Category Archives: The DAM Book 3

Shelter-in-place sale extended to May 31

Well, we hoped that things would go more quickly and we’d be back out in the world by now. Some of us are still (mostly) sheltering in place. We’re doing a final extension of the 50% off shelter-in-place sale of all DAM Useful publications until May 31st. This applies to both electronic and paper publications when purchased from

While we don’t expect that things will be back to normal by June 1, we are hoping that we will all be able spend more time outside, while observing proper social distancing.

Note that we have not updated the copy on every link on the site, but if you buy from, you will get the discount. (Sorry, can’t afford to do this on Amazon,)

Stay safe everyone. See you on the other side.

Digital Media Objects – A definition

I use the term “object” a lot in The DAM Book 3.0 when I’m referring to digital media. It’s a pretty common word to hear in the software development, museum or enterprise IT community. While it’s frequently used, it’s not well defined. To add to the confusion, a digital object could refer to many types of things, like a password or a line of code. To help clarify the use of the term digital object, I propose the following definition for media objects: A digital media object is a file, set of files, or bitstream that can be rendered into tangible media.

Let’s take that apart.

  • A digital object is not necessarily a single file. Sometimes multiple files are needed to render the finished media. This could include an audio file and a video file. Or it could be a package of files. (An Apple Keynote document is a package of individual media files and a controller file.) The digital source could also be a bitstream, like a streaming video playing as an embedded object in a web page.
  • The essential quality of a digital media object is that it can be turned into actual media. This could be a photo, video, audio presentation or other thing you can see, hear or experience in a tangible way. This provides a useful separation from the more generalized concept of a digital object, which could be a chunk of software code, a password, or some other thing that does not ever need to be rendered to be useful.
  • A digital object could have a very complex internal structure (e.g., a DVD is a digital object that may be made up of hundreds of component files). Or it could be very simple, like a PNG image. It could be something that should be rendered in only one way, like a profile-tagged JPEG, or something that could be rendered in all kinds of ways, like a camera raw file.

Is a creative project a digital object?

An InDesign or Final Cut project fits the definition of a digital object because it can be rendered out in tangible form. But I suggest sticking with the designation of creative project to describe this sub-type of digital object.

These projects are really designed to create a freestanding output, which will serve as a playable distribution copy. From a workflow standpoint, it’s useful to retain this distinction between the project used for creation and the digital object output version.


Digital objects will usually have at least three parts: the media payload, some metadata and one or more digital object identifiers (DOI).

  • The media payload is the actual image, video audio, etc. This is the thing or things that can be made tangible.
  • The metadata describes, at minimum, what the media type is and how to render it.  The metadata may also describe the subject matter, provenance or other property of the media.
  • The identifier might be a traditional file name (which is one reason it’s important to have unique file names). Sometimes the identifiers are computer-generated hexadecimal IDs that are not really human readable. Here’s file name for a Lightroom preview JPEG: FFE3EBE9-0A27-412D-81F1-138284A21AE1-a689c6aea923108279afcc6fab8775c0.lrprev
    Of course Digital Object Identifiers are often not filenames, but instead a metadata tag. Lightroom creates and preserves one called OriginalDocumentID, which is also a hexadecimal identifier ED2A2082136A7F551B2F07CB9F2C4712


A file is similar to an object in that it has a name, a payload, and it conforms to a file format (such as TIFF). A file, however, must be a block of data, and not a bitstream or collection of files. So a file could be a digital media object, but a digital media object may be something other than a file.


As its name implies, a bitstream is a stream of digital data, rather than discrete file stored on disk. A bitstream may start life as a file, like a YouTube video, which has a beginning and an end. A bitstream could also be an ongoing stream of data, like a feed from a security camera – it might never be saved as a conventional discrete file.

This post is drawn from The DAM Book 3.0

Offer Extended! 50% off Shelter-in-place sale

PLEASE NOTE: To guaranteed you get the discount, please go to DAMUSEFUL.COM instead of using the BUY buttons on this site!

Well, it looks like it’s probably going to be a longer shelter-in-place period than any of us want. So we’ll have lots of opportunity to catch up on streaming series, Zoom meetings, cleaning out closets, and calling old friends. We can’t help you there.

You may also want to catch up on some reading, or organizing your photo collection. We can help you with this. We’re dropping the price of all our books to 50% of the cover price, something we’ve never done before. This applies to both printed books as well as digital downloads. (Discount codes don’t apply during this period.)

Our sale will run for the next two weeks, until April 10 until the end of April.

We also have a limited number of rail systems for copying 35mm slides and negatives. Since some of these parts come from China, so we’re not sure when we will be able to restock.

Thanks for reading and stay safe.

Quick advice on storage and backup

Editor’s Note: Since I’ve turned Facebook comments off, I’m experimenting with turning them on directly in the blog. Feel free to ask any questions you may have about this subject at the bottom of the page. No log-in required.

I’ve given this advice several times recently, so I figured I’d turn it into a quick blog post.  If you know someone who is struggling with decisions on how to store or backup media files, please share.

For most people, reliable storage and backup has gotten really cheap and easy to implement, even for people with lots of photos and video.

The trick is to make use of the newer high-capacity drives and affordable cloud backup services. So here’s what I end up telling most people who ask. Note that this advice is designed for people with a data set smaller than about 10TB who don’t need multi-user access.  And, this advice assumes that you have a media collection you want to store and protect, and that it exceeds the capacity of your computer’s internal drive.

General Advice
This holds true for most photographers and (since everyone is now a photographer) also for “regular people”.

  • Use modern big drives – 10-14 TB drives are newer, better designed, more reliable and much faster than older ones. They are also very affordable. If you are using multiple smaller drives, it’s time to replace with a single larger one.  Even if your archive is only a few terabytes, go for one of the large drives.
    Currently, I recommend G Technology drives. 10TB is the current sweet spot for prices ($300). You can bump up to 14TB for a total of $450. (I’ve linked to the USB3.1 version of the drive. You can also get these drives in Thunderbolt, but it won’t be any faster with conventional spinning disks.)
  • Use as few drives as possible – If you can easily get all your stuff on one single drive, do it. It’s much easier to backup and restore than an array of older drives. You don’t need to remember what is where.
  • Get a drive to make a “twin” onsite backup – Again, simpler is better, and big drives are your friend. This is what protects you against drive failure. Much easier to make, keep current, and restore from a local backup than a remote one.
  • You also need an offsite backup to protect against fire or theft – There are two main method to do this. You can get a second backup drive and keep it offsite. You can also use a cloud service to make a 3-2-1 compliant backup. I do both, but let’s handle them independently.
  • Backblaze cloud backup – Backblaze is a great cloud service that I depend on for my own work. The personal version of the service offers unlimited file backup for $60 a year. Uploaded files are encrypted for privacy. You can add external drives to the backup, and it happens automatically in the background. If you are a Photoshelter Pro customer, you can also use their service as your cloud backup. Unlimited storage is included with the Pro accounts.
  • Additional drive for offsite backup – An offsite backup drive provides excellent protection, and quick restoration in the event of a problem. Store it offsite – in general, someplace easy is better than someplace really secure. If you are worried about the data falling into the wrong hands, you can format the drive with encryption. Keeping an offsite drive updated can be difficult, and there are almost always gaps between what’s currently on your primary storage and what’s on the backup. This is why I currently favor Backblaze, especially for working files.
  • Avoid spanned drive devices (like RAID, multi-drive NAS, Drobo, etc.) unless:
    • You really need them for a particular reason. Most people don’t really need single storage volumes larger than 14TB.
    • You understand how to maintain them or have a good tech service to use. These are little computers running Linux, and in general require maintenance, monitoring and updates. I know many people who have experienced total failure of spanned disk devices.
  • If you outgrow the single-drive units, get an additional set – This is getting outside the scope of this post, but worth mentioning. If you can’t fit everything on one drive (say you have 20TB data), then I suggest getting an additional set of drives, rather than going to a RAID device. In most cases, it’s easier, cheaper and safer.

This advice is drawn from content published in The DAM Book 3.0. If you’ve got a larger or more complicated storage and backup job in front of you, you’ll find a lot more discussion over there.

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)

Embedded photos as platforms for information or commerce

This post is adapted from The DAM Book 3.0. In that book, I describe the ways that connectivity is changing the way we use visual images. In this post, I outline how embedded media can enable new kinds of connections between people, ideas and commerce. 

As connected images become more essential for communication and engagement, image embedding creates a new opportunity to gather and disseminate information. A traditional web page uses images packaged up as JPEGs and sent out as freestanding files. But images can also be displayed using embedding techniques. Embedded images (like embedded videos), reside on a third party server and are displayed in a frame or window on another site’s web page.Embedded media offers a direct connection from the server, through the web page or application all the way to the end user. This can provide a two-way flow of information, as well as the ability to customize the embedded media to suit the needs of the end user with updates, custom advertising or other messaging.

Let’s call these embedded objects, because they are actually more complicated than freestanding images. A YouTube video embedded on a web page is an example of an embedded object. The web page draws a box and asks the YouTube media server to fill that box with a video stream.

There is a live link which runs through the webpage, between the viewer’s device and the YouTube server. Because there is a link between YouTube and the viewer, there is a two-way
flow of data back and forth. This allows YouTube to gather all kinds of information, and it allows YouTube to also push out customized information through the window.

The media server can know who sees an image, how they got there, what they are interested in, who they interact with, what other sites they go to, what they search on and more. And the media server can present customized information to the end viewers based on what it knows about them. Remember, these windows are basically open pipelines that serve up the media on-demand.

Once only for video, now for still images too
Of course, the practice outlined above has been part of the business model for video services for a long time. Videos on web pages have historically been hosted by third-party servers, and we have been accustomed to YouTube ads for a decade. But it’s relatively new for still images, which could always be easily and cheaply added to web pages as JPEGs. The most significant marker for change was the introduction of free embedding by Getty Images.

When the stock photography giant decided to make vast numbers of images available for free embedding, it signaled that embedded objects were going to be an important part of its strategy moving forward. Getty has opened up millions of individual pipelines through blogs and other web pages, with the ability to collect and serve information in service of new business strategies.

The use case for images as platforms for two-way communication should be favorable moving forward. Mobile devices increasingly rely on photos instead of text headlines, and methods for connectivity are improving. In the last few years, we’ve seen several companies hang their business models on embedded image objects.

At this writing, Getty has gotten the most traction in such a service, but others are trying. Retailers are using embedded images as mini storefronts, and mission-driven organizations can use them to spread their messages in a viral manner.

What can you do with Embedded objects?
There are several valuable things you an do with embedded objet that are much harder or impossible with standard JPEGs.
• You can add a level of copyright protection that disables right-click saving.
• You can enable deep zoom features that are managed by the server.
• You can add purchase buttons or “more info” links directly onto the image.
• You can update the image when something changes (e.g. product updates.)

Okay, I’m interested – now what?
Making use of embedded media for still photos is an emerging capability. Several companies have taken a run at it, but none has fully cracked the code yet (and even Getty has not publicly disclosed how they intend to monetize the technology).  SmartFrame is offering this embedding as a service that bolts on to your DAM. The thing I like about their business model is that it works in service of the image owner, not the middleman like Getty and YouTube do.

SmartFrame can help you with security, sharing, tracking and monetizing.

And the International Image Interoperability Framework is also building around this concept. (“Come for the deep zoom, stay for the great metadata interchange.”) I’ll have more on this project in another post.

I’m keeping close watch on this capability, and I’ll report as more information comes in. I first wrote about this topic in 2013 in this post.


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.

The DAM Book 3.0 now available for pre-order!

We are pleased to announce that The DAM Book 3.0 is now available for pre-order! As with our previous books, you can pre-order the book for at a discount.

Here are the details:

  • Electronic book:  Regular price $34.95
  • Pre-order discount price:  $31.46
  • All pre-orders will get an advance copy of Chapter 1, Visually Speaking at the time of purchase.
  • We will deliver at least 7 of the additional 11 chapters by March 31st, 2018.
  • Additional chapters will deliver in April 2018.

(Click for larger view)

Print Copies
Print copies will be available over the summer. Your purchase of an electronic copy can be applied to a print copy, once it’s available.
More Info: Click The DAM Book 3.0 product page here.