5 Steps for Better Image Management and Protection

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It’s a new year and here in the Northern Hemisphere that means it’s colder, wetter, and the days are shorter… so now is the perfect time to tune-up your image management, update settings, and take steps necessary to protect yourself and your images as best you can in this digital world.

Take the time to better organize and fine tune your image management system.

Image management exampleI use Lightroom for my image management database. I use it to import and key word my images as well as for RAW processing. Remember, Lightroom does not actually contain any photos, it just remembers where they are. It’s important to have a system in place that can help you locate images if your Lightroom catalog experiences corruption. My file tree is shown to the right.

Best practices dictate that you should always have a copy of your catalog backed up. But, should a catalog corruption occur finding your images is much simpler with a well thought out file structure. You will note that I number my files with the month’s number, then type the month’s name. If only the months names are typed, Lightroom will automatically default to an alphabetical listing of the months which just jumbles them all up and makes me crazy.  I’m always refining my process, but so far this works well for me. I also use the option Lightroom gives to write my image adjustments to a sidecar file. If for some reason I need to rebuild a catalog, all my previous editing information is attached to the original image and I don’t have to re-do any editing work upon importing or rebuilding the new catalog.

Make sure your Lightroom metadata import information, watermarks, and your website’s copyright notice reflect the current year.

I have Lightroom embed my copyright information into my image files upon import. Wherever any of my digital files goes, it takes my ownership information with it. To set up your personal metadata information in Lightroom go to Metadata> Edit Metadata Presets. The main fields to fill out are the lines with red text in both the IPTC Copyright and IPTC creator sections. Fill them out, and name and save your new preset. To apply this new preset upon import, pull up the import dialog box, select images you want to import, and in the Apply During Import box on the right click on the box for Metadata Preset. From the pull-down menu select the preset you wish to use and click “Import”. This preset will now be applied to every image you import into Lightroom- regardless of catalog unless you purposefully change the preset. This may be important to note if you work with multiple catalogs and/or have multiple brands.

It’s easy to forget these small tasks, in fact I forgot and posted my first image of the year with a 2016 watermark. Oops! Keeping your website copyright notice and your copyright watermark up to date won’t deter anyone serious about image theft, but they will serve to help protect you in the event an image is stolen. There will be more protection afforded you under U.S. Copyright law if you first register your images with the U.S. Copyright Office. There is a lot of debate on the internet about whether one should watermark their images or not. I debated it at one time, but ultimately chose to do so. The reason is simple, U.S. law provides me with better protections of my work if I have it watermarked than if I don’t water mark it. Section 1202 of the U.S. Copyright Act makes it illegal for one to remove a watermark from an image. Fines for doing so range from $2,500 upwards to $25,000 including lawyer’s fees in some cases. I have taken the considerable time to create and produce my work and protect it in any way I can therefore no image of mine is released in digital form without the © symbol (ALT+ 0169), the year, my name, and my website address. Having a watermark on an image does not in itself grant you any extra protections, however if someone removes your watermark for the purposes of infringing it will provide you with a higher level of legal recourse.

Begin the habit of registering your images regularly with the U.S. Copyright Office.

If you are a U.S. resident and are serious about protecting your work, you should not skip this critical step of image management. While it is true that in the U.S. whoever presses the shutter button owns the copyright of an image, that knowledge may not help you much at all in the event of a copyright violation. What will help most not only in proving image ownership but also in terms of potential court awarded damages is having image filed legally listing the copyright owner through the U.S. Copyright Office ( https://www.copyright.gov ) . Paying the $55 fee allows you to submit thousands of unpublished images at a time. Previously published images have different criteria. The rule of thumb I follow is to register my images every 3 months. Sharing an image on social media is a form of publishing, however it seems to fall under a sort of grace period of about 3 months. Generally, I share only images that have already been sent in for registration just to be on the safe side. For registration purposes I export images from Lightroom at 600 pixels on the longest side and at 72 pixels per inch. I’ll be the first to tell you that the registration process is not the most intuitive so to address that I created a step-by-step guide to follow each time I go through the process because it’s not always clear how to proceed. Be aware that it can take several months to receive the official Certificate of Registration. I’ve had it take about 8 months at times, so plan accordingly should you be planning a move as mail is generally only forwarded for 6 months.

Utilize Lightroom’s Smart Collection Capabilities

register-copyright-smart-collectionI use Lightroom’s Smart Collection tool to help me in knowing which images require submission for copyright registration. In each Lightroom catalog (I work with three) I have created a smart collection that collects all images that are missing the key words “copyright registered”. When I title my work submitted for copyright registration I do so using dates. I title them “All photos 2-1016 to 5-2016 or something similar. This then helps me to know as I’m looking for images to share how far backwards I should pull from in my year/month image management system if I want to be sure that an image has already been submitted for registration before I share it.

Once I have submitted the images and have digital verification that they were received, I then go back to the smart collections, highlight all the images in the collection and add the keywords “copyright registered”, the folder is immediately emptied and is ready to gather images the next time I import. I register every image I take, even family photos. You never know what someone may want to take and use without permission. There are cases of family photos being lifted from social media and used by companies. Registering everything only adds a little more time on my end, no more expense, but puts all my images properly under the full protection of U.S. law. I use the calendar feature on my smart phone to remind me the week before I need to prepare and register the newest batch of images as it can take hours to export images. I often set images to export overnight while I am sleeping.

Begin keywording your images to save time searching later.

If you look at the image above, you will also see that I have a smart collection set up to pull in any images where the keyword field is empty. It is empty as seen in the screen grab because I have just caught up on my keywording. I keyword upon import as a general rule, but sometimes I forget or an image or two somehow slips through. In that case, they sit gathered here in the smart collection and wait for me. As a matter of workflow I catch-up on keywording just before I export images to submit for copyright registration. This time I only had about 125 images that needed it, which is far better than the times I’ve had 4,000 or more. Keywording that many at a time is truly painful! I’m a firm believer in hierarchical keywording as it saves my sanity when I’m looking for a specific image or group of images. I can find most images within seconds utilizing Lightroom’s fantastic image management capabilities.keyword-smart-collection

Oh, and a quick word about the ever-important topic of photo back-up: if you do not have copies of your photos in at least three places/drives you should not consider your work to be properly backed up.

There are a lot of steps that can go into good image management, but some careful structuring of your workflow will be a huge benefit.

I hope you find these pointers helpful as you begin this new year and happy creating!

About Author Pamela Reynoso

Pamela Reynoso is a San Francisco Bay Area based fine art macro and landscape photographer. The diverse landscapes and beauty of her native Northern California feed her soul as does exploring and discovering its many hidden gems- from vast landscapes with big open sky to minute details such as the beauty found in the unfolding of a flowers petals. These are the moments for which she is always on the lookout, the moments that give one pause, the moments that remind one to be grateful for this beautiful planet. Pamela is currently working through the thousands of images from her year-long project of photographing local vineyards through the seasons which she plans to turn into a book. Typically a fast walker, Pamela’s family has banned her from bringing her camera on family hikes, especially if there is a macro lens attached which is certain to slow her walk to a mere crawl.