Digital Photography brings many new challenges to photographers who transitioned from film. Besides the technical aspects of digital capture, such as exposing to the right and noise reduction, you need to process all images in some form or another through a computer. The location of those images, and how they are processed, may change many times over a brief period. I have family photos that are daguerreotypes, glass negatives, and negatives on film sizes no longer produced, but I can still print them in my darkroom. I have prints that can be viewed despite some creases or staining. A digital file image from as little as five years ago on an out of date computer or in an old format and cannot be found or opened. No matter the age of the hard drive, it could start making a scary clicking sound, signaling that it is no longer functioning.

Digital photography has given us the savings to take many more images without having to buy, store or process film. My shelves used to hold boxes of machine prints of images, loose-leaf folders of negatives sleeved and indexed, and boxes of slides. Index cards referenced binders and boxes, but it still was daunting to find an image. Computers have become the virtual shoebox of photographs. How you find an image in that shoebox can be improved with discipline, a plan, and little bit of software.

The learning curve for digital photography can be daunting, but the programs are getting more user-friendly and robust. With larger image sizes, we need to organize, save, and protect these digital images. First, a basic understanding of computers is necessary. You need to know what type of computer you need, the size and ability to customize or grow with a computer, and how to add additional storage. Too many people start out dumping all images on to their computer’s default picture location, usually in the My Photos folder on the hard drive alongside the operating system. If the hard drive fails to boot, or you put too much on that one drive, you can lose not only the ability to run that computer, but the images on it as well.

You need to look for a computer that has at room for at least two internal hard drives. Use one hard drive for the operating system, programs and general storage of things like e-mails, documents, and downloads. Keep the second drive for photographs only, and organize the files in a structure that makes sense to you. Get a back up of your system, often called a shadow clone or image, and a back up hard drive of your photographs. Make a second copy of the hard drive that has the photographs, and periodically update it and take it off site to make sure that there are at least two copies in two different places.

You will need software to keep track of your images. This can create enormous value in your photo library. It will also save you time. Many providers have offered solutions, but many have gone by the wayside. Find a company that will be there to support your library. Apple has dropped Aperture and Microsoft sold off Expressions Media (formerly iView Media Pro) to Phase One. Media Pro is still available, and still works with many collections, but there are better products. Adobe has developed Lightroom into a full database and editor for your images. It has come very far from its first version, and the ability to check the integrity of a DNG file will ensure that your library (and hard drive) is healthy. If you import your images into Lightroom, edit in Lightroom or bring images back from Photoshop into Lightroom, you can add value with smart collections, keywords, and searchable fields.

Images have always been subject to loss, fire, water or theft. With computers, we can add viruses, erasure, hard drive failure, electrical or lightning surges or strikes, and program incompatibility. Having had some of these issues, I am sensitive to what would happen if I were to lose my images. Online storage for photography is not yet the solution, as the file sizes and transfer or download times simply take too long. The cost to store the size of an average photo archive correctly is cost prohibitive as well.

The deeper I got into digital photography, the more I saw the need to understand computers, hard drives, storage, and backups. Not finding the right set up in store bought computers, I assembled my own computers as dedicated photography workstations and separate storage servers. My home network permits me to access images over many computers, and to print from multiple computers. Building my own computers helped me know what to look for in certain laptops, monitors, and other storage devices.

Please check out my blog for more information on digital photography and Digital Asset Management. I hope to share my successes and failures, advice and thoughts, and I hope you find it informative and helpful.