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Digital Photography Workflow

Storing Images—On Your System

 
Maxtor makes a line of inexpensive highcapacity hard disk drives that are ideal for digital photographers. Courtesy of Maxtor.
 
 
Hard disks grouped together into a RAID configuration (Random Array of Inexpensive Devices) not only store information but automatically back it up. If one drive fails, it can be replaced and the damaged files are then automatically reconstructed from the remaining drives.
 
 
Mitsui Gold CD-R discs are considered one of the best storage CDs because of a real gold added to the reflective layer-others use silver which doesn't have the same archival properties. Courtesy of Diversified Systems Group.
 
 
CDs and DVDs are less expensive when you buy them on spindles. You then use envelopes to store them in drawers.
 
 
CD drive. Courtesy of LaCie.
 
 
There are many notebook computers that have built-in DVD drives, including this ultralight from Sony.
 
 
When copying images between devices, USB flash drives come in very handy. You plug one into a computer's USB port and copy files to it. You then plug it into any other computer and copy the files from it. Courtesy of Lexarmedia at lexar.com.
 
 
Neato makes an applicator that centers a label and the disc so the label goes on right the first time. Courtesy of neato.com.
When you transfer images to your computer, it's usually to a hard drive. From there you may then copy or move them to CD/DVDs or even to another hard drive.

Hard drives

When you move photos from a camera's storage device to a computer's hard drive they become available for organizing, editing and sharing. Hard drives have become so inexpensive, and their storage capacity so great, that you can have an almost endless supply of hard disk space on which to store images. Currently, affordable drives have capacities up to 500 Gigabytes enough room to hold more than 33 thousand 15 Megabyte images. If these were film images at 50-cents a picture, you've have a small box of images worth over $16-thousand dollars! One way to think of this amazing capacity is by how long it would take you to fill a drive. If you shot a hundred 15 Megabyte photos a day, you could shoot for almost a year before filling a 500 Gigabyte drive. And forget backing these drives up to CDs or DVDs. It would take 106 DVD disks to back up a drive like this and over 700 CDs. Even tape backups have fallen far behind. The only affordable backup for entire libraries of photos is another hard drive.

Optical Discs

Other than hard drives, the only other widely available storage device is the optical drive that burns and reads either or both CDs or DVD discs. These drives are common on almost all new computer systems and the discs are frequently used to backup important images to protect them, share them with others, and even to store slide shows that can be played back on a computer or DVD equipped TV set. (When a DVD device is attached to the TV it's called a player or recorder. When attached to a computer it's called a drive or writer). There are major problems with these discs—their storage capacity is relatively low, their archival quality is questionable, and they are not always compatible.
  • Capacity. CDs can store, at most, 700 Megabytes of data. In an era of 4 Gigabyte memory cards and 15 Megabyte RAW or TIFF image files created by some cameras, 700 Megabytes of storage looks small indeed. DVDs currently store 4.7 Gigabytes, more that 7 times the capacity of a CD. As two-sided discs become more common, the capacity climbs to 9.4 Gigabytes. Even newer devices based on blue lasers will eventually push these limits to almost 30 Gigabytes and beyond. As a place to store your digital images, DVDs have a promising future.
  • Archival quality. CD and DVD discs are both relatively new forms of storage. How long they will last before data is lost isn't yet known with any certainty. Most tests use accelerated aging that may or may not accurately reflect the future or your storage conditions. The consensus seems to be that they will last a few decades if manufactured and stored properly. Given the uncertainty, the best thing you can do is buy only name brands and store them in acid-free envelopes in a cool dark place such as a drawer or album. Discs that use a gold, rather than a silver recording layer, are generally considered to last longer. Amazingly, one company ran a light fastness test that showed that gold discs could withstand sunlight for only 100 continuous hours without damage. Discs with the widely used cyanine dye began to deteriorate after only 20 hours and failed at 65 hours.
  • Compatibility . The big problem with optical discs is summed up in the word "compatibility" defined by the dictionary as "existing or living together in harmony".
With CDs the problems are minimal. You can select either CD-Recordable (CD-R) discs that can be written to once or CD-ReWriteable (CD-RW) discs that can be recorded, erased, and reused, just like a hard disk.

With DVDs, the problems are more complex. Until recently you could select DVD+ (plus) or DVD- (dash) formats. Since the formats are incompatible, the industry solved the problem by having you pay for both in the form of a multiformat or dual DVD drive.

Now the industry is introducing two more incompatible formats, the HDDVD and Blu-ray DVD. Only time will tell if there is a clear winner or if they again solve the problem by charging you for both in the form of a combined drive.

CD/DVD Burning Software

To copy files to a CD/DVD, you need recording—sometimes called authoring or burning—software. This software is readily available-for example, the latest Windows and Mac operating systems let you burn a CD/DVD directly from the operating system. In addition, there are programs such as Roxio's Easy Media Creator designed specifically for this task. The ability to burn CD/DVDs is increasingly being integrated into other applications. For examples, Apple's iPhoto and Aperture and Adobe's Lightroom all let you select images and burn them to a CD/DVD without leaving the application. Many applications also let you create a slide show of your images and burn the show to a DVD disc so it can be played on the computer, a CD player, and even a late model DVD player connected to the TV.

Labeling CD/DVD Discs

When you burn a disc, you or your software can add a title that will be displayed by your computer when you access the disc in a drive on your system.

The name will also be used by image management software to keep track of your images. For example, with most image management programs, when you double-click the thumbnail of an image that isn't currently on-line, the name you assigned the disc on which it is stored is displayed and you are prompted to insert that disc.

You can add your own descriptive title such as Florida Trip Disc, or let the program automatically assign one based on the current date and time. For example, the number 070412_0849 indicates the disc was burned in the year 2007 on May 12 at 8:49 AM.

Even when a disc is labeled when burned, you still need to physically label it. Generally, the information should be on the disc itself, not on an envelope or insert. It's too easy for these to get separated from the disc. One way to label a disc is with a permanent marker pen that writes on the non-recording side of the disc with ink that won't rub off with use. For longevity reasons, the best choice is a pen that uses water-based inks. Some marker pens, such as the Sharpie, use solvent-based inks and should be avoided. You can easily identify the pens not to use by their solvent odor. These solvents can attack the protective covering of the disc, even when you write just on the label side. Over a long period of time, possibly measured in decades, this can affect the data.

For a more professional look, you can buy press-on CD/DVD labels that you print with an inkjet printer and stick onto the surface of the disc. One major problem is alignment because once the label sticks, it's stuck. Unlike life, there are no second chances. To help you get it right the first time there are alignment gadgets that center the label as you press it onto the CD. When using these labels, apply them after recording the disc. If you apply one first and it's slightly off-center, it may affect the recording process.

Most CD/DVD burning applications include software you use to lay out and print labels and even jewel case inserts. This software, and applications available from others, usually has a number of backgrounds from which to choose (or lets you use your own photos as backgrounds), and text boxes into which you type your text. You don't have to be technically proficient or very artistic to get a decent design.

Should you ever decide to ramp up your CD/DVD distribution efforts, the next step is a label printer. These printers print on special disks that have a water permeable coating on one side. If a disc doesn't have this special layer, the ink beads up on the surface of the disc and flakes off when dry. Inkjet printable discs are produced by several major companies and are available from office supply and on-line retailers. A number of photo printers from Epson have added the ability to print labels directly onto these printable disks. If the market supports this feature, it will become more common. These printers include software that you use to design and print your labels. When ready to print, you place the inkjet printable CD or DVD into a tray that protects it as the CD passes through the printer's straight-through paper path. There are also printers designed for the sole task of printing labels on discs and there are even robots available that will insert one disc after another into the printer so you can print a quantity of discs unattended.

If you ever need large quantities of a single disk, you may want to have them professionally duplicated and the labels silk-screened. You can also give your own discs a professional and personal appearance. Just have a supply of blank discs silk screened with professional graphics, leaving a space to write in specific information such as the discs's name or title.

 
Drives using Lightscribe technology can label Lightscribe discs as they are burned. Courtesy of Lightscribe.com.


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