Managing large image datasets

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BitDepth#966 originally published on December 09, 2014

Adobe’s Terry White listens to David Vashevitch as he discussed asset management as part of storytelling at PhotoPlus Expo last month. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.
Adobe’s Terry White listens to David Vashevitch as he discussed asset management as part of a seminar on storytelling at PhotoPlus Expo last month. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

Nobody like to talk about backup much, I’ve found, and quite recently, I discovered that nobody likes to listen to advice about it either.

And if you think backup is a sour discussion, wait until you start to talk about archive access for a very special kind of photographer glaze to set in.

I participated in a local panel discussion about backup for photographers a couple of weeks ago and despite a lot of talk about the importance of the subject, all it took was a bit of rain to dampen everyone’s spirits and for the topic to get tossed on the backburner again.

This isn’t unique to T&T, unfortunately.

At last month’s PhotoPlus Expo in New York, the topic arose in several sessions, most notably in a preshow discussion titled How technology is leading the storytelling revolution.

During that session, Adobe evangelist and photographer Terry White noted that “We need to manage the process of online archiving and access.”

“I’ve lost galleries posted to photo sharing sites that have expired or simply aren’t in existence anymore.”

“I think photographers are having a bad time adjusting to all the things that are happening,” said Time’s Phil Moakley.

Time is investing in technologies that allow it to more efficiently mine user-generated content and to more easily contact users on the spot at breaking news events.

But it was David Vashevitch, former CTO at Microsoft who best summed up the situation for today’s photographers.

“Digital photos may last longer as bits because they are copied to many different devices,” he explained, “but there are issues of confidence in trusting a company to outlast your photos.”

“If you want a service that respects your need for long-term archiving, I don’t think that exists now. There is also the challenge of tunnelling into a mass of photos to find specific stories.”

Vashevitch has a vested interest in the problem. He’s involved with Mylio, which had a big presence at this year’s expo and is the first major new entrant into the field of archive access in more than a decade.

During that time, archive access had determinedly moved upmarket into enterprise. Extensis Portfolio, one of the earliest entrants in the market for digital asset management killed its single-user product in favour of business class offerings.

Canto’s Cumulus has always been focused on the vertical market and the sole product remaining in the archive access market place is Media Pro One, which after being through several owners appears to be languishing at Phase One.

Most photographers try to repurpose browsers like Bridge or parametric image editors like Lightroom to serve as asset managers, but they aren’t designed for that purpose and only work well with smaller datasets.

Move up to the terabyte class with hundreds of thousands of files and their capacity to scale begins to break down, all without offering any of the key features of a true digital asset manager (DAM).

A DAM tool creates its own catalog of low resolution thumbnails of any digital asset it is built to manage, while allowing user browsing, sorting, organisation and metadata input (keywording, copyright information) without access to the master files.

Mylio manages this by creating a local database as well as creating an online backup of photographic assets, which are then available for browsing and photographer management and adjustment across a range of devices.

For Mylio to succeed and for Media Pro One to get a new lease on life, there’s going to need to be a big sea change in the way photographers think about their growing image assets, but that has been slow in coming.

The idea of managing collections of work for relicensing is one that takes time to set in and for most of today’s photographers, it simply hasn’t been a big issue on their radar, which seems set almost permanently set on flashy lighting techniques, stylish post processing and hot retouching procedures.

That’s unfortunate. Because when the need finally hits, there may be no products on the shelves left to meet it.