Digital Image Management: Workflow for Preserving and Finding Images

Now covered by the water of the Colorado River and Lake Powell in Southern Utah, the landscape captured in this image, found in "The Creation" by Ernst Haas, will never be photographed again. Photo copyright Ernst Hass Estate

Now covered by the water of the Colorado River and Lake Powell in Southern Utah, the landscape captured in this image, found in “The Creation” by Ernst Haas, will never be photographed again.

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…
(singer Joni Mitchell gets credit for this, but in a different context!)

About 30 years ago, my wife bought a dye-transfer print for me that still hangs on our wall. Over time, it has been reframed, and recently we replaced the glass with museum glass in order to better preserve the image. Over the years, I often wondered where the photograph had been made, but never took the time to research it until recently.

The picture is by Ernst Hass, a photographer whose work I have long admired; he was a 35mm Kodachrome pioneer. If you are not familiar with his work I suggest a visit to the Ernst Hass estate website. Coincidently, the last Kodachrome processing line was shut down recently.

You might wonder what a blog about digital asset management has to do with an “analog” photographer who died 15 years ago. Well, it’s about “preserving the image.”

The photo that I cherish to this day is on Page 31 of The Creation (The Viking Press, ISBN 0-670-24591-7), and it shows a part of Southern Utah that will never be seen again. Ever. Not long after Haas made this amazing image, the site was covered with the waters of Lake Powell.

My train of thought on this topic began during a Christmas Day visit to Arches National Park outside of Moab, Utah. The National Park Service newsletter described how park rangers came to work on August 5 of this year and found that Wall Arch had collapsed. As the article in the newsletter describes it, Wall Arch had been standing since before the Roman Empire. And now it is gone. All arches will succumb to the forces of nature, just as nature created them in the first place. I am sure news librarians scrambled to find pictures of Wall Arch “before” to accompany the “after” photographs made after August 5, 2010. No one will ever be able to make a “before” photo again.

This event, and my thoughts about the photo hanging in my house, reminds me how important it is to effectively archive your work. Your work is a record of people and places preserved.

There are many real-world examples of photographers going back through their stored items and finding images of new importance; I have previously blogged about that – which now seems so obvious to me.

I am often asked about workflow strategies for preserving and, of course, finding images. I save everything I shoot, and I cannot recommend less to MerlinOne digital asset management customers. But the question is, how do I find the needle in the haystack – that one image of newly found importance: whether it be a picture showing the Wall Arch before it fell and was nevermore; or a photo of my deceased father skiing with his grandson.

If you know me, you know the answer is, “it’s all in the workflow.” That means devising a strategy to apply meaningful and unique file names and relevant embedded searchable metadata to EVERY image. It also requires you catalog your images, and make sure your catalog and images are backed up.

How often should you do this? The answer is: how much data can you afford to lose? There are not many things that you can be absolutely sure of, but one thing I do know is – your hard drive will fail. Arches will disappear.

Posted by David Breslauer
Photo copyright Ernst Hass Estate

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