Friday, November 14, 2008

Are travel photos on your online photo site safe?

Are your travel photos on your online photo site safe? Maybe not.

They weren’t for members of Digital Railroad, who learned on Oct. 29th that the site was going out of business and their photos would be lost forever if they didn’t act immediately.

Anyone who logged in to the photo site was greeted with the following message: “We deeply regret to inform you that Digital Railroad (DRR) has shut down.” The company had sought new financing, but their efforts failed. It turned out that Digital Railroad was able to maintain access to photos through midnight of October 31st, but after that, the site was closed and transfer of the photos to other locations impossible.

The vast majority of traveler and amateur photographers now take digital photographs. Even countless professional photographers, especially ones involved in newspaper and magazine photography (except fashion photographers) have made the jump to digital photography. About four years ago, I completely moved from film to digital photography.

I have a substantial photo site hosted by Smugmug. I have about 1,300 photos online, and I’m about to upload another few hundred soon. For me, my Smugmug hosted site is essential to my photography business. Through the site’s display of my work, I’ve sold many photos to a variety of clients either directly from the site, or from my library of photos, when clients became interested in my photography via the sites.

On forums on TalkingTravelers, members have pointed me to their online sites containing countless wonderful photographs of their travels. Showing your travel photographs online to friends and family is one of the top uses of Internet photo websites. Many travelers use Internet photo sites as their main repository for their precious photos, and have no copies elsewhere. After a while, for the average amateur photographer, the aggregate file storage size of their photographs exceeds the available capacity of their computer’s hard drive.

So what can anyone do to ensure they don’t loose their precious photographs preserving wonderful memories of great sojourns around the world?

Don’t depend on photography websites as your primary storage for photographs. The sites are not under your control, so you can’t depend that your photographs will be there forever. There are steps you can take, even if your computer’s hard drive doesn’t have enough capacity to store all your photographs:
  1. You can print each photograph. The problem with this solution is that it doesn’t make it easy to make high quality duplicate prints, or computer displayed photographs later, if the original digital photographic files are lost or deleted.
  2. You can put all your photographs on a CD or DVD for long-term storage. Archival quality CD blanks are readily available. However, there are still questions about the longevity of archival DVDs. The real problem with this solution is that according to how many photographs you take, the number of CDs and DVDs in your photographic library may become unwieldy.
  3. You can put your photographs on external hard drives. Currently, this is the solution I follow. While I use my Internet photo site for display of some of my photographs, to show them off to clients, as well as friends, family, and fellow travelers, all my photographs are on external hard drives connected to my computer. I use Seagate FreeAgent Pro units, soon to be superseded by Seagate FreeAgent XTreme external hard drives which have a triple interface, including USB and Firewire connections. I connect these hard drives to my computer via Firewire due to its high transfer speed. I use duplicate external hard drives to have a backup of my photos, as I can’t afford to loose my work. (Seagate 750 GB FreeAgent Pro Triple Interface External Hard Drives can be purchased today for as little as $135.)
  4. Skip media that’s impractical. I don’t consider long term digital photograph storage on other media such as memory cards, or removable cartridge drives to be feasible, as they don’t have long term viability.
If you currently use Internet photographic sites as your primary digital photographic storage location, I strongly suggest you consider and take advantage of other alternatives.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

10 travel photography to-do’s before you depart

After your plane has landed on Baltra Island, while waiting for the zodiac to take you to your boat, you see sea lions lounging on the dock. You pull out your camera, press the “on” button, and nothing happens. You forgot to charge the battery.

Aboard the boat, while your battery charges, you miss great shots of whales while traveling to North Seymour. Five days later, all your memory chips are filled, but you have two more days left on the cruise, and you haven’t even been to see those Giant Galapagos Tortoises in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island yet.

I can’t tell you how often these and other lapses in trip preparation plague travelers.

Whether you use a Digital Point and Shoot (DPS) camera in “automatic,” or an advanced Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera, you still need to plan and prepare to take photographs while traveling. Travel photographs become keepsakes and can refresh extraordinary memories, so don’t let a lack of a little preparation stop you from saving those memories. Here are ten preparation tips for anyone who takes photographs while traveling:
  1. Determine your photo storage requirements. You definitely need enough memory cards to store each day’s photos, so you can keep shooting without worrying about running out of space. If you have a portable hard drive which can directly upload memory card images, such as a Hyperdrive Colorspace, or a laptop computer, you can upload your photos each evening and reuse your memory cards after formatting them. If not, since memory cards can be expensive, and difficult or impossible to find while traveling, I recommend bringing enough cards with you to store all your photos for your entire trip. Some locations have “photo kiosks” you can use to write your photos to CDs, or you may be able to upload your photos at an Internet cafĂ© to a photo sharing website while traveling, but you can’t depend on their availability, hence my recommendation.
  2. If you don’t have one, purchase a spare battery for your camera. It can take several hours to charge a digital camera battery. You don’t want to loose a single “perfect photo” opportunity while your battery charges. Charge both batteries just before you leave on your trip, and don’t forget to bring your battery charger with you.
  3. Make sure your charger will work wherever you’re traveling. Most digital camera battery chargers can handle voltages from 100-240V, so they will work the world over. Unfortunately, the electrical outlets where you’re traveling may be different from those at home. You can determine if you need to purchase an adapter for your charger’s plug, online, at sites such as Magellan’s Travel Supplies, where you can also purchase the adapters.
  4. Know your gear. I can’t emphasize this one enough. Digital cameras today are packed with great features, and even if you use your DPS in “automatic” there are some camera functions you should know how to control. For example, many museums permit photography, but not with a flash. You need to know how to turn your flash on and off, and for portraits you should know how to turn on the “red eye” setting. You need to know how to format memory cards in your camera after you’ve uploaded your photos, to clear the cards and refresh them. You need to be able to set your focus mode or turn on image stabilization, if your DPS has these features. DSLR cameras have even more to learn. You should familiarize yourself with all your camera’s features to get the most out of it possible.
  5. Well before you leave, test your camera. Last week, a good friend left on a 10-day pilgrimage to see the Apparitions of Lourdes, La Salette, and Laus in France. Just before he was to leave, he pulled out his camera, which he hadn’t used in months, and found it was broken. He borrowed a replacement. You may not have a “loaner” available to you, so test your camera far enough ahead of time that you could replace or repair it in time for your trip.
  6. Before you leave, make sure you have a well-padded camera bag that is sized right for your camera and accessories. Your equipment should fit snugly, and be easy to organize and access. You need this to protect your equipment from vibration and shock which can occur while traveling. Last fall while in Paris, near the Eiffel Tower, I was accidentally pushed into a railing. My bag protected my lenses beautifully, so I could keep using them on the trip.
  7. Pack your camera (and all your valuables for that matter) in your carry-on, not in your checked-in luggage. You don’t want to arrive at your destination, only to open your luggage to find your camera stolen or broken, plus airlines exempt themselves from liability due to theft or damage of valuables, including cameras, in your checked-in luggage. And did you ever watch baggage handlers in action?
  8. Once you set your itinerary, consider doing some photographic planning. Look for specific photographic opportunities among your destinations. Photographers talk about the “golden hours” with good reason. The light quality around dawn and dusk is warm, golden, and casts great shadows. Research your itinerary, and if you have to, get out of bed early or eat dinner late to catch the golden hours. Don’t forget those incredible sunset photos everyone loves. Here’s a good site to help you determine the time of sunrise and sunset.
  9. Before you travel, study your destinations and the customs of its peoples. You don’t want to offend anyone or run afoul of laws. Many people do not like being photographed, and in some Islamic countries, photographing women is forbidden.
  10. Be prepared for bad weather on your trip. Moisture can be deadly for digital cameras. It isn’t worth it to take chances while you travel. The simple precaution of carrying a polythene bag to protect your gear, if necessary, can save your camera and those precious memories you’re trying to keep. Some camera bags come with their own rain covers. I have an inexpensive, but highly effective, commercial rain cover for my camera, which allows me to shoot in the rain. If you’re near the sea, or on a cruise, take care to protect your gear from salt spray and the salt air.
Enjoy your trip!