Where Are We Now?
We started by looking at reasons why digital photographers need some sort of structured image file management system. Then we reviewed the steps of downloading to an organized computer space, categorizing the image library and editing both the library and the individual files. The next topic is the whole reason we take pictures in the first place – sharing them with others.
“It’s Nice to Share” – Ms. Hupner, My Kindergarten Teacher
There are few things that can stir up memories as well as a picture. Bring out the family albums during a reunion and the pictures inside will launch stories and remembrances in a heartbeat. Those moments of connection with the past are why parents the world over make their kids stop squirming and hold still for a picture. Today’s pictures are part of tomorrow’s memories. Have I convinced you yet that we all need to begin treating some of our digital images as future family memories?
After we have taken the time to organize our image libraries, finding the images we want to share is easy and fast. The entire effort of maintaining order in our image files is focused on this moment, retrieving the correct image file so that we can view it or share it.
The case for making photographic prints
A photographic print is rapidly becoming a less common ways to share images. It’s understandable when we can store thousands – even tens of thousands – of images on our computers. Prints take up space and they require some sort of bulk storage; ideally in a photo album. Prints aren’t as easy to show off on a moment’s notice compared to pictures on a smart phone.
Yet photographic prints have one huge advantage going for them, photographic prints exist independent of technology and therefore they can be enjoyed for as long as the image lasts.
Let’s bring that thought about ‘memories independent of technology’ a little closer to home. How many VHS tapes do you own? VHS tapes of family events or purchased movies can be found in almost any home. How about 8mm video tapes? 8mm was the reigning home video format for a very long time.
Now, it’s time to watch a home movie and your 8mm camcorder or player isn’t working. Go find a new one, I dare you. You paid to have your old home Super8 movies transferred from film to VHS? Go shopping for a new VHS tape player and when you see the total lack of options in the market it’s pretty easy to guess which video format is on the endangered species list.
The point is to not allow ourselves to trust our memories exclusively to technology. We really do owe it to ourselves to preserve important pictures in a hard copy form. Not all of our images, but those that will have lasting significance.
When considering hard copy options a standard 4X6 print is still the most common size photo print, or we could choose photo books which have become very popular. Either way the images should still be viewable in 75 to 100 years – no matter what kind of computer is around by that time. By all means share images through technology! Just don’t bet the farm on it.
When we choose to share through electronic means the possibilities seem endless. There are personal methods of sharing such as slideshows on DVD or by direct email. Another option is to create online galleries. These galleries can be viewed from any device connected to the internet. Online galleries make a lot of sense because hundreds of images can be shared quickly and efficiently. The photographer uploads the chosen images to a gallery and then sends a simple email with a link to the gallery. Galleries can be fully private, by invitation only or fully open to everyone. The photographer is in complete control.
Back-up and Storage
This brings us to the last part of this article, safe back-up and storage of our digital library. Please remember that the key to any back-up plan is to actually use it! A plan without action is a wish. Schedule the activity on your calendar – weekly, monthly or quarterly – and please make sure that you do it. Our computers have a nasty habit of up and dying without any advance notice. By backing-up our files a computer crash won’t take our entire library with it.
If we have made photographic prints of our important images we have a back-up to those same image files on the computer’s hard drive. If a digital image file is lost or becomes corrupt a new file can be created by scanning the print. That’s a pretty effective back-up, however we do need a way to electronically back-up our image files too.
Two common at home methods for backing-up an image library are burning the files to optical disks or copying them to another removable hard drive. Burning to disk is still a favored back-up method for many family photographers.
Optical disk storage (CD or DVD) is cheap and easy to use. Yet optical disks do have disadvantages. These disks are susceptible to scratches that could render them unreadable. Inexpensive disks frequently become unreadable over time as the internal dye structure breaks down. Then there will be the inevitable day in the future when the format becomes obsolete. Before that day comes all of those image disks will need to be copied over to the next popular storage medium.
The second means of home based back-up is to copy our image files to a second, removable USB hard drive. USB hard drives offer surprisingly vast storage at low cost per megabyte. Many USB drives also come with built-in software that can be used to automatically back-up selected folders from the computer to the removable drive.
The very best back-up methods will be based around devices or disks that aren’t stored on-site. By having the back-up stored elsewhere a fire, flood or theft can’t ruin them. Many photographers will use two large USB drives and alternate their use. One is always hooked up to the computer and one is always stored off-site (perhaps in a safety deposit box).
Other photographers rely on what is called a RAID hard drive setup where multiple connected disks exactly mirror the main computer hard drive. These can be good systems and they will provide protection against a drive failure. However they can be expensive and unless the RAID drives are removed to another secure location they can be just as susceptible to physical damage as the computer that they back-up.
Last is online storage. There has been explosive growth in this segment with new storage sites coming online almost every month. Online storage is a great way to make your images accessible from any computer connected to the internet. However it is my opinion that online storage is not good for either primary storage or back-up.
Online image storage sites are popular but we need to be aware that some can severely degrade the quality of our image files. Many sites will allow photographers to create free storage space yet they don’t make it clear that free storage doesn’t mean high quality storage. These sites take your 10MB image file and automatically down-sizes it to about 1.4MB. Full sized image file upload might only be available with a paid membership.
Downloading from online storage to the home computer is the other side of the story. Many sites simply don’t offer direct download while others do but only one image at a time. The top storage and gallery sites will provide a batch download option.
Why be concerned about the ability to download our images? There will come a day when the photographer wants to stop paying a monthly storage fee, needs to recover from a computer crash or simply wants to change service providers. How the chosen storage site handles both uploads and downloads should be investigated before committing any images to its care.
There are highly reliable and trustworthy storage sites online. Before deciding on one, be sure to read all of the policies and practices.And if you find a good match online by all means use it, I do! But don’t let your main library and back-up become neglected or you could wind up with quite a mess in the future.
In conclusion: We take pictures so that we may view and share them later. An organized image file library makes it fast and easy to find just the right images to share. Photographic prints still have several advantages over all-electronic photo sharing; chiefly prints are independent of technology.
In order for our pictures to last for years so that we can keep sharing them we have to provide some sort of safe back-up. Burning files to CD / DVD is one method, employing removable USB hard drives another. Online storage is convenient and holds promise for image usage, but there are serious concerns that preclude online storage as a good alternative to a main image library or as a primary back-up solution.
Final words: This has been quite a long series of articles but the topic is very important. Important not only to today’s photographers but to anyone who might like to view our images in the future. What we have presented has been an overview of a very deep topic. As the author I have tried to point out the differences between facts and my opinion along the way.
While there is hot debate about the “how” of digital image libraries, storage and back-up (archiving) there is no debate on “why”. Just because our pictures are no longer physically in our photo albums, filed into shoe boxes, or jammed into junk drawers doesn’t mean that we can ignore them. As photographers our job isn’t finished until the image is preserved.
It really is easy to manage image files once the setup is complete and the ball is rolling. It’s just that the first steps are daunting. It’s OK to feel a little overwhelmed by the task, just decide to start and take small steps along the way. Pretty soon milestones are accomplished and our images and family histories are that much closer to permanence.