A Valuable Archive

I must start with an apology as it is now a few weeks since I last wrote an entry on this blog. The truth is that I have been acquiring new images at a frantic pace, and that makes the title of this post particularly relevant.

Every time you go out and capture a few more images, your archive grows. I’ve just checked my Pictures folder and found it contains over seventy-four thousand files. Allowing for duplications, and original and processed copies of files, there are perhaps fifty thousand distinct images. That represents about ten years work. Additionally, I’m not entirely sure how many folders have been archived off the Hard Drive completely, so the figure could be larger than I imagine. Managing an archive is hard work, but vital work, if you are to protect it and also make it accessible as a resource.

This Post is not about protection – but it would be remiss of me not to reinforce the concept of backing up your archive, not once but twice, and keeping at least one copy off-site. We have to think the un-thinkable. The what ifs? What if the house was flooded or burnt down?

What I really want to write about today is the value of your archive as a resource.

Your archive is a visual diary of where you have been, what you saw, and when you saw it. It resolves arguments on who did what and when. It measures the seasons: when did the Apple blossom bloom last year, for example? It answers questions: what was the weather like last September? Which winter was it when hoar frost lasted for days? Your archive documents events, celebrations, holidays, the growth of your children, and much more.

Hoar Frost - Dec 7, 2010

Hoar Frost – Dec 7, 2010

It also is a record of your growth and development as an individual photographer. By examining your archive you can measure change, and note the advancement of your processing skills. You may re-visit old images and find that you can re-work them, producing different or better results. You might find images that have never been processed – those hidden gems – that for one reason or another have never seen the light of day.

An archive is also a learning tool. Looked at as a whole you can see how far you have travelled as a photographer. How your Eye for an image has sharpened, how your vision has broadened or consolidated into a few well established strands. You may more clearly see a direction of travel that reveals itself over time when you review your archive. You may even see the emergence of a distinctive Style.

Finally, you can learn from your mistakes. That’s why sometimes it is not always the best idea to eliminate all the errors and imperfect images from your archive. When you re-visit a place, a city, a resort, or re-walk a known walk, that’s a good time to view the archive of your earlier visit and ask yourself: what did I miss, what do I want to re-shoot, how can I improve on previous images?

All this is possible provided you can find the files you are looking for. And that is the sixty-four thousand dollar question. How do you find those files? For those of us who weren’t circumspect enough to plan in advance, this is when we wish we had the benefit of hindsight. The sooner you develop a filing system for your images the better. Forget about it, allow the files to accumulate uncontrollably, and the task becomes a mountain to climb.

There are two principal choices for a filing system: one based on folders, and one based on keywords. If you opt for keywords, then think this process through carefully, and ideally make a note of the ones you choose – keywords are useless if you cannot recall the precise words you used to identify a tranche of images.

Value your archive, view it and organize it. Most of us are well skilled at putting off the tasks we would rather not do. For those of you in the Northern Hemisphere reading this, the approach of darker evenings may provide the opportunities to set aside time to maximise the value of your archive. I would be most surprised if you didn’t find it time well spent.