While many photographers still use the traditional print-and-frame or print-to-album strategies, all digital photographers must confront the issue of how they will store their digital image files.


Image Archiving
Storing photos was simple back in the days of film. You could put prints in shoeboxes or albums and file negatives in sleeves. Serious photographers who shot slide film would sometimes pack a selection of their best pictures into slide holders that could be slipped into a projector. But, otherwise, most slides remained in the boxes they were dispatched in.
Storing digital photos is more complex. While many photographers still use the traditional print-and-frame or print-to-album strategies, all digital photographers must confront the issue of how they will store their digital image files.
The problem with digital images is that they are intangible. Pictures can only be viewed when the files have been ‘translated’ in some way, either as prints or converted into a form that can be viewed on a computer or TV screen. Printing all your pictures (as you did back in the days of film) is wasteful; not to mention expensive. So, for the images that will be stored in digital form, two requirements are essential:
* Your pictures must remain readily accessible, and
* They must be protected from possible degradation.
Unlike images on film, which can degrade slowly over a relatively long period of time, digital images can be lost immediately – and sometimes catastrophically. A disk or hard disk drive (HDD) you used without problems last week may suddenly fail or a memory card can become corrupted inexplicably.
It’s also easy to over-write existing files inadvertently, either by accidentally re-formatting a memory card or failing to save an edited file separately from an original. It’s equally easy to delete files inadvertently. Sometimes files that are accidentally deleted can be restored. But, in many cases they can’t, so it is preferable to set up a system that ensures your pictures are always backed up as soon as you upload them to your computer.

Memory Card Storage
As far as we have been able to determine, the flash memory chips used in memory cards can retain data indefinitely (as long as the cards themselves are not damaged or corrupted). In fact, SanDisk launched a line of “Shoot & Store” memory cards that were designed to act as ‘digital film’ and act as storage devices. Interestingly, they have not been particularly popular, although they do work as specified and are convenient for some snapshooters.
With the substantial reductions in the prices of memory cards that have occurred recently, however, one-time-use memory cards are not cost-competitive. It is better to treat your memory cards as re-usable items and transfer the files they contain to other forms of storage. But, you need be in no rush to make the transfer because the files will be safe on the cards.


SanDisk’s Shoot & Store memory cards were designed for one-time use and provide snapshooters with an easy way to store digital photos.
Preserving Traditional Photos
Colour prints made on traditional photo paper can fade and discolour in as little as a decade, while negatives and slides will lose their colours within 20-30 years due to changes in the chemical composition of the dyes that make up the images. They commonly occur through exposure to light but can also take place – albeit at a much slower rate – when prints are stored in albums or film-based images are kept in boxes or files.
The best way to preserve film-based photographs is to digitise them, using a scanner. For prints, a flatbed scanner will do an excellent job as long as its resolution is high enough. For film strips and slides, the latest photo scanners (which are flatbed models) can match the resolution and colour depth of the film scanners that were formerly too costly for everyday photographers to buy.


Epson’s Perfection V500 Photo scanner has an integrated Transparency Unit and comes with two film holders that can hold 12 frames of 35mm strip film, 4 frames of 35mm mounted slides or one frame of medium format film.
When shopping for a scanner, look for one that is designed for photo scanning. For scanning 35mm films, a resolution of 4000 pixels/inch (ppi) will produce scans that can be enlarged for printing at A4 size. For larger prints, higher resolution is required. Lower resolutions are adequate for scanning prints as the original is so much larger.
File Formats for Archiving
If your camera can record raw files, this is the best format for archiving, even though file sizes are relatively large. Most cameras compress raw files losslessly so you will always be able to open and edit the image without any quality loss. (A 10-megapixel DSLR that applies lossless compression will produce raw files that are 9-12MB in size, whereas JPEG files at the highest size and quality are just under 5MB.)
Avoid archiving image files in JPEG format because each time you open and re-save the image file, some image data is lost. By the time the file has been opened and re-saved about 20 times, noticeable degradation may have occurred.
If your camera will only shoot JPEG files, re-save them for archiving as TIFF files. TIFF files can be saved in one of three formats: uncompressed, losslessly compressed through use of LZW algorithms or with Zip compression. There is little difference in typical file sizes for each of these options so, in most situations you may as well use the uncompressed format, which is quicker to save.
Storage Devices
External hard disk drives (HDDs) are the most cost-effective option for storing large quantities of digital data and come with capacities ranging from 60GB to more than one terabyte (1000 gigabytes). Prices have fallen in the past 12 months, particularly for high capacities, with one terabyte (TB) HDDs selling for around $500. Most drives are connected to the computer via a Hi-Speed USB 2.0 cable, which offers data transfer rates of up to 480 megabits/second.
Physical dimensions vary, with some models designed to sit on desktops and compact, portable models that can be slipped into a notebook computer case. Larger HDDs require separate power supplies, while most smaller models draw power via the USB cable. The beauty of HDDs is that they can work with any computer that has a USB port. So you can easily share them between several PCs. This makes them particularly useful for image and multimedia file storage.


External hard disk drives offer the best cost/capacity option.
Optical disks come in three main types: CD, DVD and Blu-Ray. CDs and DVDs are available in write-once and rewritable formats. With a capacity of between 700 and 800 MB, CDs are inadequate for large-volume storage but they’re cheap enough for everyday use when transferring a small number of image files (particularly via the postal system).
DVDs come in single-sided and dual-sided versions and with single layer and dual larger recording surfaces. They are also available in two sizes, the standard 12cm disks, which are ideal for data storage, and 8cm disks, which are used in DVD camcorders. The table below shows the capacities of each option.

Disk size

Single-layer capacity

Double layer capacity

12 cm, single-sided



12 cm, double-sided



8 cm, single-sided



8 cm, double-sided



Blu-Ray disks are a relatively new technology and have been developed mainly for storing digital media, particularly high-definition video. The technology relies on blue-violet lasers, which are used for writing to and reading from the disks. Because of the much shorter wavelength of these lasers, much more data can be stored on a Blu-ray Disc than with the DVD format, which uses a red (650 nm) laser.

Like DVDs, Blu-Ray disks come in single- and dual-layer versions, with a single disk holding 25GB and a dual layer disk 50GB. Prices of disks and Blu-Ray drives were too high to compete with DVD and HDD products when we went to press but this situation is expected to change in the near future as the technology becomes more widely adopted.

Care is required when selecting optical disks for archiving as some disks will retain stored data much longer than others. Cheap disks that contain unstable dyes will deteriorate much sooner than disks that use longer-lived azo dyes. Disks with gold in the recording layer are generally considered the most stable as gold is chemically inert.

Regardless of which disks you use, you should check the stored images every 12-18 months by loading the disk into your computer and opening a few files. If you notice ANY signs of degradation, copy the contents of the disk onto a new disk. Always keep at least two copies of the images you wish to preserve – in addition to the files you keep on your computer’s hard drive.

Archiving Systems
When storing your digital photos, bear in mind that a failure in any of the storage devices you use could mean your pictures are irretrievably lost. It is also risky to rely on automated file management systems as some have been known to behave counter-intuitively at times. You should, therefore, develop a systematic ‘workflow’ – in other words, a standard system for taking, copying, editing and storing ALL your digital images that locks in as soon as you upload files to your computer.

A tried-and-proven system is outlined below.

1. Shoot all images at the highest resolution and quality settings. (If your camera supports raw file capture, use it.) This gives you the best possible files for archiving.

2. Upload the image files to your computer, using the Copy process, which leaves the original image files on the memory card. The software supplied with your camera – or an image editing application you have loaded on your computer – may take over this process and determine where these image end up and how the folders are labelled. (This automation can be fraught with difficulties. See “Automated Cataloguing” below.)

3. Examine your files and delete any images that are unwanted duplicates as well as those you know you will never want again (blurred shots, pictures with serious exposure problems, shots with intervening objects that spoil pictorial composition). Some photographers like to set up sub-files of ‘keeper’ shots at this stage to make it easier to track down their best shots.

4. Make a second copy of all the image files on a CD or DVD or external hard disk drive; somewhere that is not on your computer’s hard drive. Once this has been done, you can erase the files from your memory card, knowing that if a power surge took out your computer’s hard drive, a copy of your original photos would still be available.

These four steps ensure you have at least two copies of all your original shots. The most dangerous point in handling digital files is transferring them from one storage location to another. To avoid problems, NEVER delete files from the source location until you have verified them in the destination. Other ways to avoid problems when transferring image files include:

* Make sure the device (camera or card reader) has completed writing before attempting to remove the card or storage media.
* Avoid wet or dusty places when changing memory cards or writing files to optical disks.
* Keep spare memory cards in protective plastic containers when they are not in use and store them away from heat, electromagnetic radiation, dust and moisture.

Image Management
How can you find and retrieve wanted pictures easily? And when happens with shots you have edited? Dealing with these issues requires an effective image management system.

If you’re using an automatic image downloader, it should store each batch of shots in a separate folder, labelled with the date on which the files were saved. This is a logical way to catalogue pictures and works well as long as you can remember when pictures were taken. If you don’t use automatic cataloguing you need a system that will make individual image files easy to locate and retrieve. Adding keywords, dates or times to the file name can be helpful at this stage.

Some applications allow photographers to tag image files with keywords that represent favorite people, places, or events. This makes it easy to find all the pictures you have of, say, Sue or Darwin or Christmas 2006. However, you MUST add these tags as you upload the shots into your computer; doing it later is a tedious and time-consuming chore.


Applications like Picasa2 will automatically catalogue digital photos as they are uploaded.
Automated Cataloguing
People either love or loathe automated cataloguing systems that take over file management whenever you connect a camera, memory card or other image-storing device to your computer. They are certainly convenient, largely because they make image management easy. In theory, at least, they should also make it easier to locate and retrieve your pictures whenever you want them. But they have a few downsides:
1. They may not store the folders containing the pictures in a logical place in your computer system. Although most should put the folders into the My Pictures folder, this doesn’t always happen. We have wasted hours on several occasions locating files after an automated cataloguer ‘mislaid’ image folders. Photographers with limited computer experience would find this a difficult and daunting task.
2. Folder labelling may be non-intuitive. Although the better automatic cataloguers usually use the date of the upload as the label for the folder, it can be easy to become confused when you upload the contents of several memory cards on the same day. In most cases, separate folders with the same date and a different order number will be created – but this isn’t always the case.



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