How to store your digital photos safely

How To Store Your Digital Photos Safely

When it comes to digital photos, remember: save it, file it, back it up!

WORDS Malcolm Street

I have no doubt that many readers of this fine magazine remember film cameras. You know, those things you loaded a roll of film into before being able to take any photos? No doubt some of you can even remember the black and white film that came before colour film, and let us not forget slide film and, in particular, my favourite – Kodachrome. Who else remembers the Paul Simon song?

In the good old days, after shooting your photos, you would take your film down to the local chemist for processing – which was either done on site or at a photo lab. In the 1970s, we saw the rise of the regional super labs which ran large courier fleets for 24-hour service. In the 1980s, the super labs lost out to mini labs which returned the processing to street front outlets, including chemists. The digital revolution changed everything again, and while home printing is now possible, there are still plenty of photo printing establishments around.

Slide enthusiasts (this writer included) will remember posting off yellow Kodachrome envelopes and receiving back a yellow-topped box full of slides to bore friends and relatives with at slideshow nights!

So here’s the question: after receiving your prints or slides, what did you do with them after looking through them? The diligent among us carefully put the labelled prints into albums and the sorted slides into large wooden Filco boxes to be stored away. The less diligent put the packets of prints into shoe boxes in the bottom of the wardrobe with firm intentions of sorting them out on a rainy day. Whether that rainy day ever happened is another matter.

Lest you think I am jesting about the ‘shoe box’ system of storing prints and slides, let me tell you it’s a far, far better system than what many people use for their digital images today. All things going well, there is a fair chance those prints and negatives you stashed away in a box marked ‘New Zealand, 1985’ are still there.

Can you say the same about the digital images you took just five years ago? With the rapid rate of change technology now undergoes, another five or 10 years down the track your images may well have disappeared to an e-waste site along with some long-forgotten computer or mobile phone.

The improvements in smart phone and tablet cameras are also contributing to what I call the ‘digital storage problem’ – with many more photos being taken but few stored in an effective manner.

So, does it matter? Particularly when it comes to family events and your travel memories, photos can provide an important connection to the past, enabling you to relive memories, reminding you of occasions and places you had perhaps forgotten. I had a situation in my own family recently where a relative with fading memories was desperate to find some photos taken in Britain back in the 1950s. A British cousin finally turned them up in a long-forgotten suitcase and they were scanned and emailed across the world – a very fortunate result.

So, to avoid being unable to locate your photos in the future, here are a few tips for starting and maintaining some sort of digital photo file system.

SAVING IMAGES

After a brief survey of family and friends, I discovered most make an effort to download their photos from their camera – at least after returning from a big trip or event, or simply when their camera card gets full. However, there is one or two among us that simply buy a new camera card when their old one won’t take another image.

Storing digital images is quite simple – more time consuming than anything – and there are a couple of different approaches, depending on whether you are using a standard digital camera, or a smartphone or tablet.

In the case of a camera, you either connect it to your computer via a cord or remove the compact memory card from the camera and plug that into the computer to download the images. Some computers will accept cards directly but many will need a card reader – a device that will accept different types of cards and plugs into the computer via a USB port.

Many phones and tablets can be plugged straight into any computer and used in the same way as the above, but Apple products download images either via iTunes or wirelessly using iCloud, Dropbox or simply by email. A nice alternative is a wireless USB drive that can transfer images wirelessly from an iPad to the USB drive, which can then be plugged into a computer. They are not particularly cheap but they work well.

It’s at this point that many storage systems fall down. Many cameras come with software that is set up for automatic download once the camera is plugged in. The problem is that users often don’t know where the software stores the images and are unable to find them again.

So it’s vital to set up some sort of file storage system that makes finding images easy.

FILES AND FOLDERS

The important thing is to have a filing system that works for you and makes it easy for you to find whatever it is you’re looking for. In my case, I have a folder for each year, which is then split into ‘work’ and ‘non-work’. From there, the work folder has a sub-folder for each subject, usually RV shoots, while the non-work folder can be hugely varied, containing different folders for particular events, subjects and holidays.

While downloading and sorting images might sound like a time consuming pain (which it is), once set up properly, it’s often something that can be done while watching TV. And the result is that you always know exactly where all your photos are.

STORAGE FACILITIES

Photographic images tend to take up a fair whack of digital storage space and video files even more so, which can be a problem when it comes to storing all these files on your computer. This is the main reason I don’t keep all my treasured and important images on my desktop (office) or laptop (travel) computers. Instead, I use portable hard drives – book-sized ones for the office computer and pocket-sized ones for the travelling laptop.

I use the plural here because I have two hard drives per computer, mostly for back-up purposes. And this in itself is really important – backing up your photos on to multiple hard drives helps protect them in the instance that one of your hard drives goes missing or fails.

Not so long ago, a 500 gigabyte (GB) hard drive was considered normal, but now one terabyte (TB) and even 2TB drives are common. The good thing is that these hard drives are relatively inexpensive and the price is coming down all the time. Pocket-sized hard drives tend to be more pricey but they are winners in the space and lightweight race and are, therefore, ideal for RVers.

Some people still use DVDs as a storage and back-up system, which isn’t a bad idea but they are limited space-wise and are becoming an outdated technology – something that is a constant problem with anything to do with computers.

Large capacity USB sticks are another alternative for those who are travelling but don’t take huge amounts of images.

SOFTWARE

Generally speaking, downloading images can be done using nothing more sophisticated than Windows Explorer. But for saving and sorting images, there is some good software around, which is particularly useful for bulk file transfers and something like Adobe’s Lightroom is a time-saving winner. For digital darkroom work, the well-known Adobe Photoshop Elements is excellent for both professionals and the keen amateur.

PRESERVING THE PRESENT FOR THE FUTURE

The advent of digital photography has revolutionised how we take photos and we are now taking more photos than ever before, simply because we can. But although photos are being taken in larger quantities, many experts reckon many of these won’t last beyond the life of whatever device they were taken on. Now, if that isn’t impetus enough for downloading, filing and backing up your photos, I don’t know what is!

It may not seem that important now, but there may just come a time when the photos you took on your last Northern Territory trip might be desperately needed and you’ll know exactly where to find them…