Saturday, September 19, 2009

Storing Digital Images

Recently a reader asked for some advice on how to store and organize the digital pictures we take.  With thousands and thousands of pictures, you might expect me to be an expert, but unfortunately I don't have a perfect system.  And even if I did, it probably wouldn't be the perfect system for everyone.  However, I will offer up a few things to think about as you try to figure out a strategy that works for you.  This is by no means a comprehensive list of everything that is important, just a few random lessons from my experience.

  • Back Up Your Images  No matter what your organizational strategy, you need to back up your images.  Hard drives fail.  If you wait long enough it will happen (and sometimes it happens pretty quickly.)  I've had two different hard drives fail so I speak from experience.  You can use a back up drive or copy your images to CDs or DVDs.  Remember, though, that if a disc goes bad, you won't know it until you need it.  If a backup drive that you update regularly fails you'll know and you can probably replace it before it's too late.  Also consider what you would lose in a fire or robbery.  Do you have your pictures backed up in a different location?
  • Organize Regularly  I typically dump all our pictures into one location and organize them every couple of weeks.  When I get a month or two behind and have to face a mountain of over a thousand pictures, I greatly regret my procrastination.
  • Use Sub-Folders  I've seen some people keep all their pictures in one folder.  Not only is it hard to find anything, it takes a long time for the folder to open and display thumbnails.  Instead group pictures into categories that make sense for you and then name the folders something that will indicate what is in them.  Personally I like to use dates and events.  Then when I want to see a picture form Christmas in 2005, I know where to look (a folder called "05-12-25 Christmas" inside a folder called "2005".)  Or if I'm thinking of a picture, but don't know what Christmas it's from, I go straight to the folders from December.
  • Create a Favorites Folder with Aliases  This is something that has really helped me to enjoy, remember and organize my pictures.  I have one folder with all my pictures in it.  Inside this master folder are sub-folders named by year.  Then I have folders in each year's folder that are more specific as I mentioned above.  So how will I remember what's in all these folders?  And will I be enjoying all the pictures buried deep in these folders?  (Answers: I won't and no.)  So what I do is this: As I go through my pictures when I first put them on the computer I select one (or maybe a few) of my absolute favorites from a specific "photo shoot" or event - maybe one favorite for every 20 pictures.  Then I create an "alias"of these favorites and put them in my "favorites" folder. (An alias is basically a file that is linked to an original file somewhere else on your computer.  So I'm not creating a copy of my picture, which would take up more hard drive space, just an alias.)  Now I have a folder (which takes up almost no hard drive space) of my favorite pictures that are also samples of other pictures that would be from the same event.  This is helpful for two reasons. 1. I can look in this folder to remember what I have pictures of and I can find pictures similar to these by right-clicking and choosing "show original."  2. I can use this folder as my screen saver and then I can enjoy and be reminded of all my favorite pictures.
So anyway, this won't solve all your storage and organization problems, but maybe some of these ideas will help you get closer to a system that works for you.  Good luck.  If you have any helpful ideas, share them with all of us in the comments.