The end of the year is an ideal time to organize a digital photograph file system. Perhaps thinking of it as an overdue New Years Resolution will help. How many times have you thought of doing this, but didn't, because it was the middle of the year?
There are a number of ways to do it. You already know that each professional has arrived at a system that suits their style and situation, and considers the requirements of the film bureau, agency, or photo editor, but for us amateurs they're always too complicated, take too much time, or require expensive whatsis. I'll try to start simply with an old fashioned, tried and true method, and progress to more complicated procedures to give you some options.
It's difficult at first to get used to taking more pictures with a digital camera than you normally would with a film camera, but it pays off quickly as you rapidly become familiar with the capabilities of your camera. So, quite naturally, the first thing you do after getting familiar with your digital camera is to figure out how much storage space you will need. As a suggestion, figure on 100 to 300 per day in a Field trip situation.
The number of pictures that you can get on a Compact Flash Card varies widely with resolution so I'll select two common examples for a 256 MB CF Card installed either in a 3.1 Mega pixel camera or an 8.1 Mega pixel camera. 1). 256MB divided by 3.1 Mega pixels equals 82 pictures, and 2). 256 MB divided by 8.1 Mega pixels equals 31 pictures. The higher the camera resolution rating the higher the MB capacity has to be. Cost is another factor: A one GB CF card (divided by 3.1 MB equals 322 pictures) costs $95.00, whereas four 256MB cards (to equal the 322 picture capacity of 1GB) would cost $152.00. So you can see that a 1.0 GB CF card is 37.5 % less expensive to buy than four 256 MB cards. If you can, buy large capacity cards. It's more economical and much more convenient than multiple small capacity cards.
The first method that we have all used simply requires that you have several cards, and when you have filled a card store it in a special place. Just don't get full cards mixed in with unused cards - that results in great confusion and missed picture opportunities. However many CF cards you apportion the Mega-Bytes to, set yourself up with one or two gigabytes of Compact Flash Cards. That much capacity will let you take pictures all day, download them when you get home, reformat your CF card, and be ready for the next day.
Now, suppose you are on a trip, or a two or three day shoot, and you need to download your cards. I have tried several schemes and settled on one that works for me. I bought a stand alone portable CD Burner. It's called “RoadStor” and is put out by MicroSolutions. (King Photo $269) I put a 700 MB CD into it, insert my 1 GB CF card and press one button twice. It transfers the CF card contents onto the CD until it reaches capacity, (700 MB) ejects the first CD, asks for another to be inserted, and burns the rest of the 1 GB file onto the second CD. I now have an archival duplicate of the CF card on CD for permanent storage, filed by date and subject.
If appropriate, I can burn more copies right there. I can look at a slide show on my laptop, work on the pictures in Photoshop on the laptop or just store the CD for later processing. The files, including RAW files, are all there, just as if they were on the CF card. One thing you can't do is erase it. A bonus capability is built into the RoadStore. It will play CD's or DVD's as if it was part of your entertainment system, or it will present a slide show on your TV or Computer monitor, a nice feature to have if you are going to have a critique at the end of a shooting day.
Now for the good part! You're back home, and what are you going to do with those hundreds of pictures? You've probably looked at them all a couple of times and are ready to save the ones you like to your “My Picture” file on the C or D drive, external hard drive or in programs such as Adobe Album, or ACDSee. There are a number of picture programs like those that allow you to rename, convert, file, email or do whatever you need to do. The key is just to save the ones that you like, and have an immediate use for, to an appropriate folder or file, and to heck with the rest. They're on permanent record on the CD if you should really need to go back to them, just as if you still had the CF Card that originally recorded them. Now all you have to process are the ones you really like, and all those others don't need to be cluttering up your computer. One other thing I do. I file my monthly 8 X 10 desk calendar with a record of family events, appointments, trips, activities, etc., for future reference, and if I need to pin down a date I can go back to that. The album programs mentioned above become your searchable data base if you have categorized your “keepers” adequately, and allows you to recover your files quickly, convert them to a useable form, and speed them on their way.
By the time the CDs start to deteriorate we'll be working with a terra byte file system, (1,000 Giga bytes) and when the CD Drives begin to disappear from the new computers we will probably be able to transfer the files forward to whatever system takes the place of the CD.