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The Media

Do Digital Photos Endanger History? 479

Ant writes "Experienced photographer Jayne West wrote her degree dissertation on the historical impact of digital capture. She argues that the use of digital photography in news reporting means we could lose a valuable pictorial record of history." Much of her argument seems weak to me (precisely because digital photography allows the instant culling West talks about). The digital storage itself, though, perhaps ought to make us nervous.
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Do Digital Photos Endanger History?

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  • Flawed arguments (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Quasar1999 ( 520073 )
    But, because of storage issues on the camera, he will have to delete some of those images as he goes along.

    Umm, what if you run out of film using a conventional camera... same diff...
    • by dweezle ( 200818 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @12:09AM (#2501180)
      Yes, but if you run out of storage you can cull useless images to free up memory. No wasted shots.
      All that's really is a standard for permanent storage.
    • by DennyK ( 308810 )
      Nope, not the same at all. If you run out of film, you cannot reuse the same film that you've already used, so you pull it out, put it aside, and slap in a new roll. With a digital camera, however, photographers may simply delete unwanted shots to free up space for new ones. In the first instance, all the photos are kept indefinatly. In the second, the deleted ones are lost forever.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )
      Well sort of. But the difference is that when you run out of film, the pictures you got vs. did not get don't reflect an editorial viewpoint. When you got through your shots to discard the ones you don't want to make room, you are using an editorial viewpoint.

      Suppose you go to a Palestinian demonstration after September 11 to get pictures of youths firing Kalashnikovs in celebration. You run out of memory so you discard a few uninteresting shots to make sure you get a good one of that kid firing his weapon in the air. Well, guess what, an experienced editor might have decided that shot of the kid's friends looking on in their Nike swoosh and Chicago Bulls T-shirts might have told an interesting counterbalancing story.

      The answer, of course, is to carry lots of memory with you.

  • Paper???? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @12:04AM (#2501161)
    By the gods! How can you write anything important on paper? It will be lost to history. You need to carve your work on large stone slabs so it won't deteriorate over time. Anything else is unconscienable.

  • Easily solved (Score:4, Informative)

    by filrock ( 71729 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @12:04AM (#2501163) Homepage
    It's seems like the majority of her argument lies on the lack of storage space on memory cards. Two easy solutions:

    1) Get bigger memory cards. You can't take as many pictures on a 12 exposure roll as you can on a 36. Common sense.

    2) Get more cards. Your photographer won't get enough shots if he only brought one roll of film, so why are you sending him out with one memory card.

    Both these problems exist in traditional photography, just in slightly different forms.

    Regardless, memory cards are getting bigger and cheaper. This is only a problem in the short term.
    • Re:Easily solved (Score:2, Insightful)

      Memory cards are not cheap, in some cases the cost of the higher-capacity cards can easily exceed the cost of the digital camera.
      • Only if it's a dirt cheap POS camera. The article was specificaly talking about professional photographers. I presume their cameras are much more expensive than a few 128MB CF cards at $50 each.

      • Re:Easily solved (Score:3, Insightful)

        by CaseyB ( 1105 )
        in some cases the cost of the higher-capacity cards can easily exceed the cost of the digital camera.

        Bull. 1G Microdrives are selling for about $350. And this is while the technology is still new. Storage cost is a complete non-issue.

      • Invest in a terrapin mine; 10 gig's which jack directly to a digital camera. They're selling them on thinkgeek. Around $500 buys you 10 mobile gigs that fits in your palm/pocket/camera bag/etc I expect to see more and more units of this nature, look at what sony did with the mavica cd writer digi-cams, they vastly increase storage space and when mini-dv cams get better support for stills who knows the limit. We've outgrown traditional photographic media.
    • Re:Easily solved (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ldir ( 411548 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @12:56AM (#2501319)
      I see two pieces of the problem. As discussed, the first issue is storage capacity. The second factor is ease of editing. I think #2 is where we will lose more images.

      The storage capacity issue is easy to address. A film photographer carries several rolls of film. A digital photographer can carry more or larger memory cards. There's no reason a digital photographer can't take and keep hundreds of pictures if necessary.

      I suspect the problem really begins once the photographer gets back to the office. He may have been too busy to do editing in the field, but he might take the time once he gets back. If he doesn't, his editor might. Maybe they have a librarian that manages their archive. The point is, someone in the office will ultimately decide what is kept and what is deleted.

      This is the big difference compared to film. In the world of film, it's customary to file the whole roll of negatives. It's a lot easier than picking through each roll and clipping individual frames, plus the film is easier to handle and store if it's kept in strips.

      Storage cost with film isn't really a big issue either. Because of the way film is organized and stored, you don't save much storage space by clipping frames. It can even take more space than filing complete strips. By default, unless you decide that every frame on the roll is junk, you will probably keep everything.

      In the digital world, the opposite is often true. Someone has to decide which images to archive. The rest are deleted. Of course you can archive all of the image files, but there's little practical reason to do so. Why bother when it's so easy to pick the ones you want?

      And, unlike film, storage costs are an issue for digital images. There can be a direct increase in storage costs for keeping everything vs. selecting a few images. If your custom is to store each shoot on a separate CD, then keeping everything isn't an issue. If you're using online storage or consolidating multiple sessions on a single piece of media, then culling your work saves money.

      I'm concerned that just giving digital photographers more/bigger memory cards won't help the problem. We really need a commitment to archive all of the images taken. Then we can worry about finding a digital medium that we can still use in 100 years.

      • Nice try, but really disk space is absurdly cheap compared to actual shelf space in a warehouse or library somewhere. A realativly cheap 100 gig tape backup could archive thousands of huge high quality images or literally millions of mid-quality jpegs. Of course, the half-life of a tape drive may nor be more than a few years (I don't know for sure), but before too long we will have non-magnetic, non-biodegradable media that lasts for centuries with similar or even greater capacity.
      • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @09:54AM (#2502183) Homepage
        I work in the media world and this is what actually happens...

        EVERY shot unless it is blurred or horribly under or over exposed is kept on record. Every digital tape we shoot with our digital betacam cameras is stored and kept with no death date. I have a room full of 3/4" video tapes that has footage from 1980's and we have another storage facility with 1" video reels from the 70's. Today? we store digitally on DVD's and last year fits in a drawer (and has 3 times the amount of video shot.)

        Why? because that is the way it is done.. and my fun is writing software to keep track of it all :-)

        The problem lies with the fact that we cannot read the 1" video reels anymore. we do have 1 or 2 3/4 decks around but who knows where they are in 30 years. what about in 700 years? who will be able to read the video from the DVD's? Format change is the only threat to information, printouts or actual paper photos can be viewed in 30,000 years while the DVD will require the archeologist to build a dvd reader to gain access to the contents.

    • Is a 1 GB MicroDrive enough...? I have a 340 MB one on my 3MP digital camera and it can hold up to 1000 pictures in medium / high quality. Show me any photographer that carries that much film around.

      As to losing data, well, with digital photography you can make exact copies. With chemical photography if you screw the negative, it's not coming back. I know several photographers that use regular film cameras but then store everything in digital format (using high-resolution film scanners).

      The problem with digital cameras is they're just not good enough yet for large prints. The Nikon D1X comes pretty close, but it still doesn't have the resolution of good film. When they reach resolutions of about 6K horizontally (ie, >25 MP) with no "halos" like current CCDs produce, then "professional" (artistic, commercial, etc.) photography will probably move to 100%-digital. Until then, professionals will continue to use film cameras for their "final" work.
  • Not Really... (Score:3, Redundant)

    by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @12:06AM (#2501167) Homepage Journal
    If you compare it to traditional photography, not really; there are newspapers with archives of photos which are rotting right now because no one maintains them. Even if they do make an effort to preserve them, the storage space requirements for traditional photos get pretty hefty after a while, too.

    Cave painting, on the other hand, lasts at least tens of thousands of years, so if you REALLY want to preserve your history, I suggest you find a cave and paint in it with some yaks blood. Maybe you can modify slashcode for a cave edition (First posts stored for 10,000 years. Yeah...)

    • by Christopher Thomas ( 11717 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @12:18AM (#2501215)
      Cave painting, on the other hand, lasts at least tens of thousands of years, so if you REALLY want to preserve your history, I suggest you find a cave and paint in it with some yaks blood.

      Or silkscreen using oxide pigments on to fiberglass cloth, and fire it to diffuse the oxides into the silica.

      This will be as durable as any other form of quartz as far as fire, cold, water, and chemical attack are concerned, and would be reasonably resistant to physical wear if it was treated with respect.

      A raging inferno would still melt the glass. A hot fire would cause the pigments on adjacent pages in a glass-cloth book to blend into each other, too. You can reduce this problem by using corundum fibers (aluminum oxide) and oxides that don't diffuse very quickly. This would take sustained forge-fire to destroy (corundum melts at over 2000 degrees centigrade, and is harder *and* more resistant to chemical attack than quartz).

      I've been meaning to test this with a blowtorch, a patch of fiberglass fabric, and some rust powder for a while now. They're all about 30 feet from me; I just haven't bothered yet.

      Problems are drawing/writing resolution, lack of a really nice range of pigment colours, and (for corundum) producing the cloth (corundum is a lot harder to spin into fibers than glass; I'm told that it doesn't go through the same "mushy" stage glass does).
  • by BierGuzzl ( 92635 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @12:07AM (#2501171)
    With the proper amount of data storage, there would be no need to do "on site editing" and with proper data transmission capabilities, the collected pictures could be sent to home base in an endless stream to a massive data storage server where they could be archived forever.

    My major issue with digital photography is that it can be copied without degradation. However, as long as photographers stenographically sign their pictures, it'll be easy to tell if the exact copy of that picture was used. On the other hand, an altered copy might prove more difficult to track down without tenacious visual inspection
  • by SevenTowers ( 525361 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @12:08AM (#2501172) Homepage
    If you look on the same page, after the article, the readers of that site have already raised all the valid points in defense of the technology. There is no point in repeating what was said but here is a summary of the most important points in my view:
    -Digital media is evolving so that storage capacity soon becomes obsolete
    - Film is harder and more expensive to backup that digital media.
    -You can take a lot more pictures without having to change memory cards that with conventional film (considering the standard is about 64 mbs per card and a full resolution jpg 2048*1536 32 bit at 1/4 compression is about 900k), thus allowing more time to take pistures instead of changing film.
    - easier to print to newspapers since it has to be digitized anyway to get there.
    - and more....
  • Simple Solution (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fiber_halo ( 307531 )
    Just bring plenty of "film". Whether that's extra flash cards or extra rolls. Any real photographer is NOT going to run out of film. If they do, they are just an amateur.
  • I'm struck by how she assumes people believe what they see. The first thing I do is question the reasons why I'm being shown a picture. TV news is an example of using images to stir up emotion. Notice how little information is being broadcast from the war zones around the world?

    Secondly what did we do before we had cameras? History is not lost, pictures gives us minute details about an event in history.

    JFK was a prime example of pictures stirring emotions but very little else!
  • Ministry of Truth (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Robert1 ( 513674 )
    Yup, just like 1984. When you don't like something in the past simply change it in the picture, only this time you won't have to burn the originals by sending them down a little vent; it'll all be digital.

  • The real danger (Score:4, Redundant)

    by Wolfier ( 94144 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @12:11AM (#2501188)
    Is the digital storage itself, maybe?

    What I've observed is, digital technologies tend to become obsolete and forgotten.

    At least, pictures stored on film or microfilm can be directly seen by the eyes. Digitally stored, we have to decrypt, decompress, change into analog form...etc before the information can be truely "read".

    We are able to study scripts written as far as 4000 years ago. Any sane mind here thinks our digital stuffs can last even one tenth as long?
    • Far as I can tell, most digital images are stored in the JPG format, and the sheer volume of images on the web should ensure its immortality.

      I would expect that 100 years from now, we'll still have tools that can read GIF and JPG formats, simply due to the critical mass that has already been established.

    • >We are able to study scripts written as far as 4000 years ago.

      Wow. I didn't realise people were writing scripts back then. Were they using Perl or just shell scripts?

  • by ninewands ( 105734 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @12:12AM (#2501191)
    The ability to instantly cull photos that digital photography allows might just result in the loss of a significant portion of our pictorial history. Some of the greatest photojournalistic coups of all time were accidental ... things caught in the background of a photo that were only discovered on later examination ... many of these priceless records would have been lost if the pics they were found in could have been trashed instantly because "the light isn't right" or the composition sucks.

    As for concern about digital-only storage, this concern is well-founded too. How do you recover the data when readers for the media are no longer available? Seen any 8" floppies lately? How about 5.25"? The cost of transferring terabytes of archives to new media has cost the loss of literally TONS of data. Film (preferably black and white, or separations on black and white film) is the ONLY suitable medium for archiving image data.

    • If a photo is of interest to many people, then a digital photo can have a far superior life span to an analog photo. You put a photo on your website, and then a few thousand people download a copy. The more popular it is, the more likely it is that it will survive because somebody will care enough to back it up and keep up with the latest storage technology.

      There was an excellent essay by an author that I saw a long while ago that this reminds me of. If somebody remembers what I'm talking about, please post a link. Basically the author who, if I recall accurately, was dying of some terminal illness, was trying to find a way to preserve his writings for posterity after his death. His conclusion was to put it on-line and let all the copies scatter across the net to be copied, and re-sent for the forseeable future.
      • Hello? What about PRINTING THE DAMN DIGITAL PHOTO???

        Why hasn't anyone thought of this yet? My dad takes amazing pictures with his Kodak (can't remember the model) and prints them on an inkjet printer to photo paper. I cannot tell a difference between it and film.
  • by Bonker ( 243350 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @12:13AM (#2501199)
    When I take a digital photo, it goes on a Sony Memory-stick. I copy it over to CDR.

    The average lifespan of a CD is about 20 years. Slightly less if you use CDR.

    We still have some of the very first photos taken, about 150 years ago... around the time of the end of the civil war. They're in pretty bad shape however. The ones that are best preserved are kept in airtight storage. Nobody ever gets to look at them. Only their copies... And with each successive analogue copy, even with the most loving attention to preserving the quality of the original, a little is lost.

    Twenty years from now, if I'm dilligent, I can copy all my CDR to Super-DVDR or whatever. I'll have perfect digital copies of everything I kept before... if I was dilligent and made backups in case of fire, etc.

    Twenty years from now, the only format we'll be able to see most of the ancient photos we have will be digital. Those who own them will no doubt be dilligent in making sure both the originals and the digital copies are kept secure one way or the other.

    Fifty Years from now, I can make copies of my Super-DVDR to Quantum Storage, or something similiar.

    Fifty Years from now, those ancient photos will still reside in a digital format, probably alongside my digital photos.

    Even when the copies of the copies have broken down, if we're careful and follow data saftey and purity rules, we'll still have digital versions of
    *all* the photos. The question you have to ask yourself is that digital storage the wave of the future, but can we, as a historically-minded society, be dilligent enough to make sure that our data is always secure?

    Off-site backups on the moon, anyone?
    • Twenty years from now, if I'm dilligent, I can copy all my CDR to Super-DVDR or whatever...

      Fifty Years from now, I can make copies of my Super-DVDR to Quantum Storage, or something similiar...

      Sure - you should be able to make perfect digital copies, or even make ternary or quadrany copies... But who's going to have the reader to interpret those bits? Unless you keep that CD of Photoshop or Gimp backed up, with a CPU that can run it - you may have to re-write your own program to interpret the binary and display it as an image.

      By that time, who would want to waste time on 2-D non-holographic static images? They'd be boring, you wouldn't be able to taste or smell anything...

      • Just in case you didn't notice, it's really difficult to lose a standard that's been accepted by enough people to have critical mass.

        I don't see GIF and JPG images becoming unreadable, ever, because there's too much of a critical mass of information associated with them now, and that useful pile of information continues to be added to on a daily basis.

        Yes, better technology will emerge, but the old standard image formats will still have a place.

      • by Bonker ( 243350 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @12:48AM (#2501300)
        Sure - you should be able to make perfect digital copies, or even make ternary or quadrany copies... But who's going to have the reader to interpret those bits? Unless you keep that CD of Photoshop or Gimp backed up, with a CPU that can run it - you may have to re-write your own program to interpret the binary and display it as an image.

        The oldest image format I can find is 'PIC' which was used by PC Paint in 1984, right around the time PC's could start representing image data on their screens. ACDsee, Photoshop, Gimp, and Irfanview still all support this format, even though it is
        horribly limited, and very nearly 20 years old.

        Even before that, people have been trading ASCII-style art since the invention of the Teletype. Sure, it's not supported by most graphic programs, because you only need a text editor to view it.

        One of the most popular formats for a long time was 'PCX', which was created by Zsoft in 86, I beleive. PCX format later became Microsoft BMP format. The two are fairly similiar in construction, except that BMP's are not limited to 8 bit color. A lot of webmasters still use Gif87 despite the fact that PNG is better in many ways. No image program I know
        of does not support Gif87 in one way or another. (Gimp users can download those illegal plugins, remember.)

        Today, you can represent an image in more detail than the human eye can see with a 24 bit image. You can print it out how ever large you want it, assuming you have a large enough lens to capture it, and enough disk space to store the pixels. Then you can choose to compress it either losslessly or lossy. We've pretty much hit the end of the road for image file formats. Their may be more formats that come along in the future that compress better or have special features, but you can bet your bottom dollar that common image formats of today will be supported by computer software for decades, if not centuries to come.

        By that time, who would want to waste time on 2-D non-holographic static images? They'd be boring, you wouldn't be able to taste or smell anything...

        Same reason we still look at and keep glass-plate photos of Civil-War Era scenes. It's a look back in history. The only photos we'll have until your holo-photos arrive will be Boring 2-d's. Sure, they may not be as wonderful as a more immersive format, but you can bet that they'll still be a major part of our society's history.
    • by purduephotog ( 218304 ) <hirsch&inorbit,com> on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @12:35AM (#2501266) Homepage Journal
      on your CDs. Unless you splurge for the $1.00 CDR silver or gold ones made with the special dyes- those cheap ones you get at compusa at 100 for 20$ won't last 5 years...

      And that assumes you don't ever play them or leave them in the light or expose them to exessive heat or excessive humidity and actually remember to back them up and ....
    • The average lifespan of a CD is about 20 years. Slightly less if you use CDR.

      Unless you are getting the really cheap CDRs, the archival lifespan of a CDR is over 100 years.

    • Twenty years from now, if I'm dilligent, I can copy all my CDR to Super-DVDR or whatever.

      Fifty Years from now, I can make copies of my Super-DVDR to Quantum Storage, or something similiar

      Once a negative has been processed you don't need to do anything to preserve it: it just sits there like last semester's lousy English grade. But, as pointed out in your post, to preserve a digital image people have to take action, repeatedly, on a regular basis. Twenty years from now, will you look at your 200 GB archive of digital photos and copy/reformat all of them to new storage? Frankly, I seriously doubt it. You're going to have other interests, other things to do. You'll do those that are important to you but the others will die. Each generation you'll have perfect bitwise copies of some of your images, with newer ones taking precidence over older ones. Digital images will disappear because we will choose to lose them, each of us trusting to our own judgement.

      So what's wrong with that? Aren't my own personal family pictures my own business? Yep. But news agencies are going to make the same decisions and come to the same conclusions. That's a shared heritage which is socially and legally unrecognized: if news agencies decided to erase all but the dozen most popular images of the World Trade Towers, or of Einstein, or Linus, or Alan Cox, who's to stop them? Should that happen? Stupid question: it will happen whether it's good or not, regardless of how any of us feel about it.

      The film photographs I make will (probably) never be famous or important to anyone but me. But they're well stored and a century from now, when I've long ago emigrated to the Martian colony and am preparing for the first interstellar colonization trip, my great-grandkids will have the opportunity to see what that old fart (me!) was like in the bad old days. They may choose not to look -- that's their decision. I prefer to leave it to them, rather than making it for them now, by destroying the negatives. With digital, it will take effort to preserve the photos, with film, it takes effort to destroy them.

  • Senseless (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CaseyB ( 1105 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @12:13AM (#2501201)
    Typical old-school elitism, pure and simple. There is nothing about digital photography that makes it fundamentally different from film.

    When you shoot traditional stills, you shoot rolls of film and there are a series of pictures taken while you wait for the news to happen.

    Sequential file naming creates a "series" in precisely the same sense.

    But, because of storage issues on the camera, he will have to delete some of those images as he goes along.

    Oh please. I've got a consumer-grade digital camera that'll shoot over 1000 medium-res pictures without swapping storage. How long ago was this written?

    Surely in those circumstances, when only certain photographers are getting access to certain scenes, the more information we have, the better

    "Please, please, please, don't let new technology make my entire life's work completely useless! Please continue paying me for my antiquated skills!" Sad.

  • For anyone interested, there is a good article by Research Libraries Group entitled Preserving Digital Information []. My favorite excerpt:
    Digital technology, however, poses new threats and problems as well as new opportunities. Its functionality comes with complexity. Anyone with a compass (or a clear night to view the position of the stars in relation to true north) could theoretically set up or repair a sundial. A digital watch is more useful and accurate for telling time than a sundial, but few people can repair it or even understand how it works. Reading and understanding information in digital form requires equipment and software, which is changing constantly and may not be available within a decade of its introduction. Who today has a punched card reader, a Dectape drive, or a working copy of FORTRAN II? Even newer technology such as 9-track tape is rapidly becoming obsolete. We cannot save the machines if there are no spare parts available, and we cannot save the software if no one is left who knows how to use it.

    With the storage evolving so rapidly, one must ask the question whether you'll be able to your present hard disk decades in the future. My personal recommendation is the obvious: to make physical, hard copies of all important data. Although Kodak claims their CDR media lasts 100 years or more [], I still wouldn't hesitate to make physical copies, readable by humans rather than computers.

  • Imagine the consernation of your grandchilder opening a chest and finding a silvery metal disk - would they know what to do with it? We have the same problem in our generation - there are thousands of audio recordings that were recoreded on wire .htm []
    - many of theses spools get trown out when the childeren of the recoreded don't know what they are.

    We do have a solution - we can keep the data files in an active file system. As technology progresses, we just copy from the old method of storage to the new.

  • It's a real pain when you try and archive things on the web- either through a free web page, or a paid-for one- the server goes down, and the data is lost.

    I lost every picture from a friend's wedding because I made the mistake of trusting storage on a server I didn't control.

    So I burned the pictures (when I found that I had made a backup) to CD-R. which was fine until the first time they got scratched. So I made another set. which got exposed to heat from sunlight, and ruined the CD-R.

    So, I'm left trying to decide-

    What is the digital equivalent to printing a photograph on acid-free paper, stored behind UV-filter glass, in a climate-controlled area?

    What is the digital equivalent of silver halide photography?

    • [images disappear from the web, CD-R gets scratched, CD-R gets melted]
      What is the digital equivalent to printing a photograph on acid-free paper, stored behind UV-filter glass, in a climate-controlled area?

      If you put that acid-free paper in some sketchy self-storage warehouse with no fire protection, it might go up in smoke. If you leave that acid-free photo on your desk to get scratched up and bleached by the sun, it's not going to look so hot either. Perhaps if you treat your digital photographs with the same respect you are giving this imaginary silver-halide photograph, you will find that they won't get wrecked so easily.

      In a slightly-less-snippy reply to your question (I'm tired), try keeping the master CD in a climate-controlled area out of the sun, and leaving a copy of it on your desk to get scratched up (I've been doing this with software for years -- that whole fair-use thing). You could keep the master in a fire safe along with your other backup media (you do make backups, right?). You could even, as I have done with my data, work out a backup exchange with a friend that you see regularly, so that a copy will be offsite, just in case of fire, flood, or the Feds. And, of course, transfer that stuff on media that's a few years old to fresh media that is now shockingly less expensive than it was when you recorded the data originally.

      Taking care of your data is not hard, is not particularly expensive, and can give you great piece of mind. Backups, onsite and offsite, can be handy in a pinch, and are like an insurance policy, without the getting-ripped-off-by-actuaries part (forgive me, Husker). You don't have to go overboard -- just do a little planning ahead and treat your data with respect. Good luck!
  • newspaper archives contain a lot more than just the articles and the pictures used. They contain the other unpublished material, 95% of which never gets used. great stuff for historical researchers and writers.

    With digital culling you do not have that 95% in the background. As a proportional figur you migh have 10% to 50%. This is what she is worried about.

    It is like the old way of writing by hand.

    It is a different intellectual and emotional feeling to write a manuscript by hand, and to re-write pages by hand, over the progress of a complete book. The experience is one where you are much more intimate on a phrase by phrase basis with the text.

    This is far different than electronic cut and paste, where even with version control, you often do not have the same word by world immersion with what you write.

    Of course, this is entirley different from the experience of writing so well and fast that you are like the old pulp magazine writers who had rolls of butcher block paper in the typewriter. [/urbanlegend]

    This type of experience is similar the the interaction that a photographer had with a photo in darkroom work. Very different from digital photography indeed. and a very different way of thinking and even looking at the world.

  • As a Vegan [], i.e. one who doesn't (or tries not to) use or eat animal products, digital photo technology provides an alternative to analog film, which almost always contains gelatin...

    I am hoping to start a Vegan Film Project [] specifically to discuss methods to create non-gelatinous motion picture film (and potentially less toxic methods of developing it). I already put up a message board at Mr. Soda Overload []. Anyone care to help? Please chime in with ideas...

    • digital photo technology provides an alternative to analog film, which almost always contains gelatin...

      However, most electronic equipment such as digital cameras and PCs require tantalum capacitors. Tantalum miners in the African rain forest are overhunting many of the species there and threateninig the ecosystem.

      Come to think of it, the truck hauling lentils to your neighborhood market is squishing thousands of poor little insects even as I write this. You just can't win.

  • Mainly for several points- one, backlash. What's going to happen when the server crashes and all your precious photos were on that HD?

    There is the instantaneous nature of the wire- this is where you get paid if your stuff hits it first. If it's second, you don't get the cash. *delete*. You can't do that with film- every image is preserved in perfect clarity... or not so perfect if you look at some of the photos from WWII of beach landings- all grainy, blurred, high contrast. The guy processing the film screwed it up. Still salvaged it tho...

    There is the whole aspect of quality (please don't rant to me about mp3s, OK? You don't know what you are talking about). For a typical digital camera, guaranteed, right off the bat, 67% of your image is fake. Yes, fake. Period. You can only capture 1 colour channel per pixel- the rest you have to make up. Look up Bayer Arrays if you don't believe me. Some 'faster' PJ (photo journalism) cameras use sensors with half as many pixels in the Y direction- that means that not only are 67% of the pixels fake, 25% never existed in the first place!

    So yeah, the pictures go on a file server for instant access- big deal. One Niminda worm and it's gone except for the backups. In 5 years who knows what the storage medium is gonna look like? (although I will argue CDs will probably always be around... they do degrade and who other than the photog (not the agency) is going to store all the images on CD?).

    I really worry about this... the information density of 35mm film is around 28 megapixel (thats 28x3 = 84 megs @ 12 bit = 168 megabytes per image) vs the high end digitals that are currently producing what, 6 meg files? Even the Kodak sensor is 16 megapixel-48 megs... but that does produce some STUNNING work. Of course it only captures at 0.5 fps for 5 frame burst... oh wait, my brand new SLR does 10 fps until I run out of film...
  • I think the damage she is worried about will be minimal. I think that most of the professional digital photographers won't just delete pictures at random, and will have plenty of memory(if they are smart).
    Sure, we may never get to sort through many pictures and see the next hitler's picture of him in a crowd because somebody deleted it because he didn't see the picture as important then...but i don't think we're at that big of a loss.
  • Luddites 'r' Us (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nyquist_theorem ( 262542 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .mehgellebm.> on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @12:43AM (#2501285) Homepage
    I sincerely hope that this was an undergraduate thesis and not doctoral-level stuff. I sure wouldn't want to have to defend it! :) It seems not only is Ms. West presenting a weak argument, it seems that an application of common sense would suggest the exact OPPOSITE hypotheses to the ones she chose to defend. Allow me...

    Issue #1 - But, because of storage issues on the camera, he will have to delete some of those images as he goes along. I know everyone on /. is harping on this for being inaccurate, but I'd go one further. Digital "film", regardless of media type, is SO cheap and so reuseable that the digital photographer takes MORE pictures, not less. Hey, they're free, right? Click click click click click. Argument inverted.

    Issue #2 - A whole collection of material, that may well be far more interesting in the months and years after the event than in the hard news context, is being lost at that stage. Lets imagine photographer A is old-school SLR-boy, and he took 1000 pictures of a given news event. Photographer B is techno-girl, with her 7-bazillipixel Sony Megivica. She takes 500 pictures, because she was told by her ill-informed friend Jayne West that she should delete half the ones she takes.

    Now imagine this news event turns out to be worthy of going thru the "dud" pictures afterwards. What is more easily examined after the fact - 500 digital pictures (click click zoom zoom enhance enhance hey lets email this to the expert in LA) or 1000 negatives (lets make chemical soup x 1000 and bust out the magnifying glasses)? Even if the hypothesis about "less digital photos remain" holds true (which is preposterous), certainly the accessibility of the digital images more than makes up for it - if a diligent investigator / journalist can access the images from his or her desk or dump them on his or her laptop, then they're ten times more likely to peruse the images for shady stuff in the background. Argument inverted.

    Issue #3 - Obviously off-site backup of perfect-copy images is an impossibility in the land of real film, but a nightly automated process in digital film land. Not to mention that optical media and redundant backups means a virtually infinite shelf life, versus the sub-century longevity of developed 35mm film. Argument inverted.

    I'm surprised the silly "digital photography means you can't prove faked images" argument wasn't raised by our loom-burning film lover.

    Issue #4 - In some ways, it's no different to the invention of the telegraph a 100 odd years ago, when it suddenly became possible to transmit messages over long distances in a very short space of time.

    This is RUBBISH. A telegraph was ephemeral - a transmission and a disposable record of the message sent. Digital photography opens the doors to PERFECT, archival of INFINITE DURATION (with refreshing and conversion to current media, all of which is lossless). Could a worse example have been chosen? She could have compared it to the invention of the electic can opener and been less out to lunch.

    Issue #5 - We don't have the build-up, we don't have the aftermath, we don't have incidental shots of who was there. Au contraire, mon ananas. If you're reloading every 24/36 shots, you're taking a lot less incidental shots than if your camera will hold 200+ images. Not to mention those cameras that permit the recording of simple video and/or audio in case all hell breaks loose. Would that not provide more build-up, more aftermath, and more incidental shots?

    I could go on but I guess a lot of this is pretty obvious. Strange day on /. today - I'm surprised I didn't have to pay to download the PDF from BBC! :)
    • Re:Luddites 'r' Us (Score:2, Interesting)

      by scaryjohn ( 120394 )
      I sincerely hope that this was an undergraduate thesis and not doctoral-level stuff. I sure wouldn't want to have to defend it! :) It seems not only is Ms. West presenting a weak argument, it seems that an application of common sense would suggest the exact OPPOSITE hypotheses to the ones she chose to defend. Allow me...

      except if it's for a graduate degree it's for one in fine arts, not computer science or social sciences... so if you were defending your pro-digital dissertation, unless it was for an MFA in graphic design, you'd be challgenged with her arguments, and people with the same opinions (and biases) would be giving the thumbs-up/thumbs-down.

      it might be too charitable to say she's playing to her audience, as she probably deeply believes what she says... but that's the conventional wisdom on the south end of campus either way

  • Lewinsky (Score:2, Interesting)

    by miraclebaby ( 89691 )
    I saw a TV report with a traditional photographer who came up with one of the few photos of Clinton and Lewinsky together. When the story broke, he went to his archive of contact sheets looking for glimpses of her with him at various irrelevent white house events.

    The digital photographers who had the same irrelevent pictures from the same events had "saved space" or "reduced clutter" by deleting photos that were irrelevent at the time, but much sought after later.

    Depending on your personal politics, additional photos of them may still have been irrelevent at any time, but it demonstrates the loss of a full historical record that goes along with recording "historical" images on transient media.
  • those that I want to keep indefinately I print them out. That way I can go back in 20 years or what not and see them. The rest I save on my harddrive and backup to another medium just in case of a crash. So sure, maybe they'll be lost. But the ones I really want are printed..
  • I think the web has a much stronger effect than digital photos. Whenever a web site changes, you can't get the previous version anymore. Even if it is archived, it will probably end up getting lost within 20 years. In a couple years, there'll be no trace left of what the web looks like today and I'm not sure we could recover more than 10% of what was there just 5 years ago.

    Even worse, there's something 1984-esque about the web: it allows to "modify history" at will. You can change the content of your web site without anybody really being able to "prove" that you did.
  • Reasonably preserved film and paper can easily last centuries, and pass through hands of generations that don't know what to do with them. We digerati blandly assert that will be true with our archives, but we can't prove it by experience. I can't read my 9 track tapes very easily anymore, much less those cute DECtape spools from undergraduate days.

    When you think about how much time you spend with the 'delete' button on your email, how many insightful letters are going to be left for that biographer of your important friend in 40 years?
    The same is true of digital pix -- having no need to ever get to 'fixed' form, they are going to be at the whimsy of haphazard archivists. Is Moore's law for storage going to hold indefinately? I suspect not, and at some point it is going to be very hard to archive things. Especially if DMCA flavored 'protections' result in everything being unarchivable.

    I think our future history is going to be less accessible than that of the Krell.


  • No medium is forever, this is an established fact... Photos can be burned, negatives can fade,CD-R's can degrade with UV light/scratches, and all storage mediums eventually go to waste...

    On a similar tangent, I recall an episode of Cowboy Bebop where Valentine recieves a betamax tape that was archived for her before she 'died', to help her remember her past... Only problem was, it was a format that went obsolete almost a century prior... So Spike and crew went on a quest to find a shop where they could view the ancient tape, which eventually they found, and after paying a hefty chunk of change, they were able to view said tape...

    Also recall how many photo shops out there offer photo to CD transfers... They see the potential to offer forward compatability, and while business is slow to grow, they do make sufficient profits, at least, to continue such activities...

    So collect those old and obsolete technologies, I say, and learn to maintain them (oft times even a 30+ year old VTR can be used indefinately, so long as a motor or head servo doesn't burn out)... You may be able to profit from the nearly annual obsolescence of existing technology...
  • by ramakant ( 256472 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @01:20AM (#2501381)
    The long-term issue caused by the movement to digital cameras by the journalism world (especially fast turnaround publications like daily newspapers) is not storage or archiving. These are inconveniences that will be settled with the advancement of technology and time. While CaseyB [] might be able to get a few more images on his consumer digital than a professional journalist using a Nikon D1H [], I agree that these are not the important issues.
    The real change that digital cameras have brought to journalism has nothing to do with what's inside the camera, but what's on the outside: the preview window. Before digital cameras (and scanners in the situation of photographers that processed film on-site and then transmitted), most photojournalists didn't see the results of their shooting until it appeared in the paper the next day. Because his images were being recorded into a 'black box' the photographer was always forward thinking - trying to get the best image from the subject in front of him. Giving the photographer the power to see what they had just produced suddenly put the photographer in the editing chair, and gave him the power to judge whether an image was newsworthy. With a push of the 'trash can' button, the image was lost forever.
    Shooting and editing are fundamentally different challenges. I've been in both shoes before and they require very different skill sets and motivations. Editors are responsible for representing the intent of the story, as well as trying to find the best image. Because these tasks aren't mutually exclusive, an image that the photographer might have considered unusable (because it was slightly out of focus, poorly composed, underexposed, etc.), could be the perfect choice if it does a good job of 'telling the story' despite its flaws. So, while it is true that 'infinite' storage in the future will elimintate the need for the photographer to delete any images, it won't get rid of the photographer's new role as pre-editor.
    Probably my favorite example of a situation where shooting on film created an unexpected timeless image was shot by Dirck Halstead, a veteran Time photographer. He shot the famous Monica Lewinsky hugging Bill Clinton photograph. At the time he shot the image, Monica was an unknown intern that happened to receive a warm hug from Bill at an event on the White House lawn. There were a lot of photographers present, but Dirck was one of the only ones shooting film. When the scandal broke a few months later, Dirck had the feeling that he had seen her face before, so Time hired a researcher to dig in his archives and find the image. The image was found, and Dirck was the only one that got the shot despite their being many other photographers there -- other photographers, all shooting digital. Many of them probably shot that image, but who would save an image of the President hugging an unknown person?
  • by fearboy ( 309735 )
    how many photographs have ever been made?

    how many of them have ever been seen by more than a hundred people?

    how many would be considered to be a part of the historical record?

    culling is a natural phenomenon in any field - people may become famous for a while, but over time plenty are forgotten; it's just a function of time. strong images survive, and some become famously known, but how many artists of any kind are known for the work that didn't make the cut? (west's argument says, in part, that we're losing this link to the past because we lose incidental shots - images of a newsworthy event, say, that may not be published, but that show more sometimes than those that become famous.)

    how many of those photographs that didn't make the grade are known to the general public? how many are known even in academic circles? more to the point, how many times has a popularly-known image been supplanted by a more historically-relevant image later? (because, says west, we're losing images that may turn out to be more interesting later on.)

    to ask a better question, how often has something really important or interesting or useful been supplanted by something mundane or useless or vapid? (in photographic terms, think walker evans vs. anne geddes.) if it were up to me, i'd have less vapid stuff, so that the historical context for important photography would matter more, but the real historical record we're leaving is not the 90% of photographers' negatives that are never printed, it's the 1% of the successes that are remembered. well, that and boy bands.
  • You missed this. (Score:2, Insightful)

    (This article sponsored by Eastman-Kodak)

  • Excluding the artsy Gameboy Camera and Casio Wristcam, I use my Fujifilm MX-2700 heaps for ebay. I've been buying and selling retro video games for several months now and I carefully document, photographically, each item I sell. I keep all the raw images, I publish the edited images in a format that anyone can keep a copy of, then I burn both versions to CD and shift a copy from my little portable's hard drive to a big 20Gig in a removable drive bracket.

    All of this would have been impossible pre-digital, so heaps of images are being taken now that never would have been taken before -- all through eBay there's image after image of rare, collectable crap that otherwise might never be seen by people who care about it.

    Saying that press photography is somehow worse-off in a way that society should be concerned about is more than a little self-indulgant.

  • by mwdib ( 56263 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @01:33AM (#2501416)
    Well, these days you can write a history thesis on just about anything....

    As a professional historian, I actually think the greater potential impact of digital media on the historical record lies in it's vulnerability. Those who have undertaken the task of "rewriting history" to fit a particular agenda or world view in the past faced a profound obstacle: the existance of the physical record. Burning books, destroying documents, and manufacturing evidence took a lot of energy on the part of the Soviets & the Nazis [ and lots of others ]. Will electronic documentation have the same persistence that the physical record had? Or will the tyrant-de-jour simply order the re-creation of the historical record by virtue of a well-constructed worm? You'll recall the industry of historical revision in Brave New World. Hmmm... interesting, but I won't lose sleep over it.
  • Editing Photos (Score:2, Interesting)

    by MrPants tm ( 410236 )
    While I agree the data storage is an important thing to remember, optical photos are just as easily destroyed.

    what I think is interesting in the use of digital photos is not that there taking over but that they are so easily edited. While admittely editing a optical photo isn't that hard now we all admit that a digital photo can be done by anyone. Clicking that Ex-boyfriend/girlfriend out of the picture has never been easier.

  • by SilentChris ( 452960 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @01:44AM (#2501450) Homepage
    A lot of been handling the "paper media doesn't last as long as digital media" argument, so I won't touch it. More to the point, though, I think digital manipulation is a much bigger threat to valid records as a whole. Tonight's most egregious event: the World Series, with Fox's omnipresent digitally-created banner behind the batter, on the tarmac wall. It was not only:

    - Distracting
    - Only in some shots
    - And deceitful

    it was also poorly done. The artists made an effort to "rough up" the banner to make it match the video taped shots but it was quite obviously faked. Fox's "laser puck" experiment with the NHL was more real.

    Further, any time a future generation wants to watch my taped version of the World Series, they will have to contend with looking at something that brings about the "what were they thinking" factor. Heaven forbid years from now, when some archeologist digs up a VHS player (just watched Cowboy Bebop earlier this week -- forgive me) and the viewer actually thinks the banner was real.

    This started in earnest with the millenium celebrations, but I'm more disturbed by this beginning to affect everyday sporting events. What's next? On my way into work, billboards "Gatored" with multiple layers of holigrammed video?

  • Yes, digital media is volatile, but arguably much less so then chemical/photoreactive media.

    The amount of money you spend to keep those precious images safe depends on how important it is to you to do so. For every day use there is nothing wrong with CD-Rs, just keep them out of the sun and don't set your ashtray and/or vodka-tonic on it. If you feel that you need better, look into better CD-Rs suck as the Kodak Ultima 80s []. Keep them in a nice safe shoebox on the top shelf of the hall closet (in their cases, damnit) like you probably do those precious historical shots of you riding a Big Wheel in your diapers.

    If you are really proud of your work or you make some money with that camera, well then invest in a quality hard drive, format it and only keep data on it. The odds of it frying are poor (insert your IBM deskstar joke here) but if you must get a couple and raid them for redundancy... that should buy you a couple of years before something as stable as magneto-optical comes back and more useful... Also, there is no shame in printing your best work (on the proper acid free photo paper with lasting dyes) and keeping them somewhere safe as well, you can always scan them back in if you need them binary. If you are really really good and take actually historical shots, then pretty much the Internet is your storage device, since there are usually at least hundreds of major university servers worldwide holding untold thousands of versions of most of the most historical of images.

    As for compact or smart media, my Olympus E-10 takes both and can use microdrives as well. This pretty much allows me to take as many damn photos as I want (badly, usually) before I have to swap out either for an empty chip or card. Since the argument is about digital publishing there is no need into getting into the whole mess about huge tif files Vs small lo-res jpgs but with a couple of one gig microdrives (and maybe a laptop or digital wallet to dump the data into) all your whining is hollow.

    (Speaking of which, Happy Halloween. Don't eat popcorn balls, they are nasty. Also: candy-f**king-corn)

    The real argument is pretty much, if you are a real artist, the price of a digital that can come close to a quality (read professional) 35mm and the equipment it takes to process the data to the degree a pro can manipulate negs in a darkroom is still waaaaay too expensive. But not for long. I wish I could whine along with the "technology is bad for us" crowd, but not this time.

  • by NaturePhotog ( 317732 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @02:08AM (#2501507) Homepage

    One example, as related to me by John Shaw [], a well known nature photographer.

    The well-known shot of Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton hugging at some convention? I think it was captured on video as well. But the one (out of dozens) of still photographers that caught it, and the one that had their picture published all over the world? It was shot on film. All the other press photographers in attendance at that event were shooting digital cameras (digital is now quite prevelant in photojournalism, in large part because of the short turn around time for processing and transmission, but also because quality doesn't matter nearly as much as timeliness). At the time, Monica Lewinsky was a nobody, one of dozens of White House interns.

    All the photographers shooting with digital thought: "ah, a nothing shot" and deleted it. When the story broke and the shit hit the fan, who was the one still photographer who had a shot of this? The one shooting on film.

    As a nature photographer, digital isn't there yet. Never mind the resolution, etc., but if you're in the jungles of Borneo, or amongst the penguins in Antarctica, or wherever for an extended period, it's still a heck of a lot easier to schlep a bunch of film than a bunch of memory cards, and to know that it will more or less stand up to the conditions.

    Many professional photographers have more than one camera body, sometimes for different films, but mostly for backup. If you're on an important shoot, you need backup. If you're shooting with a film camera, that's easy. If you're shooting with digital, that means some way of backing up your memory cards. Which generally means a laptop. Which if you're serious and/or off the beaten path, means you take a backup for it, too. Starting to get the picture?

    I'm not saying that digital photography is the problem behind of all this. But the number of photographs that on film that are viewable now from 100 years ago, vs. the number that are shot on digital and will be viewable 100 years from now is probably not comparable. If you find a trunk of old photos from 100 years ago, you'll probably at least go through it once. If you find an old CD 100 years from now, you might think "huh! How quaint! It's like one of those old 45s my grandpa talked about". And those photos will probably never be seen again.

    • All the photographers shooting with digital thought: "ah, a nothing shot" and deleted it. When the story broke and the shit hit the fan, who was the one still photographer who had a shot of this? The one shooting on film.

      This is the fault of the photographers and not the medium. I could take a picture of a sports game with a regular camera and think to myself "aw it's a nothing shot" and set it and it's negative on fire in an ashtray. Despite the fact that in the upper left corner was the conclusive proof of the existance of UFO's and a face shot of the "real killers" to the JFK assassinations and the Nicole Brown stabbings both shaking hands with Bin Ladin, I still will have destroyed the pictures.

      Just because some photographers are either too poor to buy a zip-disk and a few extra batteries or else too lazy or stupid to archive thier images doesn't mean that digital photography is somehow wrong. It means these photographers need to learn some smarts...

      Now here's a question for you: Let's say you have just shot your last roll of film out in the wild somewhere, wasting it on pictures of zebras and whatnot, and then you finally DO see the alien ship landing, how exactly are you going to get a picture of THAT? At least with a digital camera, you will never run out of film...

      • Yes, it is the fault of the photographers. I think is to say to digital is bad, but the mindset it enables is what can be bad.

        Yes you can still destory the pictures and/or negatives, but that is done later, not live at the scene.

        And people do tend to be lazy (not just photographers here). Also, we are talking large mounts of storage. More than just a few zip disks.
        • Yes you can still destory the pictures and/or negatives, but that is done later, not live at the scene.

          I've seen enough episones of the "Brady Bunch" to know that opening the back of your camera by accident (or by dropping it) is a very easy way to erase all your pictures "live at the scene".
        • $20 for a book and some slede sleeves will give you storage for hundreds of rolls of film. To do that with digital, you need to pay for tape drives, tapes and someone to run the backup software.

          That's a budget item.

          Add to that, the fact that it's a lot easier to flip through a 5 year old file of negatives than it is to hunt down the 5 year old tape (presuming that it's readable and you've still got a tape drive that can play it, extract the images, and then pray that you've still got the software to view them....

          See a CNN Story on the problems that Nasa is having with old data [] -- and that's an organization that takes it's old data seriously. Most newspapers store old negatives more as an aside than as a conscious effort. It's just easier to keep them than to destroy them. For digital images, on the other hand, it's the other way 'round.

      • by darkonc ( 47285 ) <stephen_samuel@bcgr e e n . com> on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @04:01AM (#2501669) Homepage Journal
        I could take a picture of a sports game with a regular camera and think to myself "aw it's a nothing shot" and set it and it's negative on fire in an ashtray.

        The point is that very few people do burn their negatives.

        In my closet, I have stereo slides taken in the '50s by my dad from before he met my mother. I also have most of the negatives from my childhood, and thousands of negatives that I've shot since then. Negatives are relatively compact, and easy to store for a couple of decades (longer than that and you should be explicitly nice to them).

        What we're dealing with in this digital vs film case is the default path for the 'uninteresting' pictures. With film, the photographer would drop of a bag of film rolls at the processing lab, and the editor would get a stack of negatives, chose one (or a few) and be done with it.

        In this case, you now have, besides the one or two printed pictures, another dozen or hundred that didn't make the grade, today. For the most part, these pictures cannot be reused, but it is pretty easy to put the spare pictures in a book and stick it on a shelf for a few years.

        With digital, a couple of 'bad' pictures (like the picturs of clinton with 'that intern chick') might get culled before it even made it to the editorial desk. The images that aren't used, on the other hand, are on a $200 hard disk that is very reusable. One click of the mouse, and you once again have space for another 300 images.

        Most consumers don't realize the quantity of film that a news photographer can go through. You don't count frames. You count rolls. If a news photographer tells you that he's got 3 rolls left, he's not bragging. He's probably worrying.

        BTW: At 3Meg each, someone mentioned that his camera has room for 330 images (~ 9 rolls). This is about the number of pictures that I'll take at a friend's wedding. I'm not a news photographer, but I go through film like one. (must come from volunteering for community newspapers). A 20 GB drive wouldn't store a busy year's worth of my pictures at decent resolution. Then I would have to decide if I'm gonna try and fit another 20GB drive in my box or cull most of the pictures.
        Listen to the sound of file pointers being zeroed

  • I once heard an interview with a media photographer who became famous when the Monica Lewinski scandle broke because he had a picture of Bill hugging Monica at some event a few months before the "news" broke. He commented that 100 other photographers took that same picture, but since she was an unknown and uninteresting person they all deleted the photograph from their hard drives. This photographer was shooting slides, and was able to go back through his old shots and find a picture that was initially believed to be a non-event. BTW, he made lots of $$$ from that shot.

    Mind you, I just switched from slides to digital myself...but if you are a journalist photographer there is a lesson to be learned here.
  • by DennyK ( 308810 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @02:39AM (#2501547) not just what might be lost to deletion. In terms of raw storage space, a 650MB CD-R has a bookshelf full of books, boxes, negatives, etc. beat hands-down. The real problems that I see with digital storage have nothing to do with the longevity of the data itself. There are several issues that have great bearing on the preservation of history when it comes to digital media, however.

    One of the biggest issues is the *accessibility* of the data. Anyone who can see is capable of looking at a hundred year old photograph. Most fairly literate adults would be capable of reading (or at least puzzling out) a written document that dates back dozens or even hundreds of years. You have to go back many centuries before you require more than a good knowledge of the current language and a strong light source in order to read someone's old letters, and even then, all it takes is an education in the proper language of the period. No special tools required; just the proper knowledge.

    With digital media, this is no longer the case. No human I know of is capable of reading a CD-R by eye. To access data stored in this fashion, you need a computer with the proper hardware and software. At this time, this presents no problem; few computers today come without CD-ROM drives, and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone with absolutely no access to one. But that may not be the case tomorrow. Ten years from now, CDs may be obsolete (sooner, if the RIAA has it's way...), and then it will be hard to find a machine that can read one, except in the workshop of some computer hobbyists. In twenty years, the number of people with access to an obsolete medium will be very small. In fifty years, it would be virtually impossible to find someone with equipment that can access the data. In a hundred years, few, if any, ordinary people will even know what the hell a CD is, much less know what to do with it. Think about many of you out there could access data on an 8" disk? How many of you know someone who might be able to? I'd guess the numbers are relatively few, and this is a technology that, relatively speaking, is not all that old. And that was a common format. What about people who are storing data on less common media, like LS-120 disks or JAZ drives? Anyone around here have a drive that can read a flopticle? An optical disc? I was using those myself to store data just six or seven years ago in high school, but I'd be hard pressed now to find the hardware and software to read them.

    Another problem that occurs, and is related to what Ms. West wrote, is the transitory nature of everyday electronic communication. Personal communications like letters are perhaps one of the best windows into the everyday life of people who lived long ago. Today, though, email and voicemail have replaced letters as the predominant form of communication. While this is great in terms of speed and efficiency, it also lacks the longevity of a handwritten letter. Many people saved old letters for years, and kept them in the family. Most people I know don't even save their emails for a week before they're consigned to the void. I'm an obsessive-compulsive pack rat who doesn't throw anything away, so I have email that dates back six years and three computer systems, but I am far from normal in that regard...and in ten or fifteen years, chances are very good that I'll lose all of that mail somewhere along the way. And when email is lost, it isn't buried in a long-forgotten box in a dusty attic somewhere, waiting for someone to stumble on it one day in the future. When email is "lost," it's gone for good. The chances of any personal email communication (barring spam, famous chain letters, etc.) lasting more than ten years are slim to none. Use of "snail mail" for personal communication has declined sharply in recent years, as people move to email and other forms of electronic communication. Stuff like the current anthrax scares will only make more and more people turn to electronic communication as a safer, cheaper, faster alternative. But as they do, the trail of personal information they leave for future generations becomes smaller and smaller. A hundred years from now, our descendants will know far less about us than we know about those who celebrated the dawn of the 1900s. The effective lifetime of the records we leave behind has shrunk significantly, from centuries to decades, or even mere years. It's kind of scary when you realize that in fifty years, such an enourmous chunk of what defines this time period will likely be gone without a trace. The more we move to electronic communication as a way of life, the larger that chunk will be. One day, we may have no history except that which is passed down directly from generation to generation...much like the days before written language was invented. Strange thought, isn't it?

  • by PhantomHarlock ( 189617 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @02:46AM (#2501559)
    She had a valid opinion 3 years ago, but not now.

    About a year ago, I stopped shooting film when I purchased a Canon D30 digital SLR body. Since then I have shot close to 20,000 images. I have -ALL- of them, and I have *NEVER* deleted an image off my IBM Microdrive, even when on the road for weeks at a time. This person probably does not own or work with the latest storage and camera technologies.

    Here's how it works:
    When I bought the D30 I also bought the IBM 1GB Microdrive. At Fine quality JPEG setting, the microdrive will hold about 800 photos, or more if they have large areas of undetailed sky or backdrop. I went to Japan and England this year. In both places, I shot between 200 and 400 images PER DAY. When I got back to the hotel/motel each night, I pulled out my laptop and dumped all the days' images onto the laptop and erased them off the Microdrive. After I got home I transferred them to my personal computer, where they now live. If I need more room I buy a new hard drive. We all know how cheap they are. Backups are also performed on removable hard drives and stored offsite. I don't use most of those images, but I am always coming back to them and finding more things. 20 years from now I will be laughing at the old cars and bad 90's fashion and will find interesting details in the most mundane of photos. Or perhaps many of the places I have shot will be destroyed by a world war. Who knows?

    Lets say you are doing images for large blow-ups or profiled printing and you need to make sure you have no artifacts and a full color gamut. So you shoot in RAW or TIFF format. The microdrive will hold 1/3 of the photos than in JPEG format. Solution? Buy one or two more microdrives, and you still have enough to shoot like a madman in the course of a day. I am not sure what this person is trying to get at. Any lack of space can only be due to not being able to afford flashcards or microdrives.

    Also, many other people have already covered the fact that digital photos, when transfered properly across mediums to ensure readability, don't degrade over time, unlike film, and are infinitely more accessable and searchable. I agree with some others here that it is a very luddite opinion to have. There are definitely precautions that must be taken with digital files to be sure they will last (backups, etc) and in the end they will long outlast film.

    (see my Britain travelogue and photos here. [])
  • by arcade ( 16638 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @02:51AM (#2501570) Homepage
    Slashdot editors should re-read the story instead of making out of hand comments.

    West is _not_ criticizing the images that actually get published. She is criticizing all that get deleted. You don't go ahead and save every image you take to your harddrive, as you then have to buy a new harddrive all the time. Its much more convenient to just delete what you think is irrelevant at the moment.

    With a film that is not possible. The film stores it, at least "semi-permanent", that is, at least a couple of years or 20.
    Of course, you get a buttload of film to handle, and someone needs to review all that film, but thats beside the point.
    The point is that she worries that history get lost, due to all the deletion of material. She would NOT be worried, if every journalist/photographer just saved _everything_ to harddrives, and never deleted any pictures. _Then_ she, according to her article, would be perfectly happy with it (she doesn't say so, but its obvious out of her article).
    • I was a press-photographer for 18 years and the standard practice (certainly on local papers in the UK) was to routinely dispose of all the images shot on a roll of 36exp film apart from the negatives (and a few either side on the roll) of shots chosen to present for publication.

      This only practical difference now is that the deleting of image files from a flash RAM card or a drive takes place at the scene in the camera rather than at the office later. (unless newpapers have a procedure that all files are kept regardless - unlikely)

      Only time will tell us how archivally permanent digital storage will be.
    • I just disagree completely with her claims. (Well, not "completely," since they have certain truthful elements, but I do disagree with her conclusions.)

      Conventional photography does have some advantages, among them the fact that it's often easier to keep unwanted photos around (in the form of negatives at least) than to discard them. OK. That's interesting and good, in a glass-half-full way. Books also trap insects sometimes, so they're useful to historical entomologists who want to see what mites Napoleon kept in his diary -- OK. True, and perhaps occasionally with highly interesting outcomes, but I think at heart still a trivial claim.

      If you had film that you *could* re-use if you were unsatisfied with the image it contained, or if you were simply running short of film, would you? I would. I have taken a lot of crap photographs in my life, and would trade much for that ability ;)

      That would mean dropping some possibly interesting shots, sure (30 years from now, I might find that the newest President was my age and on vacation at the same beach I was in 1998, and want to see if I had an accidental shot of him making dirty gestures at lifeguards ... OK, could happen), but it would also mean that I could take images I more wanted to keep in the first place.

      Hypothetical losses vs. quantifiable gains puts a pretty big burden of proof on the hypothetical losses before I'm interested.

      I find negatives a lot more annoying than digital files, but then I'm spoiled by digital in a lot of ways. On the trip I just took to Austin, I took a lot of pictures, showed them to the subject or emailed them the results ... with film, this would be such a hassle I probably never would.

      And really, the idea that we're "losing information" because digital allows easy deletion / overwriting of data I think is spurious in the first place. I dunno how many exposures the typical pro photographer carries for a day of shooting -- perhaps 500? I bet less than a thousand, anyhow ... whatever the number, they still want to take images worth keeping -- not just shoot randomly to play some very high odds. Editing is part of it, and I bet most photographers would say they edit 99% of their shots just by choosing when to squeeze the release.

      Film is finite, even when you have a lot of it -- people don't indiscriminantly shoot film, no matter *how* much they have, if only because it might mean missing an anticipated vital moment because it's time to change rolls. Ever roll shot takes time / money / attention to develop and choose images -- being able (for instance) to knock out the top and bottom of a bracketed series doesn't "rob history" of anything particular, except in the sense that not shooting a continuous video feed of every day from every angle and keeping it at highest quality settings forever robs history.

      Photography is a selective process; I think the advantages of digital storage, sorting and transmission (though flawed) win hugely over film, even though film still has greater resolution for the most part part. (In some areas it's getting a *little* closer ... or even a lot -- Hard to tell a lot of D1x images aren't film when you see them in typical magazine resolution.) For people with well-developed and pushed-to-the-limit conventional photo systems, the same thing might not hold, but I'm not one of them :)

      The point is, you choose with any sort of photography what to commit to your sensor (film or ccd or coated tin plate or whatever) at several levels, by selecting your location (to the degree you can), the time of day (if possible), the light (if you can influence it), the awareness of your subject (if applicable), the type of lens, the depth of field, the shutter speed, whether handheld or tripod, etc. Great. Digital adds another level by allowing you to get rid of unsatisfactory ones and "magically" extend your blank space. Are all the lens cap shots in the world a valuable addition to history? ;) Defending a technology for its accidental benefits I think needs a lot more than what she's portrayed here as offering. Maybe the full thesis would be more satisfying.


  • This was a foolish article, merely one photographer's weak attempt to malign a new medium that she doesn't care to understand.

    On a CD costing 50 cents, I can store 5000 images. I can then make as many copies of this CD as I want using home equipment that costs less than $200. Further, these images will be in formats that allow others to immediately use them in whatever projects they choose, or to simply transmit the images through phone lines to any location on the planet.

    So tell me, does cheap mass storage of photographs in useful formats with free methods of replication and distribution threaten the historical record? Especially when the technology is open to everyone, not just those with photo labs?
  • As a historian (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Skuld-Chan ( 302449 )
    of sorts (I majored in history in university) personally I think an artifact like a physical photograph, a positive (slide), or a negative is far more valuable as long as it does exist - consider for a second say if some paiting was made a thousand years ago digitally, and today the equipment didn't exist to display or print this paiting today? Or consider it used some arcane encryption system (like css) that no-one knew how to decode - what would you do? It would be like having a foriegn language with the possibility of not being able to decode it. I'd be willing to bet that 99% of all the photo's and paitings I've looked at in person or in history books were stored in a physical format originally - history books we have today. Of the little original documents we have today how much of this would be availble if it was digital?

    CDR's only last a 100 years before they rot, my hard drive in my computer has been repaired twice. How many of you know how to view quantel images (remember the quantel paintbox?), or images from older computers stored in file formats you've never heard of (and yes that computer on your desk in a hundred years will be the equivelent of a C64 or a TRS 80 is now - worse actually).

    And then there are electronic texts - luckily I think the library of congress requests 5 copies of each book ever printed - I believe these are physical copies. But just think - could you read an ebook a hundred years from now? Would you know what one was?

    On kind of a relavant point - I remember a display at our university library (PSU) and it was entitled something like "a 1000 years of binding books" - there are ways of binding books that are rather good - but have lost their technological edge (or they were too expensive to produce). Computers are the same way - computers 50 years ago are a far cry from what they are today, but how many of us can honestly say we can use pictures or data from those machines right now?
  • As the article points out correctly, press photographs are not a historically accurate record of reality anyway--they already express a point of view (literally and figuratively). For example, experienced photographers can usually easily make a defendant in a trial look sympathetic or unsympathetic through selection of framing, angle, lighting, and timing. Now we add in-camera shot selection to that, so what?

    Furthermore, the need for shot selection will likely disappear--there is little reason for image sensors to keep growing, but camera memory will keep growing. You can already get 512Mbyte solid state flash cards, and you will likely be able to get gigabytes in stamp-sized packages soon.

    The editing and selection that should concern us much more is the selection of news stories itself, which tends to be driven by sensationalism, corporate sponsorship and business relationships, and political biases. And those biases are not giong to get fixed by keeping around a few more pictures locked away in an archive somewhere.

  • I work for a medium-sized newspaper in Finland. At least there disappearance of archives is true.

    First of all, usually the photographers send just a couple of pictures to the newsdesk. They've gone through the 128 MB selection of pictures, select maybe a dozen, then cut that down to two or three, edit them into shape and pass them on.

    Then they erase rest of the photos. Short-sighted, maybe, but they simply don't have time or resources to save every one of those shots. At least with film you always got the pictures.

    Then there's the archive. Not all the pictures that are passed on to the newsdesk are necessarily saved. They have to be commented, checked and so on.

    I don't know how they coped with this a couple of years back when shooting film. Probably the same way they did with the news stories - the archives weren't that sophisticated, and maybe not even as complete.

    But at least they were there.

    It is easy for someone who doesn't shoot pictures for a living five days a week, sometimes doing 12-hour days, to say that digital storage is cheap and all the pictures should be saved.

    When you're a news photographer, the cost and capacity of the medium is somewhat unimportant. It's all the other stuff that contributes to less digital photos being stored.
  • Many people here argue that it will be easy for future generations to decode JPG, CD format storage, file systems etc. And no doubt will it be possible, if you have the money and resources to do so. So a well funded research project will be able to decode the important parts of history, like the forgotten pictures of president X etc. But it is a very different matter when it comes to ordinary citizens. Lets say you take a lot of pictures of your children with your new digital camera. You burn these pictures to a CD and in time this CD ends up in a box on an attic somewhere. Your childrens grandchildren finds it in 100 years. Will they be able to see your pictures (or more correct: will they actually try to see them, given it will cost them lots of time and money?). Probably not.

    Had these pictures been printed on durable paper, this would not have been an issue. When the box is found, the finder yells: "Look, some ancient pictures" and starts looking at them. I have pictures like these of my grandparents grandparents. Not that I look much at them. But I can. This is also history.
  • Yes, we *can* maintain digital information much better then we can maintain paper info. The problem is that we don't do it.
    The good thing about paper is that it will be readable for a very long time WITHOUT anyone bothering with it. If you have CD or whatever you need to backup/alter your data at least every 20 years to keep up with technology. This seems OK for one CD, but what if it comes to the entire historical record?

    To give an example: lots of data from the Vietnam war was kept on 1960-technology digital equipment. This resulted in a total loss of data as there is not a single machine left that can read that info back

  • by hyrdra ( 260687 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @08:11AM (#2501969) Homepage Journal
    I worked for the Columbus Dispatch in Columbus, Ohio as an intern in the photography department.

    This article, while brining up a few interesting points about digital and how it may or could change things, what I actually saw and was a part of painted a different picture, but this may be only unique to this one newspaper.

    The photographers were all armed with Canon EOS digitals, I had my own Olympus E-10 and some had the new Nikon D1X, which is quite possibly the greatest digital camera to ever exist.

    Anyway, most had 256 MB CF cards or in the case of the Canon digitals, several GB PCMCIA drives which could hold thousands of full quality, often times RAW (uncompressed) pictures. Those with CF cards could hold about 40 raw pictures per CF, or around 200 1/2.8 JPEGs (still very high quality). The best part of all is we could share the cards, so if one didn't need 50 MB on their card and someone else did, we could use their card. Try doing that with a half exposed roll of film.

    Most of us shot in high quality JPEG, because you couldn't tell the difference between that and raw if you didn't magnify the image 5x. This saved space, which is still valuable, and affored us the quality we needed for front page spreads.

    When we would finish a shoot, we would save all the digital images on CD. The film guys, on the other hand, would throw away the negatives that didn't make the cut. There was simply no place to put them and the care and cost of chemicals required to maintain them was too expensive. However, all our images were backed up on CDs and filed in a safe. Pure, digital copies of our work. In other cases we would have a laptop on site and would simply slide our CF in with a PCMCIA adapter and in 5 minutes have 200 more shots ready.

    I think the situation this woman speaks of is that like the early days of digital, when you were limited to $250 32 MB cards. However, today a 320 MB CompactFlash card can be had for under $100, and a 1 GB micro-drive is around $400. I rarely think a photographer brings enough film for 3500+ pictures on one shoot, which one could fit on a microdrive with a small laptop (over 100 roles of film). Plus, the 2 GB and 5 GB microdrive versions are just on the horizon, offering even more on field capacity.

    In fact, if anything, the cheapness of digital makes photographers take more pictures. Lets not forget the time factor. There is NO developing, no scanning, etc. You can take a laptop and even transfer the images back by modem if needed, or plug into the nearest network. And today, when all layout is done on computers, this just makes sense.

    I think this woman tried digital when it was in its infancy and backed away from it and now has a film only attitude. Well, she should really try the Nikon D1X SLR and a 1 GB microdrive. I think she'll be leaving film for good when she gets some of the images from that camera (which technically has greater resolution and dynamic range than a 35 MM negative).

    Even my Olympus E-10, a prosumer model, rivals film to the point where the images from the camera are sharper than any scans I can get from a 35 MM negative.

    Also, there was something mentioned about the durability of film vs. digital. Well, may I remind you that film cannot be kept in hot temperatures. This is why people refrigerate their film (before and after exposure). Digital has no problems in hot weather, albeit the CCD does produce more noise when the temperature rises, it doesn't completly fade away the picture like film would. In the cold, dew forms on film negatives and moisture damage is a huge problem. With digital this isn't a problem at all, and most CCDs perform better in the cold.

    The best part about digital is that its a growing field. It follows Moore's law, and in five years we could be looking at over 20 mega-pixels of resolution at all types of ISOs (film has only one ISO while the D1X can go from 100-800 by pressing a button), greater than medium format and rivaling large format. This is greater resolution than 35 MM will ever be able to provide.

    All through that women's article I find it odd no one has mentioned she is attacking digital archival. She seems to think digital will reduce the nation's photographic libraries, when other mediums, such as print, etc. have been the poster child for digital archival and everyone is so glad the old days of microfilm and paper are over. In fact, digital archival for photographs is easily suited for the task. It's much easier to query a database for "September 11th 2nd Plane" than look through an entire seleve of negatives, or go through a convoluted filing system. When I worked, all digital images would have to have a title, a description, where it was taken, and the identity of anyone pictured (if not a crowd shot). This is what we would do after we get back. The embedded EXIF data in the image, as recorded by the camera, took care of the date, ISO, shutter speed, and other technical information (again, not present with film). This would then go onto an online storage and retreival system, and backed up on CD.

    Now as for being an on-site editor, as someone mentioned, and having different goals, this just simply isn't true. An editor and a photographer both have the same goal: getting a good picture. When the photographer arrives back, often times there simply are no *really* good pictures to choose from (you know the feeling of "This one's good enough, go with it."). However, with digital's instant preview of a captured image, a photographer can instantly gauge his efforts and dynamically adjust his shooting style based upon his output. He can progressivly work to attain a greater image by building upon the one he just took, which is impossible with film. This is what we did at an event, and since we were editing on site, we had the benefit to go and take more pictures. Back in the film room with a magnifying glass you are only limited to the selection of what was took -- in many cases that one picture you "had in mind" was lost forever. However at the scene we have the benefit of doing a reshoot without even having to step foot in a darkroom.

    My only current complaint with digital is the time factor. Film is still faster at taking images, while digital sometimes makes you wait while saving and compressing images. This is a temporary problem which will soon be corrected as embedded processors get faster and portable storage write speeds increase. Still, this is one area where film wins. Still though, the two and three second waits of today's professional models are getting very close to what film is capable of and burst mode on many cameras gives good results, especially when you're in the middle of a press mob and you only have a few seconds to snap that picture of your subject -- every frame per second counts.

    Now, it seems, film is nearing death and the last survivors are clinging onto it like one would with a sick family member. Digital is here to stay, is growing, and no matter what arguments that woman seems to claim, it's the new way for all types of photography. I sent her an e-mail with a link to the D1X and a copy of this post. I think she's just about to change her mind...

  • One story sums it up (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cascadefx ( 174894 ) <morlockhq&gmail,com> on Wednesday October 31, 2001 @09:45AM (#2502160) Journal
    There is a great story at the end of the PBS series American Photography: A Century of Images. It concerns the infamous Monica Lewinski photograph that "proved" that she had met and known the President to some degree before his denials. It was the one of the two hugging at some Whitehouse event. You probably saw it on the cover of Time (or was it Newsweek?).

    Anyway, on the last tape of the series, they interview the photographer who took that photo. He is a crusty sort who insists on using real film and scoffs at digital and the story of the picture fixes his argument, he believes.

    When the whole Monica-gate thing went down, he remembered seeing her somewhere before. So he hired an assistant to pour over his contact sheets until she found that picture. Which turned out to be pretty important and earned him a pretty penny in the process.

    What he wonders is where all the other pictures are? At the same event there were about 50 other photographers taking the same picture at the same time out of the press area. No one else stepped forward before or since. The difference is that all of those photographers use digital almost exclusively and probably cleared off the photo from their hard drives to make way for potentially more "important" pictures.

    You have to consider that a professional photographer in that setting may burn through 8 to 10 rolls of film a day. Thats on the order of 240 to 300 high res pictures a day. You may take over 1000 pictures a week. I don't care how big your hard drive is, you're not going to be able to store everything you take digitally. In my mind, she has a point.

    The problem is that history gains relevance through context. That context shifts as new information and associations are made. Some "meaningless" photo today could be catching the future's savior or destroyer. You can't make that judgement until some n day in the future.

    Final side note... I found the Lewinski photo story funny considering the big deal made about a similar photo of Clinton (as a boy) meeting Kennedy. The relevance had to wait 20 years to show itself.

"The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception a neccessity." - Oscar Wilde