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Most in-house creative teams face the issue of corporate images scattered throughout their department. Each designer ends up with a different assortment of photos they’ve compiled over the years. Collections of photos end up stored in individual project folders — even if those same images end up linked later to a dozen other projects.

Over the last several years at Creativetechs, we’ve helped a lot of in-house creative teams develop image management and keywording strategies get control over their unwieldily image collections. In the end, they create something like their own private in-house stock image library.

Step 1: Create an empty “Photo Library” folder on your server.

The first step towards creating a manageable, organized, in-house photo library is to create a single, central place that your company’s photo library will live. Create that folder, but don’t drag anything in yet.

Step 2: Start with a basic list of folder categories.

Here is the big mistake most in-house creative teams make when they first start building an image management strategy: They get too detailed, too soon.

Your objective in this second step is to create the simplest folder structure necessary to categorize your photos. The folders should look a little like an outline. Here is a slightly modified list of folders from a cruise ship operator we support in downtown Seattle.

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In this example, there are three major categories for their in-house photo library:

  • Destinations (photos showing places ships visit)
  • People (photos of guests, or crew members)
  • Vessels (photos of the cruise ships themselves)

Below each major category is a subcategory for sorting images into folders for the specific destinations visited, or the specific vessels. In this example, only the initial 2-or-3 letter acronym (AK for Alaska) is used for Keywording purposes. The extra text description was added to each folder name to aid freelancers who would not know the company’s acronyms by heart.

Simplifying your photo library’s folder structure down to a few simple categories is the most important, and often the most difficult part of this process. In-house creative teams can often organize their photo libraries around product lines, target markets, and general business photos. Each business is unique and requires a different category structure.

Here are a couple tests to see if your folder category structure is working:

Each photo fits in a single category. The folders must represent categories that don’t overlap. If you find yourself frequently wanting to place the same image in two or three different folders, you are probably not creating a simple enough category structure.

The categories are obvious. If several people in your organization sit down to sort images, the folder structure must be simple enough that all five people would make the same judgement about where images belong. If you find your team debating among themselves about which folder a given image belongs, it probably means that you have not defined your initial folder categories simply enough.

Basic rules can address any confusion. Given our example categories, you might ask, “What happens to a photo of guest, standing on a ship, with an Alaskan landscape behind them?” That’s where basic rules come in. Photos categorized in “people” might be only for close-ups with less than three people. Devise some simple rules for sorting, and document your choices with examples.

Sort your images into these basic fold categories, and you’ll be amazed how much more organized your library feels, even without adding an extra layer of keywords.

Step 3: Build a list of 100-200 keywords in Bridge.

After you’ve sorted your image library into basic categories, you can go back and start adding additional keywords to individual photos. However, as with our categories, it is important to build a fixed set of keywords people can work with. It becomes chaos if every designer on your team is independently coming up with new keywords to describe individual photos.

In our example, the keyword list would includes all category terms we created in our folder structure. Plus additional keywords that can be applied to individual photos for further detail. In this case, additional keywords are added for Nature, Objects, People, Places, and Wildlife.

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Your keywords become a fixed menu of search options. Rather than guessing what words might be used in the image database, those 100-200 pre-defined terms provide a menu to the people who are keywording your image, as well as people searching the photo library later.

Add more keywords to your collection as the need arises.

Final Thoughts on Keywording Strategy: Keep it simple. Keep it limited.

Writing this tip, I’m realizing that while the concept is straight forward, there is a lot of work and debate that goes into developing a clean, organized image management and keywording strategy.

The most important thing to remember when creating an in-house library is to keep things simple. Managing images is an ongoing task. The more complexity you add to the job, the less chance your system will still be updated several years from now.

When you are keywording for a specific audience, the keyword list you create should be finite and specific. You want to remove as much discretion as possible from the keywording process.

Keywording for online sales and marketing to a wide audience is another matter. For that we’ve got a slightly different tip.

Source: This tip inspired by Jason Hoppe’s workshop last Wednesday on Adobe Bridge: Keywording Strategies. Concepts in this tip are drawn from image management projects we’ve been involved with over the years including clients like Philips Ultrasound, Cruise West, and Ste. Michelle Winery.

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