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Two Photo Resolutions for 2009

Now that we are into the final days of the second month of 2009, I have been pondering some resolutions for the new year (I realize that such thoughts are normally pondered a bit closer to January 1st, but I never like to rush these things). I’ll skip over the ones having to do with more exercise, healthy eating and reducing the size of my carbon footprint (though these are certainly very important), and focus instead on two resolutions pertaining to photography and the digital darkroom.

Revisit the Past

It goes without saying that the most creatively stimulating and exciting work we do is generally the new photographs we make. There are several reasons for this, including for many, the excitement of digital photography and the ability to see the images right away and the impact this instantaneous review has on the creative process. But perhaps the most basic reason is the simple fact that the images are NEW. We are always striving to move forward and the creation of new work with new ideas and, at times, new equipment and processes, is a significant part of the creative journey.

Narrow Alley, Prague 1997
But sometimes it is also good to revisit images from the past, especially for those who still have a large archive of photographs made with film. I certainly fall into that category. While I am still using medium format film in my pinhole and toy cameras, and regularly scanning and working with those new images, there are many good photographs I have made dating from the mid 1980s through 2000 that never made it into the darkroom, digital or otherwise.

This reconsideration of some of my older film imagery was initiated, in part, by a request I recently received to license a photograph that I had taken in Prague in 1997. Though this particular image had already been digitized and posted to my blog (which was how the client found it), it prompted me to take out the slides, negatives and contact sheets from that visit to the Czech Republic and enjoy a side trip down memory lane. And I realized that I had a lot of very good photography there, as well as in the other archives of negatives on my shelf.

Instead of seeing (or not seeing) them languish in their archival negative and slide binders, I am resolving to try and make the time this year to resurrect some of these images. Revisiting cherished photographs from the past not only extends their life and usefulness by translating them into digital format, but it also has the effect of the making the old new again. And that can often lead to new creative direction.

Keyword the Past

I am pretty good at adding keywords to all my new images, be they digital captures or scans. I use Lightroom for this task with my digital captures (if you don’t have Lightroom, Adobe Bridge also provides keywording capabilities) and the keywords field of Photoshop’s File Info dialog is a first stop right after a new scan is made. But while I am reasonably current with this task for all of my images since 2006, I still have a backlog from 2000 through 2005 that needs to be keyworded. Thankfully these files are well organized in other respects, but the presence of keywords will take that organization to a new level.

If you have not yet started adding keywords to your images, I heartily encourage you to do so. Not only do keywords make it much easier to locate your photographs (a significant advantage when facing the vast numbers of images that can be generated by digital photography), but they also add value to your image collection. This value can be commercial in that the presence of keywords will make it easier to market your images to specific sources, and it can also be personal. As Peter Krogh pointed out in his excellent title The DAM Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers, the more organized your image collection is, the more you will enjoy it and be able to share this enjoyment with others, simply because you can find the photos quickly and easily.

Keywords: New England; Maine; Rockland; lighthouse; causeway; man; alone; bay; fog; journey; life path; lonely; looking; metaphor; mist; ocean; path; sea; searching; solitary; solitude; walking
Start with the most basic keywords that are likely to help you locate the image. Initially your image searches may be based on the memory you have of creating the photo. For example, the image referenced by the question “where’s that photo I took in Maine of the man walking out the causeway to the lighthouse?” would have the basic keywords of Maine, causeway, lightohouse and man. But you should also think of keywords that will turn up a photo if you are searching for general locations (New England, ocean), content (lighthouse, shore, ocean, harbor, fog) or even conceptual interpretations (journey, solitude, searching, life path, metaphor).

Developing a keywording strategy for your image collection does add another step to your imaging workflow but it is one that pays off immediately once you start using those keywords to find your images.It only requires a little extra time to begin keywording all the new photographs you create (and depending on the software you are using, some of the most basic keywords can be added as the images are downloaded), but tackling a large archive of past files may seem like a daunting task. The easiest way to approach this is to simply try and work through a certain number of folders each week. Resist the temptation to set a goal that is overly ambitious and be sure to factor in the schedule demands of the rest of your life. Gradually you will begin to chip away at the number of images that need keywords. And as you do so, you will also be able to revisit and enjoy all of your photographs from years past. Based on my own experience, you will probably find some forgotton gems as well as many images that you can prune from the archive. Both results are a net positive: favorite images rediscovered, and unwanted files culled from the collection.

Knowing that your image collection is searchable by keywords is a great feeling. It's an effective tool to help you control the ever-expanding number of image files you create and have the confidence that you can quickly find any image you are searching for.

© 2009, Seán Duggan • all rights reserved

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