Workflow processes and data management

Anyone in this business for a while will have to contend with storage, archiving and workflow of digital images. The system I’ve been using for the past 10 years or so has evolved, and continues to do so. It’s based on invoice numbers. For the past four or so years I’ve been using blinkbid to generate invoices and estimates. I like this particular program because it’s simple and was written specifically for photographers. I know many photographers that use quickbooks, quicken or MS Money. Which business software to use is a decision that you should make individually or perhaps with help from your accountant.

I generate an invoice for all work related images I shoot, even internal ones. A job for a restaurant gets a number, a portfolio shoot gets a number, that headshot I did for my banker in trade gets a number. Each job gets and invoice, even if it’s for zero. All information related to that shoot is filed by invoice number and I use the accounting program as a database to search if needed. For example, if I’m looking for a lemonade image I shot for Glory Days Grill, I can go to blinkbid, select that client and it will list all of the jobs I’ve shot for them. By reading the job description I know that job number 10344 is the one I want. I go to the bookshelf, pull down the appropriate binder and pull out the dvd (more on archival storage later.)

Step one – Shoot the job. I’m a Mac guy, always have been, and I use Aperture as my viewing program while shooting. There are others, Lightroom is the big guy on the block, but there’s also Capture One and a couple of others, I like Aperture. Again, it’s a personal preference kind of thing. I have a plugin (Aperture Hot Folder) that allows me to monitor a designated folder for new images. As new images appear in that folder, they are automatically imported into Aperture for viewing and processing. At the end of the shoot I’ll back the images up to an external drive or if I’m in the studio, send them over the network to the color correction workstation.

Step two – Process the job. Most of my image processing is done in Aperture but I’ll still use Photoshop for minor retouching and sharpening. I’m not a big retouching guy so I don’t spend a lot of time in Photoshop, it’s just not my thing.

Step three – Deliver the job. Seems pretty straightforward but it’s important to ask new clients how they want the job delivered. Since most of my jobs are commercial I deliver digital files, either via disk, ftp or lately, photoshelter. I’m liking photoshelter because my clients can share the password protected galleries with their colleagues if needed. Just remember to educate them on usage issues.

Step four – Bill the job. Without fail at least once a year I’ll get busy, start shooting, uploading and archiving and forget to send a client and invoice. Most times the client will send me the ‘hey, I didn’t get your invoice’ email, but sometimes I think, ‘hey, they never paid that bill, let me check on it’ and realize I never sent it. I send almost all of my invoices through email, a couple of clients still request paper bills. I also will accept credit card payments via paypal. Since I don’t do retail work it’s not really worth it for me to keep a merchant account for credit card processing.

Step five – register the copyright. I’ve written about the importance of registering your work with the copyright office before but it bears repeating. I keep a copyright folder in my jobs folder. I make a 1500 pixel sized copy of every image I’ve put out into the world, whether it’s final files, proof images published to a proof page or images on my blogs. Every two months that folder gets burned to 2 disks and sent to DC.

Step six – Scour for stock. Since most of my work is food based, I have a relationship with Stockfood to rep my stock work. I keep a folder for submissions in my jobs folder and anything I see that might make good stock I’ll place a copy in there. Every six weeks or so I’ll send it off.

Step seven – Archive and delete. I subscribe to the 3-2-1 method of archiving. Three copies, two media types, one off site. I burn one copy of everything (raw, working layer files, finals, emails, etc.) to dvd and file those in three ring binders on my book shelf. I place a copy of that job folder on a 1TB hard drive that’s mounted on my desktop. I keep that drive active and running for quick access to archived jobs. Finally I place another copy of dvds in a binder and store those at my parents house. If ever my house should burn down, I’ve still got the disks offsite.

The MacOS allows for color coding of folders. Each of these steps has a color associated with it, so I know that all jobs high-lighted in yellow are at step three, orange are step four, etc.

These are procedures that I’ve developed over 14 or so years of losing stuff, spending too long looking for stuff, sounding like and idiot in front of the client, or spending hours recreating something that should have been backed up. It’s certainly not a perfect system and I’m open to suggestions to making it better. It’s also not going to work for everyone. One of the great things about being your own boss is you get to change procedures that don’t work for you.

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