When I started in photography over 45 years ago, it was a major pain to organize my slides and filmstrips so I could find what I wanted. Originally I used index books with film and frame number codes to keep track of my images. Later I progressed to a computer program that ran on my Apple IIe. It would print labels to put on slides and could do basic keyword searches.
Some ten years ago, when I started scanning the film I shot, the issue became keeping track of the digital files. At that point I was introduced to a digital-asset management program called Portfolio, which could catalog files (whether they were on CD or hard disk). It allowed me to assign keywords and other data to each record.
Since switching from film to digital cameras I am still using Extensis Portfolio (although other similar programs exist both for Mac and PC). Portfolio files are cross platform and the software can handle lots of files, generating thumbnails to the sizes I need, etc.
Now, when I return from a shoot, I use this workflow: I transfer the images from the memory cards onto my hard drive, duplicate these files onto another network drive, and then burn the files onto DVD, which get unique serial numbers. I use Extensis Portfolio to catalog the DVD and then put the disc away in an archival storage unit. This works well for me. The files on local and network disks allow me ready access to work on them, while the DVD backups provide extra security.
Cataloging images has always been a pain because of the need to enter keywords. One way to address this task is to organize files into sub-folders or directories with meaningful names. So starting within a folder for each shooting date, I may have subfolders labeled “flower macro”, “rural landscape,” or “insect macro.” I can then set Portfolio (or similar software) to extract keywords from the file path.
The image-cataloging process has been greatly assisted by the ability of digital cameras to record EXIF data. This saves all that recording of exposure and lens details that many of us used to do.
Technology now allows possibilities that can go much further. Cameras can be fitted with GPS systems to record location information. You could conceivably link your catalogs of images with a mappying system, even Google Earth. If the GPS recording device also extracts direction information, you could work with your images in some interesting new ways. For example, you could build three-dimensional scenes or make more detailed and accurate plans for future trips to the same locations. Landscape photographers could explore their image libraries geographically, examining viewpoints and perspectives with map and other information overlays. You might even be able to check viewpoints and plan the best locations from which to shoot at particular times of the day.
I’m not sure if anyone has tied together all the pieces yet, at least for the general photographer, but I know someone will soon. Some exciting possibilities do exist for photographers willing to experiment.
Looking back at how far we’ve come in terms of image organization, don’t you love the way technology sometimes makes your life easier and your profession or hobby better?