Guest Blog: Editorial and Commercial Photographer Clifford Pickett

Fix Your DAM Life This Year: Do As Little As Possible

Digital Asset Management is like finding the perfect backpack for most photographers. Close, but there’s always just this one problem… Well maybe this next one. We think it exists. We want it to exist. Well maybe this one, with this… Ugh.

I can’t help you find that perfect backpack, every photog knows that’s a deeply personal decision. I can however get your DAM life in order. That’s actually not a personal decision. Not as long as your idea of the perfect workflow is the one that requires the least amount of, you know…. work.

As it turns out, doing as little as possible is the best solution. Finally!

That’s because you’re the problem! Sorry, no offense, but it’s true. I am too, probably more so actually. We’re creative creatures though, and we make mistakes. Now, while we make small mistakes, computers allow us to make really big ones! But they’re consistent! That’s critical. Anyone who fixes anything for a living will tell you consistency is everything.

We’re accurate but not consistent. We’re the variable. Which folder do these images go into this time? Which keywords apply here? Is this a 3 star or 4 star image? Tomorrow… different answers. Like your alarm clock you set to be 5 minutes fast… consistency, not accuracy.

You’re also slow. Man, sorry again. Not stupid, slow. You can get to California from New York by walking but there’s a better way. Machines, automation, you get it. Much faster.

So, your DAM solution? The least amount of work possible, and the least amount of you possible, equals the fastest, most consistent workflow. I’ve yet to meet a student of mine who’s argued with me on this.

So, your DAM solution? The least amount of work possible, the least amount of YOU possible, equals the fastest, most consistent workflow. I’ve yet to meet a student of mine who’s argued with me on this.

How about 1 click fast? And an image management system that requires no decisions at all.

Let’s get started so you can move on with your DAM life. Sorry, last time.

Disclaimer: While this article gives you a brief overview, check out my new class that was released this week here at KelbyOne covering this very topic. To dive even deeper into everything Lightroom, literally everything, visit my website for more info on the two day bootcamp I’m hosting in NYC.

Rule Number One: One of Everything

One Catalog

This starts with your catalog.  One catalog. That’s it. Why?

Because Lightroom is a database. It keeps track of everything. Would you use multiple card catalogs in an actual library? Would you store some phone numbers on one phone and others on another? Would you save some files to your laptop and others to your desktop? Would you access some photos one on card, others on another and others on yet another? Make sense?

Lightroom is designed to be used with one catalog. It can only operate with one catalog open at a time. It can sync only one catalog to the cloud. You can only access one catalog on all of your devices. It all starts here. One catalog. All of your information in One location. When you search, for any/every photo you’ve ever taken, you do so in One place. In One Catalog.

One Folder

For ALL of your photographs. In fact, call it ALL PHOTOGRAPHS. Every photo you’ve ever taken or ever will take will live inside this folder. You’ll always know exactly where to look for your images. Lightroom will too. It will sync everything in line inside of that folder.

If you need to migrate your files or if your hard drive crashes and you have to restore from a backup, you simply point Lightroom to you one parent folder – ALL PHOTOGRAPHS – everything will fall right back into line.

One Memory Card?

Yup. Which are you more likely to lose, the One giant card that’s always in your camera (I use and recommend the Lexar 512gb) or 4-6 loose somewhat marked cards in that $5 dollar plastic case you carry around with you everywhere?

What’s more likely to fail? One card or 5? What’s more likely to run out of space at exactly that decisive moment, when the light is right and your client is looking at you? But what if it fails, you lost everything? No, just what you haven’t backed up.

Which are you more likely to backup? 3 or 4 small cards or one – where you don’t even have to take it out of our camera – just plug your camera into your computer (since Apple decided to remove that pesky SD card slot that was such an eyesore).

If you shoot events – put a second card in that second card slot. As a backup, not a main. It stays there and doesn’t get imported.

One Computer

Modern laptops are more than any of us ever need for computing power, especially for photography. I’ve converted many of my students to using just One laptop. With One cable (thunderbolt) that handles power/data/audio/video and plugs into One large monitor. Wherever you go, your computer, your files, your Lightroom, it’s all there with you.

One Hard Drive

For those who have two computers – there’s a very simple solution that will also dramatically increase your speed too, get a small SSD. I recommend the Samsung T5. Put your One catalog on here, along with your previews and smart previews. Plug it into whichever computer you happen to be using at the time.

There’s more but you get the point. Keep things simple and streamlined.  Just One of everything is incredibly effective.

Yes, I’m listening to U2 right now.

Setting This All Up: Choices Are Bad

So you plug in your one memory card into your one computer to import to your one parent folder. Now what? Where do you store your images? How do you organize them? Do you create a folder for Friends & Family? Clients? Travel? What happens if you’re traveling for a client? Or how do you choose which folder to put the photos in when your client is your friend?

Here’s the problem… You have to make a choice. Any workflow that requires you to make a choice will never be consistent. Because you’re not consistent. Would you have made exactly the same choice 5 years from now, 5 months from now and 5 days from now? Sorting by date is the only way to eliminate the need to make a choice. While not only eliminating the inconsistency, it also speeds things up dramatically because it eliminates you from the process.

Is there ever a time where the computer won’t know exactly where to put each photo? Which year-month-day? Our photos exist in time just like we do. They are slices of time. Better yet, you can now import weeks or months of photos with, you guessed it, One click, by pointing Lightroom to import to your ALL PHOTOGRAPHS folder and automating the import by date using this very specific folder structure.

Lightroom will create and place each image into exactly the folder in which it belongs. No choices necessary. Just make sure the clock on your camera is correct. What if it’s not? Make sure it’s incorrect by the same amount each time! Consistency vs accuracy. You can fix this too in post.

Separation Anxiety

Now we totally screwed this up.

All we see are dates now. How the hell are we ever going to find our photos? How will we ever know which folder they’re in? We won’t. This is critical… where you store your images are not how you find your images. Folders are where you store your images, because they have to live somewhere, by date because there’s never not an exact moment they were taken so the process can be automated.

Keywords are where you find your images. Separating these two creates anxiety as we all are so used to finding things in folders. Here’s the problem with using your folders not just to store your images but to find them. Choice. You have to choose which folder they go into. Choose. This OR that. Clients OR Travel.

You can only choose one because you’re not going to duplicate the file. With keywords, it’s AND. Client AND Travel. Big difference. Your images are multifaceted, like you are. You can apply several keywords to an image, any and all of which can help you find it later, you don’t have to choose just one.

The Key to Keywords: Is The Juice Worth The Squeeze?

Anything that’s worth doing is worth overdoing. Don’t do it. Keywords are there to help you find your images, not suck all the life out of you labeling every last detail.

Ask yourself will you ever, practically speaking, need to use the keyword to actually find the image? Do you really need to keyword curly fries from your last vacation? No you don’t.

Click on the keyword for your last trip, sort through your favorites and spend the extra minute to find that photo of your fries then. The biggest regret all photographers on their deathbed say they had was the amount of time they spent keywording. The least amount of work possible remember? You only need, at maximum, three keywords.

01 WHO



Who’s in it, what’s it about, where’d ya take it? One or two is all you really need actually. When I go back to Death Valley in March for my next workshop, I’ll keyword all of the photos at once Death Valley in the WHERE and Death Valley Workshop 2020 in the what.

That’s it. Not entirely necessary as I can always just sort by date if I click on Death Valley in WHERE but creating a separate keyword for the trip gives me one click access to each individual workshop as well as one click access to every picture I’ve taken in Death Valley, for any reason, at anytime, in WHERE.

But what about the 1-click, super fast, fully automated workflow Cliff? 

01 WHO – Face detection is already automated (press O).

02 WHAT – Adobe Sensei has object recognition using AI to automate finding photos by subject.

03 WHERE – Location can be automated through GPS – either embedded, by geotagging or through metadata syncing.

On the Go Go Go: A New Mobile Workflow

Just like that backpack, many photographers’ workflows are perfect…  some of the time.

If your workflow doesn’t work all the time, it doesn’t work at all.

I’ve found that most of my students totally freaked out when they had to travel with their laptop. Managing multiple catalogs, merging them later, duplicating files. First off, using your laptop as your main computer solves this, to a degree, but what if you don’t want to carry your main hard drive with you? What if you don’t even want to carry your computer with you?

Now you don’t need to. Check out my class to see how to set this up.  Bottom line, you can use your phone or tablet, iPhone or iPad, to upload your original full resolution files to Adobe’s cloud and then have them sync back down to your computer at home.

Bonus tip: Make sure you have a device with enough storage.

Super Bonus tip: You’re going to run out of space eventually. Adobe doesn’t have a way of confirming if your files did indeed backup to your computer and hard drive you left behind making it difficult to delete the files from your mobile device to save space.

By placing your folder (you can choose a specific destination in preferences/Lightroom sync) in a Dropbox or Google Drive account, you’ll be able to verify that images were successfully downloaded by checking for the last file shot in their app on your phone. You can then delete the images from your phone/tablet. This will remove them from the device AND the cloud but NOT delete them from your computer so long as you are using Lightroom Classic.

Back That Disk Up

Simply, your images should be in three places.

You want an onsite backup as well as an off site/online backup. Having all of your images in one giant ALL PHOTOGRAPHS folder makes the process dead simple. I recommend Carbon Copy Cloner to backup drives using safety net (won’t delete files on the backup that were deleted on the original until you start running out of space – just in case). I recommend using google drive or dropbox if you have less than 2TB of files. Beyond that, Backblaze is what I use and set all of my students up with.

Bonus tip: When traveling, never delete the images off of your memory card. That’s another reason why I recommend such a large memory card. Lightroom will only import your new photographs each time (check “don’t import suspected duplicates”) so your memory card will serve as another backup.

When this is all set up, you can now travel, leave your computer at home, plug in your memory card to your phone/tablet, and have your images backed up to your device, to Adobe’s cloud, to your hard drive at homes as well as Google Drive or Dropbox all while the originals still being kept on your memory card. All with one click as Lightroom will know exactly what to do with them. Consistently and automatically. What’s faster than doing nothing at all? Making sense now?

Fix The Glitch: Don’t Fire Your Photos, Just Stop Looking For Them. Stop Looking At Them Too.

Last tip. If you’re human, and a photographer, you’re going to take more bad photos than good ones. No judgment here.

In fact, if you’re not, you’re not stretching yourself creatively. Anyway, you probably don’t want to look at all of them, just the good ones, except that you do. That’s the first thing most of my students do. They get right to the job or seeking out and eliminating all of their bad photos. Why? That’s the quickest way to make you want to hang up your camera. How much is your time worth? How much is your sanity worth?

How many hours would it take for you to weed out, judge, then decide to delete the majority of your photos? For around $100 dollars you can buy a 5TB hard drive. You’re literally buying time back. I wish I can buy time like that in other areas of my life like this. And for this price? It’s a no brainer.

Psychologically, you’re spending most of your time looking for, and looking at, your worst work too. It’s the best way I know of to convince yourself you’re not a good photographer. It’s also incredibly inefficient. Why not spend your time simply looking for the vastly fewer amount of good photos? This is much faster, plus your psychologist will thank me.

Bonus, the worse of a photographer you are, the fewer percentage of good photos you take, the faster this will go! :)

Spending your time, only looking for good images by promoting them (using stars as flags) in multiple rounds as I demonstrate in my video is the fastest, most effective, least stressful workflow possible. You then sort by star rating to simply never see the bad images again.

I don’t delete anything, it takes too long and you never know if you may need an image for a specific purpose – for compositing, borrowing a sky, textures etc. You never know. Either way, it’s more efficient, less work and fewer decisions making it faster. Your time is precious.

Bonus Tip 1: Edit in multiple rounds, bubble your best work to the top, don’t edit a single photo until you get to 3 stars. Only edit your best work and you won’t know what that is until you cull your images using the system I demo in the class.

Bonus Tip 2: Press the lock icon at the right in the filter bar to lock the filter so it doesn’t reset the next time you come back to the folder.

Super Bonus Tip… Go to file-library filters-remember each sources filters separately to force Lightroom to remember the filter used on a folder by folder bases rather than apply the one sorting filter you have on across the board for each gallery.

Now, if you cull a gallery to 5 stars, it will remember and only show you your 5 stars. If you click on the next folder and you haven’t ranked the images yet, it will know that and show you all of the photos rather than showing you none since you had the 5 star filter on from the previous gallery. Brilliant! It sounds complicated but it’s not. It just gives memory to your filter bar. Try it!

Your time is the most precious and valuable thing you have. Cherish it and spend it wisely. Spend it on doing the things you truly love. Spend less of it on this!

Thank you for your time, I hope that it pays off tenfold for you. Thank you to Scott and his incredible team at KelbyOne for giving me the opportunity to share this with his incredible audience. I have learned so much from this platform, it has helped me tremendously through the years and as I launched my photography career and it’s an honor to be able to give back.

For more tips like this, check out my class here at KelbyOne as well as the workshops and other resources I have listed on my website

You can also keep up with Clifford on Instagram and Twitter.

Previous Post

Quick Twilight Tip

Next Post

New KelbyOne Class: The Science of Wildlife Photography