Pixel Lounge Workshop

In reality, anyone who knows me realizes that the title “Pixel Lounge Workshop” is an inside joke, and you’d better be awake long before 5:00AM to keep up with this kid.

Today is day two of a 2 day digital art workshop that I’m leading as a guest of the Evergreen Longhouse Educational and Cultural Center at Evergreen College. We are using the very cool facilities of the Evergreen College Photography area, which resembles a low-key lounge, yet is very efficiently designed with state of the art digital gear. Thank you to everyone for helping to make this happen, we are enjoying it very much.

Okay, tell me that this doesn't seem like a comfy lounge. The ambient light is just right for viewing the monitors so that you don't get eyestrain, and this is just the front part of the lab. To really make it feel like a pixel lounge we need some hip jazz to fill in the mood of working with cool images. Come on over, and bring a nice espresso and images to work on.

Gato Barbieri playing “El Parana.”

Patrice Rushen, Stanley Clarke, Ndugu Chancler, Oleo (Sonny Rollins)

Here’s to a great day of making new art!

Story and Photographs Copyright Larry McNeil 2013, All Rights Reserved. All musicians retain their own copyrights on Youtube.

Read more.. Saturday, November 9th, 2013

Cyber Attacks, Adobe Products & working offline

First of all, I offer my sincerest condolences to Adobe regarding they and their customers becoming the latest victims of cyber attacks. We don’t wish that on anyone, especially the people out there just trying to get their work done.

The BBC's report on the Adobe security breach last week.

Cyber attacks are becoming all too common, and the sad reality seems to be that we can’t really do much to protect ourselves against them. If you watch what’s happening all over the world regarding cyber attacks, it seems that even the most secure organizations and governments are falling victim to the attacks, so as average consumers, how can we expect to be safe from all this mayhem?

What are we to do to protect ourselves against cyber attacks? I have no idea. It just seems that all we can do is stand by the wayside and witness the craziness while our information is becoming increasingly vulnerable to attack. Which is why Adobe’s new online business model seems so strange, as mentioned in my May 7th, 2013 blog entry that discussed the pluses and minuses of this shift from stand-alone programs to leasing them via monthly online subscription services:
Adobe Creative Cloud, from a Critic

The above essay talks about the inherent risks associated with taking a business model online via the software subscription service, and how it’s very likely to be open to cyber attacks. I’m sorry to say that the cyber attack risks that I wrote about have come to be true. I did not sign up as a subscriber for that very reason; it didn’t seem to be a safe bet for doing my Photoshop work. I can’t risk my work being down for an afternoon, let alone an indefinite time.

My solution was to purchase the most recent version of Adobe Photoshop CS6 and use this as opposed to the subscription service.

The computer I use for most of my Photoshop work is completely offline. No emails, no web browsing, no file downloads, no nothing. I use my laptop for all of my online work and keep the Photoshop computer completely offline. Turn your Wi-fi off and keep it off at all times, including other things like ethernet & bluetooth.

Keeping my digital photography computer offline isn’t new by the way. I’ve had this computer offline for about two years, long before Adobe decided to put forth this new subscription service. I did this because my livelihood depends on having at least one computer that would keep on working even if the net came crashing down at any time. I wasn’t thinking specifically of Adobe when I took it offline, but now that they have a very vulnerable site, you can bet that this specific computer is absolutely staying offline.

On the other hand, my laptop stays online and is the computer I use for everything online, including emails, web browsing, file downloads, etc. My work would likely grind to a halt in very short order if I went offline. Just like the rest of you, the vast majority of my interactions with other people is done online these days.

In reality, I’m not anything near a computer security expert. If you’re a hacker, please don’t attack my site, because I know you can do it, you don’t have to prove anything to me or anyone else. At any rate, my only solution is to “throw in the towel” as they say, and not even play this game that I know I cannot win. So off goes the internet connection to the computer I use for my nitty-gritty Photoshop work, which for me and many other photographers, artists, and business professionals has become a mainstay for our work.

If anyone else has any suggestions on how to keep their computer running without cyber attacks, I’m all ears. Until then, that digital photography computer is simply staying offline. Sorry Adobe, I hope your problems get solved soon, I sincerely do, because I really like your products.

Read more.. Monday, October 7th, 2013

Adobe Creative Cloud, from a Critic

Since this is such a dramatic shift for not only Adobe, but for all of us users, I do have a lot of very pointed questions regarding Adobe's switch to a cloud service for their software, where users become subscribers as opposed to buying the program outright. Adobe's shift raises lots of other issues too, such as precise levels of privacy, potential ad clutter, the ability to control one's own images and so on; things that Adobe hasn't yet discussed in depth. I've noticed that during this announcement week, the regular Adobe experts are not really asking the hard questions, some users are a bit on the shrill side, and yet others are bored that anyone's taken the time to talk about it. I'm somewhere in the middle of the fray, just trying to figure things out.

I’ll take this issue apart piece by piece, and take a closer look at each component.

1.There is a perception that users may be saddled with non-stop payments to infinity; let’s take a calm look at this. This perpetual subscription agreement is perceived to be negative from many users, but in actuality, it may be a non-issue, or it may be true. Let’s take a closer look here without getting all excited about it. There has been a flood of people presenting their math formulas for what they’ll ultimately pay for the various aspects of this new Creative Cloud service. Adobe has assured us that the pricing is reasonable at $19.95 per month (Adobe, please correct me if I’m wrong) for Photoshop by itself, or $49.50 monthly for the entire suite.

Okay, I’ll do some math of my own and round out just the Photoshop subscription number (again, not the entire Adobe suite) to $20.00 per month, or $240.00 per year. Everyday people pay about $600.00 for the full version of Photoshop (on disc). This means that for the average user, it would take 2.5 years of subscribing to reach the $600.00 price mark, and after that, Adobe would be making way more money than they did in the past. For an example, if the average user would subscribe to Photoshop for ten years, the cost would be $2,400.00, which is an obvious dramatic jump for the price of using Photoshop.

Of course, Adobe has the right to increase their subscription fees at any time, so this is a minimum number and it could easily end up as way more than that. This means that Adobe could be more than doubling their fee for Photoshop for long-term users, even when you take past upgrade prices into consideration. On the other hand, if you only use Photoshop occasionally, it’s a fantastic deal. But for us who have already used Photoshop for decades, it’s clearly a dramatic price increase, and is an enormous fee increase for us pros. Wall street calls this subscription model an “annualized recurring revenue” into the transmeida world, where much of the financial action is unfolding. The financial verdict? Easy, Adobe reaps in increasing amounts of money as long-time users pay very notable increased fees as described above.

2. Potential Privacy Issues & targeted advertising. What, who would be the real product? Privacy: With the Adobe Creative Cloud (ACC), we users will be working with a desktop program as usual (not via a browser), but under the umbrella of  Adobe. It appears to be an impossibility that we’ll be working privately in our studios as before. I’m obviously making the assertion that we users will not have the same level of privacy that we had working with our own purchased disc program for the following reasons.

Subscribers will be working via an online connection directly to Adobe. Adobe explained that users will download the online version of Photoshop and will work with the standalone program. This cannot be entirely true, because the connection to Adobe is predicated on the monthly fees, so it is clear that there is a basic level of monitoring that occurs with the Cloud version. The million dollar question is “How much monitoring?” I’m sure that subscribers will have highly detailed statistical profiles produced by Adobe, but what other monitoring will be happening on a regular basis? I’d take it as a given that users will be giving up a significant measure of privacy using the Cloud, and of all the issues associated with the ACC, Adobe is being the most shy about specific answers to this topic. Maybe nobody’s asked them yet, so I will.

We have no idea whether Adobe will have the ability to view what you are working on at any given moment, so what’s the scoop Adobe, what is the precise level of monitoring you can do? As far as I know, subscribers can’t control the level of privacy they have, so this appears to be an issue of “no privacy” unless Adobe says otherwise.

You as the product? What if Adobe decides that they need to cash in on the advertising revolution that online companies like Google are reaping? Would Adobe jump the boat and go off on an advertising tangent now or in the future? Well, Adobe, what say you? Sorry to be sounding heavy handed about discussing online business models, but it’s common knowledge that Google receives the lion’s share of their revenue from advertisers who buy user profiles from Google. Advertisers then produce targeted ads for anyone who strays anywhere near Google online. With Google you don’t even have to sign a user agreement, anyone in their universe is fair game to become their product. This scenario is wide open for Adobe to use under this new Creative Cloud scenario.

If the above rings true it may mean that users of Adobe’s new Cloud service may be inundated by targeted ads like never before, and the floodgates may be poised and ready to be opened. If this advertising scenario comes to be a reality, it may mean that we ACC subscribers could become a primary revenue resource for advertisers, and ads targeted specifically at us may set a new record for ad clutter nearly everywhere we go online and not necessarily at the ACC site. I’m betting that Adobe may likely hold back on this at first, but a year later? Who the heck knows? What do you say Adobe? What are your short and long-term plans for using ACC subscribers as a source of income for advertisers? Are we ACC subscribers going to become the product like Google and Facebook’s business models?

3. Wifi Connection to make subscription work It’s obvious that one defines a Cloud server as being connected to the Internet in order for it to work. Adobe has made it clear that users will download a software version for their desktop. Just the same, there are times when I and other Photoshop users are working under extremely tight deadlines, and to have the software go dead in the midst of working is totally unacceptable. If there was ever a Cloud glitch, this could simply make the Adobe Creative Cloud go dead.

There is precedent for this, because major Clouds from just about all the Cloud servers out there (including Apple Computer) have already crashed many times. This is a major concern for me and thousands of other users. Adobe would have to install safeguards that would prevent this from happening. For Adobe a Cloud crash would be an inconvenience; for us users, it could mean the difference between completing a critical contract by a set deadline.

For us pros, the scenario is simple. If the software dies at a critical time, we could lose our critical sources of income, which means the mortgage doesn’t get paid and the kids go hungry. For amateurs it’s a non-issue, like losing their iTunes for the afternoon.

Adobe, you need to build in a foolproof safeguard for subscribers potentially losing access to our files and the program. This online connection is the weakest part of this entire scenario, and could be a deal-breaker for many of us. Not only that, but our own private servers could crash too, which would put us in double jeopardy. An accounting error could put us in triple jeopardy if our service was ever accidentally turned off due to an accounting error. The list of potential errors goes on and on, not to mention hackers who make a sport of breaking into all systems, including Cloud servers, or even our own Wifi connection. Google made a bad joke of this by just driving around neighborhoods, breaking into any Wifi connection they pleased, which leads us into the next issue.

4. There is no way to protect yourself against online hackers. The United States government recently stated that the only way to protect yourself against malicious online intruders is to disconnect your computer from the Internet and not import files from outside sources. Virtually every government agency in the world has been hacked into, not to mention corporations, businesses, organizations and individual people.

For the past two years, I have removed my “working computer” that does Photoshop work and printing from the Internet. It means that even if the world comes crashing down from malicious hacking, my own computer would keep on going and my professional work would remain unscathed. For everyone working with digital media as their primary source of income, I’d advise you to do the same thing and remove your revenue generating computer from the Internet completely. No email, no online browsing, no software updates, nothing. Zero. It’s the only way to protect your livelihood. I use my laptop for everything online and use my desktop computer solely for my digital imaging work.

This is a stark reality that the Adobe Creative Cloud pretends doesn’t exist. Adobe seems to be more interested in generating new sources of income than ensuring  that their own software works, and as a critic I find this to be not only irresponsible, but also flagrantly disconnected from the reality of the vulnerabilities of the Internet. It’s almost as if Adobe is living in a parallel universe where malicious hacking does not exist. Adobe, please come back to our universe and take a look around. It’s not a pretty sight.

Three times in the last few years, companies I’ve been doing business with have been hacked, and these companies have had to provide me with online protection via digital security companies. My bank account was hacked while I was in Germany and I couldn’t use my credit card to pay my hotel bill because my account was frozen. This is not unique to me by any means; if you do online business, chances are that your confidential information has already been compromised not once, but many, many times. We’re all in the same online boat here. Do I want to do my primary revenue generating operations completely online? Are you nuts? Hell no.

Other issues.

File access in the future. It appears that there are innumerable other hidden issues that could be perilous issues for both Adobe and subscribers. Such as the notion that Adobe may be able to lock your files from you if you ever drop your subscription. If Adobe has the ability to lock your files from you, this is a monumental issue that may lead to groundbreaking legal findings at the end of long and expensive litigation, regardless of what the subscriber agreement says. Subscribers should be able to open and use any files they made, period. Word on the street is that Adobe will prevent ex-subscribers from opening any files made on the Creative Cloud. If this is true, it falls into the gutter under the heading of “cheap money grubbing rats,” and Adobe should do the honorable thing and jettison this feature, because it’s wrong, plain and simple. What say you Adobe? Is this part of  the Creative Cloud user agreement? Please tell me that this was only a malicious rumor designed to make you look exceptionally bad, because you are way better than that.

Online archiving. I have been an archiving advocate for creative professionals for decades. The simple truth is that the only way you can safeguard your own work, your legacy, is to save your work on site, NOT on a cloud server. Clouds should be for things like iTunes collections, snapshots, or anything that is already in your own on site permanent archive. Clouds are places for temporary storage of anything you need for casual or convenient use. Clouds should be a place for temporary parking only, certainly not as a repository for your professional work. Many clouds have not only crashed, but some have also unexpectedly gone out of business. A couple of years ago, a major photography cloud went bankrupt and photographers lost millions of irreplaceable photographs. What was their recourse? Nothing. The photographs were simply gone. This was a tough lesson that I hope nobody else has to learn the hard way.

The current status quo. In the meantime, I’ve heard from a few satisfied ACC subscribers, all of whom only use Photoshop for fun or an occasional job here and there. I haven’t heard from any hard-core pro users yet. None of these “lightweight users” has had any issues with down time due to Internet problems yet, and they are very happy with the price. This is likely because the full-blown subscription service hasn’t really been launched in all it’s glory yet, and the ACC hasn’t felt the pressure of mass numbers of pros online yet. I’ve already witnessed indignation from Photoshop pros who are usually calm by nature, so I know this new subscription model is already a hot topic. Feelings of betrayal abound. I’m betting that there is likely going to be a spike on sales of the CS6 disc program as pros ponder the various tactical methods of jumping off the ACC boat before it even really launches, but we’ll see I guess. To be fair and accurate, I’m guessing that a lot of pros will give the ACC a spin to see what unfolds.

Keep an eye out for where the Adobe Cloud has their physical servers in place. Apple tried to keep theirs secret because they didn’t want subscribers or Wall Street to know about crashes or physical problems they encountered that dramatically affected its online performance for subscribers. Wall Street investors don’t like to read stuff like that, and server glitches often show up in their stock prices nearly instantly. You can bet that Adobe is acutely aware of this and will do everything in their power to keep any glitches under careful wraps, which means that they’ll be fighting an internal battle that has subscribers who want to know what the heck is happening with any glitches on one side, and the desire to keep Wall Street in the dark on the other side. Somewhere in the middle, hopefully ACC will be scrambling to keep their servers, the Internet, and Wifi everywhere running smoothly.

The appearance of this new ACC also means that Adobe now has a vested interest in making the Internet more secure, because as mentioned before, it’s the wild west out there where shootouts from hackers are running amok. Again, the reality everyone in the world is facing is that there is no protection from malicious intruders who wish to cause havoc, outside of disconnecting your computer from the Internet that is. My next question to Adobe is “What are you specifically doing to make the Internet safer? Can you list the things you are doing to make the Internet safe for your ACC and the world?” In my opinion, any initiatives have to be very broad and have to include external safeguards too, not just what is going on in their server facilities, because obviously, the Internet is global. It means that Adobe has to shift their priorities and allocate resources to help make the entire Internet more secure, not just their own connections, because their subscribers are out there exposed, not holed up in a secret secure location.

Am I going to become an Adobe Creative Cloud Subscriber? If I were an amateur, this whole debate is nothing more than an abstract idea for other people to argue about. I’d just pay my twenty bucks every now and then, and be done with it. It’s a non-issue for amateurs, because they don’t have a long-term financial interest with what promises to be unpredictable upward spiraling costs as a subscriber to the ACC. For me, I’m ensuring that I do indeed have a fully paid disc version of Photoshop CS6, and if I go over to the subscription service, it’ll only be out of curiosity, because of all the reasons explained above. I’m not sure how academia and large businesses will respond to this new model; I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, I sincerely hope that Adobe listens to independent critics too, and not only their “Yes guys,” or outside consultants who are more than likely reticent to be honest since they’re paid by Adobe.

*I’m both an artist and scholar who’s used Adobe Photoshop since 1992, set up the curriculum at various schools for digital photography starting in 1993, and have taught it to the present. That’s a lot of years, and miles of files with Adobe at the side as a provider of vital, innovative tools. Don’t get me wrong, I love Photoshop and have been not only teaching it, but advocating for its use for over twenty years. It remains the absolute top program for editing photographs, period. Nothing else comes close and I’ve lost count of the number of students who’ve learned digital photography from me. Not to mention my own large body of work that is exhibited at international museums, and so forth. These are high accolades for a digital photography editing program, and even though we’ve heard these testimonials before, it’s worth repeating.

Story Copyright Larry McNeil, 2013, All rights reserved. You must have the written permission of McNeil to use any of this material for anything.

Read more.. Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Kodak's Slow Motion Downfall

If there is any one product that has to do with my own personal success (and millions of other photographers too for that matter), it is Kodak. When I was going to Brooks Institute School of Photography, it seemed that nearly everything we used was Kodak yellow and red. Kodak fixer could indeed fix anything, we were only as good as the Kodak film we shot, and color was Kodak vibrant. Like many other professional photographers, I love the company and what it has done for the culture of photography. So it with great sadness that I learned of Kodak’s filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January and their intent to exit the digital capture business.

It’s like Apple dropping computers or Jack Daniel’s switching to milk. It ain’t fittin, as they say. You really know that the world’s gone to hell if Kodak isn’t making photographic stuff. Fuel up the rocketship.

Kodak essentially invented the concept of “the snapshot,” with the very first Kodak camera in the late 1880’s. For the first time, nearly anyone could make a photograph. Their motto was “You push the button, and we do the rest.” For all intents, Kodak WAS photography.

Kodak's webpage announcing their reorganization. This still seems a bit surreal, and almost like it's from the universe next door and not ours. I imagine that we'll know it's real when we can't get Kodak products anymore. I dread that day.

A lot of us photographers have been watching Kodak’s slow demise for quite some time now, and are not all that surprised that it has come down to this Chapter 11 status. It’s not a happy or unexpected realization by any means, but we still hope that Kodak will rise out of the ashes. If I were a Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, I’d look into the section below titled “Did Kodak make the nails for their own coffin?” I’m sure that there are many nuances to this story that the public is not privy too, but us professional photographers have been  bearing witness to a few decades worth of missteps that more than likely had something to do with their downfall.

Just last week I was shooting Kodak Tri-X black & white film with a wide-field camera. Not for nostalgia's sake, but because I needed some cool cityscape photos in black & white.

Abridged Kodak Story

In order to understand the above webpage describing Kodak’s exit out of dedicated capture devices, you really need to understand who they were and examine the core of their essence, so here goes, please bear with me. This story could actually be published in book length, but since this is a blog, here is the McNeil condensed version (part of this blog entry was plucked out of my lecture notes from when I taught a History of Photography course).

In the early 1870’s, photographers couldn’t even buy pre-made negatives, film did not exist. This is a special area of research for me, as I have a collection of glass plate negatives that marks the time at the cusp between when photographers had to make the collodion hand coated negatives and when they were able to simply purchase ready-made dry plate negatives. Photographers had to hand-coat their own glass plates (which was closer to alchemy than science) and essentially made their own negatives.

Large format hand coated wet plate collodion negative that predated the manufacture of film. Negative by Felix Bonfils at the ruins of Capernaum, from the McNeil collection. You can easily see where the photographer was carefully painting the negative with a black opaque material to render a white sky, because the collodion wasn't capable of a proper exposure of the sky while photographing a landscape. The wet plate collodion negative was only sensitive to blue light.

I learned many of the nuances of glass plate negatives from a scholar at the George Eastman House by the way (she spent the afternoon carefully examining my 1870’s & 1880 glass plate negatives made by the famous Felix Bonfils). The concept of being able to buy photographic film hardly existed prior to Kodak’s arrival. There were a number of international companies that made dry plate negatives, but it was Kodak who transformed it into an amateur phenomenon, which created millions of new photographers. It means that more than any other company, Kodak transformed photography  into a common practice for nearly anyone to use, and they did it on a global scale.

When I think of Kodak, I think of the entire culture of photography since the late 1800’s, and especially how they’ve dominated nearly every phase of the culture and industry of photography for so long, most notably during the entire 20th century. In this sense, Kodak is nearly a quintessential or archetypal model of American industry. Kodak obviously didn’t invent photography, but rather stepped in nearly 50 years later to make photography easily available to the world for the first time.

Kodak round photo from the first Kodak camera, dated late 1800's, from the first generation of cameras that used roll film. Library of Congress, number 3g04797u. This is an uncropped download that shows a visual aesthetic with the first Kodak snapshots (the photo is a bit askew, but this is the way it was presented from the archive). Kodak learned early that women were primary consumers of their products, partly because women made most of the family snapshots, and partly just because they were damn good photographers. Therefore, Kodak aimed much of their advertising and corporate strategies towards women.

A quirky bit of history has the Reverend Hannibal Goodwin teaching bible studies with lantern slides in the mid-1880’s. He was looking for a way to make this easier, and discovered that he could transfer the texts onto a type of flexible film called nitrocellulose and filed a patent for it in 1887, two years before Kodak’s patent for nearly the same thing. Goodwin contended that the patent was rightfully his, and sold it to the Ansco company, which sued Kodak for it and won a five million dollar judgement years later, in March of 1914. This little scenario had to do with the invention of roll film, which essentially acted as a literal basis for photography for over 100 years, plus made motion picture film possible.

Kodak mass produced film to create the revolution in photography that made it available to nearly anyone. The key phrase here is mass availability, ease of use and affordable prices. Roll film is what made this happen, and it is likely the number one technological advance that moved photography into popular culture.

A scholar could make the assertion that George Eastman was a visionary, and his powerful personality had everything to do with Kodak’s success as a large corporation. This is a critical stance, because I’ll also make the claim that without a visionary leader at the top, a company can flounder, and when important aspects of a company are left to committees to determine, things can go drastically wrong. Eastman died in 1932.

Eastman was an astute business person, and could be compared to the Bill Gates of his day in that instead prioritizing camera production, he set Kodak’s priority on the manufacture of film. It’s kind of what Bill Gates and Microsoft did with computers regarding selling the operating system, and let others fight it out with building the computers. It meant that Kodak became the de facto near-monopoly for the sale of film, and in fact held many of the roll film patents.

Throughout the entire 20th century, Kodak dominated the industry and culture of photography. It became clear in the 1940’s that other countries could manufacture the high-end cameras more affordably and Kodak gave up that part of the industry. Up until then they made a number of professional level large format cameras and lenses, in addition to cameras such as the legendary Ektra and classic Kodak Bantam Special. It became clear that Japan could manufacture high quality cameras at more affordable prices, so Kodak gave up that segment of the camera market and prioritized affordable snapshot cameras that of course encouraged the use of high volumes of their film.

Kodak Bantam Special from 1936. In my opinion, this was the most beautiful camera ever designed. It is ultra-compact (around 3 inches wide), made of precision machined parts with an aluminum shell, was fast to operate and made high quality photographs on 828 sized film. It costed $110.00 new, which translates to $1,793.75 in 2012 dollars (according to the Consumer Price Index inflation calculator).

The Kodak Bantam Special was designed by the legendary designer Walter Teague. It had a lightning fast f/2 lens that allowed high quality photos to be made with the slower ISO Kodachrome film. This was a camera for the true photographic connoisseurs who only wanted the best of the best, which of course means that I use one, even today (B&H sells 828 film for this camera). The pre-war versions used the German Compur shutters; Kodak was starting to use German parts for some of their cameras.

By the mid-to late 1900’s it was clear that Kodak really didn’t have any real rivals with film manufacture, even as there were dozens of other excellent film producers. Kodak was relegated to the production of amateur cameras (millions of units per camera model), having given up on the manufacture of professional quality cameras in favor of amateur versions, where volume was the key to success. Not only that, but as mentioned earlier, the cameras were not the key income producer, it was the film that Kodak was targeting with their largest volume of sales. Kodak also had the near monopoly with professional quality films too, it’s where pros went to get the film that defined their livelihoods. Kodak spent millions of dollars on research and development to assure that they stayed on top as the company that had a reputation for making the best films in the world.

The Kodak Brownie was produced in many incarnations and is one of the all-time volume sellers for cameras in the world. They were made of cheap materials and easily mass produced to sell to the masses. Everyone was supposed to be able to afford one, even people in the lower classes who couldn’t afford luxuries; Eastman’s philosophy was to make photography available to everyone. Many photographer’s first cameras (including myself) were Kodak Brownies.

Kodak’s most legendary film was the Kodachrome slide film, which was only discontinued last year as a casualty of the digital photography revolution. Their other flagship film was black and white Tri-X film, which is still manufactured today (and is what I ask my own students to use in our black and white film class, by the way). By the mid-1970’s Kodak sold an astounding 90% of the film in America; nearly a monopoly. These were the good times, and darker events were to soon unfold.

The Center for Creative Imaging in Maine was "THE" place to learn digital photography back in the early 1990's. It's where I learned many aspects of digital photography; it was an awe-inspiring place to learn, because Kodak spared no expense in making it the state of the art facility in the world for digital photography.

Did Kodak make the nails for their own coffin?

1st Nail: Ektachrome & the advent of Fujifilm

To begin with, I’ll make the assertion that these seven Kodak missteps happened because there wasn’t a George Eastman or Steve Jobs type visionary leader at the top to cut through all the nonsense and simply see that things got done, period. No messing around or heads would roll. I’m betting that not only did heads not roll, but there wasn’t any one entity held responsible for this long list of failures. My bet is that it was the board of directors trying to do some very difficult tasks via committee and it simply did not work. Steve Jobs would have told you straight out that some things you simply do not vote on, and in order to make innovation a reality, you must have a very strong-willed, tenacious leader taking charge and seeing that bad things absolutely did not happen, at  least not on your watch.

So in a very real sense, not only did bad things happen, they also happened in slow motion over many decades, and by this January’s Chapter 11 filing, there was hardly anything anyone could do to stop the downward spiral.

In my opinion, one of the big Kodak missteps happened throughout the 1970’s. For some reason, Kodak did not apply a high level of quality control over their Ektachrome films. Many of the 35mm versions of Ektachrome were simply awful with obvious color shifts and had a tendency to fade fairly quickly.

One of the drawbacks with Kodachrome was that it took a long time to process, and pros wanted a film that could be processed quickly and without the highly specialized labs that Kodachrome required. Even though it was the best film ever made, Kodachrome took too long to process in this speeded up world. I can remember sending packets of film to the closest Kodachrome lab in Palo Alto via many of the new overnight shipping companies that were springing up at this time.

Ektachrome slide film was supposed to fill the need for fast, same day processing and it only required a more basic process called E-6 chemicals and processing equipment. From what I understand, it was also supposed to use less toxic chemicals than the Kodachrome compounds. At any rate,  many of the Ektachrome versions fell right on their faces as dismal failures. Professionals were beyond belief that Kodak would release a substandard film, and voted with their feet by simply not buying the film. In the meantime, a company named Fujifilm in Japan was working on producing a high quality transparency film that could use the easier and more affordable E-6 same-day processing that didn’t have to be shipped to a specialized lab.

Fujifilm stepped in during the early 1980's and filled the gaping void left by Kodak.

Fujifilm came forth with a beautifully rich film that had the high color saturation, superfine grain, and accuracy that came nearest to the best of what Kodachrome had to offer. Pros didn’t have to deal with the awful Ektachrome anymore and Fujifilm became a nearly instant bestseller and took over a large segment of the film market that Kodak had owned for decades. It should have served as a wake-up call to Kodak that they were vulnerable to outside companies taking over a market segment that Kodak thought was invincible. Fujifilm only got better, and during the decades of the 1980’s and 1990’s Fujifilm had the audacity to displace Kodak and their E-6 line of transparency films. Kodak’s response was too little, too late and Fujifilm’s sales skyrocketed.

2nd Nail: Disc film… hush, sweep it under the rug, quick

This is more minor, but worth mentioning. Kodak was experimenting with a new film format called Disc Film. Kodak was answering the call for even more compact cameras, and it needed a more compact film to make it work, which is why Disc cameras and film came on the scene. The photos were too grainy even under the best circumstances and it was eventually discontinued due to low sales. A number of other film companies also made disc film, but none of them really had any success with it. Disc film was notable however, because it reflected the consumer’s desire for more compact cameras that made good photos.

3rd Nail: The Polaroid debacle, oh no

In my opinion, Kodak made a mistake by using the Polaroid instant film technology without bothering to buy rights to their use. The courts agreed, and in 1986 Kodak had to discontinue the manufacture of their instant films because it was infringing upon Polaroid’s patents.  This was a significant third strike against Kodak in the 1980’s and photographers and consumers were starting to wonder if perhaps Kodak was losing an edge in the world of photography. Kodak was still a powerhouse though, and could have recovered easily from these setbacks, but a downward cascade was set in motion.

The digital repreive

The bright spot in the above was that Kodak was taking the lead with inventing digital technology that was to set the stage for the transition to digital photography. In this sense, Kodak was in fact playing the role of being a visionary company by imagining the future of photography. Kodak came forth with a flurry of inventions and new patents for digital photography, and also found themselves collaborating with a large number of new players in the emerging field of digital photography.

By the early 1990’s the desktop publishing revolution had taken off, and programs such as Photoshop quickly became industry leaders on the computer side of the equation, as did Apple computer for the desktop of choice for digital photographers. Kodak released their first consumer level digital cameras in the early 1990’s, but they were fairly expensive and the public still didn’t have the infrastructure to really use the digital photographs. It wasn’t until 1997 that Kodak was able to market a megapixel point and shoot digital camera for under $1,000.00, so digital photography for the general public still wasn’t a reality yet because they were too expensive for the average consumer (it was roughly $1,400.00 adjusted for inflation in 2012 dollars).

Kodak DC120 digital camera that was the $1,000.00 price buster in 1997. I know this camera well, because I purchased the model immediately previous to this one, but it was badged with the Chinon brand, the ES-3000.

In 1995 the ES-3000 was priced at $1,400.00, and since I was going to make digital photography my livelihood, I purchased one. It was large, awkward and generally clunky, but hey, it was digital! It made 1/3 of a megapixel photos and represented the first generation of digital cameras. As I recall, it sucked up a tremendous amount of battery power in just a few shots and you always had to carry a lot of extra batteries with you. It had a 38-115mm equivalent zoom lens and didn’t have an LCD screen.

Kodak also collaborated with companies such as Nikon to manufacture some of the first high-end digital cameras designed for professional use. Many of these cameras were hybrids between film camera bodies and digital components. Most were nearly twice as large as regular 35mm pro cameras and costed thousands of dollars, which put them out of the reach of average consumers. It meant that in the 1990’s, digital photography was still too expensive for the huge amateur market and film was still dominant.

This literally looked like someone took a Nikon film body and screwed on the Kodak digital components. It was 1.5 megabytes of pure digital power.

This was a curious time in Kodak’s life, because it was at the crossroads of two photographic technologies, film and digital. I suspect that it made for a number of fierce debates on their board, because on one hand they had their lucrative film products that was their mainstay for so long, and on the other, they had the newer digital technology to explore. I don’t know this for a fact, but suspect that there was an internal war where the digital group was a minority, and likely had to fight for every little bit of funding for their endeavors, and the film group was not convinced that the digital group deserved the funding it was requesting. At least this is what it looks like from the outside. I’d love it if someone were to do the research to learn how this inside conflict unfolded over the years up until just now, when Kodak had to declare Chapter 11 protection.

4th nail: Internal conflict of film vs digital technology

This is the murkiest part of Kodak’s downfall and is admittedly little more than pure speculation. It appears that there was an internal conflict going on with Kodak and they simply couldn’t agree on whether they were to be a film company or a digital company, so their decisions with both seem to have been compromised by each other, but who really knows? The board of directors knows, but I’m betting that none of them will ever admit as much. We only have clues to this assertion, and I’ll bring the Kodak DCS 14n forward as an example.

5th Nail: The abrupt shift to digital photography (oops)

Kodak was doing some very exciting things by the early 2000’s, including releasing a flurry of small point and shoot digital cameras that were very solid and just as good, if not better than their competitors.  All of a sudden, the market was flooded with tens, if not hundreds of digital cameras made by dozens of companies. The digital revolution was in full swing and consumers could buy a digital camera for less than a few hundred dollars. The years between 2000 and 2003 were little more than a blur regarding digital cameras because the market was flooded with them nearly overnight. All of a sudden, consumers were buying more digital cameras than film cameras and companies like Kodak were caught totally unprepared for the abrupt change from film to digital photography. Nobody thought that it would happen in the course of just a couple years and companies were unprepared for the dramatic hits their film divisions would take as consumers stopped buying film and film cameras.

6th Nail: The Kodak DCS 14n (the elephant in the corner)

The Kodak DCS 14n caused quite the stir among pros, because for the fist time (you can’t count Contax because they never released their version) a sensor the size of a 35mm frame of film was released. This has come to be known as a “full frame sensor” because most of the DSLR sensors are smaller than this (it also meant that lens focal lengths were accurate measurements again and did not have a factor to measure as with smaller sensors). Another camera company was set to release their version of a full frame sensor too, but it costed $8,000.00, three thousand dollars more than this Kodak 14n.

Critics called it a medium format camera because it had the unprecedented size of 14 megapixels, more than twice the size of most DSLR’s. It was a huge leap and even now, nearly a decade later it is still considered a large image sensor.

The Kodak 14n became “a nail in their coffin” because Kodak did not allocate the proper amount of research and development resources to make it successful. There were many very negative deficiencies that held the 14n back from being successful. It had excessive noise even at moderately low ISO settings, which meant that the camera was only useful in bright sunlight or with studio lights. This frustrated pros because they wanted to believe in Kodak and their high-end 14n camera; everyone desperately wanted this camera to be a success, an answer to their digital challenges. By this time, photographers were already used to high quality results from DSLR’s and Kodak was expected to easily surpass the quality of the smaller megapixel DSLR cameras.

By early 2003 it became clear to nearly everyone that the 14n was a failure. It caused a sensationalist stir in the online photography community, because by now there were a number of review sites where users could publicly share their conclusions about the camera and users were very vocal about the 14n’s shortcomings. Rants were common from users, as were photographers coming to Kodak’s defense. Kodak eventually quietly abandoned the camera, never publicly conceding defeat with it.

The 14n could be viewed as a key pivotal point with Kodak, because they had the potential to take a decisive lead with this camera, and it could have been a flagship digital camera that set the standard for future cameras from all manufacturers. The view from professional photographers was that it appeared that Kodak was not willing to do what it took to make this camera a success. This saddened many, and exasperated the ones who invested in the 14n camera bodies and lenses. It irked them that Kodak would give up on this camera that held so much positive potential, and a rift was made between professional photographers and Kodak, and many of them turned their backs on Kodak for good.

7th nail: Overproduction of digital cameras and the iPhone camera

Another element of the digital photography scenario (that Kodak obviously can’t control) is that there is a glut of digital cameras being mass produced by nearly everyone. There are literally hundreds of models being released every year, all striving to become the most recent bestseller. Many of the models are nearly identical to each other and after a certain point there appears to be a clear lack of real innovation. Sure, there are lots of very cool models being made, and I just got a new one about a year ago that I like a lot. It appears that a few companies are distinguishing themselves quite nicely with models that are ultra-compact, yet go into manual override easily so that you can have a very precise control over the look of your photographs. Some even have a certain “coolness factor” that also jumps into the fray, just to make things more interesting.

This sea of digital cameras nearly became moot when Apple released their iPhone with a digital camera a few years ago. It’s first incarnation was low resolution and couldn’t focus or adjust the brightness levels. It was a low quality camera, a joke to real photographers. However, what it did have was an easy method to share its photos, either via Wifi or over the mobile service. It was ridiculously easy to share photos and it coincided perfectly with the social networking sites like Facebook. For the first time, way more photos were being shared online than being printed. I hear that people on Facebook are sharing 4 million photos per day. This means that people are crazy about the iPhone and other cell phone cameras.

Apple makes some of the coolest computers on the planet, but I've never been all that excited about their iPhone camera. I notice it still doesn't have any lens protection, which means that it's photos will be soft in no time, due to a scratched up lens.

Hardly any of the camera manufacturers picked up on this Wifi trend, even as photographers asked for connectivity. Camera manufacturers ignored these requests for Wifi with digital cameras, and as a result, the digital camera bestseller is the one with this feature, the iPhone. I think that even today, most manufacturers still don’t get it. Kodak was a player in this scenario and could’ve come forth with a bestseller if they responded, but this is just my opinion.

At any rate, digital camera sales are still not nearly as high as they could be because of the widespread use of the iPhone. Apple has become a digital camera bestseller, even with their low quality camera, because they led the trend with digital connectivity and ease of use. Any photographer can tell you that the most popular camera is always going to be the one you can just pull out in a few seconds, and today that is the iPhone. My advice still stands for Kodak and all the other camera companies; if you want to have a bestseller, make it with built-in Wifi that is easier to use than the iPhone combined with a higher quality camera. Easy as pie, what are you waiting for?

Conclusion: Can Kodak make a comeback?

All of the above is what I meant by a “slow motion downfall,” because it appears to have been a downward cascade over a number of decades that slowly  eroded Kodak until it is at the place it is today. As a professional photographer, I still do not want to give up on Kodak, even as it seems more likely that it will be cannibalized into a number of smaller entities.

I think that the irony in all of this is that at least a part of Kodak realized that the digital revolution was coming and it was critical to take the lead with it. The sad part appears to be that the leadership didn’t heed the findings of their own research teams.

I’m not sure what to think about Kodak’s disappearance from photography, except that it is not good. As of this spring 2012 semester we and many other universities still have a film component to our photography curriculums. Next week I am evaluating the Kodak Tri-X film from our students and a part of me is wondering how much longer it will be around. A long time I hope.

Here’s to you Kodak, and like I mentioned in the first paragraph, Kodak essentially defined my profession and for that I will always be sincerely grateful.


Story and photos Copyright Larry McNeil 2012, All rights reserved.

Read more.. Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

The Zen of Saving your Digital Photos

I don’t mean saving your digital photos in the biblical sense. If you have bad photos they’re going to hell regardless.

Gold DVD-R's are worth their weight in, well... gold.

Empty your digital camera’s memory card and burn the photos to a DVD-R disc. Same with the photos from your cell phone because I’m sure there are lots of cool ones there. Burning your photos onto gold DVD-R’s are the best way of saving them for the future. There is NO close second place here. Everyone always brags about how cool and fast digital photography is compared to film, and I’d agree for the most part. However, the one aspect that is more tedious is the archiving. It drives me kind of near the edge to have to do this all the time, but it’s the best method by a long shot. Take my word on this one.

I like to transform it into a kind of a Zen experience, where you put yourself in a quasi-meditative state and do a lot of them at once. Some of us even have our own choice composers to listen to as we merge into this higher plane. My own favorite is John Coltrane’s “Live in Japan” double album. His live version of “My Favorite Things” always sends me directly into the zone. As the raven flies.

Coltrane's Live Album has been known to open the portal to the universe next door, so be prepared to hold onto your chair or something.

Anyway, get some of the DVD pages so that you can put them all in a notebook. Organize them so you can find specific photos easily. Some people simply organize them by date. If you’re a pro, you use something like a photo database program like Lightroom or Aperture. In the big scheme of things, it doesn’t matter how you do it, the main thing is to just get them onto the gold discs.

Do this as one of your new year’s resolutions. Care for your photos. Ommm.

Story & Photos Copyright Larry McNeil 2011, All Rights Reserved

Read more.. Friday, December 30th, 2011

Digital Photos for the Next Hundred Years?

If you’re like nearly everyone else, you’ve got shoeboxes filled with old family snapshots and photos under the bed or in the garage. Hey, it’s what we do. Or rather, did. Lots of people have not really thought about whether their digital photos will be around in the next decade, let alone 100 years from now. The photography film paradigm has shifted and nobody is left to fill the void with digital shoeboxes. Can’t we just stuff all the memory cards in a bottom drawer or something? Ironically enough, it’s one of the things I’ve heard that some people are doing with their digital photos. Other people are uploading their photos online somewhere; that’s good enough, right?

My great-granddaughter's Cyberdude, hand delivering my Gold DVD's to Juneau in the year 2131. The discs are well over 100 years old, and thanks to a smarty-pants relative, the first generation of digital photographs from the McNeil clan still exists.

So what is the best way to archive your digital photos? Your hard drive? Nope. Online storage companies? Definitely NO. Memory cards? Nope. A shoe box? The bottom drawer in the spare bedroom? The storage shed? Your camera? No, no, no and NO.

Yes, Optical Media is the answer. It’s the only digital media that is guaranteed to last decades. This means either CD-R, DVD-R or Blu-Ray recordable discs.

What makes me a Mr. Smarty Pants about this? I’ve been teaching digital photography since 1997, which was also before most photography schools had a digital photography curriculum, and before most of them realized that a digital transformation was soon to take place with photography. My own photography, research and art as both a scholar and artist was and is about transformation, so it all morphed from a cosmic digital enigma to something that made a bit more sense. I had my first digital photography curriculum approved by an art school in 1993. This makes me a bona fide authority on digital photography, and my core intent here is to simply help you make your digital photographs last as long as possible, and hopefully to have a bit of fun along the way.

Scientists have coined the term “Digital Amnesia” to note the reality of lost digital information that is already going on, especially with outdated digital technologies, such as floppy discs (remember those?) and the former pro media such as Zip, Jaz, Bernouli, etc. In my opinion, hard drives fit in this category because they lose so much information, especially as people get new computers, or hard drives corrupt data. There is a booming business out there with hard drive data recovery, which should be an indicator of their overall reliability. I’ve lost entire folders of photos over the years, and luckily got most of them back with software hard drive recovery programs.

Hard Drives: I never imagined that hard drives would incite some photographers to be such impassioned digital zealots. You’d think that I was disparaging their mother’s honor or something. I’ve had photographers literally get red-faced angry when I told them that hard drives are not any good for long-term photo archiving. One even emailed me what amounted to a long, tedious hard drive manifesto. Daang. Ok, this is not personal, step back, take a deep breath and repeat this digital mantra soothingly after me:

Hard drives are the fastest way to upload your memory cards, and some people confuse this convenience for them being the supreme digital media of the universe. Well, (ahem) they’re not. Hard drives have an appalling habit of crashing and losing data, it’s a part of their mechanical persona. They are only designed to last a half a decade at best, especially if you give them hard use. When you think of it, hard drives are at their essence kind of a crude 20th Century phenomenon. I think they’ll be replaced by some other media by the end of the decade.

How old is your oldest hard drive? Be honest. I’m willing to bet that it isn’t older than five years. I can guarantee that your hard drive won’t last twenty years, let alone over a hundred. Take my word for it. Hard drives are convenient temporary storage, nothing more. People have lost millions, if not billions of their precious photographs to hard drives. Don’t join them.

Same with back-up hard drives. So what? It’s still a hard drive. On the other hand, using a backup hard drive is a sound archiving protocol. Just remember it’s still temporary and not expected to last long, so is not suited for long-term archiving.

Online storage companies use hard drives, so forget them too. A couple of years ago, one of the professional storage industry leaders went out of business unexpectedly. Thousands of professional photographers lost millions of their best digital photos that they thought were safely archived. Can you imagine that? All the company could say was, “Oops! Sorry, they’re all gone! By the way, we’re not liable for the loss and we’re also broke.” Photographers had zero recourse and could do little more than whimper about a tough lesson, which was DO NOT USE HARD DRIVES FOR PHOTO ARCHIVING. PERIOD! This goes double for online photo sharing sites, like Facebook and Flickr. Websites in general have a very short shelf life and disappear startlingly fast. Disappearing websites could be the subject for not only a blog entry, but an entire book.

Back to Optical Media. What makes them better than hard drives? The easy answer is simple longevity. They are the longest lasting digital media out there. Nothing else even comes close. What makes them last longer is how they store digital information. First of all, they’re non-magnetic (hard drives are sensitive to anything magnetic) and the digital information is literally burned into the dye substrate with a laser, which makes tiny physical pits within the disc.

Not all discs are created equally, and the cheaper run of the mill DVD-R’s and CD-R’s are made with aluminum and an inexpensive dye material sandwiched into polycarbonate. These are the name-brand discs that you typically get from an office supply store. They’re high quality, but are not the best. The top-of the line discs that photographers should be using are called Gold discs, such as the ones made by Mitsui. Instead of an aluminum layer, they use 24 karat gold, which more than triples their life, and they also use a special Phthalocyanine (try to say that fast three times) dye, which has been rated to last over 100 years. They cost substantially more than regular DVD-R’s or CD-R discs, but on the other hand, this is your photo archive we’re talking about.

This here is Gold, folks, designed to last over 100 years. The good stuff. I found a reputable seller on ebay who sells the Mitsui DVD-R's for around $100.00 for a spindle of 50, which makes them around $2.00 per disc.

Women have been the family photographers for nearly 100 years and manufacturers learned this early on, targeting their ads towards them, right up to today with camera phones. Our mom shot the most beautiful Kodachrome 8mm home movies back in the 1950's and I must confess that I have them in a shoebox in a bottom drawer.


Part 2

The nitty gritty stuff

Burning discs is easy these days. It just takes a bit of patience. If you’ve got a Mac, Toast Lite is a great program to use for burning discs. You essentially just drag and drop folders, name your disc and burn away. It does take patience though. I find that it’s easier to use DVD-R discs because they hold 4.7 Gigabytes of storage, which is nice. Name your disc with your last name and whatever your subject matter happens to be.

Organizing your photos prior to burning them

I like to organize my photos via the heirarchical database order, just because it’s easiest to remember. For an example, the starting point is a single folder on my desktop named something easy to remember, like “Digital Cameras.”

The easiest way to navigate to your photos is to make a single folder on your desktop named something like "Digital Cameras." Then make a subfolder for each camera you have.

I’m a big believer in simplicity and ease of use. Things should be fast and easy. Since I’ve got a bunch of digital cameras, I find it’s easiest to navigate using the above folder system. Use whichever one is most logical for you though. Sometimes if I have specific subjects, I’ll make a folder specifically for that; for an example, when I went home to Juneau last summer, I made a folder called “Juneau” within the June of 2010 folder. Just use whatever folder system makes the most sense to you.

Digital Cameras (a step back for a moment)

Set your camera to it’s highest resolution. We’re aiming for getting the highest quality photos here, and if we’re going through the trouble of making photos in the first place, you may as well make the best ones you can. Get the largest memory cards you can afford. They’re pretty cheap these days and it’ll make you grow horns out of your head to have a full memory card while in the midst of shooting something cool.

Many of the little point & shoot cameras are now pretty darned good too; use the same archiving model for all your cameras.

Mobile phone cameras are becoming very common, and some people use them more than a regular digital camera, just because it’s always right there in their pocket. You still need to organize and archive these photos. If you’re like me, you have thousands of them and lots of them are very, very good.  Both your regular digital camera and cell phone camera shoots high quality video now too. You’ll find that they make very large files, and it is important to archive all of these too. Just use the existing “Movie folder,” on your computer and make subfolders within it and organize them in much the same way as your photographs and burn them to DVD-R discs too. You may want to dedicate an external hard drive to just photos and videos since they take up so much drive space and archive them to DVD-R’s as you go along.

Many digital cameras have what is known as the RAW file format. It’s the best file format out there, and if your camera has this capability, I’d strongly advise using it at all times. You can also shoot a RAW file and jpeg simultaneously, which is a cool option if you mostly do things like uploading your photos to online sharing sites. If you don’t want to mess with RAW files, you can still shoot them and archive them for later editing. RAW files are great for low light and tricky lighting situations. It can render good quality photos from poorly exposed images, especially using a program like Lightroom.

Archiving Programs & RAW Converters

You don’t necessarily need a photo archiving database program. In theory, you can just make all your folders and burn them directly as you go along. Easy as pie, no fuss, no mess, no interface to muck things up. On the other hand, photo archiving programs do additional things like perfecting a photo (color corrections, sharpening, resizing, reduce noise, making slideshows, galleries, etc.) and doing RAW photo conversions.

Most pros use some kind of  photo editing and database program for their archiving, and on the professional end it’s dominated by Adobe’s Lightroom, and Apple’s Aperture programs. They’re really database programs that are optimized to view, edit, organize and render RAW and other image files. Some people really like Apple’s iPhoto program, but it’s an amateur lightweight program and limited with how it organizes photos. It’s also arbitrary and heavy-handed with how it limits your ability to control your archive. My advice is to avoid it and cough up the money for Lightroom when you can afford it.

The cool part about the Lightroom site is that it has lots of free and easy to understand online videos that teaches you how to use the various components.

Aperture is a direct competitor to Lightroom. They're both very sophisticated and excellent programs for archiving your photos. If you like iPhoto, you may want to gravitate towards Aperture. If you're a pro, you'll find that more people in the industry are using Lightroom, and to fit in with this crowd you may want to use this instead of Aperture. They're both great programs.

When you use these programs, you still end up with folders to burn to your optical media. If you can do all this editing stuff prior to burning your discs, consider yourself a professional calibre photographer, and can also call yourself a Smarty Pants Photographer. Congratulations. However, like mentioned above, if you’re an amateur who just wants to ensure that your precious family snapshots are going to last as long as possible, just do the organizing and burning to discs. That’s more than enough.

After the Burn

After you’ve burned your discs, you can write on them with a sharpie pen. There is some debate about getting ink on the discs themselves, so try writing the information on the tiny blank area next to the center hole. It’s pretty small, but you can write some basic information there with a fine-tipped sharpie. Don’t use labels, it just takes up lots of time to print and likely isn’t good for the discs anyway. Always handle the discs by the outside edges, making sure you don’t get any fingerprints on the surface areas.

DVD-R pages are way easier to use than the jewel cases. The jewel cases will start using up too much space. If you add index pages, you'll start seeming like a real live photo archivist. Store your discs in a cool, dry dark place.

The last step has to do with more of a professional archive. Pros make two of each disc, one to store off site and the other to use on a regular basis as working discs. The theory is that just in case anything disastrous happens to your house or office, you always have a duplicate set somewhere else. I definitely do this, because my livelihood depends on digital photographs and images. Not only that, my images are very valuable and represents nearly all of my work since the mid-1990’s and it would indeed be a catastrophe to lose any of them (the sound of knocking on wood here).

Another solid archiving protocol for pros is to make prints of the images you want to last the longest. Kodachrome was rated as being the longest lasting color film, but they’re discontinued now. If it’s a black & white print, make a platinum or palladium hand-coated photo emulsion; they last much longer than silver prints. Many of the newer digital printers, such as Espon, use inks that are rated for decades of life, much longer than regular color darkroom prints. Wilhelm Research does scientific research on the stability and preservation of digital photographs and films and makes their findings freely available to the pubic via their most excellent website.

My last bit of advice is to approach this as a long-term endeavor and to start your archive a few discs at a time, especially if you feel overwhelmed. Start with your most recent photos and go backwards, one disc at a time. You may want to wait until you have a few months worth of photos to archive, and look at this as something you do three times a year or something like that. If you’re a pro, you do this archive the moment you’re done shooting, or the next day.

Have fun, and here’s to having your great-granddaughter enjoying your photos in the year 2031 and beyond.

All text and photos Copyright Larry McNeil, 2011, All rights reserved. Please get permission from McNeil prior to using any of it. Thanks.

Read more.. Tuesday, January 25th, 2011