By Katie Knapp, The Ag Photographer, Photography SIG Chair
Last spring my external hard drive crashed. I mean, actually crashed. It fell off my desk.
Luckily at that very moment, I was working with a digital tech* to improve my archiving system so I could be more efficient after clicking the shutter. He kept me somewhat calm and helped me find the right place to send my backup off to, and I eventually got almost all of my files back.
So, this is your PSA to back up your files.
That is step one for improving your photography workflow after you take the shot. The rest of the steps below are what I nailed down to be more efficient creating my final images and being able to find specific frames long after the shoot is finished. It helped me to spell out the process alongside the digital tech, so I think this advice could help you, too.
Step 1: Back Up Immediately.
Copy your camera card to a portable hard drive in the field, in your hotel room that night, or at least as soon as you get back to your desk. I personally have found this one to be the best. It comes in a variety of storage capacities, is super small and lightweight, and—most importantly—survives being accidentally dropped.
Step 2: Back Up in a Second Spot.
This additional copy could be on another external hard drive that stays in your office, in the cloud or on your company’s server. But regardless of where, it is important to make a second copy of your original files (i.e. RAW) before you start culling and editing and before reformatting the camera card.
Step 3: Organize Your Folders so You Can Find Them in the Future.
Put all those original files into individual folders based on your clients, projects, location, etc. Determine a system that works for you, and then be consistent. Mine is by year, then location or client, then a detail or two.
Step 4: Rename Files Within Folders.
Again, pick something that makes sense to you and stick with it. I choose to keep the camera’s original file name and then add descriptors that match the folder name.
Step 5: Batch Keyword.
Pull the whole set of images into your library software of choice and put basic metadata into each image from the whole shoot. For me, that includes the location, main subject’s name and contact info, overarching keywords, my copyright, and any usage rights details.
Step 6: Identify Selects.
Scan through the whole set and star or color code the images you want to process for your particular project.
Step 7: Process Images from Your Computer.
Copy the RAW files of the images you just selected to your computer and edit from there. Working straight from your computer has many advantages.
Step 8: Add Additional Metadata.
Now is the time to be specific with keywords and additional detail for each edited image.
Step 9: Save Final Files.
After you send the final files to your client or coworkers, save a copy with the originals (i.e. RAW files) on your external hard drives, cloud storage and/or server so you can find them again. You may also want to keep a separate folder of all final files for a given client or time frame on the cloud and/or computer for easy access while traveling.
The most important things to do are to develop a workflow that works for you, and then do the exact same thing every time.
* Nick Littlefield, a digital tech in Minneapolis, has been in charge of file stewardship for high profile commercial shooters on brands including Target for several years. His main responsibilities as a digital tech are to ensure all files are properly named, organized, and backed up during and after the shoot.