A few years ago, before the advent of the digital photography era, many organisations went to great lengths to maintain and archive their collections of photographic slides and negatives.

These days, these physical collections may still be kept in an archive, but focus has moved to electronic image libraries – collecting, sorting and storing company images in digital format.

One of the big advantages of digital photo libraries is that, if a copy of the photo collection is kept online (for example on an ftp server), the collection of images is readily available for a wider audience in the organisation, and can be accessed from different locations.  This is very useful, in particular when an organisation has branches or satellite offices in different regions.  Staff can contribute to the library by uploading images, while also having access to the image library from any location.

While having an extensive and accessible library of professionally photographed images has many advantages, both to the organisation and to the individuals featured in these photographs, there are some issues that need to be kept in mind in maintaining such a collection.

FIrstly, it is critical that someone be given exclusive responsibility to organise and maintain the photo library, as the sheer volume of digital photographs that get produced in large organisations can quickly get out of hand.  Various software tools are available that allow the ‘image librarian’ to tag individual images according to a number of criteria, e.g. the area where it was shot, the person(s) featured in the photos, the event where it was taken, etc.  Photos can also be sorted into different folders according to various criteria, and older, out-of-date photos can be archived.

If the image library can be accessed from various locations and by various people, it is useful to limit general access to read-only, to avoid accidental damage to the photo library.  If different people are given write-access, a proper workflow system should be in place to keep things from turning chaotic.

Secondly, not all images are equal.  Often an organisation will have a collection of images that was commissioned with a very specific aim – to reinforce the company brand, and to support the key principles/values of the organisation.  These images may have been commissioned at considerable expense, to be used in key publications or promotional material, and the last thing you want is for the impact of the images to be diluted as a result of everyone using them.  As such, these “hero-images” should be ring-fenced and kept separate, made accessible only to the communications and marketing department, for example.

Another important consideration is that people images can get dated fairly quickly.  This applies to all people photos, whether they are generic stock images or photos of actual scientists, but in the case of actual staff, who are known and recognised throughout the organisation, dated images are more obvious and stand out more clearly.  For example, using images in your annual report featuring an individual who has since left the organisation, can definitely send out the wrong message.  Similarly outdated photos of key individuals can also result in confusing visual communication, especially if these photos do not represent their current activities/position in the organisation.

As such, effort needs to be spent to keep staff images current – removing (or at least archiving) photos of staff that have left, regularly updating current staff images, and commissioning profile shoots for new staff.

Certain members of an organisation, such as Board and Management members, as well as key scientists, who have a particularly high and visible public profile, need at least an annual profile update, ideally resulting in a diverse enough image library that the same image, or a limited set of images shot at the same time (with the individual sporting the same outfit in all the images), are not used over and over in public communications.

When I started out as a photographer, my biggest concern was getting the photos I took, out to the client as fast as possible, without worrying too much about managing the image library that I was building up.  However, after a couple of months, and some calls from clients requesting images that they’d misplaced, I soon realised the time spent finding specific images among the growing mass of images I had on my computer, was not worthwhile, and that I’d do better adopting a more formal image management approach.

So take it from me, as someone with thousands upon thousands of images to maintain – the effort you spend managing your photo library will be worth every cent of your investment.

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