Magazine Article


Extensis Portfolio 6


Extensis Portfolio 6

The Best DAM (Digital Asset Management) Software Around


Life was simpler before digital cameras. Storing negatives and transparencies was easier, although finding them could sometimes be a challenge. So, did I keep those vivid images of the Texas Bluebonnets filed under wildflowers, hill country, or blue flowers? Contact sheets helped a lot, but with several thousand photos, finding a specific one could take a lot of time.

It wasn't long after I began using a digital camera that I became aware that organizing the photos presented a greater challenge. The first contributor to this problem was the primary seduction of digital in the first place. I could (and did) take a lot more pictures when doing a shoot—a lot more.

Next was naming the files. I initially stored them in a folder with the general subject and date. That worked for awhile. Then one day I was looking for a specific photo of green copper texture for a client and discovered that while I knew what the photo looked like, I wasn't sure where it was, since I didn't have a folder named "textures." Three hours later, I found it when I accidentally opened a folder labeled "Ybor City." Why didn't I think of that? That was when I decided it was time to get a Digital Asset Manager (DAM).

I had looked at several products and decided they were too complicated, too expensive for my size of operation, or both. Around that time, Extensis released Portfolio 6. I had tried it back when it was Portfolio 4 and decided it was too cumbersome. Since Portfolio 6 came with a free 30-day offer, I gave it a whirl. After using it about a week, I decided to get my own copy.

By the way, at Macworld in July, Extensis introduced Portfolio Server 6.1 for Mac OS X, OS 9, and Windows. It's great for sharing image catalogs among workgroups.

The Pleasures of Portfolio 6
Most of the DAM software on the market today functions separately from your computer's file system. By that I mean you use the computer's file system to move, delete, and rename the images, and then use your image manager to locate the images. So you're jumping back and forth between the two, which can be a real pain.

Portfolio is the file manager so I can do everything directly from the application: rename folders or image names, and more importantly, I can archive images by burning them onto a CD from within Portfolio and store the CD. This frees up a lot of drive. Plus, Portfolio knows which CD the images are on, so when you find an image through a database search, it asks you to insert the correct CD.

It doesn't, however, remember where the CD is when it gets accidentally misplaced. It would be great if when I selected an image it would present me with a message like: "Please insert CD147, you'll find it under a pile on the right side of your monitor."

If you decide to give Portfolio 6 a whirl, I have a few suggestions that will save you a lot of time and lonely hours muttering to yourself:

Read Ahead, Plan Ahead. Portfolio is so easy to use, it can become a trap if you are the "jump right in and figure it out as you go" type. Read the documentation, do the tutorials, and only after you have a good understanding of how it works, should you begin the Herculean task of imputting all of your current image files. I had over 26,000.

Keep It Simple. I also recommend that you not go crazy on the keyword assignments when you first start out. For example, a nice landscape photo of hills with a cloudy sky would have a simple set: outdoor, clouds, sky, and landscape. Don't include blue (if the sky was blue) or trees and grass (even though these elements might be in the photo).

Give Yourself Time. It's no longer necessary to maintain the files in job specific folders, but until you get the system up and going it's better to keep your images in their current locations so you can find them while you're adjusting to this new method. It will take some time getting used to the system. Let me repeat that: it will take some time for you and those that you work with to get used to searching for images by keywords rather than going directly to the file where they are located. But the time and effort you will save in the long run more than justify the effort.

While cataloging over 25,000 files sounds like an insurmountable task, the cataloging tools in Portfolio really speed up the process, especially when adding new images from a digital camera. Now when I return from a shoot, I hook up my Nikon, my Nikon software (NikonView) fires up—it's been configured to talk with Portfolio—and the downloaded images are automatically added to the catalog and the common keywords I've assigned are added automatically as well.

There's a lot more that can be done with this program, like making catalogs on CD to give to clients or publishing a Web page. I'm just happy to be able to find an image in less time than it would take to drive out to the location and reshoot.

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