The Other Half of Digital Photography - Part 1

Everyone talks about digital photography and all the items that go along with the camera, but there's usually something people forget to talk about, or don't even think about. That would be your computer. It's the other half of digital photography where most of the action takes place once the picture has been taken. Digital photos are cheap to take and most of us take a lot of them. Copying and deleting all of these pictures to and from your hard drive over and over again can have a negative impact on your work by slowing things down. Since I'm a computer geek by trade, I'm going to tell you how to keep your computer running smoothly so your digital darkroom will always perform as it should. I'll try to keep this subject as simple as possible, so please excuse me if I start rambling off in gibberish.

Most people that I know are just happy that they are able to copy their pictures from their camera to their computer. They don't understand the whole process, but they know how to do it. That's why they're happy. They copy the pictures over to their computer, look at them, delete the ones they don't want and probably get the others developed. If they're tight on hard drive space, maybe they'll make a CD of all the photos and delete them from the hard drive. With so many large hard drives out there in this day and age, most will just leave the pictures on their hard drives until it comes time to clean house or the computer crashes. If any of this sounds like you, then please read on, for I'm about to tell you something truly amazing.

Rinse, lather, repeat. We've all seen this on the back of shampoo bottles, but how many people actually do the "repeat" when washing their hair?? In any case, the same thing basically happens with your habits on a computer, except in this case, the repeat part holds true. You do the same thing over and over, time and time again. That is moving, copying, deleting, opening, and saving files. I don't want to bore you to death with in depth step by step details on how a hard drive operates or how files are saved. The whole point of this is to explain, without speaking GEEK as my wife would say, how your computer gets slow with time and how to correct this. By copying files (pictures in this case) onto your computer, deleting them, opening and saving them or just moving files around on your computer, will slow your computer down over time. Most people don't notice it right away as it takes time for the stress on the hard drive to start taking its toll. Just knowing that saving, moving and deleting files can slow your computer down over time is all you really need to know at this point.

Here's the "truly amazing" thing I wanted to talk about, which is well known to all computer geeks. There are two simple tools that exist on all computers running Windows. I'm sure there may be equivalent programs on a Macintosh, but since my main experience has been with, unfortunately, Windows operating systems, that's what I'm going to tell you about. What are the two tools? They're called Scandisk and Defrag. While not the greatest tools ever developed, they do what they're supposed to do....the majority of the time. (I'll get into the "majority" part a little later.)

Both scandisk and defrag should be run on a monthly basis (at least). If your saving or deleting habits are more frequent, then these two tools should be run more often. Scandisk is a program that will scan your entire hard drive for problems and will even correct them if some are found. This can save you a lot of hassles if your hard drive has problems before those problems really pose a serious threat. What scandisk does is scan for possible bad sectors, or more general, corruption. Corruption on a hard drive can lead to a computer crash. So, this program in itself is a good thing to run every month, or more if your home/office experiences frequent power outages or electrical storms. Once again, I'm not going to get into all the possible reasons that can lead to corrupt hard drives, but know that this tool should be run at least once a month.

Now for the speed part. Defrag, simply put, is a program that will put all your files back together again so that when you go to open, or run them, they will open up or run much faster. Keep in mind that I'm not just discussing digital photos at this point. Your operating system and programs that you run have files all over the hard drive and can really benefit from running this tool. Over time, your files will get fragmented all over your hard drive. When you go to open up a particular file, it may exist in three or more different areas on your hard drive. Now, you may be thinking: how can this be? It's one file. While this may be correct, when you save a file, the computer will begin saving the file in the first open space it can find on a hard drive. It may not be able to save all of your file in that open space and will continue to the next open space on the hard drive. An open space can literally be located anywhere on your hard drive in the beginning, middle, at the end, or in tiny pieces in between any of those three areas. Basically, if you go to open up a photo, document, etc., it could be located in tiny pieces all over your hard drive making it take longer to locate every piece to open it up. My point is, this is how your files will get fragmented. Which leads me back to the beginning of this article. Moving, deleting, saving files can create open spaces throughout your hard drive, leaving gaps that when you save, creates pieces of your files throughout your hard drive.

Ok, if I haven't lost anyone yet, here comes the cool part - running the programs. There are at least two common places where these tools can be found at. The most common spot is listed first.

#1 - Click Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools.

#2 - Double click "My Computer". RIGHT click on the hard drive you want to run these tools on and go to properties. You should see a "Tools" tab at the top.

Mileage may vary where you can find these two tools, depending on your operating system. On Windows 9x systems, you can locate them in both areas. Windows XP users will have to use #2 above to locate Scandisk, which is actually called Error-Checking. On Windows XP, after choosing Error-Checking, you will have to reboot your system for this to run. Windows NT users do not have these tools available to them, because upon releasing Windows NT, Bill Gates claimed that the files never get fragmented. Yeah right! Never fear though, you can find tools that work for you at SysInternals called Contig and PageDefrag. Both work wonders on Windows NT.

When running these tools, always run Scandisk first. When that's done, then run Defrag. If you've never ran Defrag, you might want to start this before going to bed. It can take a few hours if you have a large hard drive and especially if it's really fragmented. If you are not running Windows NT, skip to the next paragraph now. If you're using the tools from SysInternals, run PageDefrag, reboot, then run Contig to finish everything up. Contig does not have a GUI (graphical user interface) so you will need to run it from DOS. Copy the program to C:\Windows if you like, then click Start, Run, type in CMD or COMMAND and click Run. This will put you in a DOS window. Then just type CONTIG -q -s c:\*.* and this will run contig in quiet mode. Leave out the -q and you will get to see all of the files it's working on when it runs.

Ok, now to talk about Defrag running the "majority" of the time. Anyone that has ran this tool before will know that it will start, then stop and start over again. After 10 tries, it stops altogether. The simplest way to fix this issue is to exit out of programs that monitor or make changes to the hard drive before running Defrag. It's really simple to do this. If you have an anti-virus program such as Norton or Mcafee running, exit out of it. Basically, anything that you see listed down by your clock window, you'll want to right click on each icon, and then choose Exit. Turn off your screen saver too. This can sometimes affect Defrag as well. Now you should be able to run Defrag without any issues.

I think I've written enough already to help you speed up the "other half" of digital photography. Are these two tools "truly amazing?" Not really. The truly amazing part is that these two programs are the simplest to run, yet only your local computer guru knows about them and nobody else seems to care except when their computer starts to slow down. It's amazing to me that whenever I get called upon to check out a computer that's running slow, these programs have either never been run before or it's been a year or two since their last use. Once I run these two utilities, it usually makes a huge difference.

In Part II I'm going to tell you about a few other programs you can finish everything up with, that will keep your computer running in tip top shape. Until then, Happy Defragging!