What I want from an Asset Management System
While we see a renaissance of sorts when it comes to photo editing software, in my opinion, the management side has taken a back seat. If you look at many of the recent developments across newer and updated applications, most of the development has been on the image editing side. Lightroom, for example, has seen only minor changes to the database side of the application in years. There are lots of new technologies out there that would be really useful to photographers if they were all together in one application, and yet, in my opinion, there’s nothing that does everything. At least not yet.
So then, what do I think should be part of an asset management application, or in the database side of a photo workflow application. I have lots of suggestions that I would like to see, but here are the 6 things that I would love a professional level, high-end management system would have…
- Ability to sync to an online service, with the ability to browse your catalogue online in a web browser.
- Assistant stations and Client Proofing.
- Image recognition for keywords.
- The ability to manage Jpeg and Raw pairs properly.
- The ability to handle a large volume of raw files, across multiple hard drives without slowing down.
- Tools for entering and automating the input and editing of metadata.
- Ability to export multiple versions of an image simultaneously.
Some or all of these features exist in one form or another, in various different applications, but at least as far as I’m aware, no one has put these together into one piece of software. So let's go into these in more detail…
The ability to sync to an online service
The advantages of having your catalogue accessible across multiple devices are undeniable, in my opinion. If you’re on your on the road, and on your laptop and you need to find an image from your main library, it can be invaluable. At the moment, I use Mylio which sort of offers this service. Similar features can be found in Lightroom CC and Apple Photos. But there are limitations.
Mylio, for example only syncs between apps, and while you can set different versions to download only certain sizes of previews, you still have to download some form of your full catalogue. The problem with this is that if your catalogue is pretty large, even with just previews, it can use up a lot of space on your laptop or mobile device. This is where a web-based version would be useful. Again, this is something that already exists, in this case in Lightroom, but the limited storage tiers available to Lightroom users makes this feature difficult to use for large catalogues.
My vision for this is that the online component should be an integral part of the application or service, and it would be a thoroughly professional oriented tool, with the ability to have clients log in to see proofs, and for you to delegate parts of your workflow to assistants or colleagues. I’m thinking along the lines of something like an integrated version of Photoshelter. Which brings me to the second thing on my wish list…
Assistant stations and Client Proofing
If you’re a professional with a large library, and you need to sort, rate, or otherwise edit it, it can be beneficial to delegate that task to an assistant, or assistants. That might be something as basic as titling, captioning and entering metadata, or more complicated things, like managing retouching and edits. Having the ability to have assistant accounts linked to your primary account would be really useful. Such sub-accounts could have separate permissions to allow control for various aspects of your library.
Another area where this could be useful is if you have someone managing your social media for example. You might want them to have access to a subset of your library, or the ability to just download images to post online. The other side of this would be client proofing. This would allow you to send a gallery of images to a client for approval, with an online section for comments and feedback. Perhaps even a layer where they could add annotations to an image using an online interface.
There are a few online services that offer this, such as the aforementioned Photo shelter, but nothing that I’m aware of that are fully integrated into a larger platform. While you can sync to Phtoshelter form Lightroom, it’s not full bidirectional sync, and you can’t use it to sync multiple computers. You can sort of do it with Lightroom and its CC online syncing, but it’s not fully featured.
Image recognition for Keywords
Advances in image recognition have come a long way in a short space of time. If you use Apple Photos, for example, you may have already tried the AI based image search, and for the most part, this works really well. Lightroom on the web also offers AI-based search, but it doesn’t sync back to the desktop client. What I would love to see is an AI-based component to any software, that would automatically apply keywords based on image recognition technology.
I did actually come across a plug-in for Lightroom recently that offers this functionality. Unfortunately, it’s a third party service, and you have to upload your images to their servers. I haven’t tried it yet, but it’s something that I will try and look at soon. I think this should be part of any new system at this point, given how ubiquitous the technology has become. I’m actually a bit surprised that it’s not a standard feature already.
The ability to manage RAW + Jpeg pairs properly
This is a personal bugbear of mine. Perhaps it’s because I started out on Aperture, that I’m so annoyed that no one else has managed to do this properly. Aperture had a really great way of handling RAW + Jpeg image pairs. It would import both and combine them into a group, letting you switch quickly between RAW or JPEG. You could select which you wanted as the primary pair on import, and you could batch change a whole set of images to use either RAW or JPEG as the primary format.
Apple Photos sort of has some of this functionality, but it is crippled. It will import both as a pair, and you can switch between them, but there are quite a few limitations. For a start, you can’t set which format you want to use by default when importing images. It always selects the JPEG as the initial version. Secondly, there’s no way to batch change images, and you can only change them when in edit mode. In my opinion Aperture’s method of handling RAW + JPEG pairs was perfect, and I wish other applications would use a similar approach.
One other thing I would like to see on this topic is the ability to use colour matching technology to match the RAW file to the corresponding Jpeg. This technology exists, and it's in several video applications. It’s not perfect, but it would be a useful addition to any profile based system, especially for when you want to customise the in-camera settings, and have the software automatically match to those.
The ability to handle a large volume of RAW files, across multiple hard drives without slowing down.
This is kind self-explanatory, but any modern asset management system needs to be able to handle a lot of files, across multiple locations and in various formats, without it grinding to a halt. This means decent performance when scrolling through images, finding images and even basic things like importing and exporting.
I recently tried to get control of my ridiculously unorganised image library. I have raw files all over the place, across several hard drives. I keep a separate library of “finished” images in Jpeg format, but when trying to find a specific RAW file, there’s no real structure to my madness. Now, of course, this is my own fault, but when attempting to get control of it, I found it hard to get any software to actually manage to catalogue it. I tried Adobe Bridge, but it's so slow as to be unusable. It also doesn't find everything when doing a search, so it's not really much use for that kind of thing. I also tried using a separate Lightroom catalogue, but it too just gets so slow. At this point, I just rely on the finder to find stuff, because its the fastest option.
Tools for entering and automating the input and editing of metadata.
This is another area that I feel has been neglected by a lot of applications over the years. While most software has tools for entering and modifying metadata, aside from specialist applications like photo mechanic, few are robust or intuitive. Again, this is an area where Aperture was much better than most of the current offerings.
Ideally, I would like to see a clean and clutter-free interface for entering the basics like captions and titles, but also the ability to batch edit, with tools for find and replace across multiple fields. The ability to add custom metadata fields would also be great, as would so automation tools. There is a plugin which I use for Lightroom that offers some of these features, but again, it’s not integrated. On top of that, Lightroom’s metadata interface isn’t great. I would also like to see the ability to create your own custom metadata views as well as custom metadata.
Ability to export multiple versions of an image simultaneously
This is something that exists in Capture One, but the interface is a little confusing to some users. Many photographers require multiple versions of an image for use in different purposes. Whether that’s a version for sharing on social media platforms, and a different one to upload to a website. With this feature, you can export multiple formats and sizes.
Each can have different watermarks or none at all. You can save Tiff, PSD, or Jpeg and each to its own folder, or a folder based on the metadata. It’s actually one of my favourite features of Capture One that I wish more software had.
As with any wish list, these are just the things that I would like to see, and of course, everyone has different needs. These are just the tent-pole feature I’d like to see too. There are lots of others also. For example, something like the publishing service of Lightroom would be useful. In fact, I’d like to see something like that built into the web client. The ability to post directly to Instagram is another thing that comes to mind. The ability to export a catalogue as a single file, in the way Aperture used to let you is another idea, or a comprehensive back up system, like the way Mylio works.
So what about you? What are the features that you would like to see in the asset management side of a photo application? Are there any features in a specific piece of software that you would like to see more widely available?
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