Organizing the Organization

By Jon Hillenbrand In Photography, Stories

Lesson for all budding photographers out there: BE ORGANIZED.

I may have a messy apartment, and maybe my desk is a little disheveled, but take a look at any part of my computer or the digital asset databases that I have domain over and you will see that they are as clean as a fresh new lens. Everything has dates, names, keywords, even synonyms for those keywords. Misspelled words are sought out and corrected. Bulky Nikon raw files continue to be converted to dng files (to save space and eliminate the sidecar xmp metadata files). In my folder naming conventions, I avoid “relative” terms such as “new” and “best”. Photo research is distributed to a separate part of the shared drive and then deleted so as to avoid build-up of unnecessary files and eliminate duplications. I have put a lot of time and effort into my practices so that if I were hit by a bus tomorrow, someone could find the newest official photo of the CEO without me.

These days, among the many layoffs going on around me at work, I’m being reminded by my betters that the company is saving 9000 jobs. Of course, that’s about a dozen less than I would like but my friends who are leaving feel that it’s bittersweet and so do I. I’m busier than ever with these losses and part of the cost cutting includes me being a full time DAM database manager in addition to my associate producer, director, editor and photographer jobs. Unfortunately, despite having shown many people how to use the photo database, I’m still called upon to find and distribute photos for the 9000 others who were able to keep working.

This database before May 10th 2004 (the day I started) is a huge and complete mess. Because the people who worked in my position before me had no idea how to organize photos, things from that era are a complete disaster. Research for photos was kept among the originals, so there are duplicates of files in the most random places. Most photos were cropped down to 5×7 @ 300ppi, and the originals were thrown out! So looking around, it’s hard for me to tell if a photo is a duplicate, or the only copy left. Compounding this problem is that files were backed up to duplicate CDs, but the CDs don’t match. Some have new original files, some are missing those files, but contain other files. Mixing them together isn’t an option because some of the files are edited, some are originals, and a lot of them have the same name, but are kept in separate subfolders. In several cases, I’ve found 12 copies of a single photo. What a mess!

So since 2004, I’ve been resistant to completely organizing these 6000 or so photos depending instead on Extensis Portfolio to find the files and then just choosing the best one I can find of those dupes. All of this came to a head recently when my IT department started to renege on their promise to support storage of all digital assets for the company. They now want to cut it off at a paltry 700 gigs of storage citing cost and manpower restrictions!! So not wanting to give them any excuses that I’m wasting space, I was at the point where I needed to make the database clean, efficient, streamlined and free of duplicates. That meant trashing the Portfolio catalog altogether, reorganizing the pre-2004 photos, and building a new catalog from scratch.

Currently, there are over 112,000 digital assets in the database. With Extensis Portfolio being the DAM program, it’s becoming doggishly slow. And with more and more shoots being added to my schedule at a geometrically accelerating rate (with the acquisition of another hospital and several thousand new employees), the database is only going to get slower and slower until it stops working altogether or we Portfolio Server or some other “robust solution”. So on with the reorganization. Here were some of my thoughts.

Of course, there aren’t any dates on anything before 2004. Everything was placed into folders almost at random. It’s like some monkey or maybe a 1 year old got ahold of a mouse and went through all of the photos and just mixed everything from Q1 2004 and earlier all together. There is a folder named, “new photos”. WTF??????? You know what’s in there? All the really nice high end pro shots that some company spent a long time lighting and taking with large format film cameras back in 2001. So someone named that folder New Photos.

And there’s a folder in there named, “new pw” which has a few maternal shots in it, an emergency disaster drill shot, a doc looking at an MRI with a tech and a doc looking at a woman’s hand. I can’t figure out what PW means and why these are all in the same folder. It’s just random to me.

All of the other photos are placed in undated folders with the name of the job on it. For example, “MRN Presentation”. There are then 7 subfolders with hospital names in them. Within each of those are several more subfolders. And inside those are several more subfolders! Then the photos are sometimes divided into vertical and horizontal folders. And thrown in for good measure are the crap that Mac computers throw into folders when they are moved over to PCs. So there are lots of files without extensions and other stuff which is probably unimportant, but one never knows for sure.

But the best two folders with the most stuff in them I’ve found so far are, “MISC,” and of course, “Misc. Photos”. It’s like they forgot there was already a “MISC’ folder and they decided to make a new one. Going into these folders is like descending into hell where reason is impossible and frustration is the only feeling you get.

Lright, I’m being pretty harsh as hindsight is 20/20. But I think some of my feelings are justified in the presence of so little forethought. Did they really think, “Photos for Nancy,” was a good folder name that would stand the test of time? The company had Portfolio back then. They just didn’t use it. Anyhow, in the end, it took several sleepy days and evenings well past my own personal breaking point, but I have eliminated all of the offending pre-Q2-2004 disorganization. I’m proud to say that I went into every subfolder, deleted every bit of Mac detritus I could find, and organized everything with its own date and logical folder title. Some things just couldn’t be organized that well. But as far as I can tell, there aren’t any remaining folders of “misc.” photos. And by dating everything and then comparing folders, I was able to eliminate all of the photo research which was causing so many duplicates (eliminating around 1500 dupes).

Now with the rebuilding of a new catalog underway, all of my logical folder names should make finding older photos much easier. Also, building a new catalog from scratch should help speed things up. I once read that you should keyword all of your photos at the time that you are editing your originals as no one will ever make the time to go back and keyword after the fact. This is true of organizing photos as well. If you come up with a system that works for your organization and stick with it, tweaking along the way, you won’t have to go back years later and waste many hours fixing problems that could have been prevented.

In the end, I know that almost no one will be aware of this reorganization other than myself. But at least I can leave this job knowing that I didn’t leave a mess for someone else to clean up, and the extreme organization of the photo database will be my legacy for years to come.

  1. Chris Hayes May 8, 2009

    In just a very slight defense of the perpetrators of your ills here, I would like to submit this one thought: Much of the lack of forethought from the “old days” was a result of the fact that digital assets were completely new in concept and application, and I don’t think they really thought about how permanent those files were going to be. “New Photos” may have made more sense if the user thought they might be deleting the old ones or even those new ones when they were finished with them. Of course, this was completely in error and you are absolutely correct in that a good system needed to be developed long ago. And I would also hereby like to point the blame at everyone but me. I was just the powerpoint guy… now please don’t look at the naming conventions on the old PowerPoint files at your business…. 🙂

  2. Jon Hillenbrand May 14, 2009

    I must respectfully disagree. They had digital files from 2000 on, and they had Extensis Portfolio (a DAM program) on one of their Macs. So right there, they had the tools and the precedent that digital files were being saved for at least 4 years before I arrived. Also, they made copies of backups onto multiple CDs, but the CDs weren’t identical. And they threw most of the photos into a Misc folder. That’s just pure laziness.


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