Managing and archiving photos

Once you’ve transferred your images safely to your digital studio, you need to process and permanently archive them before you begin any editing or fulfillment. You want to keep your images in as pristine a condition as possible — meaning that master images should not be multiple-generations old (especially true for JPEG files) or altered from their original state, for example, and they should not be cropped, color-corrected, or otherwise edited or changed. Furthermore, you will want to name the image files in a way that will let you identify details about the photos, access them, and relate them to further generations of the same image.

There are many applications and methods for managing and archiving images, also known as DAM, or Digital Asset Management. Canon’s Digital Photo Professional is a mid-range DAM product, allowing you to accomplish many archival and management capabilities.


The problem with digital photos is that it is easy to reproduce them quickly and prolifically, almost to the point that without management, you may have a hard time telling which photo is an original and which is a copy. And, for JPEG images, the more times an image is opened and resaved, the further it degrades in quality because it is a lossy format (one that loses quality over multiple generations). Consequently, it behooves you to manage your images as soon as possible after you have downloaded them to the computer.

Renaming is a first-priority task in image management. You can always keep original filenames and just store images in a file folder that’s more descriptively named, but the long-range problem is that when you have duplicate file numbers and you do a broad-based search of your image database, you may encounter redundancy problems.

The more consistently you can name files, the better. Come up with a naming formula that suits the type of photography you do and how you may need to access images later. Consider some of the following factors in file naming:

  • People’s names or specific subjects (for example, Cancun Beach, Portland Air Show, and so on)
  • Shoot location
  • Date
  • Unique file number
  • Other unique identifiers

You may find that you can use the same naming scheme for groups of images that each have a unique file number, which allows you to put multiple categories in one file folder. For example, under a file folder titled “Jones Wedding,” you might have groups of files named for the ceremony, reception, and rehearsal dinner:

Jones – ceremony – 06-07 – 3325.jpg

Jones – reception – 06-07 – 0l27.jpg

Jones – rehearsal – 06-07 – 0010.jpg

In this manner, the filename itself becomes a reference term that you will be able to use to search simply using your operating system’s file management feature or a basic file search capability in your image management software. Furthermore, if you upload your images to online galleries where you present and perhaps sell images, each word in the filename becomes a search term, letting customers easily find images. Most DAM products offer database capabilities that catalog your images and let you easily locate and work with them. This is more useful when you have a relatively simple storage configuration such as a single computer and a large external hard drive; database cataloging becomes more difficult, complicated, and less useful when you have multiple networked computers and multiple storage devices.

After renaming, you can begin to create multiple folders that relate to logical image categories for long-term storage and editing.


Beyond file naming, there are several ways to uniquely identify files individually and in groups. Every digital image carries with it a set of information known generally as metadata. This contains some factors that are unalterable, such as the image exposure, type of camera used, white balance, and so on. However, you can set and use other terms such as keywords, copyright info, captioning, and more to manage the images in various applications.

Most metadata (also called EXIF data, which is Canon-specific) can be found in your image-editing application by viewing Information, Properties, or something similar that is associated with an individual file. For example, images viewed in ACDSee Pro show the photo’s EXIF data and basic IPTC data (see 9-3).

Properties and Information are two terms used by image-editing and -management applications such as Digital Photo Professional, Photoshop, and ACDSee Pro to refer to metadata information contained in every digital image. Some information is user-added, such as copyright and photographer information. Other information, such as the type of camera used and the exposure settings, is fixed data that you cannot easily change. This screen is from Canon's Digital Photo Professional.

Metadata includes several categories of information for a file, including the following:

  • EXIF. This stands for Exchangeable Image File, which is actually a file format used by most digital cameras; a JPEG file is technically an EXIF that uses JPEG compression on the information in the file. Here you’ll find everything from the type of camera that shot the photo (including its serial number!) to the date it was taken.
  • File. This is file-specific information about your image, including the image name, storage location, creation/modification date history, size and bit depth, and an EXIF summary.
  • IPTC. Originally developed by the newspaper industry, the IPTC (which stands for International Press Telecommunications Council) permits you to add information about the image such as a detailed caption, the writer, the photographer, various categories, keywords, copyright information, the location where it was shot, edit status, and more. This information is visible across applications such as Photoshop, ACDSee, and iView, among others.

You can batch-process some metadata in various programs, which allows you to add things such as copyright information, location of a shoot, and other factors to a large group of images.

Keywording is helpful for grouping images as well, and it’s especially helpful if you’re trying to find similar photos that are stored across multiple folders. The main trick to keywords is to be as consistent as possible in the keywords you use and associate with various images. Remember that some keyword capabilities are application specific, while keywording in IPTC is read across applications.

Most DAM applications let you tag images in a variety of ways so that you can sort and prioritize them. You may be able to simply tag a photo with a checkmark, and then later sort the entire file folder so that the checked images are grouped. Beyond simple tagging, most programs also let you prioritize images using a rating system (see 9-4). For example (and there are many ways to do this), you may want all your best photos in a folder to be “1,” your second-best photos to be “2,” and so-on (typically five is the most you would have).

Images being prioritized in Digital Photo Professional, using a three-check ranking system. Rated photos can then be sorted accordingly


After you’ve sorted your images, you’ll want to edit the best ones and prepare them for fulfilling your project. Furthermore, you’ll want to archive images according to how you’ve named and grouped them so that they’ll always be easy to access.

There are many ways to go about the preparation and archiving process, and as you develop your own workflow you will also develop a good method for this process that works for you. To get you started in the right direction, I’ve provided a brief overview of how I archive and prepare images for editing, which is a method that has become an integral part of my workflow, and it has worked for me with nearly one million digital photos over the last five years.

  1. Batch and rename images with a consistent formula.
  2. Attach any necessary metadata tags and keywords.
  3. Organize images into logical working master file folders. Move, do not copy, the files.
  4. Identify the best photos by tagging or rating them.
  5. Burn these files and folders to a DVD or copy them to a hard drive for secure master storage. My workflow includes moving these masters to a secure, off-site location such as a safety-deposit box.
  6. Create a subfolder for each of your working master folders to contain the best shots. These are the images that you plan to edit.
  7. Sort the images in your working master folder according to the rating or tags you added in Step 4. This ensures that your best photos are grouped together.
  8. Copy the best images into the best shots subfolders you created in Step 6. Be sure to copy, not move them. You want to have a working original to go back to in case you make an accidental edit that you cannot fix.

Once you edit your best shots, you may want to archive those images. Furthermore, you may create different edited versions of the same image. In this case, you will want to rename those images in such a way that their original unique number is still consistent with your master files; you can do so by adding a dashed extension to the number (or a letter, or whatever you want):

Original: Badgers Juniors – 03-07 – 8755.jpg

Edit: Badgers Juniors – 03-07 – 8755-01.jpg

When you have finished editing your images, you may also want to store the edited images as master files. You can copy these to the same portable hard drive where you stored your masters and place them in corresponding subfolders, or you can copy them to DVDs for storage. Just don’t accidentally copy over the originals!

Category: Photography Workflow

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