About This Digital iDarkroom Primer

This Primer on the new digital darkroom is provided on this blog to arm new DSLR photographers with the fundamental knowledge needed to become familiar with the evolving digital technologies and be able to apply them to their emerging interest in the photographic art. To read this Primer in logical order, please begin with the oldest post and read to the most current. Click HERE for Table of Contents.

Along the way, you'll find, photography tips, photography techniques and an ample dose of solid photo basics to help you feel comfortable in your digital darkroom.

A sister site, Hub's Camera, covers the fundamental mechanics of using your new DSLR camera. Then visit Hub's Photography Tips for basic but essential tips on all things photographic. Links to both of these sites can be found in the right-hand column of this page. Happy shooting!

"Hub's iDarkroom" is a non-commercial, educational service of Hubbard Camera LLC.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Part 19 - Storing Digital Images

If there's a downside to your new found photographic passion, it's the fact that there's almost no limit to the number of pictures that can be taken. There's no film to buy. There are no film processing costs. And DSLR data storage cards can be used over and over to spread their cost over hundreds or thousands of pictures.

With almost no cost involved, today's DSLR photographers shoot more images than ever. Now the issue is the safe storage of files. Not only the data files from the camera's storage cards, but all the variations made from the files during post processing in image editing programs. Just one file might give birth to several more. Here's an example of the versions in the life of just one digital image:
  • The original camera file that was copied and saved to your computer's hard drive.
  • One file in the same size as the original file that has been edited, corrected and saved.
  • One file that was re-sized and saved for use on a website.
  • One file that was re-sized and saved to make an 8"x10" print for your den.
  • One file that was re-sized and saved to appear in a magazine or newspaper.
In this case, one original file generated the need to save 4 new files. Multiply this scenario for all your best images and you are soon experiencing a computer hard drive that's overflowing. Most disturbing is the vulnerability of these fragile and irreplaceable files. There are dozens of ways this data can be lost forever, like:
  • power surges
  • jarring or dropping a hard drive
  • virus attack corrupting the hard drive
  • computer being stolen
  • the hard drive wearing out over time from normal use
  • your 8-year old types "reformat"
  • alien computer abductions.
It's obvious some regular and "adhered to" back up process is necessary for image security and peace of mind. The Internet is filled with suggestions for backing up your images -- some good, some bad.

I will describe the procedure I use for backing up and storing my images. My method is not necessarily any better, but it has provided me with the confidence to know that my images are protected and always retrievable.

To start with, my primary imaging computer is an iMac. (No, that's not a recommendation, it's just the digital imaging computer I grew up with and am most comfortable using.) The current Mac OS has an automatic back up feature called Time Machine. I have a dedicated 750GB hard drive that is used by Time Machine to provide an HOURLY backup of my "changed" or new files.

I use the Time Machine feature as a secondary backup (sort of a "just in case" copy of my files). My primary back up device is a 1 terabyte Seagate external hard drive that stores an exact copy of my computer's hard drive that is created every morning at 2 a.m. using a backup program called SuperDuper. This primary back up drive is connected to my computer by Firewire (rather than USB) to provide faster copy speeds. If you have more than one computer or are part of a network, this "image-dedicated" back up drive can also be installed to allow back up over the network.

Seagate Free Agent, 1 Terabyte External Hard Drive

Here is the process I follow for uploading and protecting the files coming from my DSLR:
  1. Using Lightroom's import feature I transfer the files from my data card to a dedicated Lightroom image folder.
  2. I then make a second copy of the same files into a dedicated holding folder on my external terabyte hard drive.
  3. I then erase the original files from my data card for re-use.
  4. SuperDuper and Time Machine perform their timed back ups to ensure my original and edited images are backed up on two separate hard drives.
  5. Over time the Holding Folder on my terabyte drive grows in size. When the folder reaches 4 gigabytes, I copy the folder to a DVD for long term storage. The files in the Holding Folder are then erased in preparation for the next series of images. I am very careful to store my DVDs in a safe environment to maximize their life.
There is much dispute over the life expectancy of CDs and DVDs, but they are the best alternative available today. The better (and more expensive) DVDs do have a longer projected life expectancy. Since there's little likelihood that these DVDs will be needed on a regular basis, it's a good idea to consider storing them off-site (i.e. safety deposit box, under grandma's bed, etc.). If the worst ever happened and something catastrophic happened to your digital darkroom, your original image files would be safe.

In total, I have 4 copies of my original files and 3 copies of any new or altered versions I create from the original image files. Although my procedure isn't bullet proof, it does allow me to sleep better at night.

Not long ago, the expense of 750GB and 1 terabyte drives made this back up process financially prohibitive and other alternatives like storing images on Internet services were more attractive. However, the cost of large capacity hard drives has dropped dramatically and is within the reach of most photographers. Be sure to research and compare hard drives to determine the positives and negatives that real users are experiencing.

Finally, with the exception of Time Machine, these same procedures are adaptable to any PC platform and operating system.