Jun 19, 2005

Struggling to Manage Your Ever-Growing Digital Photo Collection?

by John Grand

You know what I love the most about digital photography? I love that I can take as many pictures as I want without the nagging thought of film development costs going "ka-ching!" in the back of my mind with each snapshot. I no longer have to decide: "will this make a good picture?" Who cares, I just take it for now, and decide if I like it later. Now that is what I call photographic freedom!

This freedom that we enjoy with digital photography is not without consequence. At the risk of stating the obvious, less hesitation leads to a lot more photos! With film cameras, unsorted pictures ended up in a shoebox (or, in my case, unceremoniously dumped in a large filing cabinet drawer - a failed attempt at conveying a sense of order). With digital cameras, unsorted photos get sprinkled all over your computer disks. Combined with the fact that we take a lot more digital photos than we used to take with our 35 mm, we end up with one huge mess instead of a photo collection.

Here are some of the unique challenges that we face with digital photography:

1) Organization

This is the first, and most obvious, problem that we run into. We've taken all these photos, and now what? Where do we put them? If you were fortunate enough to think of organization from the start, then you might have created a folder on your computer disk called "pictures" and dumped them all in there. That's one step ahead of a lot of people who have image files spread out all over the place. Sometimes we rely on software to put files in the right place, but the problem is that we use many software packages as sources of photos. We use one software package to extract photos from our digital camera. We receive some photos by email. We grab photos from the internet, from Word documents, etc. Each of these programs puts the photos in different places. The end result is that we often can't find the photo we're searching for. Even worse, we lose some photos somewhere on the computer and forget all about them.

2) Presentation

With film photography, we regularly created photo albums to show friends and family. Inviting people over to watch us search for, and double-click, each of our image files pales by comparison.

3) Safety

With film photography, our photos were safe as long as nothing catastrophic happened like our house burned down. Our digital photos are a lot more vulnerable to being lost altogether. Computer disk crashes, while relatively rare, are still much more likely to occur then a house burning down. But that's not the only thing that we need to worry about. Someone could accidentally, and so easily, slip a folder that contained photos into the trash bin. Or our computer could get infected with a malicious virus that erases files.

4) Security

When we show our developed photos to someone, they only get to see the photos that we hand over to them. And the developed photos we showed were behind a plastic sheet in an album, which offered basic protection from spills or children with sticky fingers. In the digital world, how do we protect our photos? Anyone on the computer can root through all of the pictures, move them, rename them, and even delete them. Sticky finger problems have been replaced with the more devastating delete key problem.

Fortunately, there are software solutions that address some or all of these issues. A must for digital camera enthusiasts is a digital photo album software package. If you think you don't have time to use software to organize your digital photos, the opposite is more likely to be true: you are too busy to do without digital photo album software! The amount of time you will waste searching for photos is much greater than the small learning curve needed to master the basics of a good software package. And once you have the basics, that's when the software really starts to pay off in time savings.

There are many software packages out there for you to choose from, and most of them will satisfy your basic needs. You can usually try them out for free, and you should. Software that is right for one person may not be the best solution for someone else. Once the basics are covered, it comes down to personal preference. Which do you find easy to use? Which one offers added little features that you want to take advantage of? What will you be doing with your photo collection? Keep asking yourself these questions as you evaluate various software products.

Let's take a look at how digital photo album software can solve all the issues raised earlier.

Organization

This is the first issue that digital photo album software must address, and address well. If the tools to organize your photos are complicated or awkward, then you're less likely to make the effort to keep your collection in order.

Some of the things you should look for include:

i) How does the software deal with the photos? Does if leave all of your photos scattered on your disk, or does it gather them up in one place? A good analogy for this is your house. Let's say that your house has become one big cluttered mess (I don't want to name names, but the author has that problem). Furthermore, you are fed up with not being able to find any of your things, and you want to get organized. What would you rather do?

a) clean up the clutter by putting things in their place, boxing up less important things, and throwing away junk.

or

b) walk around the house with a notepad and jot down the current location of each item of clutter. As clutter gets moved around, either keep the notepad up to date, or schedule a new walkthrough to generate a new list each day or week.

Obviously, a notepad of item locations is better than nothing, but what you really want is a solution that truly organizes your clutter instead of inventorying it.

ii) Can you easily organize groups of photos into virtual photo albums? How easy is it to move photos around to different albums as you refine your organization? Or better yet, can a photo appear in multiple albums without having to make duplicates of the photo? For example, if you have a photo of Aunt Martha taken during Christmas 2004, you might want it to appear in an album containing all photos of Aunt Martha, and a Christmas Memories album, as well as the album of all 2004 photos.

iii) Can you sort your photos in any order that you want? Or is there a forced order depending on which photos you added first, or file names, or file dates, etc? How easy is it to change the order? Can you just "drag" a photo to its new position?

iv) Can you add extra information to your photos? Without the digital photo album software, all you have is a set of image files. The only information that you can record is in the name of the file (e.g. aunt_martha_xmas_2004.jpg). Most software packages will allow you to add some notes, or maybe a date to your photos. How easy is it to add this information? If you just came back from a trip to Mexico with 50 pictures, do you have to add the title "Mexico" 50 times, or can you add it to all of them at once?

Presentation

Even the most basic digital photo album software will let you page through each photo in an album. Look for a thumbnail list that can help you hop to various photos in the album, rather than always looking at them sequentially.

The software should also let you print your photos. Check how easy it is to control the size and location of your photo on a page. With a decent printer and some photo paper, you can print amazing photos yourself, rather than paying for a printing service.

Another fun and convenient way to show off your photo albums is with slideshows. There are a tremendous variety of slideshow designs that digital photo album packages will generate for you. Look for how much flexibility you have in displaying the photos and notes, how easy it is to embellish the background for your slideshow, and what software is required to view the slideshow. If it can be viewed on its own or with common software such as web browsers, then you can send a slideshow to friends and family on a CD or DVD.

Safety

While digital photos are more vulnerable than developed photos, they are also much easier to protect. Can you imagine making copies of all your developed photos just for safekeeping? With the right tools, making a copy of your digital photos is trivial. In fact, you can make multiple copies, or backups, and give some to friends and family. Then even if your house does burn down, your photos are not lost! Your digital photo album software should provide an easy backup and recovery mechanism.

Security

If you store photos on a shared computer, managing security is a must. You don't want other people to be able to modify, and perhaps even view, your photos. On a family computer, you might choose to let young children look at the photos, but not allow them to delete or modify your photo albums. Some digital photo album software packages provide basic security settings, while others ignore this area completely. Security requirements differ widely based on your circumstances. Decide ahead of time if you think that this is something that you need to have.

Whichever digital photo album software you choose, you will be miles ahead in terms of organization then you would be without any software. I think you'll find that digital photo album software is like email. You may not feel a need for it now, but once you've used it, you'll wonder how you ever got along without it! Just remember that the goal is to enjoy your photo collection, not to get frustrated with yet another software program. So snap all the digital photos that you want, and get some easy to use digital photo album software to help you manage them all.

About the Author

John Grand is the creative force behind Photo SafeStore, the revolutionary award-winning digital photo album software. John has over twenty years of experience in the software industry. Photo SafeStore represents a technological breakthrough in digital photo album software that merges the complexity of image handling with databases. The result is a product like no other: www.photosafestore.com.