Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"Thousands of Images, Now What?" by Mike Hagan

I guess a couple of things convinced me that I finally needed to take the plunge and come up with a plan to organize and back up my digital photos:
  1. I started using my own photos for this blog, and discovered too many times that I knew I had just the right image to illustrate a post...somewhere....if only I could find it. This made me worry that some pictures might be lost for good, and not just missing among my messy files.
  2. I got a new camera to take on vacation with me. I love it, and as a consequence I'm taking more pictures than ever before.

Kindle Fire screen grab photo book

I've begun using Picasa, because it's free, plays well with Google Drive (facilitating back up), and has a basic editing capacity which serves most of my needs. Unfortunately, Picasa isn't all that useful as an organization tool: it finds all your image files but doesn't move them into an organized file structure. Or at least I couldn't figure out an obvious way to accomplish that task.
So, I set out to look for e-books that would help me use Picasa effectively. What I found written specifically about Picasa didn't answer my questions, so I broadened the search to general digital photo organization. After downloading and reading a few sample chapters, Mike Hagan's book, "Thousands of Images, Now What: Painlessly Organize, Save, and Back Up Your Digital Photos" was exactly what I was looking for.

Mike Hagan is a professional photographer, and discusses how to use professional tools -- such as Lightroom (Win or Mac) and Aperture (Mac) -- to organize, backup, and catalog your photos. These programs are expensive and way beyond my limited needs. However, the book discusses less pricy options as well (like Picasa), and gives clear explanations of how the two main types of "Digital Asset Management (DAM)" work.

Programs like Lightroom are "databases." That is, your actual image files aren't rearranged or changed by the program. It works like a card catalog, storing and indexing information to let you find and edit specific photos. It's easy to imagine how such a capacity would be invaluable for a professional, who might need to find pictures by date taken, subject matter, color palette, etc.

For me, the alternative "browser" approach seemed more straightforward and manageable. With this type of DAM, you move, rename, and open folders of images as they are stored. The simplest organization is based on date taken -- year, month, day, -- and keeps photo files in chronological order. I've added a brief description as well, so I'll know at a glance if a file from 2012 contains graduation ceremony pictures or vacation shots.

Back up, back up, back up. I know this, but still have had a few hard reminders. Hagan estimates that "serious amateur" photographers shoot 25,000 or more photos in a year. At 10MB each, that's a requirement for 25GB per year, or more for more photos in RAW format (whatever that is!). So, storage needs must be considered.

Hagan is not a fan of cloud storage due to slow speed, space limitations, and expense. However, the book is a couple of years old now, and prices on cloud storage have been dropping and free storage options have increased. The cloud might not be a feasible back-up choice for a professional, but for my own needs I think it's reasonable.

Altogether Hagan recommends backing up your images in three places: your hard drive, an external hard drive (that is not your working drive, but just for back up), and additional back ups to media such as DVDs --  ideally stored off site. I have a external hard drive for back up, but I'm also using cloud services as my "offsite" backup.

Organizing my photos is still a work in progress for me, though I feel I am finally on the right track. "Thousands of Images, Now What?" gave me an "adviser" to refer to, and I expect I'll be looking at it often as I work through developing a personal DAM plan. As I practice and (hopefully) get more confident as a photographer and photo editor, perhaps I'll also get more ambitious about the tools I'm using.

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