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How Long Will My Photos Last?
11/30/2010 8:50:43 PM

The photo below was developed in August 1939.  My father, and later my mother, kept the photo in an album stored in the prescribed "cool, dry place".  Fortunately, the photo was never placed in an album with any sort of adhesive.  As a result, 71 years later, the photo is in relatively good shape. (No adjustments were made to the scanned image in PhotoShop other than sizing.)

While the negative has long been lost, through the use of digital technology the photo can now be saved for and shared with future generations.  It may even be possible to create a new print far larger than the original which is roughly 2" X 3".



When I was scanning this photo, I started wondering whether today's digital images would be available in their original form to our families 50, 60, or 70 years from now.  If we simply read specifications for printers and storage media, we would immediately think that the life expectancy of today's digital images would far exceed anything possible in the past.  For example, many CD's and DVD's advertise a life of 70 years or more; today's photo printer inks suggest a life of 100 years or more.

There are different problems with each of these sets of numbers.  For storage media like CD's and DVD's, we need to consider both the life of the media (the disk itself) and the technology necessary to use this media.  In our office we have had a requirement in the last few years to retrieve data from 5.25" floppy disks.  The data and the media are both in good condition but it is almost impossible to find a 5.25" disk drive these days and even harder to find an operating system that supports the use of these drives.  As rapidly as technology changes, we can probably expect similar problems with our CD's and DVD's in the not to distant future.

With printers, we need to not only consider the life expectancy of the ink but also the paper that the image is printed on, how images will be stored, and even the finishing process used.  Just as in the past, "a cool, dry place" will improve image life expectancy while humidity, exposure to heat, and even exposure to light will decrease life expectancy.

An even more critical question is what are we doing today to protect our digital files?  Are they stored on a hard drive, a CD or DVD, or on-line somewhere?  Do we have full backup copies of all of our images?  Where are these backups stored?  What would happen if our hard drives fail or if we lose our media cards?  Any of these things could reduce the life of our images from years to weeks, days, or even hours.

So what can we do to protect our images?
 

  • Good backups stored in separate locations
  • Store copies on media that can be updated as technology changes (for example, save copies on portable hard drives instead of relying only on CD or DVD)
  • Be sure our papers and inks are compatible
  • Remember to store printed images in that "cool, dry place"
  • Save images at as high a resolution as possible and in a lossless format (no ,jpg images for long term storage)
Presidential Photographers
11/28/2010 7:02:58 PM

I saw an interesting PBS show a few evenings ago about the Presidents' official photographers.  If I understood correctly, this position dates from the Kennedy administration and the chief photographer is chosen by each President.  While there was some emphasis on the current photographer, there were also clips featuring several individuals who had previously filled this role and their relationship with the Presidents they served.  Seeing just the short clip on Nixon's photographer made one wonder how anyone would stay in that job.  One thing I found interesting was that all of the images taken belong to the National Archives and not either the President or the photographer.

On one hand, I think this would be a fantastic job, just because of the opportunity to be present when history was made.  On the other hand, I can't imaging the stress level that accompanies this job.

Local Wildlife
11/22/2010 8:08:01 PM
Most of my photography is concentrated on outdoors subjects - wildlife, landscapes, and flora.  While I would love to get away to places famous for these subjects like the large national pards in the western U. S. this isn't always possible.  Luckily, we have a local county park that supports photographing my favorite subjects.

Lone Elk Park is about 550 wooded, hilly acres just west of St. Louis.  The park supports a small herd of elk, a herd of bison, numerous whitetail deer, and a variety of waterfowl.  While these could technically be considered captive animals, they are free to roam the park (the bison are restricted to about half of the total area) and there is no guarantee of seeing any wildlife during a visit to the park.

The four photos below represent a variety of what can be seen in the park.



Four young bull elk were resting near a parking area in early November.



On the same day, the bison herd was out in the sun.  This calf, along with most of the others, was enjoying a warm sunny day.



The whitetail deer was grazing near one of the picnic areas earlier this year.



And, finally, a landscape photo showing the park's lake and some fall colors.
How Many Megapixels Do I Need?
11/21/2010 8:57:18 PM
When our photographs were recorded on film, either negative or positive, a general rule was that the larger the size of the film used, the larger the photograph that could be made from the film image. Rather than talk about a specific camera or film size, several general categories evolved: 
Large format – 4” X 5” or 8” X 10” negatives
Medium format – Typically, this film was 6 cm along one side and 4.5, 6, or 7 cm along the other side
35 mm format – 24 mm X 36 mm
Smaller than 35 mm – A variety of film sizes used by many different consumer grade cameras
When digital photography became widely accepted, the term format lost some meaning and most cameras were referred to by their resolution in megapixels. The new questions are “How many megapixels do I need?” and “Are all megapixels the same?” 
Before we answer these questions, we need to start with some simple definitions (for much more detail, you can do a web search on any of these terms):
Pixel – For our purposes here, we can consider a pixel as a dot where color (or light) can be recorded. 
Mega… - Mega is a prefix meaning million. This means that one megapixel is one million dots.
Sensor – A sensor is an electrical device in a digital camera that captures light and converts it into electrical signals. Image sensors serve the same purpose as the negative in a film camera and, just like film, come in different sizes. Because of these size differences, a physically larger sensor may contain either a larger number of pixels, larger individual pixels, or both.
Noise – Image noise is the random variation of brightness or color information in images. In film cameras, noise appeared as grain. Noise is considered undesirable. Generally, larger pixels result in less noise.
Let’s start by addressing a couple of general concepts. On a greatly simplified level, when we print a digital image we are moving the pixels recorded on our camera and moving them to paper. Using this as a baseline, we could say that the number of pixels we need is equal to the height of our final print Xthe dots per inch used for printing X the width of our final print X the dots per inch used for printing. This would result in a table like this:
Print size
Dots per inch
Pixels needed
Total pixels needed
Approximate resolution needed
4” X 6”
300
4 X 300 X 6 X 300
2,160,000
2.2 megapixels
8” X 10”
300
8 X 300 X 10 X 300
7,200,000
7.2 megapixels
11” X 14”
300
11 X 300 X 14 X 300
13,860,000
13.9 megapixels
16” X 20”
300
16 X 300 X 20 X 300
28,800,000
28.8 megapixels
 
While this is a nice rule of thumb and will ensure adequate sensor resolution is available, these numbers are conservative given the quality of hardware and software available today. Even so, this would lead one to believe that the best approach to use is “Give me more megapixels!” This is also supported by the simple example below. 
 
Our goal in this example is to represent the circle shown as #1 using different resolutions.
Image #2 uses 9 pixels to represent the circle which ends up looking like a square.
Image #3 triples resolution to 81 pixels. The result starts to look a bit more circular but still leave much to be desired.
Image #4 increases resolution to 324 pixels and image #5 increases resolution to 1,296 pixels.
As you can see, each increase moves closer to an accurate representation of the original circle.
Unfortunately, smoothness is not the only factor we need to consider. As indicated above, larger pixels result in less noise so we want both a large number of pixels and large pixels. The problem is that sensor size is limited by the size of the camera we are using. For example, a Canon Power Shot G12 squeezes 10 megapixels onto a sensor that is only 7.6 millimeters X 5.7 millimeters. The Canon 1D Mark IV stores about 17 megapixels on a sensor that is 27.9 millimeters X 18.6 millimeters. This means that each megapixel of data on the G12 is stored in about 1/8 of the space on the 1D. The result is more noise on the G12 image with a resulting a lower quality print.
What does this mean to us? We should use the general guidelines above to determine how many megapixels we need but we should also look at other things like sensor size when we purchase a new camera.
Is It Real or Is It PhotoShop?
11/20/2010 10:04:28 AM
PhotoShop is a great tool.  It allows us to clean up our digital images, make many of the changes that could be done in the film darkroom, and manipulate images for our enjoyment.  For the last few days I have been experimenting with PhotoShop to get a better understanding of some of the basic features of this powerful tool as well as learning some of the features that I seldom use with my photography.
So far I’ve been pleased with my results but it also raised some questions that I believe need to be considered by all PhotoShop users. The two photographs below were made by combining two or more images into a single final image.

 

The first, which I call “The Cow Jumped Over
the Moon” is clearly a whimsical PhotoShop creation rather than a “true” photograph. It was created by combining two images, the moon and a hot air balloon photographed earlier this year.

While it may not be quite as obvious, the second photograph, Balloons, is also a composite combining five images taken several years apart.

Although these images are only for my personal use, I wondered what disclosure would be necessary if the photographs were sold to others or used for some commercial purpose. Should the photographer disclose how the composites were made or should they simply assume that the viewer recognizes that the truth has been modified? More importantly, do the same rules apply when even simpler edits are made to an image such as adjusting the color balance, converting a color original to black-and-white, or even cropping an image for emphasis? Many times similar changes could be made in a film darkroom without any disclosure. Does the fact that we are working with a digital image introduce new rules or do the old rules still apply? What are the rules that should be followed?

I'm not sure there are any hard and fast answers to these questions.  Each photographer will probably need to make their own decisions on a case-by-case basis

The Venerable Photo Album
11/20/2010 10:04:28 AM
How many of us remember the typical photo album dating back to at least the 1950’s and probably even further. An oversized cardboard cover, black pages with uneven edges, and lots of snapshots held in by black paper photo corners. Later the photo album evolved to clear plastic over thicker pages with a sticky surface and even later to clear plastic held in place by static tension.
While these older albums were used by our parents and grandparents for years to hold their snapshots, and even by some of us today, they are no longer the ideal way to store our photographic memories and art.
One problem is the size and shape of the albums. Typically, they could not be stored on a shelf with other books and needed to be stored lying on their back. Because of the space this required, albums were often relegated to a closet shelf or other out of the way location. Another problem is that albums usually contained photos of different subjects, different times, and had no real organization.
With today’s emphasis on digital photography, some photographers print very few of their images. If they want to share the images with others they do so electronically. While this works extremely well, there are also reasons for printing images, for example to share with friends or relatives who do not have internet access. While we can print all of our images the same size we may want to have different sizes of prints for any of a number of reasons.
An attractive alternative to the photo album is the photo book. There are a variety of sources for these books but almost all offer a standard set of features. The photographer selects the images they want in the book, the book cover, the layout and background for pages, the number of photos per page, and the number of pages in the book. Most publishers include a base number of pages in their basic price and the photographer can add more pages as needed. Some publishers offer different sizes of books and several different color options.
These choices give photographers almost unlimited options for printing and sharing their photographs. Books can be published with photos of special occasions (a child’s birthday), different subjects (wildlife or flowers), or to meet almost any other need.
Photo books are available from a number of sources on-line and may be available through local photo stores. Three popular publishers are MPix (www.mpix.com), Shutterfly (www.shutterfly.com), and My Publisher (www.mypublisher.com). Other sources and products can be found in most photography magazines or through a web search for “photo books”.
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