The Digital Camera: Keep Your Memories Alive
“Oh my god! My pictures of the polar bears are gone. They’ve disappeared. I was looking at them on the monitor a minute ago, and now I can’t find them. Can anyone help me find them? Please help me. Please!”
A novice digital photographer shouted those words of panic one night during a “downloading” session in the course of my recent expedition to the sub-Arctic Circle to photograph polar bears. Quickly, I tried to calm the woman down by saying that the pictures were probably not lost, and they could probably be found or rescued.
After working what the woman thought was my “digital magic,” her panic turned to pure joy at seeing the found file folder and her pictures on the computer’s monitor. I got a bear hug that would probably rival a hug from a polar bear! Her pictures—once-in-a-lifetime memories of the adventure—were saved.
Actually, I didn’t work any magic. Rather, I simply followed some basic guidelines for image recovery. The experience gave me the impetus for this lesson. We’ll get to image rescue in a bit. But first, let’s start with downloading images and backing them up so that hopefully, image rescue will never be an issue.
Memory card basics
When you get a new memory card, and every time you take it out of your camera and put it back, it’s important to format the card—in the camera, and not through your computer. Formatting the card wipes it clean. Totally. Plus, in-camera formatting sets up the card for your specific digital camera.
Before you remove a card from the camera or card reader, you must wait for all the files to be either written to the card or transferred to your computer. A blinking light usually indicates data transfer. If you remove the card too quickly (before the light stops blinking), you might lose data, or it might seem as though you lost the data. That was the panic-stricken woman’s situation when she removed the card too soon from the card reader and then, thinking that she had made a mistake, reinserted it into the card reader.
The problem in this case is that the woman was viewing her pictures directly from the card reader, whereas she should have been viewing them from the computer’s hard drive (after she transferred them), where she could have viewed her pictures much faster and easier.
Two copies are better than one
After transferring files to a computer and before you do anything else, you should back them up to CDs, DVDs, or an external hard drive. If you shoot RAW files or lots of pictures, transferring your pictures to an external hard drive is much, much faster than burning a CD or DVD. With a lifespan of 20–25 years, CDs and DVDs will eventually deteriorate, so hard drive storage is safer—but you should still have your pictures saved in two places because even a hard drive can crash. You don’t have to transfer files to a computer; you can hook up hard drives in tandem and transfer files between drives—but be sure you have the correct cables for connecting the drives, which could be FireWire 400, FireWire 800, USB 1.1 (if you’re very patient), or USB 2.0 (if you’re not).
You may have noticed that I mentioned external hard drives (as opposed to internal hard drives). Why? Well, say your internal hard drive crashes. If it does, how would you be able to see your pictures and other data? If you have all your files saved on an external hard drive, all you have to do in the event of a computer crash is to unplug the external drive from your computer and plug it into another computer to see your files.
Search and rescue
Okay, it’s finally time to reveal my “magic trick” of saving/recovering the panic-stricken woman’s pictures. I worked the magic by using SanDisk RescuePro, an image-recovery program that comes on a CD with SanDisk Extreme cards. While the memory card was still in the card reader, I simply inserted the CD into the computer and followed the onscreen instructions. I always travel with that CD, as well as with ImageRecall 3 from FlashFixers, for just such emergencies. (Lexar offers Image Rescue software for its cards.)
Manage and edit
By the way, Photoshop CS2 was already loaded on the computer on which I was working. I used Adobe Bridge to view the woman’s RAW files. I find that Bridge is an excellent method for viewing all my files, RAW and JPEG files alike.
If you shoot RAW files, you’ll need Photoshop CS2 (with the latest Camera Raw plug-in) and either your camera’s software (Canon’s Digital Photo Professional illustrated here) or another RAW program (such as Adobe Lightroom or Apple’s Aperture) to view, manage, and edit your pictures. You can also use programs such as Extensis Portfolio 8 to view and manage your pictures as well as archive your images to CD and DVD. If you only shoot JPEGs and have a Mac OS computer, you could use Apple’s iPhoto.
So no matter what camera you own—top-of-the-line pro SLR or compact zoom lens model—handle your cards with tender loving care. If you don’t, and do things too fast, you may lose a once-in-a-lifetime shot like this picture of a polar bear standing on his hind legs to get a better look at me! So, think carefully before you remove a card and click on a folder, icon, or prompt on your monitor.