Nice People Finish First

Posted on December 28, 2019

Your attitude and personality plays a key role in getting work as a professional photographer. At least here in Australia. Overseas clients and colleagues tell me that’s not always the case. I’d love to hear your experience on Linkedin.

There is the stereotype of the brilliant artist as a prima donna. That may work for those few at the peak of their profession and here I’m thinking of the performing arts. Their name attracts an audience as much as their work and colleagues tolerate the bad attitude. However that isn’t true for the vast majority of creatives and prima donnas are poor roles models.

One fashion photographer from Texas I worked with in Sydney decades ago was rude to everyone. At that stage I was a mature assistant photographer with nothing to lose so I pulled him aside. Turns out he is the sweetest bloke and the bad attitude was all part of his fashion photographer persona. Thankfully he was grateful for the chat and not defensive. Indeed he ended up getting more work in Australia when he dropped the attitude and was himself. He sent me some colourful cowboy boots as a thank you!

Australians tend to prefer forming working relationships with people who are easy going. Even if you’re the most talented creative, if you’re hard to work with clients will prefer someone else. And vice versa.

There are two types of people: good and bad. This became even clearer for me over the past two weeks as I lost my mum to cancer. Those who cared for my mother clearly demonstrated good. I truly believe most people are innately good. Personally the most rewarding work for me is witnessing and photographing caring professions.

hospital photography
My wish for the new decade is for people to choose good. Wishing you a Happy New Year!

Why DNG?

Posted on November 28, 2019

First off, What is DNG?
Well it’s not Dolce & Gabbana as a photography student once asked me. DNG (Digital NeGative) is a digital photography file format created by Adobe Systems. It contains all the data captured by cameras that offer raw format output.

OK, What Is A Camera Raw File?
Most of the time when you take digital photos you create JPEG photos. JPEG images have been processed and cameras discard the raw data. Many cameras have the option to save images in a proprietary raw file format. For example, Canon have CR3, Nikon NEF and Olympus ORF. These formats are unique to each manufacturer and even each camera model.

These files are information rich allowing superior results in post-production. As software improves we can extract more detail from raw files captured decades earlier.

The trouble is every camera raw format is undocumented and needs to be reverse engineered by software developers so photographers can process them. This requires heavy investment in resources, time and potentially legal issues as they are proprietary file formats.

In 2006 a group of photographers lobbied for an open raw format without success. Two years earlier I asked if it was feasible for Adobe to create a documented camera raw format that proprietary raw formats could be converted to.

adobe raw format feasible

Adobe is one of the software companies that has to deal with the overheads associated with camera raw formats. Thomas Knoll, the co-creator of Photoshop, is an avid photographer and developed his own software to process digital images, now known as Adobe Camera Raw. Knoll knew there had to be a better way to manage raw camera data so in 2004 proposed DNG.

Fully Documented
DNG is owned and patented by Adobe who offer documentation and a license. Camera companies including Leica and Pentax use it for raw capture as do Apple and Google for their smartphones.

DNG specs

Software companies have been slow to take up DNG as an output format but all major vendors can process DNG files. Some competitors to Adobe’s cite their ownership of DNG as barrier to full adoption and simply a business decision. For the record, Adobe also own the TIF format that all camera raw formats are based on.

Data Validation
The DNG spec includes the option to embed a checksum for the raw data to test its integrity. Photographers can use software like Adobe Lightroom to validate their image archive. Processing images through the free Adobe DNG converter is another way to check the health of raw files.

Embed Metadata
Due to the undocumented nature of camera raw files it’s neither recommended nor safe to write metadata to them. JPEG and TIFF are documented so adding descriptions, copyright, attribution and contact information is simple using the IPTC standard.

camera raw

To add such information to any proprietary camera raw file software typically creates a sidecar file. Often these are .xmp files with the same name as the image file. Sidecar files are easily lost along with your metadata.

sidecar file

DNG allows the safe embedding of metadata with clear instructions for third parties on how to do it.

Embed/Extract Full Resolution JPEG
Another form of metadata is the embedded preview image. I also use the option to embed full resolution JPEG images inside my DNG files. These reflect the processing I have done on the images and can be viewed in cataloguing software and easily extracted for fast proof images.

ISO Raw File Format
The International Organisation for Standardization is in process of making a camera raw standard based on Adobe DNG. Adobe have a track record here with their PDF format, now a ISO standard.

My motivation to lobby for a standard raw camera format is so future generations can view them. DNG offers many benefits however this will be its greatest legacy.

Let me know your thoughts or comments over at Linkedin.

Photo Myths

Posted on October 28, 2019

Maybe that title should be “photography misunderstandings“. Digital photography gave us more opportunities, freedom and power. As with any superpower it comes with great responsibility. Assumptions can lead to the spread of misinformation. In that vein, if what follows has any errors please let me know on LinkedIn.


Opening A JPEG In Photoshop Recompresses It

No it doesn’t.

If you edit a JPEG image in some way and re-save it then you will lose data. Re-saving a JPEG can reduce it’s “quality” but that’s likely imperceptible. JPEG compression is visually lossless. Edit and re-save a JPEG dozens of times then you’ll see it in smooth areas like the sky below.

JPEG artefacts

JPEG artefacts (right) after re-saving dozens of times

In some applications editing includes changes to metadata or rotating an image. For example, when you change IPTC metadata in Adobe Photoshop (File >File Info) it will ask you to save changes and recompress the JPEG. Do the same in Adobe Bridge and it writes the metadata without recompressing. Photoshop is a pixel editor, Bridge is a multimedia manager.


Edit JPEG metadata in Bridge.


I Need a TIFF Not JPEG

Ask for JPEG with minimal compression (levels 10-12 in Photoshop) and make a TIFF master file when you edit.

For the reasons in the last point, people sometimes ask for TIFF files. A standard TIFF (there are TIFF standards but no generic, “standard” TIFF) can be edited in Photoshop with information added and re-saved without loss.

Adding information means layers, text, etc. Photoshop doesn’t add pixels when you change colour, tone, etc, – it removes them. To make a photo more yellow a pixel editor removes it’s opposite colour, in this case blue pixels.

Ideally when editing in Photoshop use a TIFF or PSD file format. Apart from allowing non-destructive layer based editing, you have the option to re-save in a lossless format.

The downside to TIFFs is the file size is dramatically larger than JPEG, for example 2MB versus 60MB per image. File management is more costly in terms of time, delivery, space, resources and dollars.

TIFF can offer better quality if it is 16 bit where JPEG is 8 bit. High bit depth offers millions of times more data for aggressive editing. High bit depth increases file size dramatically, for example 2MB versus 145MB per image.


Deliver Images 300 DPI

Pixel dimension defines image resolution.

Pixels Per Inch

DPI is the scale not the resolution an image is reproduced using dots (Dots Per Inch). Digital devices use Pixels Per Inch, PPI.

The iPhone 3G screen had a 165 PPI pixel density. The iPhone 4 introduced the Retina screen with nearly double that at 326 PPI. Compare the same photo on both phones and it will not appear sharper on the iPhone 4. It will appear smaller.

PPI information is metadata and may be redundant as some applications ignore it and apply their own default setting.


Digital Is Free

There are costs to create, process and deliver high quality digital images.

With film we have the cost of the raw material and processing plus the time that takes. Take a photo with with your phone and it’s there ready to use. Aren’t digital cameras the same? They can be but will need some some adjustments, especially if required for commercial use.

Last century most photographers outsourced film processing to labs using automated, industrial machinery. Some high volume photographers would do it in-house.

With digital most photographers do processing on a PC in-house. Some may outsource to others but as yet there is no industrial machinery equivalent for digital.

For maximum quality photographers will capture in a raw, unprocessed format. Processing and non-destructive editing is done on a computer in a raw conversion application. Photographers will capture and edit in a camera raw format that has high bit depth, mentioned in the point above in TIFF not JPEG.

Then there is the ongoing capital investment in digital equipment and knowledge that has a cost.


Fix It In Post

Get it right in-camera.

Post-production costs money. If it can be done at time of capture it will save money, all things being equal!

Video is the same and I’ve even seen producers wince hearing this phrase. Sometimes fixes can be more efficient in post to name time when talent and crew are involved. These will have been decided in beforehand to improve efficiency and minimise production costs.


Phones Are As Good As “Real” Cameras

“Ye Cannae Change The Laws Of Physics Jim!”
– – Scotty

Small camera sensors in phones cannot collect as much information as larger sensors in professional cameras. Their sensors are not capable of capturing subtle tones and colours. Phones do use computational photography that is well beyond any professional camera to create amazing images. In “good” light.

Tech companies want you to believe their cameras will make you a better photographer. Sometimes they engage well known photographers to use their latest devices and create stunning images. Those rare creative, individuals could make images with anything including a shoe box, seriously.

Annie Leibovitz. Photo: Robert Scoble.

Phone cameras definitely have a place in recording memories of family, friends, events and adventures replacing the compact camera. For professional use creating images that will be repurposed a so-called “real” camera is most definitely still required.

Just as important, someone with the vision and skills needs to be behind that camera.

What a Professional Photographer Delivers

Posted on September 28, 2019

For 150 years professional photography has been delivered in a common format. Images were processed using standard formulas for predictable, repeatable results. Commercial photographers would supply their clients with prints, film and before that glass plates.

This would be repurposed for printing or other type of reproduction. While digital offers infinite ways to process images industry standards have been established to ensure a common experience for image receivers.

Before supplying the images a professional delivers non-tangibles in the course of doing business.


Professional Quality
It’s given that the images you receive will be of a high technical and creative standard. That means the images are suitable for your use and fill the brief. The goal is to exceed those expectations.

This assumes the photographer knows how to measure these and that can only come from training, experience and associating with other professionals. Traditionally that was through higher education, apprenticeship and membership of a professional association.


File Specification Standards
OK I’m a stickler for standards.

With film there are specifications for densitometry, specific gravity, etc,. In digital there is color management, compression, etc,. As a receiver of images you need not know the jargon but your photographer should. To assist you the Universal Photographic Digital Imaging Guidelines published a guide for image receivers.

Depending on how you will use the images your photographer will prepare and deliver them in the proper formats.


It both surprises and frightens me when a photographer or client don’t see the need to be adequately insured. My parents were both in the industry so it was drummed into me. Public liability will protect you and the photographer, while professional indemnity and equipment insurance help make your job go smoothly, if anything should go wrong.


Ask for a quote, a written quote. As with most creative professions there is no cookie cutter template for every job.

Your photography deserves to be custom created to fit your needs and this brings variables. Where the images will be created, for what purpose and how much time needs to be invested are some of the factors determining costs. I’ve posted how this becomes easy once you and the photographer have an ongoing relationship.


Naturally the more experienced the photographer the easier your job will be. Professionals will know what to do, foresee any issues and how to handle problems if they arise. Experience means the photographer will know what and who else is required to make your photography.

Do you need permits, make up artists, clearance to work with children, etc,. You benefit from their knowledge and network.

experienced professional

Having photographed similar situations before a photographer can advise when to capture your job in camera or if it’s better to do it in post-production. This is different from being able to actually do it at time of photography rather than use Photoshop as a crutch. Sometimes you can save time and money by taking advantage of digital photography.

Experience very much includes your client experience with the photographer, the user experience if you will. How the photographer treats and respects you, your staff, possibly your client, and other crew members. There is no room for prima-donnas. This has nothing to do with photography and everything to do with professionalism: empathy, maturity, human relations, time management and being business savvy.

There is a reason that first word in ‘professional photographer’ is professional.

Let me know your thoughts on LinkedIn.

Spring Cleaning

Posted on August 28, 2019

Spring is almost here, at least for those of us in the southern hemisphere. It can be a good reminder for those in photography to do some regular cleaning.


Cameras with interchangeable lenses are prone to getting dust of the sensor. The more that you change lenses increases the chance of dust. You don’t even need to change lenses to get dust. Zoom lenses can act like a vacuum, sucking dust into the camera.

Sensor cleaning is best left to professional technicians. That’s not always possible because of cost, time or proximity to repairers. If photographing in remote locations sensor cleaning is sometimes needed in the field.

There several methods to clean sensors and the technicians I’ve seen do it use swabs and pure isopropyl alcohol not available to the general public. There are many DIY kits for consumers but use caution on what you buy and where from. When in dusty environments like the Australian Outback I use LensPen SensorKlear Loupe a dry cleaning system. This is not a recommendation for LensPen; it’s just a product I’ve used.


If you’re taking your camera for a sensor clean bring your lenses too. Dust inside lenses doesn’t really affect image quality. The build up of dust over time can cause lower contrast and possibly flare. Compressed air that is filtered is often used to clean lenses.

The outside optical areas of lenses must be treated with care. They are treated with an expensive multi-coating that improves light transmission, colour accuracy and reduces flare. Use an optical microfibre cloth and lens cleaning fluid if needed. Gently rub the cloth in a circular motion.

Many photographer attach a high quality, clear UV filter to the front of their lenses to minimise dust and avoid damage. Clean the filter as you would a lens.


Camera bodies should be cleaned so the dust doesn’t make its way into lenses and onto the sensor. Compressed air, a microfibre cloth and some TLC will suffice. With the lens removed clean inside the camera body. I regularly have cameras cleaned by the manufacturer.

Dust inside a digital SLR viewfinder is annoying and near impossible to clean without disassembling the camera.


Camera bags
Photographing outside bags and cases get dusty, inside and out. Some bags are machine washable, most will need a vacuum. Otherwise that dust will find its way into your camera equipment.

professional nikon photography equipment


Image library
Digital photography means we can make and save many more images. Over time this can get out of hand and result in lost images.

If you can manage it maybe you won’t need to delete anything, ever. Just make sure you have a good image collection management system in place to find the good images amid all the others. A good start is using an image rating system, one that uses industry standards so you’re not locked into one vendor.

digital photography catalog

Most likely you will need to prune your collection, archive historical images to external locations along with adequate back ups. I manage over half a million photos and videos in my image collection and need to do a regular Spring Clean.


Just do it!
Spring cleaning may not the most exciting task. It’s definitely easier when done regularly in small amounts. Afterwards you’ll be inspired to go out and make more images!

Let me know on Linkedin what you have on your Spring Cleaning list.

Truth in Photography

Posted on July 28, 2019

Photography has always been subjective. We believe what we want to believe.

Our history is edited, whether it’s words or photographs. There is no way to give a completely objective viewpoint. Every image we create or manipulate has the baggage of our life experiences, prejudices, culture and the time we live in. As a creative art form this isn’t a negative; it allows us to express an individual view of the world.

There are many tools available to photographers to tell a story. I’ve mentioned the language of photography before. Some tools are used at the time of capture, others in post-production. For example, when an image is created we decide the camera position and viewpoint, what’s included and excluded. We can also crop images afterwards to show a different point of view.

As a source of news or facts photography is subjective. Images can still be used as evidence, whether that’s reporting news or in a court of law. However what we trust is the photographer’s “word” that the image is true.

Photos as Evidence
When studying film some 30 years ago our class reviewed Emile de Antonio’s ‘Point of Order‘, a documentary on the 1954 Army-McCarthy Hearings. The hearings investigated whether the army was hindering investigations to uncover communists in its ranks.

Part of the evidence was a photo, revealed later to have been cropped to change its context: Senator McCarthy asks if it matters that a third person was cropped off a photo. US Army Secretary Stevens says: “tremendously, because it means someone is going to edit the information that is going to come before this committee“. This was the beginning of the end of McCarthyism.

Photos as News
This is not a question of truth but of belief. Science for example is credible because we have a common belief in it. Science is being questioned at the moment because our belief in it is being challenged, not because it isn’t true. Peer review scrutinises the facts. News is also being challenged; not its veracity but rather our belief in it.

Photojournalist Eugene Smith is acknowledged as the master of the photo essay. Smith’s photography changed the world for the better. He was obsessive with his photography, sometimes spending years to produce a body of work. Smith’s images are carefully crafted to tell the story. He used multiple lights to accentuate the mood he was trying to portray. In the darkroom Smith would spend an equal amount of time manipulating images, making areas of the image lighter and others darker. His post-production was so complex the final print would be re-photographed so that multiple copies could be made.

In his 1951 ‘Spanish Village‘ story for LIFE Magazine he created a image of a wake. It shows a family grieving over the body of a patriarch. The scene was artificially lit to emphasise the sombre mood. In the darkroom Smith enhanced the contrast and changed the gaze of the women’s eyes to better narrate the story. By today’s standards Smith’s images would be disqualified as journalism. Long term, history remembers Smith for his skills, passion and contribution to humanity, honouring his legacy with the ‘W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography‘.

Cameras Don’t Lie, Photographers Do
Indeed anyone who handles images can lie. How they are captured, manipulated, presented can change its context. Sometimes for worse, mostly for the better.

Kids Learn Teachers, Not Subjects

Posted on June 28, 2019

In the middle of drafting this I attended a talk by Dr Michael Carr-Gregg where he said, “Kids learn teachers, not subjects“. Many subjects from school have proven useful in my photography career. The lessons that really stick with me were by passionate teachers who demonstrated them in unique ways.

I’ve written before how my high school art teacher really inspired me to follow a creative career. She showed us the world has no restrictions, it is we who apply them.

Learning to think laterally is a skill that has benefited all aspects of my life, not just creativity. It helps me to solve problems and think outside the box finding solutions for clients.

My geography teacher, like many of his generation, was a bit of a hippie from the 1970s. He taught to the text book however would take us on field trips to really understand the science. Sitting on sand dunes sketching the effects of erosion made us look closer.

Learning about weather patterns, my geography teacher had us study evening weather reports, challenged us to do our own predictions and understand synoptic charts.

Synoptic chart

Photographers are obsessed with weather and like to dabble in a bit of meteorology. Just look at how many weather apps we have on our phones! For location jobs, such as promotional photography for schools and universities, it’s the photographer who calls the shots regarding weather delays.

Analytical thinking is also important and in high school science we looked for predictable, repeatable results.

school marketing

I distinctly remember studying the psychology of advertising in depth (and later at university). Today I use some of that when crafting campaigns for clients.

OK maths isn’t my strong point. Often at parent teacher nights my parents would politely hear that, “he shows strength in the humanities“.

In photography there is only one rule you need to know, the inverse square law:

Inverse square law

Inverse Square Law (image: Wikipedia)

Now that I’m involved in international standards for photography at ISO I really should have paid more attention to maths. My colleagues on the committee are very clever PhD scientists debating high level formulae.

A genuine love of reading is one the greatest gifts english teachers have given me and my children.

primary school communications

My best English teachers celebrated my writing and gave me the tools to confidently speak to an audience.

high school communications

Passion for learning
Something I can credit to all all my teachers is a continued passion for learning.

After formal study my mentors strengthened that with on the job, practical training. Subjects at school that I wasn’t drawn to suddenly became important. Physics, chemistry, computer science and maths when applied to photography fascinate me and maintain my desire to learn.

Continuing Professional Development
In a fast changing arena like digital photography and an ever changing world it’s essential to maintain your education. We’re always learning, whether that’s self guided or through a formally structured course. To be an Accredited Professional Photographer the Australian Institute of Professional Photography requires members to participate in Continuing Professional Development.

Australian Institute of Professional Photography

Having great teachers early in my schooling instilled me with a passion for continuing to both learn and share those learnings with others. I’d love to hear your experiences over on Linkedin.


Posted on May 28, 2019

Firstly, I’m not writing this to imply that I’m a leader. Rather these are my observations from decades of meeting, working with and photographing hundreds men and women in diverse leadership roles. This includes political, business and spiritual leaders.

Kristina Keneally, first female Premier of New South Wales

Kristina Keneally, first female Premier of New South Wales

There are trends in leadership styles that come and go. The best leaders are those who are true to themselves and not emulating anybody else or what their MBA prescribes. The leaders who impacted on me were paternalistic and transformational in their style. That likely says as much about me as it does them. I believe we’re drawn to a specific leadership style based on our personality and circumstances. It may explain why organisations find new leaders when there’s a need to change the culture.

Doctor Vid Suttor leading surgery

Doctor Vid Suttor leading surgery

Look at the first four letters of the word leadership. The best ones lead by example – from the front and their staff follow. Staff reflect the leader, demonstrating loyalty, pride, community and teamwork resulting in higher productivity that attracts the best people.

Some leaders push their staff using fear, threats and intimidation as well as reward and punishment. The results are reduced productivity, unmotivated staff, more sick leave, and a mass exodus of talent. Those who remain often include the sycophants and those who have no choice.

Who and where you lead will dictate different styles of leadership. A military leader in a war zone will be different to a human rights activist.

Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard

Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard

Your Leadership
Leaders are all around us and includes you. It may be the leader of your family or a sporting team. Principals are certainly leaders as are teachers, doctors and lead nurses. In my career I’ve had several leadership roles from middle management to leading an organisation where I preferred a democratic style.

Please share your positive experience with leaders on Linkedin, either as a leader yourself or working with someone who influenced you.

Leaders of tomorrow. Young student speaks at New South Wales Parliament House.

Leaders of tomorrow. Young student speaks at New South Wales Parliament House.

5 Tips to Improve Your School Promotional Photography

Posted on April 28, 2019

Improve Your School Promo PhotosFor over 15 years I’ve made professional marketing images for over 1 000 schools. What I’ve learnt is the most effective images are those that show the students and teachers to your community. Parents, including myself, want to see the culture of your school and that’s best demonstrated by seeing happy, engaged students.

What follows are tips to help improve the photography used to market your school.


1. Plan.
You’ve heard the saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. Having a communications strategy will inform what type of images you need for your school. What are you trying to say about you school? Start by identifying your school’s key messages, what is special about your school?

school promotions photography plan

Plan your photography and make a schedule.

Plan the photo shoot. Make a spreadsheet with the who, where and when for the photography. Get signed permission for everyone in the the images, including those in the background, before the day of photography.

2. Illustrate Your Key Messages.
Your key messages are based on the strategy mentioned above. Think what sort of image will best show a particular message. For example, if a key message is you have inspiring teachers, don’t simply make a portrait of the teacher. Instead, photograph a teacher interacting with students.

3. Don’t Be Literal.
If you have award winning students don’t photograph them holding their certificates – unless it shows them actually receiving their award. Instead show the students doing what earned them their award: academic excellence, playing sport, debating, doing community work, etc.

school marketing window light photos

Set up your photography near large windows.

4. Find Window Light.
On-camera flash is hideous and those green coloured, fluorescent lights in the ceiling will make anyone look alien. Turn off the flouros and set up your photography near the windows. Find rooms that have the best window light and see what time of day is best. Open the blinds and doors to let in daylight.


5. Use A Reflector.
Once you have set up near a window the light will be coming from one direction. Balance it by reflecting light from the opposite side back onto the subject. Find a large, white surface to use as a reflector such as a mobile whiteboard, sheet of cardboard, etc, at least A2 in size.

school marketing photo reflector

A large reflector balances light for a soft, professional result.

There are professional, twist-fold reflectors made specifically to do the job. This is the single piece of equipment that will greatly improve your school promotional photography. They range in price from $20 for a simple reflector and it’s all that’s necessary for professional results. The reflector should also be used for your outdoor scenarios including portraits and group photos.


When you next refresh your portfolio of images, which you should do regularly, keep these tips in mind. If you have any questions feel free to reach out to me.

File Browser vs Catalog

Posted on March 28, 2019

In the world of Digital Asset Management (DAM) there are two distinct types of programs: the File Browser and the Catalog application. Creatives and corporate clients who manage their own image collections need both. Here’s why.


File Browser
A File Browser can also be called an Image Browser or a Media Browser. The Mac Finder and Windows File Browser are examples you use every day.

Mac Finder

Mac Finder is a basic file browser.

File Browsers are good for viewing images in a single folder. Maybe you have just received or downloaded images from a photo shoot. A File Browser is the perfect tool to quickly review the images and the contents of the folder.


Image Browser
A dedicated Image Browser like Photo Mechanic from Camera Bits is not designed for office documents, etc. Photo Mechanic is engineered for fast pace, professional sports and news photography. Not only speed of viewing and assessing images, it’s fast with file management: downloading, naming, backing up, captioning and delivering to clients under high pressure deadlines.

Photo Mechanic is a fast, professional Image Browser.

Photo Mechanic is a fast, professional Image Browser.


Adobe Bridge is a free Image Browser. The caveat to being free is you will need an Adobe ID and sign up for the Adobe Creative Cloud. Some features, like editing Camera Raw images, are only available with paid subscriptions.

Adobe Bridge

Adobe Bridge is a free Media Browser and part of the Creative Cloud.

Bridge renders most media types and Adobe refer to it as a media browser. As the name suggests, it’s a bridge between applications and naturally works best with Adobe apps. If time is of the essence one downside to Bridge is it’s a lot slower than Photo Mechanic.


Compared to an Image Browser, a Catalog application relies on a database, which is also its key benefit. From a user interface point of view, compare the screen shot below of a Catalog application to the Image Browsers above.

Adobe Lightroom is a catalog application.

Adobe Lightroom is a catalog application.

They look essentially the same and it’s the underlying database that makes the difference. An Browser shows what is there, a Catalog shows what should be there.

To demonstrate this in workshops I show a folder of images on an external drive in an Image Browser and a Catalog like the screen shots above. Then I unplug the external drive, the Image Browser goes blank but the Catalog images remain on screen. Magic!

The Catalog application shown here is Adobe Lightroom Classic. Notice the badge on the thumbnail highlighted below. It indicates the images are not available, they’re offline (or missing!):

The highlighted area shows the images are offline.

The highlighted area shows the images are offline.

You can still see the images, even a large preview, that’s something a File Browser can’t do. But that’s only one benefit of using a catalog application.


Catalog Benefits
A catalog is essential for maintaining a healthy image collection. For example, you can easily check for missing images in order to restore them from back up. Some Catalog applications have the option to check if files have been corrupted. I use Adobe Lightroom Classic to validate DNG raw files.

File Browsers will only let you see the contents one folder at a time (Photo Mechanic is an exception). Catalog applications let you see as many folders as you like, or your entire archive if you so wish. Even if they’re on multiple drives or servers that are not currently connected (‘offline’).

Searches are performed efficiently in the catalog database. You can quickly search for images based on metadata automatically imported from the file (type, date, location, etc) as well as metadata you add (keywords, rating, usage, releases, licenses, etc,). Again, the drives don’t have to be connected (‘online’) to search and display images.

When an Image Browser searches it needs to look inside each image and of course they need to be accessible. If the images are offline Image Browsers can’t search them at all. Unlike Catalogs, they can only search one folder at a time.

A catalog lets you make groups of images based on different criteria, like metadata mentioned above. You can save these groups as collections. Smart Collections can automatically group images for you based on criteria you nominate, such as certain keywords or parts of a folder name.


Which Application?
For people looking for a single user, standalone image Catalog application, Phase One Media Pro has been my recommendation for decades, in one guise or another, but is now discontinued. Phase One recommend Capture One as a replacement. I don’t! Capture One is an industry leading Camera Raw processor but it’s catalog features are sadly lacking.

For cataloguing I now suggest Adobe Lightroom Classic. It’s only available with a Creative Cloud subscription, however if used solely for Digital Asset Management it’s free. Most of Lightroom’s DAM features continue to work after your subscription expires. Some features such as built-in maps and advanced image editing are disabled. However all the image collection management features still work.

For those looking at a Catalog application that works with multiple users there is good news and bad news. The bad news is that most of the affordable programs have been discontinued, so I have nothing to recommend at the moment.

Photo Mechanic is my preferred Image Browser of choice and this week has just been updated to version 6. The good news is in April a catalog feature, Photo Mechanic Plus, is being offered as a public beta. As a brand new feature, expect the catalog component to have some growing pains. We’ll just have to wait until 22 April and see!

Enterprise DAM offers multi-user solutions but they can be expensive. Expect to pay around $20 000 for something off the shelf like Extensis Portfolio or Fotoware FotoStation. Otherwise the industry is moving to a hosted, cloud based DAM subscription solution. Here I’d look first at Libris by Photoshelter.


File Browser AND a Catalog Application
It’s not a matter of whether you need a File Browser or a Catalog application. Both have their place. While I’ve referred to images when discussing DAM, the same arguments go for all your media assets: video, desktop publishing, etc.