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Organizing digital photos is an absolute necessity for anyone shooting digital. There is no question that a digital photographer will shoot more than a film photographer. And, it is also often the case that a digital photographer will keep most photos on the computer, rather than printing them all into an album, like a film photographer. The combination of these two scenarios means that a growing collection must be organized before it gets out of hand.
For some background, please read the article, Why you need to organize your photos.
Understand one thing: by selecting your catalog software, you are entering into a long-term relationship. This relationship is an exclusive one. [Serial] monogamy is the only option if you value the life of your collection.
As we begin the time-consuming task of categorizing our photo collections, we are investing a huge amount of effort. It is not a task that any of us would ever care to redo. If you are like me, you will have a large number of categories (eg. > 250), and many photos might be associated with a dozens tags. If you have tens of thousands of photos, you can imagine how much work could be invested in the tagging process.
Unfortunately, many asset management programs keep that huge investment hidden in a closed, proprietary format with no export functionality. What does this mean? The software stores those associations between tags and files in an optimized database, one that they will never open to the public. Why? By never allowing people to extract the tag information from the database, the software has essentially locked you in! You cannot simply take all of your careful tagging investment and transfer it to another asset management program. It is not in the best interest of the software companies to do this! Once they have you "locked in", you will definitely chose to stay with that particular program rather than leave and face the prospects of redoing all of your hard work. Think of it as trying to leave a bad relationship (to my wife, no I'm not trying to tell you something!). You feel that you have invested so much time, you might as well continue, rather than starting fresh and developing all of those life memories again!
To make matters worse, your collection will ony grow over time, which means that your "tagging investment" will also grow. The longer one stays with a particular "locked in" program, the harder it will be to leave!
Fortunately, there are a number of tools which provide a means by which you can export the tagging data to some text-based (or documented) format. Some even document the database format, but this is far less common. The key here, to ensure the future of your time investment is to select a program that will allow you to export the contents of the database into a known format.
More common, however, is the ability to write out the keywords / tags into the IPTC metadata of the image files. By allowing you to transfer this information into a common format (that can be read by most programs), you are essentially able to extract your investment. Fortunately, many programs now offer this ability. Even though this is not as good as a strict export of the tagging database, it does provide a means by which you can migrate to other products.
One feature that some programs offer is the ability to import the keywords and photo tag associations from a text file. This has the distinct advantage in allowing you to transfer your work into the program, provided you find a way to generate that text file in the first place. If anything, this is a feature that all catalog / asset management programs will want to advertise: an easy migration from a competitor's tool.
Unfortunately, generating this file requires that key export option. There are a few hacks available that will actually create this extracted file from various catalog tools. For example, a tool called psatool will extract the tagging data from a Photoshop Album 2 database into a text file (see the IMatch page for more details on this script). But one should be forewarned that the presence of such tools may cause the catalog software developers to make the data harder to extract from the later database versions.
Does your tool lock you in?
The following table is an attempt to assess the ability of each of the major digital asset management / photo catalog tools on the basis of import & export.
|Tool||Text Export?||Meta Export?||Import?|
|IMatch 3.4||Full, script||Yes||Many, script|
|idImager 2.6||Yes||Yes||iMatch, ACDSee5 XML, FotoTime, IPTC Keywords|
|Photoshop Album 2||No||Not automatic||No|
|Photoshop Elements 3||No||Yes||No?|
|ACDSee 7||?||Yes?||No, only captions (via descript.ion files)?|
|iView Media Pro||Yes||Yes||Yes|
The above table should help identify a key area of flexibility in certain tools available today. If you can help fill in any of the missing details or for other tools, please let me know. Thanks.