Monday, January 17, 2005

Set up a database

An archive of images isn't very useful by itself. PJs need some way to organize and quickly retrieve images from their library. A database is the final piece of a personal digital workflow.

What's a database?
A database is basically an electronic card catalog. It's a way to quickly store, sort and retrieve information. Most major software manufacturers offer different levels of database programs.

Large organizations use SCC MediaGrid to store and retrieve images and the text associated with them (cutlines and assignments). Individual PJs and smaller organizations use consumer database software programs.

Each database program differs slightly, but they all can be customized to fit most small business needs. For PJs, separate databases may be kept for the archive, assignments, clients, sales and many other uses.

Any large set of distinct information could be stored in a database. Modern databases also include mathematical functions to allow them to work as spreadsheets as well.

Types of databases
Any collection of static information can go into a database. PJs commonly use them to store and locate specific information. For PJs, databases can be broken down into two main types: past and future.

Past databases are useful for storing confirmed information. Typically, a past database would contain an archive library, client lists, address books and such.

Future databases are useful for planning and organizing. Typically a future database lists upcoming events or assignments. It can also detail marketing plans or images needed (for stock).

Depending on how the databases are arranged, information from the future database can easily import into the past database once time has passed or the assignments are complete.

Likewise, past information can be added to future databases to plan for regularly occurring events (weekly, monthly or annual meetings, holidays, or particular community functions). Most need adjustments for the next occurrence.

Database fields
Each field in a database is a package of specific information. A field may contain text, numbers or a combination of both. A database contains several fields for each separate entry.

As an example, an assignment is an entry and the fields would be such items as event, time, date, location, contact, etc... The collection of these entries makes the database.

A database can be viewed as either a form or a table. Form views allow the user to see all information contained within each field of a single entry. Table views allow the user to see multiple entries, but only display a portion of each field.

Table views are best for an initial search while form views are best for seeing detailed information about a specific shoot.

Archive or photo library
This is the single most useful database PJs could maintain. As part of the personal digital image workflow, PJs should make an entry into their archive database. This allows the PJ to quickly locate appropriate images at a later date.

The archive should contain useful information for PJs. Primary entry fields should include: date, event, contact, phone, location, client name, and library location. Additional fields could include: cutline names and notes, keywords, e-mail addresses, Web sites, notes, choice frames and more.

It's good to include useful keywords for future searches. In addition to "eagle," it might be good to include words like "bird of prey," "raptor" and "animal" in a personal archive database. However, the single word "bird" would not need to be repeated because it's already included in "bird of prey."

To avoid problems, use singular (as opposed to plural) keywords. Later, when performing a search, always search for the singular "fly" (the insect) rather than "flies."

Client lists
A separate database can function as an address book for client lists and potential clients. Entry fields might include: names, titles, phone numbers, addresses, billing addresses, pay rates, invoice numbers and other notes.

From personal experience, try to only include information in a client database once contact has been made with the client. It's very easy to make huge lists of potential clients. It's harder to contact the client and get a gig. PJs need gigs to pay the bills, not a list of names and phone numbers.

Planning databases could contain the same information as the archive database. However, it should also include specific times and other information to assist the PJ organize the day and complete all required steps before the event (credentials, travel plans, equipment rentals, etc...).

How to use the database
Everyone reading this information has used a search engine on the Internet. The database performs a similar sorting function. However, it only searches information previously entered or imported into the database. This is why it's important to enter complete and accurate information into each entry.

If clients request images of eagles, PJs search their archive databases for "eagle" and each occurrence is displayed. Each displayed entry should allow PJs to locate the CDs or film within their archive and transmit images rapidly to the client. Both the client and the PJ are well served by an accurate and up-to-date database.

Don't be redundant
Because it's simple to fill entire columns with information, some might be tempted to include semi-useful information. Balance the worth of the information against input and retrieval speed.

If PJs shoot different film formats on chrome, B&W and color negative as well as digital each day, this information might be useful. However, if the PJ hasn't shot anything but 35mm digital for the last 10 years, it's pointless to include a field for this information.

Don't waste time
PJs with obsessive personalities (i.e. most PJs) need to keep everything in perspective. No matter how complete and detailed the database is, it doesn't buy new equipment or put a dime in anyone's pocket. It's merely a way to store and locate information.

Instead of spending premium hours perfecting a database, use the time to make new images. Enter information into the database as time allows and tweak it later when there is no light or nothing happening. Like everything else in photography, the system refines with time and experience.

Enough for now,

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