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Simplifying your photo management

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By Eliza McGraw
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, September 9, 2010

Summer is nearly over, and it's time to download all those vacation photos. What happens to yours? Do they disappear into a world of alphabet-long file names and ever-changing Facebook walls?

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We might not want to go all the way back to the years when we waited at Peoples Drug to pick up the photos we took with a Kodak 110 camera. But those days did have some benefits: We used to place pictures in permanent albums and frames, and we enjoyed them day after day without having to turn on the computer.

"Good photography was never intended to reside only on your Facebook page or your iPhone," says Matt Mendelsohn, a professional photographer in Arlington. "It's supposed to be on your wall, or in books for longer than the life span of a piece of technology. Is your iPhone going to be passed to your grandchildren?"

Digital photos are easy to snap and to share through computers and cellphones. But some people get bogged down in the process of downloading and printing. Then they end up with nothing. To achieve old-time enjoyment, stay on top of your digital photo collection.

Getting started

Once you've taken photos on your memory card, the first step is to download the pictures onto your computer and edit them. Delete the ones you don't like. Photos with blurry faces, closed eyes and the tops of children's heads should be pitched.

As you sift, resist altering your photos. Many people now use software programs such as Photoshop to remove unwanted relatives or blemishes. But snapshots are supposed to record a moment. "Enjoy the Band-Aids and the messy hair. Less is more," Mendelsohn says.

Organizing and labeling

Organize photos so you can find them. Programs such as iPhoto or Picasa can help group pictures. Or devise your own system by sorting photos into folders on your computer. Either way, use a labeling system for the folders or albums that makes sense to you, and stick with it. One easy way is by date and then a brief description: "060910 swim lesson," "071010 beach" and so on. This way, you will be able to call up images by date.

"You have to label [photos] in a way that you yourself can remember," says Marissa Rauch, a professional family and portrait photographer in Washington. "Because if you can't do that, you're sunk." She copies photos to CDs, labels them by name, event and date and then stores the CDs in a book.

Storing

Follow Rauch's example and copy your photos so they are stored somewhere besides your camera or computer. Mendelsohn recently took a call from a sobbing bride who had inadvertently deleted her honeymoon photos from her memory card. With some recovery software and time, he was able to retrieve them, but the episode illustrates the importance of backing up. Don't delete anything from your camera's card until it is backed up in two places, such as an external hard drive, a CD or an online photo-sharing service.

"When you make the [folder], burn it on a disc, label it, and put in the order of when [you took] them," Rauch says. As a professional photographer, she swears by a photo-storing system that includes an external hard drive along with two copies of each file on two separate CDs. But for her personal photos she gets by just with the discs. The key is keeping the CDs labeled and in order, so you can track down what you need.


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