AKA DAM the Lightroom Catalog!!

I recently hosted a mentoring session for the Sackville Photography Club at my home and was, once again, surprised by the number of people who tell me they struggle with managing their photography library. I had intended a session for a handful of people to share some of my own “Best Practices” that have developed over the years and was entirely surprised by the number of people who registered for the 6 available seats. Since only a few were able to actually sit with me to look at my practices and chat about what is currently known as DAM or Digital Asset Management, or DAM, I have decided to put some of those thoughts down in this blog post to share the information with everyone else. After all, my living room is only *so* big. 😉

So, whether you already have several external hard disk drives (HDDs) loaded with photos and don’t know where to start or are starting from scratch with a new computer, I’ll have some tips to help.

The first step in setting up or taming your Digital Asset Library is to set up a structure and force yourself to stick with it. Often setting up this structure will take several iterations and can take years to find what works best for you…

Before we get into the meat and potatoes of DAM, lets talk a little bit about hardware and some of options you may want to consider.

MediaSonic ProBoxFor me, since HDDs are dirt cheap these days, I have a single drive for each calendar year. Over time, and with gear upgrades, these drives have gotten bigger each year to handle the expected volume of images I shoot each year. Since I use a tower PC, space hasn’t been much of an issue for me but recently I decided it wasn’t a good idea to have to basically gut my computer every December/January to remove drives and add replacements. So this year, I decided to take advantage of a deal at Best Buy and picked up a MediaSonic MediaPro external eSATA hard drive bay that holds up to 4 standard 3-1/2″ HDDs giving me access without opening my computer’s chassis. There are many variations of external HDD bays available and a quick search on Amazon.ca found over a hundred listings. For the MediaPro box, I picked it up for $149 plus tax MediaSonic ProBoxand I had it up and running in under 10 minutes. For more information, visit http://www.mediasonic.ca/

How does this benefit my DAM? Well, honestly, it doesn’t. What it does do is give me the capability of using high quality 7200rpm desktop HDDs and the ability to swap drives in a few minutes if I need to upgrade to a larger drive or if one should fail.

And HDDs do fail.

Red, Green, Blue HDDI’ve been asked many times what hard drive to use, and my honest answer is simple. Whichever one is on sale this week. Seriously? Yup. A HDD is a mechanical device and they will all fail at some point. There have been lots of studies done to compare one brand against another, so I won’t get into that argument here, but if you’re interested, you can read more here. Personally, I tend to buy either WD My Book external backup drives or Seagate External backup drives and then rip the case apart and throw it away. They actually tend to go on sale more often than desktop packaged drives and contain the exact same HDD inside. Ripping the case apart may seem like a daunting task, but after the first one or two, it gets easier. Most manufacturers do have various service levels of HDD. Typically, Green for basic consumer use, Blue for heavy duty use and black or red for server or “Enterprise” level systems. I would personally recommend avoiding slower 5400rpm drives in favor of 7200rpm drives. Enterprise level 10,000rpm drives are even better, but are priced on the high side for most starving artists. Buy what you can afford. Keep multiple copies. Minimize risk. We’ll talk more about backups and a backup strategy in part 2.

One of the key points I would like to stress about Lightroom is that it is designed from the ground up to be a file management system that happens to also be capable of basic editing, renaming, flagging, keywording, sorting, and much much more with your photos individually or in batches too.

To give you an idea of what this looks like, here’s a snapshot of my systemMP_ 2016-03-11_01

As you can see, I have four years of work available for immediate access and if I go to my backup drive, I have even more available. Let’s take a closer look…

I have a HDD for 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 and if you browse any of these drives, you’ll see I also break them down into an even more structured manner. Each drive has a matching year folder that contains general photo shoots, a folder for everything Maritime Pro Stock racing events, one for all my Scotia Speedworld images, another for Hal-Con and a few others. Here’s what my 2015_Working HDD looks like.MP_ 2016-03-11_02

And the matching structure shown in Lightroom…
MP_ 2016-03-11_10


Expanding further, looking at the 2015 MPST folder…

MP_ 2016-03-11_16

And again in Lightroom…

MP_ 2016-03-11_12

As you can see, I have a folder for each race of the season and the folder name starts with the month and day, which helps keep things well organized and makes things easier to find in a hurry. Then every race folder is broken down into subsections for heat races, practice and feature races to make it even easier to track down a photo.

To make this work when returning from a photo shoot or event, I manually create the folder and then copy the files from the memory cards to the folder. Once the files have copied, I import the new folder into Lightroom, adding my copyright metadata and general keywords.

The trick to remember is that Lightroom is designed to be a file manager, but many photographers tend to forget the database functionality and focus more on the photoediting capabilities.

If you want to move files on disk, simply select them in Lightroom and drag them to the folder you want them moved into. If you would like to add some files to a new sub-folder, somply select them, then right click on the folder name and select “Create folder inside…” menu option, which will ask for a new folder name. You can easily drag folders around within Lightroom as well.

If you accidentally move files outside of Lightroom, you’ll see the dreaded ‘?’ icon…

MP_ 160311_004

Should this happen, and you know where the files were moved into, you can right click on the missing folder and select the “Find Missing Folder…” menu option, then browse to where you moved the files. Lightroom will update it;s database and correct the broken links. If you’ve moved a lot of folders, you could be at this for a while, so always try to move files or folder inside Lightroom.

That covers using Lightroom to manage and move your files, so stay tuned for a discussion of backup strategies coming next week in Part 2.

Product images © and provided by the manufacturer at their web site.