Cloud computing may be the future of digital storage, but Rosh Sillars says there are some other important options to consider as a backup.
Image storage has come a long way in the last 15 years. Many photographers are comfortable using the standard optical media, such as CDs and DVDs, to share and store images. This streak may soon be over, with changing standards well under way.
The era of optical technology seems to be winding down. When Apple released its new MacBook Air laptop, the unit came without CD or DVD drives. Instead, it contains a solid-state storage system photographers will find familiar: flash storage.
Photographers have come to depend on the reliability of flash storage for their cameras. I have, more than once, left a flash card in my pocket after an assignment. I've run them through the washer and dryer accidentally. Fortunately, each time I have found the card fully functional, with my images 100 percent intact and accessible. Try doing that with your current computer hard drive.
The next logical step in the optical storage revolution would seem to be the Blu-ray optical disc. Some versions of the disc are capable of holding more than 100 gigabytes of data.
Blu-ray technology has been accepted for many uses, such as home movie viewing, but it is not taking off as a storage standard for photographers. This is because a new revolution is brewing — in the form of a cloud or, rather, "the cloud."
More than storage
Cloud storage is one of the newest methods of storing photographs. It is not as mysterious as it sounds. Storing in the cloud, in simple terms, means you're renting storage space on someone else's server that allows for easy access from any internet-connected device. Cloud users also don't have to worry about system upgrades and maintenance.
One of the early signs of cloud computing's emerging dominance was Google's release of the Chromebook, which doesn't have a hard drive and relies on cloud software and storage. Now that having internet connections from multiple devices is common, the cloud is more important than ever.
Photographers are using cloud-based web services such as Photoshelter.com or Smugmug.com to store, display and deliver images. All a photographer needs is an internet connection to share images taken in, say, Colorado with family in Ohio or editors in New York.
Many photographers have a laptop, smartphone and tablet such as the iPad. The ability to keep one updated portfolio in a single location available anywhere is a huge convenience for many photographers, and also a significant marketing opportunity.
New or special-purpose portfolios can be customized and created quickly from photographs stored online. Many services offer e-commerce solutions that make selling your photographs easy.
The future of digital file storage will become less of a concern over time for the photographer as the cloud becomes more popular. Upgrading your storage devices will not be an issue because you will never run out of space in the cloud. The photographer's biggest concern will be which service to use.
Imagine a camera that automatically uploads your photographs to the cloud as fast as you take them. This opportunity is still years away for the advanced amateur or professional creating numerous large photographic files. Currently, we are still limited by the time it takes to upload large numbers of images to online storage from our hard-wired desktops. Wireless will take time to become a practical option.
With that in mind, there are memory cards designed for this purpose. Companies such as Eye-Fi (eye.fi) offer services that send images to your smartphone or tablet. Smartphone applications such as Google+ share your images on your social media platform soon after you take them. This makes it easy to share with your friends and colleagues in nearly real time.
The technological future will enable photographers to create ever-larger image files for high-definition uses. The standardization of three-dimensional and holographic images may come into play before you know it. Fast, reliable storage solutions will continue to be in demand.
Backup easy as 3, 2, 1
The cloud is an extremely convenient and flexible medium for storage, but it does not mean the end of backup files, which are always a good idea.
My friend Peter Krogh, an expert on digital asset management, travels the world teaching and consulting on how to best manage images. He wrote a definitive book on the topic, "The DAM Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers." It's a must for your personal library.
Many years ago he shared with me his "3-2-1 method" for storing digital photo files:
Three stands for backing up your files in three different places. Many photographers use their computer hard drives as their primary storage devices and back up their photos on DVD or external hard drives. Through the years, many high-production photographers have embraced high-tech redundant external drive systems such as RAID or Drobo.
Two stands for two different types of media. There are many companies claiming to have the latest and greatest media storage system. But what if you backed up all of your photography files using a short-lived technology? Many media storage companies have gone bankrupt. To protect yourself from all of the scenarios that could keep you from accessing your photography, it is best not to put all of your eggs in one basket. Some photographers may recall Digital Railroad.
One stands for storing one of your backups off-site. If you have all your files backed up, organized and stored on multiple media, you are ahead of most photographers. Unfortunately, if your home, office or studio falls victim to calamity, no amount of organization will bring your photographic files back. A safe deposit box, office studio or secure home location separate from your main workstation is always a good option.
For additional backup space, Amazon, Google, Rackspace and (beginning in fall 2011) Apple all offer storage space in the cloud. Even if you have storage through a specialized photography service, it might be wise to back up to multiple locations.
Unfortunately, cloud storage is not the cheapest option. It might be wise to follow the 3-2-1 rule and keep backups of your high-value images. But over time, the price of online storage will continue to fall.
Another disadvantage is that the cloud is not as fast as local servers or hard drives in storing or retrieving your images. Reliability can also be an issue. Don't depend on a social media photography-sharing site, such as Flickr.com or Photobucket.com, as a backup storage location. They have limitations and can delete your account without notice.
No matter what technology or system you use, you should be consistent. Develop a logical organizational system so it is easy to find your work in the future. Looking for more information on working with digital media? Visit dpbestflow.org. It's an American Society of Media Photographers resource funded by the Library of Congress, and it's well worth your time.