Keep Track of the Digital Data

Tip 37 for Better Shoots by Heidi Rondak

“The Post-Production 101” 

PART C.1: Keep Track of the Digital Data

When it comes to the creation, transfer, and storage of data, one sort of photo file is not like another. Images can come in many different shapes and qualities which you’ve probably once learned painfully when using a too-small image for a platform that required higher resolution. But don’t you worry because “mishaps” happen to the best of us and they make us learn from them. However, there are more harmful ways of mistreating images that you might want to know how to avoid. Hence, with the last four articles of the “Post-Production 101”, including the present one, we’re devoting our attention and final sprint through “Tips for Better Shoots” to data handling. From the explanation of raws and previews via the final files to the resolutions and colour spaces of web and print – part C is all about data, preventing you (or your staff and interns) to publish a wrong version of a picture and get in trouble for it.

Keep All Image Versions Separately

A good structure on your computer, server, archive, or storage mediums isn’t only important for a neat work environment. When it comes to the receipt of photo files a well-maintained system can also be sparing you the inconvenience caused by using previous versions of a commissioned photograph instead of the final and official one. This can indeed be the result of wrong labeling and destinations of files and folders, or the misuse of photo editing programmes without any knowledge about image data processing. Now, you could argue that this shouldn’t be any of your business, as the client. It should be the photographer’s responsibility to send you the right images and name them correctly. Well, aye and nay – before the final data arrives in your inbox, it should be exported to the right size and format indeed. But prior to that it is likely you have gotten either a backup of the raw files, preview jpegs for your review and selection, or there have been one or more correction loops in the editing process leaving you with several “finalfinal[…]” or “FINAL NEW […]” versions on your computer. Or your computer stores all of the above. Even if you’re totally aware of which one’s THE final image now, you can trust me when I say it will be forgotten in no time presenting you with the problem of finding out which file was the chosen one. For this reason, I personally, have started to add watermarks to my preview files identifying them as so. Nevertheless, I have seen clients using unedited material for their marketing channels and some of them are straightly asking for extra photos of the shoot without any retouch, or even for the open data. Both enable you to further usage e.g. more publications, or later on image processing by your design team. Although it’s a delicate matter which has to be clarified in the buyouts precisely (please check Tip No. 34 for more information on this) I wouldn’t say that it’s a no-go. Understandably, online marketing nowadays requires a lot of data in different variations. Yet, or better – on these grounds, it is important to resolve any misconceptions of data handling. There we go, therefore, by looking at the different versions of files potentially bustling around between you and the photographer, respectively the retoucher.

What are Raw Files?

As the name suggests, raw data is the photo files that are coming straight out of the camera. They are not processed whatsoever, moreover very large and usually require specific programmes to open them. Being considered the “digital negative” of modern times raw files can be edited without any loss of quality. Due to this fact, as you can imagine, claiming to have the raw files will be an expensive business for sure. It is more probable for you to get an unedited pre-selection in JPG or another small file format that might even be referred to as raw material. In this case, what you actually get is previews to choose your favourite images from. Anyhow, before we talk about previews more in the next paragraph, let’s have an insight into what happens in the raw processing. Depending on the photographer’s workflow, this happens during the shoot or after when the raw images are pulled from the camera into an application like Capture One, Lightroom, or opened with the Camera Raw editor of Photoshop. These programmes allow batch bulk processing making it easy to apply one or more settings to a large number of photos quickly. This way, often, you can see the images with a so-called „look“ (or filter) on the computer in real-time which can help you to imagine your campaign while watching the model perform in front of the lens. Apart from that, the photographer or digital operator (of which you may want to read more in Tip No. 23) can export the images from there in different sizes and resolutions without the need to apply changes to each version of them afterwards. Like so, in the retouching process, only small individual corrections need to be done which isn’t only saving time but also keeps the images’ quality higher.

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What to Expect from Previews?

Whether or not previews are labeled with the word “preview” on top of the photo or in the file or folder name, it is very important to keep in mind that they are mostly low resolution and usually show the not-yet-photoshopped versions of the images you want for your campaign or marketing content. You won’t want to use them as they are, and neither does the photographer. It is, therefore, important to store them mindfully and to ideally limit access to them. Once these images are distributed too much you might lose track and control of how your partners handle them. Anyway, it’s of big importance for everyone involved in the production to keep the unedited material under lock and key. One way to secure liability is, for example, adding a provision to your e-mail signature underlining the confidentiality of its content. You can also delete the previews from your devices as soon as you have made your choice and send it back to the photographer. Some photographers won’t even send you the previews for download but upload them to platforms like picdrop where you can review, rate, and comment on them online without getting any digital copies of them. This is, frankly, the most elegant way, however, it might not be convenient for everyone to register to a new platform and pay for it eventually. The most common workflow is, by all means, this: you get a transfer link or a physical storage medium containing all pre-selected photos from which you can make a final selection. Ideally, you put those into an extra folder which you then send back to the photographer, or retoucher. Another possibility would be to list the names of the files you chose –  while this is admittedly laborious some people prefer that. The photographer will be happy with both ways as long as you don’t inform them about your choice by describing your selection like: “I would love the image where the model is looking seductive and holding her hand against her cheek, and the image where she’s sitting like…”, etc. – needless to say, there is enough room for misinterpretations here and misunderstandings are preprogrammed.

But what can you expect from preview files really? Well, you can neither expect high resolution, nor material to use already. In fact, previews are just there to show you the compositions, the poses of the model, and how your products are staged. In case there was a bit of a look added during the shoot or shortly after, you can check out the colours too and give your opinion on that. You can, furthermore, detect any flaws in your favourite pictures and give instructions to have them removed. Another practical thing about previews is the possibility to already use them as placeholders in your designs. This way, time can be used most efficiently on all levels of your campaign production. However, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, beware of eventually using the previews instead of the final images accidentally.

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Why Open Files are Pricey

Raw images, Tifs, and PSDs are called “open files” because they contain the uncompressed information of the original images, or in the case of raws, they are basically the originals. Possessing these files would give you full control of the outcome but also the opportunity to turn the images into something that’s not within the meaning of the creator. If you’ve read the previous tips on copyright it will make sense to you to hear about buying out these rights is costly. Ultimately, for the copyright holder, it bears an increased risk of under-compensated usage or even image abuse. Nevertheless, it’s fair to say that high-quality data is needed when it comes to elaborate marketing campaigns. Minus the raws, you might indeed get edited PSDs or Tifs as final files if you request them, however, they won’t be containing separate photoshop layers for, in the photographer’s wildest nightmares, someone could mess up their retouch. To give you one impression of many possible conditions to handing in open files, namely my own policy, my default quote would contain the number of JPGs which results in the price of the editing services and buyout. In further items, unedited, or edited extra material is offered with a price per image in different quality variations. This way, you as the client can decide which quality you need, whether it should be edited or not, and how many images you are willing to choose for each option. Eventually, I list a reasonable number of buyout options containing different versions of the deal. Still, it is, all in all, your individual case and conversation with the photographer that ultimately decides the need, availability, and usage of open files. Just remember that your business partner is a human who can listen and talk like yourself. You can certainly figure out a mutually satisfying deal together.

Take Good Care of the Finals

When you get the final files get excited and store them well! You can save them on a path that’s easy to access, back them up on an extra medium, send them around to your design team and publish them when the time is right. You can name them BESTIMAGESEVER-01.jpg, BESTIMAGESEVER-02.jpg, or anything else that makes clear for everyone: this is the data to use. But if there is a download involved just don’t wait too long to do it. Hit the download button and celebrate the end of your waiting for the results. It might be too late after a week… and you can’t certainly expect them to still be there a year from now when you can’t find them on your computer anymore. I can’t recall exactly how often I had to send final images to team members or clients once more due to expired download links but it was numerous times. While this is additional work for me which I don’t love but accept to do for my business partners to make them happy, as a matter of fact, no photographer including myself can guarantee to keep your commissioned photos in their archives forever. Such a backup would require a written agreement and compensation too for it is literally a service. On the other hand, it is a simple and more reliable thing to keep the data safe yourself. After all, this is also part of your duty to care, described in Tip No. 33 – because if you can’t remember where the images are saved you can’t know whether they are safe from unauthorised access. This being said, I’m sure you, as a professional player in the fashion industry, need your images soon after they are finalised. After all, this industry is fast-paced, isn’t it?

Hopefully, these paragraphs could help to bring light into the darkness of high-volume image files and how to store them more neatly. In the next article, we’re going to take a closer look at how the files can reach you in the first place, depending on their status and the team’s habits of sending them. Through this, you might discover new platforms and workflows for your next production, choose the most comfortable method and spare yourself some time in communicating your choice. So stay tuned!


If you enjoyed reading this article, or you found it helpful in one way or another, I would love to know (reach out)! You are also welcome to support my work and writing by donating whichever amount this is worth to you. I will thank you with lots of telepathic love and more interesting journal entries. Cheers!

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