DAM Workflow Newsletter 6

Posted on November 8, 2008

DAM Sexified – Thanks Steve Jobs
When Apple announced Aperture, their DAM and Raw conversion software, they made a huge impact on digital photography. For too long DAM was mostly presented in an ugly database interface. Aperture’s biggest influence is the Steve Jobs ‘black skivvy’ interface. As they did to mp3 players and mobile phones Apple made DAM and Raw converters look enticing. Suddenly black was the new beige for user interfaces with Lightroom, Bibble, Capture One and others following Apple’s lead.

The Steve Jobs look
The Steve Jobs look.

Since Aperture and Lightroom hit the streets more photographers have become interested in metadata. Especially when it’s their metadata. And photographers have become more protective of it. That means software needs to support industry standards like XMP. Reading posts and listening to photographers discuss raw workflow I notice more demand for DAM specific features.

MetaMan – A New Kind of Superhero
We know metadata is data about data. But what sort of data? For photographers EXIF and IPTC are commonly known types of metadata. Less recognised metadata includes embedded thumbnails, raw conversion parameters, versioning and history of changes. In theory there is no limit to what can be stored as metadata.

Why not embed full size JPEG previews for different raw converters, or alternate versions from the same converter? How about locking DRM fields or encrypting private metadata that can only be read with a key?

MetaMan will solve the world’s DAM problems.
(Illustration contains artwork that is © 2006-2008 FunDraw.Com)

Enter the new superhero, MetaMan. Count me as one of those who believe everything can live in metadata. That metadata can do anything and will save the planet from DAMnation. Metadata really can be a kind of superhero.

Adobe have above all others recognised the importance of metadata. They store and write it in industry standard areas of a file. In fact Adobe actively participates in maintaining these standards. When Adobe creates new types of metadata great care is given to ensure it is future proof. Indeed some features in Adobe applications are restricted if they are written as metadata. Witness the selections of tools for local area correction in Lightroom 2 and Camera Raw 5. One requirement for inclusion in the Retouch Brush is that information must be able to be written as metadata. Without this restriction there could be more types of adjustments in Camera Raw.

Capture One 4.5 PRO – The good, the Bad, and not so Ugly
In short; good raw converter, improved interface, lousy DAM. Digital back owners and diehards like Capture One 4.5 PRO. However some long time Capture One users now want out.

Capture One 4.5 Pro
Capture One 4.5 Pro (image courtesy of Phase One).

Phase One does offer an alternate rendering to the dominant Adobe Camera Raw “look”. I prefer Capture One for skin tones. Adobe’s new Camera Profiles can’t even come close. While colour and tone can be tweaked with profiles the ‘texture’ Phase One achieve is unique.

While quality of the converted image is important it should not be at the expense of abandoning metadata and previous settings. Honoring embedded metadata, editing IPTC, saving and migrating previous conversion settings are essential criteria. And these are missing in Capture One 4 Pro.

Phase One are bundling Capture One optionally with Microsoft Expression Media. Working together these applications offer a complete Raw Workflow. In many ways Expression Media rescues the DAM shortfalls of Capture One 4.5. However the workflow is convoluted requiring well planned steps and scripting to maintain metadata. It works but not as easily or as well as Lightroom or Aperture.

Q&A – Best DAM Software for Photographers
Starting this issue there will be a question and answer section in the Dam Workflow Newsletter. I’ll do my best Dorothy Dix impersonation. Please email your questions to info@photographer.com.au. Starting off is a common question:

“What is the best DAM software for photographers?”

The short answer is (still) Expression Media. With its maturity and flexibility Expression Media rivals Aperture and Lightroom. The interface is much more appealing than other “true” DAM software such as Portfolio and MediaDex (Cumulus).

The future for photographers is certainly DAM and raw processing combined. John Beardsworth calls it DAM+P (digital asset management + processing), Peter Krogh refers to this in part as parametric image editing (PIE) and I’ve written about it as MetaRaw. You can replace four applications with one; downloader, image browser, and raw converter, and cataloguer. “Jack of all trades, master of none” may be too harsh but you get the idea. No application can yet boast to be the best at all four.

Choose your favourite downloader, image browser, and raw converter then add Expression Media (and a back up application mentioned in the last newsletter). The downloader / image browser / raw converter could easily be Lightroom. Many photographers use Lightroom for everything at the front end while maintaining Expression Media catalogs at the back end.

Expression Media handles more file types and does so more transparently. It just makes getting things done easier. Add to that the ease of scripting and number of free scripts on the Internet. Adding items to the catalog and then finding them is simple and intuitive. No, Expression Media isn’t perfect. But nor are its competitors.

Server based Workflow – The Need for Speed
Last issue I wrote on using a server to link multiple operating systems. One downside of implementing a server can be a dramatic slowdown in image browser speed, depending on type and configuration. Remember, browsers show you what is in a folder at the time and needs to continually monitor and refresh its contents.

Photo Mechanic is an example of a fast Image Browser
Photo Mechanic is an example of a fast Image Browser.

A cataloguing application such as Lightroom or Expression Media can cache thumbnails and previews, saving them with the database. After the initial thumbnails and previews are built scrolling between images appears instant for images on a server, or offline.

Expression Media is a cataloguer
Expression Media is a cataloguer. Spot the difference with the browser.

If your studio works with a server and you are frustrated with access speed compared to local drives consider replacing your image browser with a cataloguing application like Lightroom, Aperture, Expression Media, or even Adobe Bridge. Strictly speaking Bridge is a media browser but it can cache thumbnails and previews. Compared to other image browsers this makes Bridge feel slow viewing images on a local drive. But on a slower server Bridge appears faster to the user.

Expression Media 3 – Feature Requests
Microsoft are working on version 3 of Expression Media. Now is the time to let the folk at Redmond know where the pain is in your DAM workflow. Areas earmarked for inclusion in Expression Media 3 include a true multi-user option and breaking the 2GB catalog limit. These will require a new database; most likely SQL based. Contact the Expression Media team at xmbugs@microsoft.com with your ideas.

Working Smarter in Hard Times – With DAM
Good news if you have implemented some form of digital asset management. DAM makes you more efficient and cost effective. Both of which will give you an edge on the competition.

DAM ensures a smoother workflow. It protects the integrity of your files (now and long term). A proper DAM workflow will automate mundane tasks for predictable, repeatable results. It makes it easy to find images for re-purposing and further licensing which means extra revenue. It can save the need for reshoots of the same subject. DAM will embed your copyright information to help prevent orphaned images and potential income.

Over the holiday period relax safe in the knowledge DAM is in part keeping you ahead of the economic DOWnturn.

Season’s greetings and all the best in 2009.

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