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Managing Files


People always choose their photographs as the one thing they would rescue if their house burnt down. But where are most people's photographs now? On their computer. Yet the odds of a failure of the computer (or its hard disc store) are much greater than that of their house burning down.

I despair of the number of times I have heard photographers say they have lost ALL their work because of a computer failure. As I write this just yesterday I heard from another photographer who had lost the last four years of their work. Irreplaceable images lost forever.

In this section you are going to learn how to get images from your camera to your computer and how to make backup copies of your images for safe keeping.

From Camera to Computer


There are several methods of transferring images from your camera to your PC. USB cable, memory card and recently wireless (wifi).

Connect Camera To Pc


Your camera will come with a software disc. At a minimum the disc will give you the means of transferring over USB cable to your computer. Often the software will include lots of other goodies for enhancing images, tethered shooting and much more. You should always look at the capabilities of the provided software.

The Canon utility disk allows you to download files from your camera to your computer.

Following the instructions on the supplied CD or DVD (or in rare cases download) install the software on your computer. This is usually straightforward and apart from clicking a couple of boxes involves no other input. Most supplied software does not have a serial number or anything like that so can be installed on many machines.

Once the software is installed you can connect your camera at any time. The standard layout is for a USB cable with a mini-socket at one end that plugs into your camera and a standard large socket that plugs into your computer. Connect the cable then power on your camera. After a couple of seconds your computer will recognise the camera and you are ready to download.

You should use a dedicated folder in your computer for your pictures. Keep them all in one place so they are easy to find. This might not be the default location provided by your software. Then for each memory card you download put them into a specially named folder. Give the folder a memorable name and add the date at the end. This simple step will greatly simplify finding images later.

Your supplied software can then go ahead and download the images to your computer. Do not remove the images from your camera until you have checked they are on your computer. Better yet, do not delete from the card until you have a second copy as well - more on this later.

Once you are sure you have a good copy of the images you can delete the files from the camera. The best way is to use the "Format" option on your camera's menu. This option essentially "cleans" the current memory card. Be careful though, you cannot normally recover files from a memory card that has been formatted. Don't format the wrong card at the wrong time.

Card Readers


The alternative to connecting the camera to the computer is to use a "card reader". The card reader connects to your computer over a USB cable just like your camera. Now you just take the memory card from your camera and put it in the card reader. Then you can use your regular file manager to drag and drop copy your files from the card. Some computers have built in card readers.

Many computers also have integral card readers as part of the machine.

Your card will show up as an extra disc on your machine.  If you open the disc you will see folders below called "DCIM".  Within that folder there may be more sub-folders, sometimes with unhelpful names.   Your files will be in there.  If it sounds daunting to you then ignore this part.  If it feels comfortable to you then go ahead.

This option is usually quicker than downloading from the camera and doesn't require the camera to be connected. On the downside there is more manual intervention and your supplied software may not do this for you.

If you are a user of an image file management software package like Adobe Lightroom (more later) then this will support downloading directly from a card reader. Better than that, Lightroom can be set to take two copies of the files, one master and one backup.

Whichever method you use, downloading images from a card can take several minutes. The more images you have and in particular the more RAW files you have the longer it will take.

Backup Strategies


Once you have your images on your computer you need to make sure you have a backup. This backup is at least one copy of the files. This means if you accidentally delete or mess up an image you have an original to go back to.

You can back up your files to other hard discs, DVDs or storage on the internet "cloud".

Hard Disk


The first step is to get a second copy on your current computer. That is a start. You can just drag and drop COPY the appropriate folders to another location on your computer. However if your computer fails then you are still at risk.

Better is to get the files copied out onto an external hard disk. The easy way is a USB connected hard disk. Prices start at £50 for a 1 terabyte drive - big enough to store tens of thousands of pictures.

This is all plug and play - you just connect the USB cable and your computer will pick up the disk. Once there you can just use drag and drop copy to transfer the files to the external hard disk.

So now you have files on your computer and on an external hard disk. At least if your computer fails you've still got the external drive which you will be able to connect to any other computer (or your replacement if you have to get a new one).

The third stage, and real belt-and-braces is to get a second external hard drive. You keep the same backup files on it. But you keep this hard drive in another location. Once a month take your current external drive to the other location and swap it. That way you always have something reasonably recent in the event your house does burn down.

There are some who backup to CD or DVD disks. As file sizes from cameras have gotten larger this is getting to be an impractical option. Using an external hard disk is cheaper, easier and faster than using lots of DVD disks.

Backup to the Internet


There are now many options for taking a backup of files through the internet. Some services allocate you a small amount of space - sufficient for a few hundred pictures. Some services offer unlimited storage for a reasonable fee.

The files are held on their computers in some far off place, sometimes in more than one location. The files are just "somewhere in the cloud". Don't worry, it's not as vague as it sounds.

Your camera or software supplier may offer some space for free, with add-on space available if you need it.

Ideally you want a service which does not require manual intervention but which does this for you automatically. Transferring images over the internet can be slow and may take some time.

You have an offsite backup in case of fire You can access the files from anywhere on the internet You can share files over several of your own computers or with others. The backup is usually automatic and happens as soon as you save a file.

A word of warning. Many of these services are called "mirror" services. In other words any changes that you make on your computer - INCLUDING FILE DELETES - will be copied to the backup service. On the plus side this means you have an almost immediate backup. On the downside if you do delete a file by mistake it might also be deleted from your internet cloud store too.

You have a lot of options out there now, including services like Google drive, Dropbox and lots more.

My Personal Backup System


I take this backup process very seriously. As a professional photographer the last thing I want to do is call a client and say "I lost your photographs". So here is how my process works, step-by-step.

When I download the memory card the files are copied to an internal hard drive on my computer and an external drive. The software I use checks that both copies are correct and then removes it from the memory card.

Every night I take a second copy of the hard drive to a second external drive. This is the one that gets taken away and swapped with the off-site version every week. At this point I now have three copies of my current images, including original files and any that I have worked on.

All the time my computer is being scanned for file changes and new or updated files are copied from my computer to an internet cloud store. This will often happen within minutes of the files being downloaded. A very big batch of images might take a few hours.

Finally, I never work on an original downloaded image. I always make a copy of the file before I do any further work on the image.

All told I run around 2 terabytes of hard disc for my live images, with the same amounts in each backup store. But hard discs are cheap and images are expensive to create and impossible to re-create.

Reviewing, Cataloguing, Selecting


Once you have your images on your computer you need to review, organise, catalogue and select from them. Like all things there are lots of software packages which can handle this for you. They come under the general category of Image Management or Digital Asset Management.

The two most common packages are Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture. These are very powerful systems providing a lot more than just simple file management. With either of these packages you can pretty much take any image to a completed print.

All packages work in a similar way. They keep a "catalogue" of your images on your hard disk. The catalogue includes a pointer to the master image (but not usually an actual copy), a thumbnail (a small version of the image for rapid display), then a lot of (optional) information. The shooting information taken from the camera (focal lengths, apertures, shutter speeds and a lot more) is also stored.

You can then use this catalogue to group files together. You can put catalogue entries into several indexes. (Holiday shots might be indexed by location, by year, by scene). You can attach keywords to an image (again you might keyword, location, year, scene).

Once you have these catalogues it becomes easy to search and find the right files.   When you are starting out this might sound a bit like overkill.  After all with only a few hundred files how long can it take to find the right picture?   But after a couple of years you will start to build a library of 100,000's of files.  Now finding the right one becomes much more difficult.

You don't need to go the whole way and catalogue, index, cross-file and keyword right from day one. I do recommend though by you keep some sense of structure through the use of folder names and dates to give you a good head start.



No messing.  Do this now.  Get at least one, preferably two or three of these solutions in place.
If you think you already have a really good solution - test it - make yourself go and find a specific file from 2 years ago - can you still do it?  How about 5 years ago?