Tried and proven strategies for preserving your precious photos.
With an early start to the bushfire season and a predicted increase in extreme weather events, it’s never been more important to ensure valuable photographs are well protected. This means everything from old negatives, prints and slides to your most recent digital images.
Disasters can happen, and cause images to be lost forever. Even simply losing a memory card or optical disk can mean the loss of the images it contains.
It’s important to have a strategy for organising and storing your photographs, regardless of the format they are in or when they were taken. In this feature we will look at ways to prevent images from being lost.
1. Today’s Shots
Let’s start with the photos you’re taking today, which are initially stored on memory cards. Although usually robust, memory cards can be corrupted and they’re not immune to breaking under stress (when you insert or remove them from devices carelessly). Fortunately, they’re easy to care for and it’s usually simple to transfer images from cards to more secure storage.
Many cameras can embed copyright labels in image files and more sophisticated image editors enable photographers to add other descriptors to aid image searching when files are stored.
Even though there’s a wide variety of digital formats available, the most popular formats for saving images are the editable formats: JPEG and TIFF. But they’re not necessarily the best formats.
Serious photographers who capture raw files should save them as their treasured originals because they provide an opportunity to go back to the as-captured image at any time in the future. Improvements to raw processing software will often enable you to extract more from an older raw file than you could when it was originally recorded.
Another advantage of archiving images as raw files is that the original image metadata is retained. This includes camera settings and the date and time the image was captured. Copyright labels and GPS data can also be inserted by cameras supporting these functions and photographers can add other descriptors with some editing software.
The take-home message is: always back up your original images. Edited versions should also be backed-up, preferably as TIFF files. Raw files can be converted into 16-bit TIFFs that retain the maximum amount of image data. JPEGs start as 8-bit images so nothing is gained by converting them into 16-bit TIFFs (although nothing is lost).
2. Old Photos
Most families have collections of old photos they would hate to lose. Yet, even storing the originals can be fraught with problems. Colour slides and prints will fade and undergo colour shifts. Black and white prints may discolour. Images on film are vulnerable to mould and dust, and prints can be damaged by handling.
A photograph like this from the middle of the last century is a valuable memento that most families would hate to lose.
Images on physical media also take up a lot of space and finding specific photos can be difficult unless you’ve devoted time to cataloguing your photos (and how many people do that?). You need an efficient filing system to make locating shots easy when they are required.
The best solution is to digitise old photos ““ and that requires a scanner. If you only have a small collection it may be more cost-effective to have it scanned professionally, particularly if you’re time-poor. Most camera shops offer image scanning services.
Deciding to do the job yourself requires a scanner plus a considerable amount of time to be set aside. The type of scanner depends upon the originals. If you only have prints, a regular flatbed scanner will suffice.
But most people have a mixture of prints and images on film, which will require a more sophisticated scanner. It can still be a flatbed type but it should have a light source in the cover that can direct light through film images plus holders for the various film sizes in your collection.
If you can afford a dedicated scanner it will do a better job than the scanner on a multi-function printer because the latter is set up for scanning documents, rather than images. Look for a scanner with integrated dust and scratch removal and backlight correction. Scanners with batch scanning modes let you scan multiple images and are a good time-saver.
If the photos you want to scan are mounted in an album, it’s best to take them out before scanning. Where prints are permanently mounted, you’ll need a scanner with a flexible cover that can accommodate books. Place the page you want to scan as flat as possible on the flatbed, and let the facing page and cover hang straight down along the side of the desk or table.
Once your images are digitised, you’ll need somewhere to store them. Storage technologies continue to evolve and the capacities of traditional optical media like CDs and DVDs are falling short of many users’ requirements.
Even hard disk drives (HDDs) are beginning to have perceived shortcomings, despite the fact that prices have fallen as capacities have increased. One terabyte (1000 gigabytes) external HDDs are available in Australia for around $100, with 2TB drives selling for around $250 and 4TB drives for around $300.
Most people currently have multiple computers in a household, which are connected via a home network. A Network-attached storage (NAS) system enables files (including image and movie files) to be shared among all computers on the network and also provides the essential back-up capacity needed to ensure the long-term security of stored files. Prices start at around $500 ““ without the HDDs.
NAS systems often include a stripped-down operating system for organising stored data and providing fast access to files. Many of them use RAID (redundant array of independent disks) that can divide and replicate data among multiple physical drives for protection against catastrophic data loss caused by physical damage or errors on a single drive.
The distribution of data across multiple drives can be managed by dedicated computer hardware or software. The latter may be part of the operating system, or part of the firmware and drivers supplied with a hardware RAID controller. Multiple RAID systems can be set up; one for primary storage and one for backup.
RAIDs are convenient to use because they appear on your computer like a normal hard drive. They can be set up in different configurations to suit different purposes. For example, you can put a primary storage ‘vault’ onto one and duplicate it to the other.
The Importance of Backing Up
There are many ways that files can become damaged, deleted or lost so it’s important to have backup strategies in place. A successful backup strategy balances redundancy, longevity and affordability in an easy-to-manage system that enables you to find the images you need when you want them.
Backing up can start in your camera if it has dual card slots as one card can be set to record raw images and the other JPEG files. If you’re shooting to just one card, backing up probably won’t start until you have computer access ““ unless your camera has built-in Wi-Fi and you have a smartphone plus Cloud-based storage.
Without Wi-Fi, you must rely on a card reader (which may be built into your laptop) and computer storage. Backing up to a portable HDD is worthwhile when you’re travelling as it can be stored in a safe place where it’s unlikely to be lost or stolen.
Cloud-based storage services like Flickr and Dropbox are becoming increasingly popular as more cameras are equipped with Wi-Fi and an increasing number of people have smartphones.
Dropbox provides 2GB of free space but you can upgrade to 100GB for $99 per year or gain 500MB for every friend you invite who installs Dropbox on their computer.
Microsoft’s SkyDrive provides 7GB of free storage for new users plus an additional 3GB for students for one year. It integrates with social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as well as Bing’s Save & Share function. Photos uploaded onto SkyDrive can be played as an automatic slideshow and folders can be downloaded as a single .zip file with a limit of 4GB or 65,000 files (whichever comes first) per download.
If you’re relying on Cloud storage, make sure you read the terms and conditions of the service agreements very carefully. Unfortunately, the days of free storage are drawing to a close ““ and that may mean your stored images could be deleted automatically if you don’t pay the required fee on time, or if the service is terminated. Make sure you back up images stored in the Cloud on your home storage system.
A recently-released backup system is Western Digital’s My Cloud, which combines a desktop hard drive with Cloud storage. Connecting it to a wireless router allows it to be used by all devices that can access the home (or office) network. It links to a ‘base station’ computer via a USB 3.0 port and is automatically recognised by the Wi-Fi network and connected devices.
You can move files from Cloud storage into My Cloud and access stored files from mobile apps. It can also be used as a home entertainment hub and, since it doesn’t actually store anything on external servers, they are used for connection only and you can add password protection for additional security.
It’s easy to calculate the appropriate scanning resolution once you’ve decided how the images will be used. For general archiving ““ and to cover multiple uses for the images ““ a good starting point is A4 size (210 x 297mm) with a resolution of 300 pixels/inch (ppi). The standard output resolution for printers is 300 dots/inch so higher resolutions won’t produce better-looking prints. Even 200 ppi looks almost as good with many printers.
If you think you might crop the image or print it at a larger size, scan it at a resolution that will give you at least 240 ppi after it’s enlarged. Images that will only be viewed on screens only require 72 ppi resolution, which isn’t optimal for archiving as it leaves little scope for enlarging and printing the image subsequently. It’s better to scan at a high resolution and make down-sampled copies for screen viewing.
Images destined for printing should be scanned at a resolution of 300 pixels/inch (ppi).
When you can’t remove prints from an album without damaging them, a scanner allows you to select individual images on a page. Some scanners can automatically identify photos and scan them as a batch, allowing you to do other tasks while scans are in progress.
Flickr is a popular Cloud-based service that provides up to one terabyte of free photo and video storage and can handle files of up to 200MB. It’s funded by advertising so users who want an ad-free storage option have to pay an annual fee of US$49.99.
WD’s My Cloud combines a desktop hard drive with Cloud access to provide a versatile file storage system. (Source: WD.)
Desktop hard drives are available with fast USB 3.0 interfaces and capacities up to 4 terabytes. (Source: Verbatim.)
Today’s flatbed scanners can be used for scanning both images on film and printed photos. This scanner has holders for mounted slides as well as unmounted negatives and transparencies. (Source: Epson.)
This is an excerpt from Photo Review Issue 59.