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Digital Asset Management


You’ve stored thousands of digital images, but can you find the right one when you need it?

The hottest topic in digital photography today isn’t the newest digital SLR announcements, how many megapixels can fit onto a new chip or even how many images a blue laser DVD can hold. No, the latest, greatest and hottest acronym in the digital industry is DAM: digital asset management.

And DAM, there are a lot of products trying to get a piece of this exploding market. Even Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are trying to get a foothold in this area. Just look at Microsoft Plus Digital Media Edition or Apple’s iPhoto to see what I mean. So, how do photographers, professional or amateur, sift through all the tools out there and figure out what they need?

Let’s start by trying to simplify things. Whether you run a full-blown professional studio or are a weekend shooter, the most important question is “Can I find the image when I need it?” In a previous column, we used the analogy of CDs and DVDs as the digital version of a shoebox, the place where you store and archive your images. Digital asset management is like putting your photos into albums or plastic pages. You want to be able to organize them your way so that you can find them easily when you need to. You need a product that will help you organize photos in a way that makes sense to you.

Where do you stand?

In the sidebar to this article, a selection of the available software is presented. Although by no means a complete list, it is a good representation of what is available. The list is divided into four categories of image management: studio management, professional, professional/advanced amateur and consumer.

Studio management software is just that — software designed to help manage professional studios. Each of the products listed has an image catalog, with good category and search capabilities. These programs allow users to keep track of images submitted and sold by image.

The products in the professional category provide multiple versions of their software for different-size businesses and catalogs. There are single-user versions, workgroup versions for a limited number of users and, in some cases, “enterprise” versions for large organizations and libraries. The workgroup and enterprise versions usually are designed to run in a client-server environment, in which the image catalog resides on a central server, sometimes with sophisticated database software. An end-user program runs on each workstation connected to the server. These products all have excellent cataloging and searching capabilities.

The professional/advanced amateur category (also well known in the industry’s press-release lingo as the “prosumer” category) designates products that can be used by professionals and serious amateurs. The products in this hybrid category have only one version and are designed to have single-user or limited multi-user capabilities, but the catalog and search features still are quite comprehensive, and several are as good as, or better than, the professional products.

Consumer products, typically, are suitable for small catalogs and a single user. These products have good but limited catalog and search features.

Will it work for me?

Once you have decided which category best describes you, the next questions are, “Will it handle my digital files?” and “Will it run on my hardware?” All of the products listed will handle the most common digital file formats, JPEG and TIFF. Most also will handle the native, or RAW, formats for each camera manufacturer. Many pros and amateurs love the flexibility that “shooting raw” gives them. You will need to know what formats your camera can create and whether the software will catalog and display images in those formats.

Some programs will catalog a format but won’t be able to display it. The formats supported by a particular product change frequently as the software developers play catch-up with the camera manufacturers. Check the company’s website for the latest information.

Several good products are available in each category, both for PCs and for Macs, so the platform you use should not be a problem. The number of products available for the Mac platform seems to be declining, however, as evidenced by Adobe’s Photoshop Album consumer-level software, which is a PC-only product. Whether this decision was based simply on the size of the market or on an unwillingness to compete with iPhoto remains to be seen.

You also will want to make sure that your system meets the program’s system requirements, both for hardware and for the particular version of the operating system. Some programs will not run or will have problems when running under older versions of Windows or Mac OS. It also is a good idea to have a large, fast hard drive for storing the catalog and an ample amount of memory for searching. Whatever the system requirements for memory and disk space, remember that those are minimum requirements — double them if you can.

Now you have narrowed your choices down to two or three products. Except for the software in the studio management category, all the products listed, and many more, can be downloaded and tried for a period of time without investing any money. Here’s where personal preferences become most important.

Each program has its own way of doing things and its own idiosyncrasies, so you will have to work with it to see if it makes sense to you. Some programs require you to do things their way; the better ones let you customize the program to do things your way. Three important things to consider when evaluating a product are:

1) Do you need multiple categories for each image? If so, will the program handle that?

2) How sophisticated are the search capabilities (and, or, by category, keyword, filename, and so on)?

3) Can you learn to use the program in a reasonable period of time?

The last question is probably the most important. If you’re evaluating a simple consumer-level program and you’re reasonably proficient on your system, you should be able to get something accomplished in an hour or two. If the program is for professionals or advanced amateurs, two to four hours probably is reasonable. You want to invest an amount of time commensurate with the sophistication of the product.

Bonus features

A couple of bonus features that I look for in a good DAM product are the ability to handle EXIF and IPTC information.

EXIF, which stands for exchangeable image file, is a standard developed by the Japan Electronic Industry Development Association for storing information about the image in the image file itself. Virtually all digital cameras support this format and store basic exposure information (ISO, shutter speed, aperture, etc.), as well as more technical details such as the time and date the photo was taken, the type of metering, camera mode, exact focal length used and exposure compensation. All of the products listed support showing the EXIF information, most will permit searching on it, and some even allow editing of the information. You can put your personal and copyright information, as well as location, description and comments, directly into the file.

The International Press and Telecommunications Council (IPTC) created a standard for storing news information in a digital image file. These fields primarily are used by photojournalists, but are available for everyone’s use. The subject codes and guidelines that are part of the standard can be found at www.iptc.org. Virtually all of the products listed provide display and editing features for IPTC fields.

Yes, yes, I know, I haven’t discussed price. Except for the studio management software, almost all of these programs are available in their basic versions for less than $200, and many are priced under $100. Check the websites for latest versions, prices and special offers. Compare that to what you have spent on your digital camera, lenses, accessories and media, and computer hardware and software, and ask yourself, “Is the DAM price really an issue here?”

Available DAM Software Programs
Studio Management Software
Product Company Website
DigitalPro * Pro Shooters, LLC www.ProShooters.com
fotoBiz ** Cradoc Corporation www.Cradoc.com
Photo One * Granite Bear Development www.GraniteBear.com
ProStock * 20/20 Software www.twensoft.com
StockView ** HindSight Ltd. www.HindSightLtd.com
Professional Software
Product Company Website
Cumulus ** Canto www.canto.com
fotoshow Pro ** S4Media www.fotoshowpro.com
Portfolio ** Extensis www.extensis.com
Professional/Advanced Amateur Software
Product Company Website
ACDSee * ACD Systems www.ACDSystems.com
iMatch * Photools.com www.Photools.com
iView Media Pro *** iView Multimedia Ltd. www.iview-multimedia.com
ThumbPlus * Cerious Software www.Cerious.com
Consumer Software
Product Company Website
Adobe Photoshop Album * Adobe Systems www.Adobe.com
Flipalbum ** E-Book Systems, Inc. www.flipalbum.com
Photo Library * PKZ Software www.photolibrarysoftware.com
Picasa * Lifescape Inc. www.picasa.net
PreClick * Preclick Corporation www.preclick.com

Formats:   * PC Only   ** Mac & PC   *** Mac Only

Richard McEnery
Story Author: Richard McEnery

Richard McEnery started photographing as an amateur in 1976 at rock concerts and sporting events in New York City. Today, he is a professional photographer specializing in sports, travel, nature, and underwater photography. His nature and underwater work has been featured at the Long Beach Aquarium and the National Museum of Wildlife Art as well as in Popular Photography, Outdoor Photography (UK), Sport Diver, Scuba Times, and Dive Travel magazines. He has also received a "Highly Commended" award in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Richard has worked at the US Open as an assignment photographer for Tennis Times. He is also a regular contributor on digital photography subjects for PhotoMedia magazine.

Website: www.mceneryphotography.com/ E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it