BY MAURA AMMENHEUSER
Our family photos are in an untidy heap, screaming for organization. (See Sunday's post, containing professional advice on organizing prints, by clicking here.)
At least our digital images are finally organized. Almost, anyway.
About a year ago, our aging PC was acting quirky. That led Hubby and I to fear that if it went kaput we'd lose 10 years' of digital photos we've taken of our kids. If pictures of my daughters' first minutes or my son playing with his great-grandmother suddenly vanished, I'd be heartbroken. Preserving those digital photos suddenly gained priority.
Some, not all, were backed up on CDs. Photo files were scattered in various electronic places on the hard drive. Few were labelled with dates or actual titles; most were called something like "P1000086.jpg."
Hubby bought an external hard drive to back up the PC's contents, relieving us of worrying about an imminent crash. That didn't magically organize our out-of-control image collection, of course. So Hubby moved photo files from the cantankerous PC onto a flash drive we designated for photos. From there he copied them onto our son's PC, a newer, faster one without a lot of electronic clutter.
Then the challenge was organizing and labeling all those images. (Hubby gets brilliant ideas; I get the tedious work.) That task has taken me many months, but it's nearly done. Then we can copy the newly organized files back onto the flash drive, delete the disorganized stuff and store the flash drive in a safe place. If we ever want to burn CDs or make prints, we can pull what we want from the flash drive. Future images can be put on that drive and when it's full we can buy another.
Completing this project will bring me great pride and relief. Digital photography can create impressive collections, but as we've discovered, without a system for organizing these precious electronic files, identifying them as you go, you end up with cyber-clutter, not a family archive preserved for posterity.
Hewlett-Packard's website offers tips for organizing dizzying numbers of digital photos. (To see that site, click here.)
HP's instructions assume you've already organized digital photos into folders. I started my project by moving image files into folders labeled by year. Once all photos were assigned a year's folder, I went through the folders in chronological order, further organizing contents by season, then event. (So the "2010" folder's "summer" subfolder in turn has subfolders labeled "family reunion" and "swimming lessons.")
After files are organized into folders, HP says to give descriptive file names to individual images.
"Who would recall that HPIM0007.JPG is their favorite shot of the kids from a family vacation to Paris?" HP says. Add details for better retrieval. "For instance, use Eiffel_tower_2007.jpg rather than Vacation_2007.jpg."
Name files immediately after downloading photos, HP says. (Not doing so was my biggest mistake.) For a few files, click each file name once to edit the file name.
For multiple files, HP recommends batching, automatically renaming many files simultaneously. (See HP's site for instructions on this and tagging photos using Windows Live Photo Gallery.) "Tagging" is attaching descriptive keywords to a file to improve searches: "If you're looking for a photo of your daughter Celia playing in the snow, but can't remember that the exact title is 'Winter_sleds_2008.jpg,' you can still find the image by searching for the tag 'Celia,' which will bring up every photo in which she is tagged," HP says.
Back up image files on CDs, DVDs or a flash drive. HP's site includes a chart explaining which method is best for you. Storing files on photo websites (Shutterfly.com, Kodakgallery.com or others) archives them, too, but you may have to buy prints to store files there indefinitely.
HP recommends backing up photos when you download and label them, or at least monthly. Keep tabs on technology so if CDs fall out of use you can transfer backup files to new technology.
After all, HP says, "If a person saved all their files on a floppy disc, it would be difficult to find a way to use those files now."
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