Making a Molehill out of a Mountain by Mitch Baltuch

An arctic ground squirrel posing in Denali National Park.  It is sitting surrounded by tundra vegetation at the height of fall color in late August. Photo by Mitch Baltuch.

An arctic ground squirrel posing in Denali National Park. It is sitting surrounded by tundra vegetation at the height of fall color in late August. Photo by Mitch Baltuch.

Text and Images by Mitch Baltuch

With the advent of digital photography, the proverbial shoebox moved from cardboard to silicon. The computer, or more correctly, the hard drive, became the shoebox. Along with this change came a significantly larger amount of images. The cost of film and processing no longer applied and everyone felt very comfortable in both shooting more images and using the high-frame rate capture setting on their camera. The result: a huge mountain of images. For many, this meant a mountain of chaos if they did not have a workable digital image management strategy.

Interestingly, with the advent of workflow-centric software tools, it is easier than ever to manage the images we capture and provide rapid, efficient search capabilities that allow us to find any image, for any purpose, in a very small amount of time. In addition, while not exactly fun, the job is no longer the mind-numbing, tedious task that it used to be.

To make a molehill out of the mountain that is digital image management, there are two requirements:

  • An image management workflow
  • A complimentary tool that allows one to efficiently perform that workflow

Adobe Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom

The Workflow

A digital management workflow starts from the instant an image is captured and doesn’t end until the images are not only on your storage system and in your catalog, but also backed up. The generalized image management workflow is:

  1. Import – bringing the images from the camera/media card into the computer, renaming them to a naming convention and placing them within the storage structure that has been implemented. It also is advisable to insert copyright metadata during this step.
  2. Edit – not image processing, but rather the act of deleting rejects and flagging, ranking and tagging the keepers (this is not a one-time step, but continues to happen over time).
  3. Keywording – probably the single most important step in maintaining order out of chaos.
  4. Geo-tagging (if appropriate and wanted).
  5. Metadata edits – title, caption, etc. If copyright data hasn’t yet been entered, this is the time to do it.
  6. Organization – assigning images to collections, or some other similar construct defined by the management tool in use.
  7. Backup, backup and more backup – how many levels of redundancy you use is largely determined by the perceived value of your images, the amount of money you have and how much risk you are willing to tolerate. At a minimum, images should be stored on the computer’s drive and be backed up on another external drive.

For each step in this workflow, there can be many ways of performing the step and everyone has their own variations and bits that go into each step. However, the steps themselves are pretty much a constant.

Keywording in Adobe Lightroom.

Keywording in Adobe Lightroom.

The Tool

The workflow itself does not make the job of image management any easier. In fact, by themselves, the steps probably add a lot of work that many of us would not do. However, coupled with a tool that supports the workflow, the mountain rapidly shrinks into a wonderfully small molehill. While I cannot contend that this work is a joyful job, it does become one that we don’t mind (too much) doing anymore.

My tool of choice is Adobe Lightroom. Within the library module is every tool needed to perform every step of my digital image management workflow, except for external disk backup. From its import tool to its ability to keyword, metadata edit, rank, flag, rate and organize, Lightroom supports a workflow and provides an efficiency that reduces the job of image management to a quick and almost painless job.

This is not to say that other tools, both applications and online services, do not exist. They do and are often good tools. However, I have yet to come across a tool that provides as much functionality, efficiency and ease of use that Lightroom provides.

It is estimated that 80% of the world’s visual, audible and written data will disappear over time. This is largely due to data standards and hardware evolving over time and no attention paid to moving and converting such data. If we want our images to survive, and to be useful both now and in the future, we must manage them in a way that allows us to use our images and others, when we are gone, to access, view and use them in an appropriate way. Digital image management is the foundation for allowing this to happen. Without it, a large part of our art and heritage will ultimately disappear.

 

To see more of Mitch’s work, visit http://www.mountainstorm.com.