I have been shooting photos extensively since 1996, and sporadically before that. With nearly 200,000 images in my archives, I have learned the importance of properly keywording your images.
When I first started as a pro with film in 1996, I kept my images in archival sleeves, organized by date. I would sometimes write on the sleeve some tidbit of information about the subject. I even tried printing labels to place on my 35mm slide sleeves, but as the volume of my images increased this became difficult to keep up with. I also kept groups of images on the same subject in manila file folders inside my dated hanging file folders. This system worked decent for the film days, but by no means was perfect and as my film archive grew to nearly 100,000 images, this workflow became unwieldy.
I purchased my first digital camera, the Nikon D1, when it first arrived around 2000. This both improved the workflow yet created its own problems. I could now shoot far more images so my image volume went up even more. At the time there really were no good image tracking databases around and XMP/EXIF data stored in the image file was not very well known. I tried creating my own database in Microsoft Access but this proved a big challenge and was difficult to maintain.
Eventually I was referred to a great database program called iMatch. It allowed me to catalog my images and assign them to a variety of categories with just a click of the mouse. Within a few years I had 80,000 images organized in cataloged in iMatch, and could find any image I needed in under 2 minutes.
Ultimately I had to switch from iMatch to Adobe Lightroom and this proved problematic. It seems iMatch did not store the keyword information in the image file, but in an external database. This made the program fairly fast, but when I went to reimport the images into Lightroom, all my keywording and categorization was lost! I ended up having to go back and keyword over 100,000 images – a real pain and a project I am still working on.
I am fairly happy with Lightroom now, although it by no means is a great program. It does however store the keywords and captions inside the image itself so any time I export images, copy them to another program, or load them to a web site, my captioning and keyword information is kept intact.
Today it is still a lot of work to keyword and caption each and every image I take, but I have learned it is much easier to do during image capture than it is after the fact.