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Prepping Your Computer for Better Photo Management

is your computer ready for the onslaught of vacation photos? In our next article, we will be covering how to manage photos, but in the meantime, there is some things that you should do to get your computer ready.

RAW Codec

If you're planning to shoot RAW photos, make sure you install the RAW codec for your digital camera on any computer that you can use to view your pictures. You can download a free codec for 32-bit versions of Windows from your camera vendor’s website.

Unfortunately, if you are using 64-bit Windows, you can’t use a 32-bit codec to view your RAW photos from Windows Explorer. A popular workaround is to install the free Windows Live Photo Gallery from Microsoft (part of the Windows Live Essentials suite); it’s a 32-bit program that can use 32-bit codecs to display RAW files. If you insist on viewing RAW file thumbnails in Windows Explorer on 64-bit Windows, check with Ardfry Imaging LLC for their line of 64-bit codecs (free trials available).

Card Reader

If you’re carrying a laptop or netbook on your trip, it’s the perfect place to store and review your photos. However, if you’re still transferring photos directly from camera to computer with a USB cable, a card reader’s a better way to do it:

  • You don’t tie up your camera while transferring files.
  • You won’t run down your camera’s battery.
  • You can transfer files from one card while using another for more photos.
  • Late-model card readers are much faster than cameras for transferring files.
  • Your computer might already have a built-in card reader (Figure 4).

Figure 4 An SD (Secure Digital) memory card partially inserted into an HP laptop’s built-in card reader.

Most built-in card readers support SD (Secure Digital) cards and most other types of flash memory cards, but not all SD readers support the lookalike SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) media; check with your computer or card reader vendor for help.

If your printer has a card reader on board, it might be able to transfer pictures from your cards to the computer, although some printers’ card readers are only designed for printing direct from the card.

Photo Recovery Software

Once you fill a card with photos, your goal should be to transfer them to safekeeping as quickly as possible. If you use SD or SDHC media, here's an easy way to avoid accidentally reformatting your card before you get your pictures transferred: move the slider switch on the side of the card to the safe position. However, no matter what type of media your camera uses, there's always a chance that you might delete pictures you want, or format the wrong memory card.

If this happens to you, stop using the card and install photo recovery software on your computer. Photo recovery programs generally cost from $30-$40, and some vendors offer free trials that display what can be recovered. If you shoot in RAW mode, make sure the program you select works with your camera’s RAW files (all photo recovery programs work with JPEG files).

If you’re shopping for high-performance memory cards, Lexar Media bundles a free download of its Image Rescue 4 software with its Professional series CompactFlash233X and faster and SDHC cards.

Reading Your Way to Better Pictures

Your camera instruction manual can be dry reading, but if you’re faced with an unfamiliar situation, it can help you discover a new feature to save the day and get the photo. Field guides such as my own The Shot Doctor: the Amateur’s Guide to Great Digital Photos and camera-specific third-party books provide on-the-spot inspiration and advice to supplement your camera manual.

Protecting Your Equipment Investment

No matter how good a job you do of protecting your equipment and photos, photo equipment theft or damage could spoil your vacation. Check with your homeowners or renters insurance company for a photographic equipment rider or endorsement to protect your equipment.

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