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Simplify your photo collection

This solution is designed for microstock and other heavy users of photography and digital images, but it can help anyone who’s wondered how to manage their constantly growing collection of digital images.

Why do you need a system?

Microstock seems simple – you first register with a microstock agency, upload your photography, and then relax and wait until the royalty payments fill your bank account. Of course, it’s never as simple as that, and a novice quickly gets overextended. Even if you’re not actively selling your images, amateur or family photographers will wonder:
•· where is that particular picture?
•· where have I submitted this image? (Microstock agency or public upload like HubPages, flickr et al.)
•· were the images accepted at the site?
•· where does the original image live?

Background on Microstock Photography

I’ve worked through stock photography agencies since the mid 1970s . In days of yore, I shot slides and had to physically mail selections to the traditional stock agencies like Corbis, and Getty. It was slow and slides could only be sent to one agency at a time. I designed, then re-designed multiple physical organizing systems . I tried sorting and storing by topic, by category, by shoot, by slideshow and eventually decided to use metal filing boxes for my over 35,000 slides organized by category.

I also kept a basic spreadsheet file with consecutive slide numbers and captions. I started shooting digital in 2001 and the hassles exploded with the huge quantity of images I now captured. In addition, I now submit to more than 10 different agencies, each with different rules for submitting. I needed something to keep track of images. While the majority of photographers don’t write computer code, there are some data analysis techniques that are handy and involve no programing at all. The classic way people would approach a task like this would be to buy or contract for a database system. But choosing software first is a backwards approach – it’s much better to do a analysis of what you need and how you might achieve your goals. . Only when this thought-work is done do you decide what, if any, computer applications you might use.

Here’s how my approach proceeded

I knew my biggest problem would be managing many thousands of images, dealing with them at various stages:
•· storing new images,
•· editing images
•· captioning and tagging them
•· submitting to agencies or online storage
•· tracking who has which images
•· analyzing sales, downloads and other trends
•· knowing where in this process any particular image was

If you shoot fewer images, it may be easier, since it will take much less time to process each image. But even here, you may have hundreds of vacation photos and don’t want to process all of them the same night. You might automate the entire process, but most people this is overkill. You might choose a simple word processing program that accomplishes everything you need to do. There are photo management systems available commercially from many vendors. But most people find a mixed system works best – combine old fashioned techniques with some minimal amount of computer software. Computer programing won’t even be necessary as there are simple, cheap or even free applications available

Having identified the goals we now can look to see how we might achieve them. I highlighted two major requirements that would use technology to simplify my photographic life.

1. Assign a unique number for each image

The numbers generated by your camera won’t work for most people,. Others use text names like taj mahal , but text names are very difficult to keep track of and to organize by date. We need a unique identifier for each image, containing sufficient information to be able to sort by date. It’s important to remember that we’re looking for a system that makes it easy to find one among thousands of images. We use technology to separate the need to identify each image. There are various ways to do this. After a shoot, even before real editing, I rename all images to the format

yymmdd-xxx.jpg where
•yy= year
•mm = date
•dd = date
•xxx = a sequential number

Photoshop Elements lets you run a batch process on multiple images taken on the same day , renaming them as above. The result is a set of images that are simple to sort by date, yet with with no duplicates, meeting the goal of having unique image numbers but still easy to find . When I’m traveling, using a fresh memory and notes, I try to do at least some captioning each night.. At a minimum I only need to identify the beginning of any major group. Thus in India I summarized more than 350 images but used only three captions::
•· 090101-002 Arrival in Delhi
•· 090103-155 Arrival in Agra to visit the Taj Mahal
•· 090104-312 Ganges river

Now, even though I didn’t caption all photos, when I return to image 090101-145.jpg weeks or months later, I can instantly place it in Delhi. You can be as detailed or as general as you wish. Some days I may have a dozen or more temples, mosques and museums we’ve visited. This technique helps me recall them months or years later, while still providing an hour or 3 of sleeptime each night.

2. Store all images in one place for simple retrieval.

This is the second major step. We’d like to have all images easily and quickly available. As your output increases, that may mean having a separate, external hard drive just for photography. That’s also an easy way to backup your treasures, so it’s well worth the trouble. Once the analysis described above was complete, my solution became simpler. It was obvious there was no need for an elaborate database. Besides a database application needs maintenance, and probably some programing. Instead, a simple excel spreadsheet does a better job. This solution solves all the goals we’d identified:
•· Storage of images for quick retrieval
•· Fast sorting by date, topic, keywords
•· Instant access to all submissions underway
•· Ability to know what each agency has accepted

All this happens when we design a spreadsheet to keep track of ID, caption, keywords, and any submission details.

In the old days I needed a bookshelf groaning with metal boxes of slides, making it difficult to find any particular image. Now I keep the original images in folders by year (to keep the numbers manageable) while keeping all the information in one easily searchable spreadsheet..

Workflow for Photo Processing

Raw images



IPTC & EXIF meta data

Final work

Copy images from camera.

Rename and move to selection, store raw images in archive

Decide which images to keep. Delete poor quality images and duplicates.

Move images to either editing or a holding area.

Multiple folders for work in process:

Batch processing for simple changes to lighting or re-sizing

Images that need individual editing

Images that just need better cropping.

As images are finished, move them to the waiting area for meta-data

Add title, description and keywords to each image.

Move images to finished folder

Final steps

Copy completed images to a folder for each agency, and also to an archive. You can then upload to individual microstock agencies at your own pace.