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Dave Clark

16th of August 2000

     I've been taking digital photos for nearly three years. It's a wonderful thing. One can shoot pictures without need for processing, simply downloading and viewing them with a computer. In that time, I've graduated from a digicam capturing images at 768x1024 pixels (one megapixel) to the next which captured 1200x1600 (two megapixels) and now to a whopping 1536x2048 (three megapixels).

     As a result, there's good news and there's bad news. The good news is the images with the higher resolution cameras are clearer and sharper, with more detail. The bad news is they require three times as much storage space on a computer than did the earlier images. Although I no longer have to pay the photo lab for processing, I'm beginning to realize there is a cost in archiving all the pictures I take.

     I may be unusual. Since I'm into QuickTime panorama photography and each of my panoramas requires 18 digital photographs, I gather a lot of images. If I go off for a weekend to some scenic place, I might create several panoramas, ending up with nearly 100 pictures when the weekend has concluded. Each of these three megapixel photos uses about three quarters of a megabyte of storage, so I'll have 75 megabytes of photos from just one weekend. You might have a similar result if you're the photographer at the family reunion or a child's birthday party. Know what I mean?

     New personal computers, as we approach the millennium, typically come with built-in hard disks perhaps 20 gigabytes (20 x 1024 megabytes) in size. My three-year-old computer came with a six gig disk. 75 megabytes, once a month or so, over a few years might not fill up your disk, but storage does become a big issue when you start thinking about five, 10, or 20 years, the average time your kids will be at home; the subject of your photos.

     Hard disks fail eventually, so, since you won't have your digital memories in the old trusty shoe box, you'll want to have backups of all your photo files. You don't want to inform your older children that you don't have any photos of them when they were kids because the hard disk crashed back in the year 2000, do you?!

     So what is my point? If you're going to give up film photography and go digital, you should do some planning. Get organized. Store your photo files by date and description and back them up on a regular basis. Nobody seems to know for sure what media is best for long-term archiving of personal computer files. Until recently, I believed it was the CD ROM (write once CDR) but now I'm hearing about chemical breakdown of CDR's after a few years rendering them unreadable. Now what?

     My advice would be to maintain three copies of all your digital photos. The original on your computer's hard disk, a copy on another hard disk that you use as an external backup and a third on some kind of removable media such as CD ROM, Jaz, Orb, or DAT tape. View your photos once a year on each of these media to be sure they're still readable and stay current with the technology. If, in five years, you can't buy a Jaz drive any longer, transfer your photos to newer media before it breaks down.

     Another option is the recent development of online digital archive storage. Dozens of storage providers are popping up offering online albums, electronic greeting cards, and other merchandising possibilities. Most are free, or at least, low cost. As usual, though, you get what you pay for. The history of dotcom longevity is not good. For a review of many of these services, visit Dave Dyer's Guide to Online Photo Albums.

     If all of this sounds too complicated, I suggest sticking with traditional film photography and the old shoe box. These methods have worked for a hundred years. Just don't be surprised if you can't buy film or shoe boxes before long.

Dave Clark is a semi-professional photographer living in Vail, Colorado and developer of our digital photography helpware tutorials. The western half of Internet Brothers and a full-time print media expert, Dave has quite an eye for the great outdoors. You can enjoy Dave's beautiful panoramic photography on his personal web site, Rocky Mountain Scenery.

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