I have been critital in the past of digital photography in the past because of its shortcomings. Like many older photographers, I started out with and used film for decades until digital technology came along and so I tend to be prejudiced in favor of the older analog technology. But there is a positive side to digital photography that film cannot match or even come close to, and that is the practical ability to easily catalogue one’s life in photography, and that’s what I’m writing about today.
As I mentioned in previous articles, the average person has no business shooting film. It’s too expensive and inconvenient. If you have ever used roll film, you know what a pain it is to run out of film and have to reload, especially when things are happening fast. The advent of 35mm film made that a little less convenient with cartridge loading, but still, sometimes a hassle. Digital photography ended all that with reusable memory cards that would hold the equivalent of many film cartridges. Results can be seen instantly without the cost and wait of processing. This opens up a very unique possiblity that was previously impractical: You can produce a chronology of your entire life and have a lot of fun doing so. At this point, amateur photography becomes more important.
Everyone should have some kind of digital camera. The younger you are when you get your first camera, the better. Your photos show others the world from your point of view and tells what is really important to you. If you own a digital camera that is small and easy to carry, such as a cell phone with a camera, even better. It’s important that you keep your camera with you at all times so you will use it. Your most important camera is the one you have on your person right now. Don’t forget that. If your affair is a single lens reflex with multiple lenses, chances are you will not carry it everywhere. I have three that I can carry just about anywhere: An ipod touch with a fairly good little built-in camera is one. This can be carried in a belt pouch or inside a pocket of your jacket. No one will notice it. Another is an Olympus Trip 35 which is small, light, needs no battery and shoots 35mm. The third is a little Panasonic TMZ compact with a super Leica designed zoom lens. In any case, I’m always armed and ready to shoot. So should you.
Equipment considerations aside, you are ready to head out into the field, whatever and wherever that may be. When I say “out in the field”, it means any time you are out and about with a working camera in your possession. What you photograph is entirely up to you. The object is to shoot what is important to you. Imagine, many years down the road when you are no longer here, a relative can be looking at your life in pictures! It’s important to remember that you are not using an analog medium like film, and unlike the longevity of film, digital images can be easily lost if you are not careful. This makes storage and backups critical.
You should always be storing your photos on your computer by transfering them from your camera or memory card so that you do not accidentally delete them. But what if your computer’s hard drive crashes? (Trust me, it will crash sooner or later.) Your photos are gone! So you perform backups on a regular basis. I keep two backups of all my digital work. One is on a removable USB hard drive. It’s quick and painless. And the drives are dirt cheap and very easy to use. I also store a second backup on another computer in the house. What if the house burns down and destroys your computers and your backup drive? There are other options to avoid this. One good choice is online storage. When you purchase online storage, you give yourself an extra important layer of protection. Your home can be destroyed, but somewhere out in cyberspace, your photos are still available to you for retrieval when needed. There are other options, such as storing on cd rom and storing in a safe deposit box. Just remember that it is much easier to lose your digital images than to lose film. I store my film in a safe deposit box with a bank that is nearby. Before storage, I make a high resolution scan of each photo to cut back on trips to the bank.
Next is organization. Nearly all digital cameras stamp each photo with a date and time. Some even stamp a location. This is information neither you nor your viewer can see because such information is embedded into the file, but not the image. I like to group my photos into different years. If you are using Picasa, then it does that for you automatically, whether you like it or not. Picasa is a great free program for most folks, but if you want flexibility and meaningful photo editing plus other features, there’s nothing like Photoshop Elements from Adobe. Whatever you use, remember that the more organized your photos are, the easier they will be to work with and easier for your future relatives to enjoy. With today’s higher megapixel cameras, a CD may not hold a year’s worth of photos. I shoot very high res, so I have to store mine on DVD as well as on my backup hard drive.
Finally, be careful about deleting photos that you think are not interesting. Here’s an example: When my mom passed away, my brother found a bunch of photos and scanned them all. When he sent me the photos, I saw not only a picture of my mom, but she was standing next to a brand-new 1946 Chevrolet! The Chevy immediately told me that it was taken right after the Second World War. The photo immediately took me back to an earlier time in history. That’s what a good amateur collection can do….for you…and for your great grandchildren. That’s a legacy!