Thursday, May 13, 2010

November 2009 - Coloradoan Xplore Column

November seems to be the month where most of my time is spent sitting in front of my computer, rather than sitting behind my camera. Some of it is weather and the season, but a lot of it is sheer necessity. I have thousands of files that need further sorting and also deserve a second look. Having a structured process for handling and safeguarding images makes this work a lot easier. Like many I have a workflow I follow that sorts, organizes, processes and protects my files. I don’t think there is one right way to do this. What I do think is important is that you keep your process consistent. Protecting and backing up your image files is easy to overlook.

There are three parts to my workflow:
-Backup newly captured files in the field
-Sort, catalogue and backup files
-Post process and backup files

Yes, backup is a common theme. Last January my PC completely died without any indication something was going wrong. I would have lost years of work if I hadn’t backed up my files. Here’s an overview of some of the things I do to ensure I don’t lose any content.
Most my shots are on 4GB memory cards. There are a couple reasons I do this. I’d rather distribute images across several cards, rather than have an entire trip on a few. Cards do fail and they do get lost. The thought of losing everything on a trip is a tad scary. When I’m traveling I make several backup copies of my files each night. The contents of one 4GB card fit onto a single DVD disc. Making a one for one copy is a simple process. Larger memory cards would require me to divide the files across several disks, leaving room for error.

I also keep a data storage drive in my camera bag. The one I use is an Epson P-3000 multimedia viewer. It’s has a 40GB hard drive with a 4 inch display. I can back up my cards in the field without a PC and view the contents quickly. It’s a nice device to have when you need to erase a memory card to keep shooting and don’t have time to fire up a PC.

When I’m traveling I make a minimum of three copies of image files each night. I burn each memory card to a DVD disk, I copy files to my data storage drive and I keep a copy on my laptop hard drive. If possible, I don’t erase a card until the contents are securely on my home system.

I use Adobe Lightroom to import, view and sort files, deleting the obvious misses right away. I catalogue content using the date taken and a keyword subject. This allows me to go back and quickly find a file remembering the date of a trip or simply the subject. For post processing I’ve begun using Capture One as a RAW converter and Adobe Photoshop for more detailed work.
I don’t keep any image files on the internal hard drive of my home system. Instead I have a series of external hard drives dedicated to specific content. One stores my original files, the second stores my Lightroom files, the third stores my Photoshop files and the fourth stores my ready to print files. A fifth drive backs up each weekly. And yes, I admit I’m a bit over the top, once a month I put a copy of my original and my post processed files on yet another hard drive which is kept in a safety deposit box away from my home. Hard drives do fail, for a complete fail safe process I would have all my files on physical media such as a solid state drive or DVD disks. Maybe I’ll get to that this winter.

Digital photography has made it almost free to take pictures. Regardless of whether you are the family historian or shooting for income, take care in how you handle your image files. With a little planning you’ll be able to easily find, enjoy, and restore your images, should there be a mishap.

Coming Attractions:
There is plenty of wildlife action to be found. The Big Horn Sheep rut will be winding down in December, but rams are still active and can be found with groups of ewes. The Idaho Springs to Georgetown section of I-70 in a great spot. In the Rocky Mountain National Park area elk can be found moving to places where there is open ground for grazing. In between snow storms, I like Morraine Park. Keep an eye out for coyote and fox. Winter is a great time to photograph these guys. Their coats are beautifully full and they’re much easier to spot against winter landscapes. Around Fort Collins the annual arrival of waterfowl will begin and before long, bald eagles will start showing up at Fossil Creek Reservoir. There is a lot to look forward to as winter sets in.

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