Digital cameras have become so common that they’re often now a feature in mobile phones and audio players. Pressing a button to capture a snapshot of time is so easy. The workflow of storing, printing and sharing those images is complicated. Many would like to return to the days when we would just take the film cartridge out of the camera, and drop it to a photo lab for processing (often in about an hour).
People take more photographs digitally than they did with film cameras. In a six-month study in 2000, when digital cameras were relatively uncommon, subjects (aged 24 to 38) took 200 to 1000 (with an average about 500) photographs, compared to their prior non-digital accumulated collection of 300 to 3000 (with an average of about 1000) pictures (Rodden & Wood 2003). This means that when digital cameras were relatively expensive — and camera phones didn’t yet exist — people were averaging about 1 to 5 photos per day!
People presumably use cameras because they want to be able to retrieve the images later. In a study of 18 parents, the value of long-retrieval of family pictures was high (i.e. around 4.7 on a scale of 5). On experiments of 71 retrieval tasks — finding birthdays, family trips, first pictures of a child, etc. — 61% were successful, taking about 2.5 minutes each. On the 39% of unsuccessful retrievals, subjects gave up after about 4 minutes (Whittaker et al. 2010). This effectively means that, on average, nearly 40% of the digital photos taken last year are lost, and considerable persistence is needed for them to be refound.
Digitalization in photography has replaced trips to the photo lab with the copying of electronic files. Industry standards have stabilized so that image files can be readily copied from cameras to personal computing devices, and onto web servers. Here’s a diagram of some of the activities, platforms and artifacts in digital photography.
Based on this diagram, let me (a) pose some questions for reflection on the choices we implicitly make about managing photos, (b) outline some popular alternatives, and (c) describe the way I do it, myself.
daviding December 22nd, 2009