Category Archives: DAM

Where does “the truth” live?

This post is adapted from The DAM Book 3.0. In this post, I outline the structural approaches for media management and how they are changing in the cloud/mobile era.  

Back in the early digital photography days, there was a debate about where the authoritative version of a file’s metadata should live. People who liked file browsers would say “the truth should be in the file.” People like me who advocated for database management would say “the truth should be in the database.”

The argument here was how to store and manage metadata, and especially how to handle changes and conflicts between different versions of image metadata. This is a fundamental DAM architecture question.

For a number of years, the argument was largely settled – the only way to effectively manage large collections required the use of a catalog database to be the source of truth. This still holds true for most of my readers. But there’s a new paradigm for managing metadata/versions/collaboration, and eventually it’s going to be the best way forward.

The truth can also live in the cloud. And that’s the way that app-managed library software is being designed. It’s what we see with Lightroom CC, Google Photos, and Apple Photos. Because the cloud is connected to all versions of a collection, it can resolve differences between them and keep different instances synchronized. Typically, it does this by letting the most recent change “win,” and propagating those to the other versions.

Allowing a cloud-based application to synchronize versions and resolve conflicts is really the only way to provide access across multiple devices, or multiple users and keep everything unified.

The truth in the cloud is also the paradigm for enterprise cloud DAM like Widen and Bynder. It’s fast becoming the preferred method to allow distributed collaboration, even for people in the same office.

But there’s a rub, at least for now.

Cloud-based applications will not work for some people – at least not yet. The library may be so large that it’s too costly to store it in the cloud. Or you may not have enough bandwidth to upload and download everything in a reasonable time frame. Or storing stuff on other people’s computers may make you uncomfortable. Some of these problems will be solved by the march of technology and some may never be solved.At the moment, it’s often best to take a hybrid approach where the ultimate source of truth lives in a private archive that is stored on hardware in your own possession. Files can be pushed to the cloud component to be used for distribution and collaboration.

As you decide which system best suits your needs, understanding where “the truth” lives is an essential component for creating distributed access to your collection.

The DAM Book 3.0 Index

We’ve created an index for The DAM Book 3.0. While this was not terribly necessary for electronic versions of the book, it’s quite helpful for the print version (at the printer now – expected delivery before the end of July).I’ve never personally created an index before, so this was a learning experience for me. It ended up being a tremendous amount of work – maybe 50 hours of combing through the book, making entries, organizing information and then reorganizing it.

If you have already bought the PDF, you’ll soon get an announcement of the update along with a download link. If you don’t have a copy of the book, the index will give you a very good idea of the breadth and depth of the content it includes.

Here’s a PDF of the Index. You can click the top right to see it full screen, or download it onto your computer.

Download (PDF, 4.12MB)

The DAM Book 3.0 released

It is with great pleasure that we can announce the release of the full digital version of The DAM Book 3.0. In the nine years since the last version was published, our use of visual media has become marked by increasing connectivity – between images, people, data, applications and web services. The new book helps you understand this connectivity and how to evaluate which tools are right for you.

The change in covers between TDB2 and TDB3 help to illustrate the differences between the versions. In 2009, it was fine to think about collection management as “a big ball of my stuff.” In our connected world, that’s not enough. Your image collection will connect to other people, images, services, applications, ideas and information. You will also probably have additional satellite collections on other devices or services. And, yes, like Tinkertoys, these connections often plug into each other in standardized ways. 


In the new book, I’ve laid out the elements of the connected media ecosystem. We’re seeing connection and integration in  all aspects of the way we make and use images. Connectivity is often born into an image at the moment of capture, and increases as your images move through the lifecycle. Almost everything that hosts or touches your images has some type of connection.

The new world of cloud and mobile workflow are impacting every part of the way we manage and make use of images. File formats, storage, backup and metadata are evolving to incorporate these new capabilities. I’ve rewritten the book from the ground-up so that connectivity is built in to each topic.

Of course, connectivity is not the only change that has come to digital media over the last nine years. The use and importance of photography has expanded dramatically, and anyone who wants to understand how visual media works can find important context in this book.

The DAM Book 3.0 Release 2

Dateline – Athens, Georgia – We’ve released the next set of chapters for The DAM Book 3.0, adding 325 more pages to the initial Chapter 1 release, for a total of 363 pages. These chapters cover some of the most fundamental and important parts of image management.
Chapters released today include:

  • Image Objects and File Formats – a discussion of the evolution of digital images and the formats used to embody them.
  • How Metadata Works – A deep dive into the nuts and bolts of modern metadata.
  • Using Metadata – a guide to the effective use of metadata to achieve goals that are important to you.
  • Logical Structure – discussion of the different types of file systems that we now use (computer, mobile, cloud, NAS) and a file and folder strategy for each of these.
  • Digital Storage Hardware – a comprehensive look at the current storage options for your digital media.
  • Backup, Restoration and Verification – preservation of your archive requires you to think of these processes as part of a unified system.

Anyone who has purchased the pre-release copy should have gotten an email with instructions for downloading the new version. And if you have not ordered yet, you can still get in on the 10% pre-release discount. The discount runs until the release of the final version, scheduled for the end of April.

Huge thanks to the DAM Useful production team for their Herculean effort in getting this release out on time. Elinore Wrigley of Me Jayne Design Cape Town, South Africa, Dominique le Roux of Moonshine Media, Vientiane, Laos and Bobbi Kittner of Kittner Design, Takoma Park, Maryland did another outstanding job.

Special thanks to Josie Krogh and Steve Thomas for letting us set up an Athens, GA field office for the final push.

Update on DAM Book 3

It is with a healthy dose of chagrin that I report that the publication of The DAM Book 3 will be postponed yet again. I have been working on the book full time for the last three months (and quite a bit before that), and it is simply taking a long time to get it done properly.

When I announced an outline and publication date in early September, I was assuming that I could reuse as much as 40% of the copy in the book. As it currently stands, that number is hovering at close to 1%. Changes in the digital photography ecosystem and in the book’s scope  have driven a need to rewrite everything.

Not only has the rewriting been time consuming, but the changes in imaging and associated technologies has required a lot of research. I’ve been chasing down a lot of details on topics like artificial intelligence and machine learning, new technologies like depth mapping, and the state of the art in emerging metadata standards. It’s been a lot more work than I anticipated.

We saw a couple late-breaking changes that have been very important to include in the book. October’s release of a cloud-native version of Lightroom helps to complete the puzzle of where imaging and media management

Complicating matters, I’m going in for ankle replacement surgery in early December. I’ll be finishing the book while my leg is healing. But the pace at which I can work while recuperating is unknown, so I’m not prepared to make another announcement about publication dates.

In the end, I’ve had to choose between hitting a deadline and making the book be as good as possible. I’ve opted for quality.

Sneak Peek blog posts

I’ve been working with my editor to identify and publish content from the new book as we continue in production. The first series of these posts will provide some insight on Computational Tagging, a subject I first posted about last month.

Computational Tagging

In my SXSW panel this year, Ramesh Jain and Anna Dickson and I delved into the implications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) becoming a commodity, which will be a commonplace reality by the end of 2017.  We looked at several classes of services and considered what they were good for.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on the subject over the last few months writing The DAM Book 3. Clearly AI will be important in collection management and the deployment of images for various types of communication.

But I  hate using the term AI to describe the array of services that help you make sense of your photos. There’s actually a bunch of useful stuff that is not technically AI. Adding date or GPS info is definitely not AI. And linking to other data (like a wikipedia page) is not really AI. ( It’s actually just linking). Machine Learning and programmatic tagging comes in a lot of forms – some is really basic, and some is complex.

The term Computational Imaging was pretty obscure when the last version of The Dam Book was published, but it’s become a very common term. I think this is a useful concept to extend to the whole AI/Machine Learning/Data Scraping/Programmatic Tagging stack.

In The DAM Book 3, I’m using the term Computational Tagging to refer to all the computer-based tagging methods that involve some level of automation. This runs from the tags made by the computer in my camera to the sophisticated AI environments of the future. At the moment, it’s not widely-used term (Google shows 138 instances on the web), but I think it’s the best general description for the automatic and computer-assisted tagging that are becoming an essential part of working with images.

What the Equifax Breach tells us about cloud security

Equifax reports an intrusion into its system which “may have” stolen the data on up to 143 million Americans, including name, address, SS#, and Drivers license number. This is a terrible lapse in security, and, on paper, it should not have happened.

Equifax is a large and profitable company, whose central business is secure, trustable data management and processing. Preventing this type of cyberattack should be one of their most important goals. And yet, it happened. What can photographers and collection managers who use cloud services learn from this?

It’s impossible to know the real story from outside
The first thing to learn is that, as stated above, looking at a company from the outside can’t provide a guarantee. It’s hard to find a company that should have a better security practice than Equifax. They are not a startup prone to pivot, or running out of funds, or a company for whom security is a second tier issue. Yes, they make all kinds of mistakes in their reporting, but that’s an inherent part of gathering up trillions of individual transaction reports from many different sources.

If it’s hard for Equifax, it’s even harder for you
It’s getting reasonably common to hear that cloud service companies get breached, It happened to Adobe,  Yahoo (x3, at least!), and many more (click the link above for fun). But this does not mean you should just manage all your cloud security yourself. The vast majority of people (and institutional IT), simply have no idea how to fully protect from attack.

Cloud services have become essential in the creation, use, storage and management of photos and other media.  Unless you are going to go off-grid (start by throwing away your smartphone), you’re going to have to live with a certain amount of risk. The entry points for hacking are exploding. Now your fridge, car, connected camera, and smart lightbulbs can all be attacked by Internet of things (IoT) exploits. It’s going to get even harder to prevent cyberattacks as IoT grows.

So our best strategy is to become more resilient. Here are some tips.

1. Centralize all of the media you want to keep. Preserving your stuff starts with knowing where it is. If it’s spread between a phone, your laptop and across half a dozen hard drives, it’s impossible to really manage safely. You can now cheaply buy hard drives up to 12 TB. There is no excuse not to collect everything you want to keep.

2. Keep a local copy of any photos or other media you want to preserve. This means you need a copy of your photo archive on local drives, in your possession. Anything you have that is only stored in a cloud service is at some level of risk, and accurately determining that risk is beyond your ability.

3. Keep at least one copy of your data offline. For most people, that means copying your photos and other important data to additional hard drive(s) and unplugging. This is a backstop for all kinds of terrible things, not just cyberattack (lightning, theft, etc.)

4. Consider write-once media. While DVD and Blu-ray are fading from the media storage landscape, there is still a compelling reason to consider them. Photos stored on write-once media can’t be infected after-the-fact. If you think you have too much data for optical disc, consider the fact that Facebook has built a cold-data archive in North Carolina that employs Blu-ray (for the exact reasons outlined above).

5. If something is really sensitive and it needs to be stored in the cloud, you probably want it to be encrypted on the client side. (This means that software on your computer holds the encryption key, and the cloud service only has a scrambled copy of the data). Note that when I say really sensitive, I mean stuff that is life or death, or has a major financial component.

Backblaze is a service that provides client-side encryption. It’s not totally bulletproof, but someone would probably need to know exactly what to look for. Note that an encrypted cloud backup like Backblaze can also help to protect you against ransomware, like the May 2017 WannaCry attack, which is a growing problem.

6. Take a look at the cloud service providers you use. 
Even though you can’t remove all doubt about your cloud service providers, you can make some educated guesses. Does there appear to be a sustainable business model? Am I paying enough for this service to care about my security? Does a google search bring up anything hinky?

If you take these steps, you can help protect the integrity of your photo collection against growing hazards. You may not be able to prevent intrusion, but at least you can recover from it.

Progress on DAM Book 3

As promised, I’m providing a significant update on The DAM Book 3. The book is moving along quite well, although significant work remains. We are setting a very conservative release date of November 22nd. We may be able to move this up as the writing and layout moves along.  I also promised a look at the Table of Contents, and you can find it here.

I’ve spent the last two months working to integrate the new elements of the digital photography ecosystem into a cohesive discussion of how the parts interconnect. I’ve also done lot of work to disentangle stuff that looks similar, but has important differences.

For instance, how is a synced filesystem utility like Dropbox fundamentally different than a cloud library service like Libris, and what is each one good for?

I’ve also spent a good deal of time speaking to the many experts I know in the field of imaging, testing my assumptions, and checking to see if I’m missing any big elements in the ecosystem.

With the scope and structure locked down, and all the old copy redlined and commented, I’m entering the home stretch. Now it’s time to finish the execution. Some chapters are basically done, and some are still in outline form. I expect that we’ll see some small changes in the Table of Contents, but those changes should be minor.

We’re still running our Dam Book 2 special. Buy The DAM Book 2 for $19.95 and get $15 off The DAM Book 3. At some point in the next month or so, we will start discounted pre-sales for The DAM Book 3. Sign up for our mailing list (on the top right of this page) to stay up to date on our special offers and release dates.

ASMP Webinar July 26 – Digitizing Photo Archives

I’m happy to be back in the ASMP fold, doing a webinar next week on digitizing photo collections. Of course this will be based on our new book, Digitizing Your Photos, but with a special emphasis on the relevance to professional photographers.

I’ll be demonstrating how camera scanning can allow for large-scale conversion of film and print originals to digital images, which is important for those of us who have large film archives. I’ve digitized more than 50,000 of my own images, and continue to add new images.

I’ll also be touching on business models that photographers can consider for new services for their clients. There are a lot of companies and institutions that have large collections of physical photos. I’ve been able to help some of my clients with the process, as part of my professional services. I’ll discuss some business models for adding these services.