How to archive digital photos

These pages on photography have been included to answer questions I often get and some hints and tips I find useful, that may also be useful to you.

Choice of media. I always burn my photo files on two different CDs of different manufacture. I store the two CDs in different locations, one at home and one in the office or my other home. This is to safeguard against fire, theft or flooding of one place. I use different manufacturers, because I have experienced that some deteriorate quicker than others - I have experienced this on some of the early CDs, from the time where a CD-R were priced above $10 each. In addition, I keep a set of files on a movable hard-disk that can easily be hooked up using the USB port. This makes my images easily available on different computers. If I go somewhere to show my digital photos, I don't need to bring a computer if the place has one. Modern hard-disks are also very reliable, but handle them with care, they are mechanical precision instruments.

File naming and organization. I create a folder for each year, with sub-folders numbered 01 and upwards. Each sub-folder contains photos from a specific trip, occasion, happening or session. After the number of the sub-folder I add a short description. In the sub-folder, I save pictures and number them 01 text, 02 text and so on in the main fulder. "Text" will include the filname given by the camera, plus an optional description, eksample: "08 CRW_8397 Wiew from Cosmos hotel.jpg". I sort the pictures as if I am planning a slide-show. This folder contain JPEG images only, converted from RAW if necessary. Image files in the other folders, including RAW files, will keep the original filename given by the camera. The folders could look like this:
.. 23 Trip to New York (This will contain all images in JPG format sorted as a slide show)
.. .. RAW (This contains all RAW files. Files converted to JPG are in other folders)
.. .. Sorted out (Good images, but sorted out of the main slide show arrangement)
.. .. Different exposure (Runner - ups of shots where I meda different exposures)
.. .. Other photographers (Images by other photographers on the same shooting event)
.. .. Video Clips (For the rare occasion where I shoot video with my camera)
.. .. For Photostitch (Images planned as a basis for a complete stitched image)
.. .. Merged (Images merged with Photostitch software)
.. .. Subject (If I shoot MANY images of a subject, I collect them in a separate folder)
.. .. Corrupted (In the unhappy event an image is corrupted, I keep them here)
This makes it easy to show the pictures to an audience using most types of presentation software available. JPEG images converted from RAW has an additional RJ in it's filename added by the conversion software to remind me that an original RAW file exist. A sub-sub-folder contain the original RAW files if I have those. Other sub-sub-folders as shown above are created if needed.

File formats. There are only two formats I find it worth mentioning: Raw and JPEG. (If you send images for high quality or commercial printing, you may also need to look at TIFF.) The camera you buy should support both. Each have their benefits: RAW is the best for keeping as much of the quality in the picture as possible, it's basically a data dump from the camera's light sensing cells (usually a CCD). JPEG creates smaller files, makes your camera shoot quicker and is a well known format in the industry. It is so widely used that it is most likely this format can also be read by computers and software that are sold 10 years from now. There is a lot of software that reads this, including a small, but fast viewer downloadable from this site - see the download section.
Each format also have drawbacks: RAW files are large, and often slower to work with. They are specific for each camera make, and can only be read by a limited selection of software in addition to that supplied with your camera (if the camera supports the RAW format). In 10 years, you are likely to have problems finding software that can read these files, unless you dust off your old computer. Because of this, I also convert all RAW files and keep a good JPEG version as well. JPEG is a compressed format, and you loose details, and light intensities are 8 bit only, allowing only 256 levels compared to several thousands for RAW. One of the most common side-effects of this is banding: If a large area in the photo has almost the same color and intensity (like a blue sky) you will see bands of color rather than a uniform change of tone (will typically show around the sun in a sun-set photo).

File formats I use. My first digital camera was only intended to replace my point and shoot film camera, typically used for family and party pictures etc. JPEG is the quickest format to deal with, and easiest to exchange with other. It also works good for this kind of pictures. For my travel shots, I also use JPEG, particularly if I suspect I will run out of memory, or if I also bring my SLR for those high quality shots. If I suspect the shot will have wider interest, be suitable for large prints etc, I will shoot it in RAW. Lately, I tend to shoot more in RAW if I know I will have enough space for it in the camera memory, and particularly if I only bring a digital camera. When I am back at my computer, I will convert the RAW image to JPEG for inclusion in my slide-show, and keep the RAW files in a sub-folder. In the near future, I am likely to buy a larger digital camera for use when photography is the prime objective. In this case, all shots will be in RAW, and will replace my current SLR loaded with slide (dia-positive) film.

(c) Thomas Høven 2004