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Digital Shoebox: How to Organize, Find, and Share Your Photos

Author: Sarah Bay Williams

Publisher: Peachpit Press

Review by Conrad J. Obregon

I’m of two minds about this book. If you are a casual shooter who takes pictures of family events and trips you might find this book useful. More serious photographers should look for something with more depth.

The book includes information on storing your photos, sharing them with others and saving images that others share with you, as well as appendixes on time, file formats and metadata. The main theme could have been conveyed in a short article, or perhaps even summarized in a single sentence: store your photographs on your computer by month and year and keep a calendar of what you shoot.

Actually, this is the technique that many photographers followed during the dim days of film. I stored my negatives in date order in shoe boxes and kept a loose-leaf book of contact sheets marked with the date of the shoot. If I wanted to recover an image, I looked in the loose leaf book for the approximate date, searched the contact sheets for the image I wanted, and then retrieved the negatives for that date. If my memory was weak so that I couldn’t remember when I shot the picture of six locomotives pulling a heavy train up to El Cajon pass, I searched the calendar for hints.

In the early days of computers, similar automated filing systems were called flat files, but folks soon realized the potential of relational data bases that could retrieve the same item in several different ways. Today, using Adobe Lightroom, I type Cajon and locomotive into a space and all the locomotive images I took there pop up. If I couldn’t remember where in California I took the pictures, I could type in California and locomotive and the pictures would be presented to me, along with several others that could be quickly sorted through.

Serious photographers will want to insure that their pictures are not lost due to computer failure, or otherwise, and will want to be able to retrieve them easily. Even though my main catalog only contains about 2,500 pictures of the perhaps 100,000 I’ve taken in the last 10 years, these pictures are so varied that it might take me hours to find just the images I want using the shoebox method if I had to, say, make a slide presentation to a bird watchers’ club. With good cataloging software, it takes seconds. And modern software, unlike the methods Williams suggests, makes it easy to backup files. Moreover, cataloging software, like Lightroom, often includes a top-notch photo editor. The reference that best shows how to manage digital assets with available computer systems is “The DAM Book” by Peter Krogh.

The author does cover other subjects that the casual user can benefit from. For example she talks about preserving original images whenever you tinker with an image, as when you resize, and points out that one should resize pictures that you attach to e-mail so as not to overload the receiver’s mailbox. On the other hand there are few practical instructions on how to resize. Moreover, much of the material in the book looks like filler material. I couldn’t see much relevance in the explanation of how time is kept.

Williams’ shoe-box method is only for the most casual of photographers. Serious photographers need more.