For my parents’ generation, organizing family photos meant mounting prints in acid-free albums and storing Kodachromes in neatly labeled carousels and boxes. Barring fire, flood or some other catastrophic disaster, my family’s memories could remain safely within their bookshelves and dark cupboards indefinitely.
Today, most of us store our photos on laptops, computers and cell phones. We regularly scroll through hundreds of thumbnails to find the one we seek and every day we run the risk of losing files to electrical surges, corruption, drive failure or simple user error.
It doesn’t have to be this hard! Following these simple tips will help you preserve your files and quickly find the photo collections you’re looking for.
STEP 1) PROTECT YOUR CAPTURES:
The original files captured by your camera are the hardest to replace so it’s worth taking some extra precautions to preserve them. Never delete the files from your capture card until you’ve copied them to at least two places.
When possible, confirm that the copies you made didn’t get corrupted in the transfer process. If you use a photo browser (applications that show thumbnails of your photos), set its preferences to render a new thumbnail from the capture data instead of using the camera-generated thumbnail. If all the thumbnails build properly, you can feel confident the data is uncorrupted.
STEP 2) BACK UP YOUR DATA:
Create a back-up routine and stick to it consistently. For extra safety, follow the “3-2-1 Rule” - 3 copies on 2 different media (e.g. hard drive plus Blu-ray or DVD) with 1 copy stored off-site. Keep your back-up copies off-line and only access your backups if your primary copy fails.
STEP 3) USE CONSISTENT NAMING STRATEGIES
If you’re going to rename the file, do it right away so your capture file and its derivatives always share the same root name. Attaching abbreviations or codes as a suffix to the root name can help you identify what’s different about any derivative file (e.g. RootName_RT for the retouched version of the file). If you have to change the file name for any reason, embed the original root name into the “Source” field of the file’s metadata so you can easily get back to other versions.
STEP 4) USE RATINGS AND RANKINGS CONSISTENTLY
Decide what each star and/or color level is going to mean to you and always use them to mean the same thing. That way, you’ll always know immediately why any given file got a three-star rating or was labeled red, and you’ll be able to use these ratings and rankings to search for specific categories of files.
STEP 5) ENTER BULK METADATA
Metadata, or text data stored in an image file, is today’s equivalent of traditional album or slide labels. Entering descriptive metadata can seem like an overwhelming task but you don’t have to make yourself crazy. Start by looking at the metadata that all the photos you’ve just downloaded have in common. Are there groups of images that were all shot in the same location or show all the same people? Look for keywords or fields that you can batch into groups of images that will help you find those groupings at a later date.
STEP 6) INVEST IN CATALOG SOFTWARE
Unlike image browsers, which can only show you the thumbnails for photos that are available on your computer, catalogs create a database of stored thumbnails and store a record of the directory path of where the original file lives and any metadata associated with the file. Catalogs allow you to perform complex searches of all the photos you’ve entered into the catalog, regardless of which computer, external drive or other media they’re stored on.
ADVANCED FILE TRANSFER:
Using an application to transfer your files from your capture media to your computer lets you automate many of these activities. Depending on the application you choose, you may be able to automatically copy the files to two places at once, rename files during ingestion, embed bulk metadata during ingestion, apply image editing presets during ingestion and even verify that the data transferred correctly. See http://www.dpbestflow.org/ file-lifecycle/ingestion#ingestionfor a chart outlining the capabilities of five popular ingestion utilities.