Photo Management: It’s Not Just For Photographers And Geeks

Photo Management: It’s Not Just For Photographers And Geeks

This post was inspired by the complete frustration of working with clients who not only lack photo management skills, but also seem to lack any concern for the problem. In fact, most of them don’t perceive a problem at all.

This is dedicated to everyone who has spent time or money on product photos, field photos, stock photos or any photos at all that are important to your online and offline marketing efforts. I want to shake and scold you all, but instead I’ll share some catastrophes-waiting-to-happen along with general time-sucking tasks that can and should be avoided, and how to fix a problem you probably never thought you had.

You’re selling coffee mugs and you’ve got a photo library of mugs in lovely colors and styles. You’re a landscaper and you’ve got great before-and-after shots of the front yard you just designed. You’re an accountant and you just spent hundreds of dollars on nice stock photography. You run a non-profit and you’ve got terrific candid photos from your last fundraiser.

They say the only thing that’s certain in life is death and taxes, but I’ve got another near-certainty for you: none of the people in any of those scenarios above have a plan for storing, saving or finding their images.

This doesn’t have to be you. Here are a few tidbits to get you started on your way to an organized, accessible and usable photo library.

Centralize, Centralize, Centralize

This should ring a bell if you read Ralph’s last post about centralizing your projects and communications and it’s more than relevant to your photo library. What’s a bigger time waster than searching through emails, clicking through folders or logging into every conceivable cloud-based app you’ve used in the last 5 years just to find the one photo you need?

One company I work with is a service provider who takes photos of every job to show the quality of their work. But when it came time to showcase those photos on their website, it took them weeks of searching to come up with a dozen. Some never turned up at all, which is a shame because those photos are irreplaceable. It’s not like my client can go out and redo a job just to have the before-and-after shots.

It makes me crazy when people don’t know where their images are, from their own company logo to their invaluable photography. So whether you paid a lot of money for professional photos or you’ve grabbed some stock photography or even if you just snapped some relevant photos with your digital camera, decide on a storage location and use it.

That might be a folder structure on your desktop. It might be some storage service in the cloud. Or it could be a local server in your office. If you can manage even this one small task, you’ll save yourself a huge amount of time, a lot of headaches and most likely a lot of money in the future when you DON’T have to replace the photos you can’t find.

Bonus tip: it is NOT sufficient to keep your photos as email attachments. Don’t even think about it.

Come Up With A Naming Convention

Even if your images are centralized, it does only a small amount of good if you still can’t find what you’re looking for. You probably have photo files named 4576.jpg and DSC0908.jpg. If you made some minute effort at organizing you still probably only got as far as cat01.jpg, cat02.jpg and cat03.jpg. Neither is particularly helpful and you’ll waste a ridiculous amount of time scanning through these meaningless names every time you need something. I work with one client who *thinks* they’ve got a naming convention and it goes something like this: bk_0001_sd_lf_tp_mnd3_pss_mug.jpg.

Maybe to someone who invented that mumbo jumbo it makes an iota of sense, but to anyone else? Mumbo jumbo.

Before you start underscoring your file names to death, spend some time thinking about how to categorize and name your photos so that if you’re out with a cold one day your entire marketing campaign doesn’t come to a screeching halt. And make sure it’s a convention that works even if you someday forget what mnd3 was supposed to mean.

Consider the fact that if you sort your photos alphabetically, you want similar photos grouped together. And if you must use obscure abbreviations, at least provide the rest of your team with a decoder in the form of a documented explanation of the naming convention you created.

Use Tags

In addition to naming your photos sensibly, you should be tagging them with keywords so that you can search for them intuitively. You can do this if you’re storing files in folders on your hard drive and you can do this in a good cloud-based program.

Tags give you the added benefit of being able to attach keywords to your images that you may not necessarily need or want in the file name. Let’s say you’ve got an 8-ounce red ceramic mug and you’ve named it mug_ceramic_red.jpg. Now let’s say you want to find only mugs that hold 8 ounces. You can add “8-ounces” as a tag and use it to search your library even though it’s not in the file name.

A word of caution: it’s easy to overuse and misuse tags, so be careful that you’re only adding tags that you’ll actually search for and not every conceivable tag you can think of. Go to just about any stock photography site on the web and you’ll see what I mean. In an effort to make photos appear for as many searches as possible, there’s some pretty mind boggling tagging going on.

In an I-kid-you-not story, I recently searched a stock photo site for an image to represent the concept of “blame” and one of the top photos that popped up was “shepherds cutting up a carcass”. Not helpful, and something I could have lived without.

Keep The Originals

This is a common mistake that can’t be fixed like a poor naming convention and can be a real problem for your marketing efforts. By the time you’re using a photo on your website, it’s already been compressed and resized to fit a specific design need.

Now let’s say you want to use that same photo in a full color brochure. Unless you have the pre-compressed, pre-resized photo, it will be unusable (oh trust me, I’ve seen some people try to get around this but it’s not going to do you any favors).

You can always scale, crop and compress a high resolution photo, but you will never be able to reverse the process. Don’t bother keeping any of the altered photos (unless of course they’re in use on your site!) Just make sure you have the originals and you’ll be better off however you want to use them.

Back Everything Up

If you store your photo library on your desktop or a local server and you don’t have supernatural powers or connections, you’d better be backing up your library to another device, and preferably to another location, or both. And if you’re using a cloud-based service, you should be certain that they’re backing up for you.

If you’re not being serious and thorough about your backup policy, I promise you will have a very bad day when the computer housing your library crashes, gets a virus or blows a hard drive. Don’t think it won’t happen to you. So far I haven’t met a single person who hasn’t experienced some kind of data loss due to a crash or computer problem.

Your best backup policy is redundant. That means the library that sits on your personal hard drive is backed up to an external hard drive and then sent offsite to be backed up somewhere else. Why offsite? Well, what happens if you have an office fire or flood and neither your computer nor external hard drive makes it through?

Your data is every bit as valuable as the laser printer and the computer and the building it’s in. I’d make the argument that it’s more valuable, because you can replace a computer or even a building, but you can’t retake the photos of your past projects. Even if it’s just product photography, do you want to risk the expense and recovery time involved in starting over?

Bonus tip: Do not archive your photos on CD or DVD. It may be an ok temporary solution but discs can become damaged or corrupted and all you’ll end up with is a really shiny coaster.

When it comes to image management, there’s no one right or wrong method to follow or service to use. It’s a matter of finding one that works, that makes it easy to find, access and use your photo library whenever and however you need, and ensures that you’re protected in the event of a disaster.

So stop winging it and start managing it. You’ll never regret it.

How do you manage your photos and other artwork files? Got any tips to share from your own experience?