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Archiving means saving your work in a "permanent" state.  The Egyptians were good at this; it will be a while before we know how good anyone else is.

Every time I squeeze a frame of film off in my camera, I mentally take a dollar out of my checkbook.  Why?  Here are my calculations:

$5.00 for the film, $10.00 to process it.  Say there are 20 images good enough to save, that's 20 images for $15 or $0.75 an image.  Now, those 20 images will fill up one plastic slide protector which costs $0.50, this adds $0.03 to the cost of each image, for a running total of $0.78 cents.  The camera battery costs $10 and is good for 20 rolls (including the times I forget to turn off the camera); that's another $0.03 per picture - $0.81 cents.  Well, I round it up to a buck when I'm in the field thinking about it.  Anyway, you can't ignore the cost, in time, money and space, of archiving your pictures.

In this section, I'll discuss how to save your images not only in their native state, but digitally as well.



Recording Data

The first thing you should do when you get your slides or negatives back is record some basic information to associate with each of the images.  First, sort the slides and discard any slides that are unusable.   Next, record the data. At a minimum, you should record the date an place the picture was taken; on slides this can easily be done on the slide mount.  I use a rubber date stamp to record the date (working from information in my field notebook); then I use a Rapidograph or Pigma Micron waterproof pen (not that your slides would ever get wet) to record the place the picture was taken.  It is easy to stamp or write on cardboard slide mounts, plastic ones are trickier.  I found that plastic mounts will take ink OK if I am VERY careful not to get fingerprints on the surface before writing, and if I give them plenty of time to dry.  If I know the identity of the subject I will also jot it down at this time, otherwise I so so later on when I identify the subject with the help of a key or field guide.  

Writing information out is trickier to do with negatives; you can sometimes write on the sleeves that the negatives come in or you can order special sleeves which will allow you to write information on them.  Be careful - since the information is not on the negative things can get mixed up whenever the negatives are out of their sleeves.

Storing Slides and Negatives

With the site information and date recorded, I then sort the slides.  There are several ways to store slides; it depends on how much room you have, how much money you have, or how convenient you want access to your slides to be.

In terms of price and minimal storage space, it's hard to beat the plastic slide boxes that come with your slides.  You can label them with tape and put similar slides together.  Even labeled like this, however, it takes a while to find the slide you want.

Much more convenient, but more demanding of space and money are slide storage pages.  These clear plastic pages have room for 20 slides each.  Most are punched for 3-ring binders and/or hanging file bars.  The big advantage here is that you can organize similar slides on a page, and the pages can likewise be organized into hanging file boxes or 3-ring binders complete with index tabs for easy location.  When you pull out a page you can instantly see 20 slides at once - which is a lot faster than going through a box of 20 slides one by one. Similar pages are available for prints and negatives.  Be sure that the slide pages you get are PVC free.  Some cheap pages are made of PVC vinyl, which gives off gasses which can damage film.

No matter which system you use (I use both, with my "better" images in pages and lesser images or unidentified images in labeled boxes), be sure the pages, boxes, or binders are stored in waterproof containers.  It's not like a pipe would break and flood your office and ruin hundreds of slides, but it doesn't hurt to be careful.

Besides water (which would never get to your slides), you need to guard against humidity, which can warp cardboard slide mounts and allow fungus to grow.  You also want to avoid extremes of temperature - about 70 degrees F (20 degrees C) is ideal if the humidity is low.  If you must store slides in a cool but humid environment (i.e. the basement), be sure that they are in sealed plastic boxes and that each box has a desiccants in it.  These desiccants, made of silica, can easily be recharged in an oven.

Finally, light and heat will cause your slides to fade.  You can avoid this by not projecting them and by keeping them in dark places.  Kodachrome slides are supposed to last about 50 years.  I have some of my grandfather's slides which are that old, and some have faded more than others (not all were Kodachrome, though).  My own slides, starting from 1980 and mostly in Ektachrome, have held up well for 20 years, even those which are projected a few times a year.  Ultimately, though, there is digital archiving, which should never fade.

Storing Images Digitally

Once an image has been scanned into a digital form, theoretically is can be stored forever without any sort of degradation.  If it is on magnetic media, it should be recopied every year or so to fresh media; as the magnetic fields fade over time and need to be refreshed.  CD's theoretically should last as long as the plastic disk does, but there is a hitch.  Mass produced CD's are actually stamped; the CD's your record yourself has the image literally burned into a thin layer on the disk.  If this layer can be burned once it is vulnerable to burning again - or just plain aging.  So, CD's you make yourself should be redone every 20 years or so.

One problem with digital archiving - even if the media are stable, there is no guarantee that the equipment to read it will be.  How many of you have an 8" floppy drive that will read a diskette from an IBM DisplayWriter?  Seriously - I have a file I want to download off one.  We think that CD's will be around forever, well, that's what a lot of people thought about LP's.  Older technology becomes obsolete as newer technology replaces it.  DVD is poised to replace CD, at least a DVD reader can read a CD.  And even if the media can be read, will software to make sense of it be around?  

The only good news about these ongoing technological upheavals is that each successive generation of technology seems to be capable of holding much more than the previous one.  For instance, early PC's that I used had 5MB hard drives and 360KB floppies.  I had quite a collection of floppies, but when I got a computer with a 30MB hard drive they all fit on it easily.  Tape drives could hold 80MB, so I could back up my whole hard drive.  Today, hard drives are much bigger, but I can get all of the courseware, email, and web pages I have developed (and I'm talking all my syllabi, class notes, quizzes, tests, grade sheets, etc., including each year's versions) back to 1980 on a CD or two.  All of that would fit on one DVD.  So, as long as I don't get into recording moving images (which really eats up memory), I should be able to continue to migrate things onto each new medium, have all my old stuff fit, and have room for the new stuff.

In any event, in the year 2000 the only game in town is CD for archiving images.  Any magnetic media can be damaged by magnetic fields (or water, as unlikely as that might be).  DVD is coming, but is not a cheap as CD is now.  You can get over 640MB of images onto a CD which will cost less than $1 when bought in bulk.

To store your files on CD:

  1. Record any file data with your files.  In Photoshop, right-click on the title bar of any open file and select File Info.  In this series of dialogs, you can record such information as a caption, the name of the photographer, when and where the image was taken, copyright information, etc.  This data is normally invisible unless you have a program like Photoshop which can read it.  
  2. Save your files in the proper format.  JPEG's save space, but there is some loss of resolution.  PSD files lose no resolution and allow you to save layer information, but they are large and you need Photoshop to read them.  You might want to hedge your bets and save in both formats.
  3. Place all the files you want to copy in directories on the hard drive of the computer attached to the CD player.  While you can copy files directly from the network (or another computer on the network) to a CD, any network problems that might pop up during the session will ruin the CD.
  4. Power down the computer with the CD writer.  Turn on the CD writer and any other SCSI devices hooked up to it.  Turn the computer back on.
  5. In the computer, disable the virus checker and any screen-saver software.
  6. From the computer's start menu, choose Programs:Adaptec:Easy CD Creator.
  7. If it appears, close the wizard that opens with Easy CD Creator. 
  8. In the Data CD Layout window (right), simply drag files or directories from the top box into the bottom one - these will be the files placed on the CD. 
  9. A bar at the bottom of the window will tell you how full the CD is getting.
  10. When you have all the files in the bottom window, click on the  File:Create CD menu item.
  1. In the dialog that appears, set the write speed at 4x or less, and  choose the create CD option.  When this is done, click on the Advanced tab.
  2. In the Advanced tab, click on the option to close the CD so that no further data can be written to it.  It may seem sensible to choose one of the other options, so that you can later add more data, but think about it.  The CD costs a buck; your images are priceless.  If, in adding additional files later on, something goes wrong, you can lose the files you already have on the disk.  For the same reason, I never use the rewritable CD files.  They cost too much, and the whole purpose of a CD is permanence.
  3. Insert a blank CD into the recorder.
  4. With the advanced tab set up, click OK at the bottom.  The CD will now burn.  A full 640MB CD takes about 72 minutes at single speed; 37 minutes at 2x, 19 minutes at 4x, 12 minutes at 6x and 9 minutes at 8x.


Of course you will store the CD carefully, protecting it from scratches.   Incidentally, on many recordable CD's the data is written on a layer which is on the underside of the label, so be careful not to scratch the label side.

At this point, if you are paranoid, you will take the last backup CD you made and send it off to someone else in a different city, so if there is a firestorm or a flood your data will still be safe.