export the data and for use in other programs that to other tasks that are far more reliable. This is the advantage and the main intent of using separate products: you not only gain the advantage of what any given product has to offer, but are not beholden to that vendor for features they aren't so good at. While Portfolio is not the end-all product for professional photographers, it's adequte for the time-being. I'm just waiting for something better to replace it. Which brings me back to the point: by using best-of-class products, you can always use what you need to the job at hand, and move away from it later when something better comes along.

My multi-product approach has its pros and cons, and what I gain in flexibility and reliability comes at the cost of having to manually consolidate or cross-reference information on an as-needed basis. Yet, the nature of my business is such that this infrequent burden is not prohibitive, and I can often do it without loss of productivity in other areas. This is by no means a recommendation that you do the same, but I should mention one advantage that I do enjoy that tips the scales: using best-of-class products instead of one all-inclusive product, frees me from being beholden to a single vendor.

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