Best Digital Camera

If you've read the rest of this website, then you knew enough to decide whether or not to take the plunge...so if you're reading this section of the website, then you must have done your research and bought a digital camera and all the related accessories that you'll need.

The following is the methodology that I use personally, and I have found that it works very well if followed very strictly.   This methodology covers several different functions including: File Transfer and Staging, Image Processing, Photo Image Storage, Digital Negative Storage, Image Backup, and Print Processing.  This methodology is also referred to as "Workflow".

Stage One: File Transfer and Staging.   The best situation to be in when you want to transfer the photos from the camera onto your hard drive is through "drive letter" access.  On most modern digital cameras, you can connect the camera's USB cord to the computer's USB port, and the camera itself becomes a drive letter on your PC.  If you have a card reader, it will become a drive letter.

No matter how you transfer files onto your hard drive, you'll need to initially copy them into a "staging area" where they can be viewed and processed.  In my computer I have a folder called "Digital Photos" and a subfolder under it called "Unprocessed".   I simply copy (not cut) the photos directly from my card into the area called "Unprocessed" where they will wait for me until I begin Stage Two.

Stage Two: Image Processing.  Now that you have copied your photos into the staging area (called "C:\Digital Photos\Unprocessed\" on my computer), Now that you have copied your photos into the staging area (called "C:\Digital Photos\Unprocessed\" on my computer), Now that you have copied your photos into the staging area (called "C:\Digital Photos\Unprocessed\" on my computer), Best Digital Camerayou can begin to evaluate them and decide which ones "make the cut" for your permanent photo albums.  To do this, you'll need some "image editing" software.  Some version or another most likely came with your camera, but I personally like "Microsoft Picture It!" for beginners, which I believe provides the best balance of tools and ease-of-use for a very modest price ($30 to $50).  If you want something a little more advanced and powerful, try Adobe's Photoshop Elements or the advanced version of "Picture It" called Digital Image Pro, each listing for $99, but you can usually get them for significantly less.  When you start up most image editors, most provide what's called a "thumbnail" view of your photos, which is like a gallery of much-reduced-size photos so that you can see what they look like without much detail.   You can use this thumbnail viewer to get an idea of which of your shots are the best.  If you use the Windows XP operating system, then the Windows Explorer will provide the "thumbnail viewing" functionality (but not the editing functionality):

Once you've chosen the shots you want to edit and improve, your next step is to move (cut and paste) the ones you're NOT going to use into your permanent "Digital Negatives" folder, and leave the ones you're going to edit in the "Unprocessed" folder.  Once you start the actual editing of photos, it should take place in the following order: Crop, Color Balance, Brightness and Contrast, Resize, and Save As.  You won't necessarily perform all of these actions on every photo.  Also, please note that I used the phrase "Save As..." instead of "Save".  That is because I recommend keeping dual copies of your images...one in the form of a "digital negative" and one in the form of a "final photo", as mentioned previously.

Stage Three: Photo Image Storage.  When you've finished editing a particular photo, you do NOT want to save it over the existing digital negative.  For example, if the filename of the digital negative when it came off of your camera was "DSCF0256.JPG" then you want to save your edited photo under a completely different name, and NEVER save the changes directly overwriting the original "DSCF0256.JPG".   Personally, I have a directory folder on my hard drive called "Photos" and subfolders under it named for particular subjects (i.e. "Pets") or events (i.e. "Christmas 1998").  A good friend of mine likes to name his subfolders with a date (such as "2001-07-04" for his 4th of July photos) so that he can call up photos based on a given year, month, or day.  If you design a very descriptive and wide structure from the beginning, it will make keeping up with your finished digital photos much easier.   Think of these subfolders like you would individual little photo albums of printed photos, all arranged in the order you want...then name them accordingly.

A note about keeping "Digital Negatives": Maybe you're the type who stuffs your film negatives into a shoebox, never to be seen again.  After all, they end up taking up space and you finally throw them away the next time you move to a new house.  The difference between film negatives and digital negatives (the "original" JPG files from your camera) is that storing digital negatives is "free" and it doesn't take up any physical space (no shoebox)...thus, there's no good reason to NOT keep them.  After all, someday (maybe when your daughter gets married...maybe for an episode of "Before They Were Rock Stars"?) you are going to want them again.
I promise...you'll thank me later.

Stage Four: Digital Negative Storage.  I have one rule that I adhere to strictly: I never, ever delete any photo that I have shot unless it's an absolute mistake, such as accidentally taking a picture of my foot.  Remember, hard disk storage is cheap, and you never know when you might want to go back and see or use those "bad" shots.  For this reason, I have a directory folder on my hard drive called "Digital Negatives" and under it a subfolder with the model name of my camera, and under that I divide the original "digital negatives" into sets of 100 at a time.  For example, my first 100 shots with my Canon G1 are stored in "C:\Digital Negatives\Canon G1\Set01\" and are named "IMG_0001.JPG" through "IMG_0100.JPG".

When you have finished processing your negatives and have saved them into your "Photos" directory under new names, then you simply do a "Cut and Paste" (a move) on the originals from your staging area (i.e. "Unprocessed") into your "Digital Negatives" folder.  Please...never "throw away" any negative that was not an "accidental" shot...it's just too easy to simply keep them.

One final (and significant to beginners) benefit of saving digital negatives is that if you do a bad job of editing a given photo, you can always go back to the "original" and do it over again.  If you don't save the original in its original state, you'll never have that safety net.

Stage Five: Image Backup.  Next, if you're wise, you'll find some systematic way to backup your work, both your Best Digital Camera digital negatives and your edited photos.  As a beginner, you may find it easy to simply back up the files onto CD-R.  But once you build up many hundreds of megabytes of photos and negatives, you will find it much easier to use a scheduled backup to either tape or external hard disk.  I use two Iomega 250Gb USB2 hard drives with Handy Backup software, which runs each night and completely backs up my system, and I rotate the drives to my office each Monday in case of fire.  This may sound like overkill, but I've invested a tremendous amount of time and effort in my photos, and I cannot afford to lose them...you will soon feel the same way.

Stage Six: Print Processing.  I've covered this in my "Getting Prints" section.

Summary:   This can be a tedious process, but if you do it in a disciplined manner, it will have long-term rewards.  Just remember to keep your file structure descriptive, save your negatives, and backup your work.

Best Digital Camera

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