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Archiving Digital Photography (Part 3) The Digital Revolution

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Starting around 5 years ago I discovered the digital camera experience. I remember standing in the hallway at work and discussing the technology briefly with a co-worker and soon after that we made a purchase of a very low quality point-and-shoot for something like $350 USD. I was so exciting to snap a frame and actually see it immediately. Then the coolest part — we could open the images in photoshop, admire them, edit them, and the ultimately great part — we could post them on the internet for everyone to see. We were cool. At the time, high end digital SLR cameras were topping $5000-$10000 and were pretty much out of reach for the average consumer. Our little point-and-shoot was fun but it lacked the quality and storage capacity needed to really dive in and take as many shots as my little creative mind could capture. So regretfully I wrote it off as a toy and stuck with my Canon 35mm SLR, Fuji film and waited.

Then about 3 years ago I came into some money and decided to take the leap. I still couldn’t afford my desired SLR but found something that would be ideal for capturing unlimited snapshots of my newborn son. My Nikon Coolpix was a 4 megapixel dream come true. In addition to the benefits previously listed I was able to capture at least 70 fairly high res images and I could print them out on my new HP photo printer at home — I was in heaven.

In 2003 Canon unleashed a ground breaking announcement. They were going to release the very first SLR digital camera under $1000. It was $900 to be exact or even less via Ebay or specialty outlets. To me this signaled the official start of the Digital Revolution for consumers. The DigiRev is in full swing now and everybody seems to be wanting a digital camera and buzz words like megapixel are becoming part of our standard vocabulary. I tend to gauge the popularity of technology when my parents and in-laws start asking me about or purchasing things that I enjoy. It’s the beginning of 2005 now and they purchased their first VCR about 20 years ago, their first camcorder about 10 years ago, their first PC with scanner and printer about 5 years ago and this year they started to research and ask about digital cameras. My brother actually ended up taking the leap for them and bought them one for Christmas. I see digital cameras in my weekly newspaper ads for less than $150 and in fact I have seen companies giving them away as part of membership promotions. The time is now.

With all this digital information floating around I started to wonder and become concerned as we have in the past about properly taking care of our photos. In the past we were always able to rely on our negatives if the dog chewed up our prints or they got lost somehow. We also didn’t take as many pictures in the past and produce as many “keeper” images due to the cost of film and developing so we didn’t have the amount of images that we are faced with today. With digital technology, many more images are considered “keepers” since we are much less restrained by financial limitations and we just snap away. But today we are amassing such a large amount of personal photographic history that it is becoming mandatory that we find solutions to view, store, backup and archive our photographic memories.

I would consider myself a person that takes a lot of pictures. I love photography and I just don’t have enough time to take pictures. I could do it all day long if I had no other purpose in life. I have a really bad memory so photography is my way to preserve my life experiences. On a good day I’ll fire off at least 10 shots, probably a good 70-100 a week give or take depending on my schedule. Given that amount of photos I would say that I tend to keep about half, so on average I am looking at storing about around 275-300 good photos in a month, 3600 keeper photos per year. At 1 meg each, that would be over 3.5 gigs of data per year. I would guess even though I take a lot of images I would rank myself in the lower 50% of photographer data mass. There are people that take hundreds of images a day that all need to be archived. Conservatively that would amount to an average data mass of 36 gigs a year! Multiply that by millions of digital photographers and you are talking about a lot of digital information.

Now, this is not really my point or the point of this series. The issue of dealing with the huge mass of digital data that we produce is one that is best handled in another discussion for sure. My point is, as part of the DigiRev we are creating a serious problem of what to do to preserve all this information because it only exists in digital form. A very fragile state for sure.

This is the big question. How do we preserve our digital images? How do we make sure that they are around for the next generation to see? It is my intention to help and answer this question with non-technical, real world solutions and to give a solid overview of the storage options and how they work. Hopefully you will take heed before you wake up one day and your digital memories have vanished. The digital revolution is on us, I believe we all need to educate ourselves to properly preserve our precious history.

Coming up next… Part 4 – Vulnurability of Digital Images – Your strategy

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