Business and Inspiration

Digital Asset Management 101

By April 16, 2020 No Comments

As we posted recently, GHP runs almost exclusively from the cloud. So when it comes to digital asset management (DAM), we’re only as good as our ability to pull assets as needed. Considering the thousands upon thousands of assets we deal with on a single shoot (and multiple clients throughout month!), organization and DAM is everything — which is why we rely on experts like Digital Imaging Technician Elaine Miller to teach us best practices.

Beyond our portfolio pieces, we use our DAM to track BTS photos, event photos, and assets we can use for social media and email marketing (and on our blog!). Whether you’re a photographer who needs quick (and organized) access to your files to make treatments, or a vendor who’s just looking to keep better track of portfolio and BTS images, we hope this is a helpful breakdown.

Naming and grouping

As Elaine puts it, a true DAM system is way more than just tracking files. It’s staying organized. When you’re dealing with the volume of files that we do in this industry, using a consistent naming convention and folder organization system can save hours of search-time. Here’s how Elaine recommends tackling it:


“Organize things into folders by date,” Elaine says. This can be done by pulling metadata from files.


Rename everything in a consistent convention. Elaine uses YYMMDD, which helps files stay in chronological order.


Add specific names or groups to the end of the file name, e.g., “_GHP” for Grey House Productions.


Add any secondary tier of ownness: the hiring agency, a job number, the type of shoot, a SKU, e.g., “_LBC” for Leo Burnett Chicago, or “_BTS” for “Behind the Scenes.”
Keywords and tags FTW

Not into file names? Elaine suggests going all in with keywords or tags. Either of these organizational tools can be a quick work-around for the bajillion files that you don’t have time to rename, but are able to identify at a glance. For instance, tagging photos as “BTS” for “Behind the Scenes” means you’ll always be able to search the category, regardless of client, file name, or date of the shoot.

Consistency, consistency, consistency

No matter which organizational path you take, be consistent. Even if different clients require their own respective naming conventions, so long as you have a consistent system, “it doesn’t matter who sits down at your computer,” Elaine says, “because people can see your system and know how to start searching, or how to keep the next job consistent with what you do.” Software has a lot of built-in search filters that you can use to your advantage — for example, searching by shoot dates, or even the serial number of a camera or lens. For hyper-specific tagging, Elaine suggests having a consistent list of tags you pull from (e.g., “female,” vs. “woman” or “lady”) Anything else runs the risk of being too subjective. “If one person thinks an image represents ‘Lifestyle’ but another person recognizes it as ‘Real People’, then you have to start adding more layers of keywords, or risk missing something because images are tagged with different synonyms,” says Elaine. 

Build collections

Make a list of evergreen client requests, and start tagging assets as you go. Basics like “Business,” “Outdoor,” “Lifestyle,” or sorting by age group are no brainers, but unique requests are bound to happen — and may require some creative cross-searching. Elaine cites a project about menopause, for which clients wanted to see older women in lifestyle situations. If you already have those collections in existence, it’ll be easy to select your favorites from both — and you’ll never have to move or duplicate files from the main folder in which they live.

Drives vs. servers

“How many drives you get is dependent on your business,” says Elaine. If you’re going the cloud service  route, be sure to have a backup on a personal drive. Imagine having all of your files on an online server, “and then that company goes out of business or disappears,” Elaine says. She suggests having three copies of current jobs in three easily accessible places: perhaps a portable drive, a secondary personal drive, and an offsite location in case of emergency. 

Think ahead…but not too far

Ask yourself: Are you wanting to archive all the files you already have, plus keep the next 10 years accessible? Choose your server wisely. With tech, Elaine warns, the risk is that you may not want to invest in anything beyond the next 10 years, for fear of it becoming irrelevant.

Never delete

I asked Elaine when it’s safe to delete. Her reply? “I don’t delete.” Elaine personally holds onto a current job’s assets for 90 days as a security blanket. She’s had photographers whose drives failed before they backed them up, and Elaine was able to ship a copy of the job to them. Even if a photographer promises to save everything — prelights, outtakes, everything — the best-laid plans may mean that originals are lost. “Never assume that someone else is keeping everything,” Elaine says. If you want to rest assured, save it yourself. 

Always backup

When asked how often she backs up files, Elaine’s best advice was, “anytime you make a change. The time you spent is valuable, so back it up.” She suggests swapping drives monthly, even weekly (from on-site drives to off, so that each is rotated), and keeping current shoots backed up on DropBox, Google Drive, or similar. It’s a great reference tool for working through the job, as well as having hi-res, edited selects at the ready for the inevitable client requests.