Photo Of The Day: Monks, Monkeys And A Snake Charmer

This Photo of the Day, titled “Monkeys, Monks, and a Snake Charmer is Today’s Virtualvacay #srilanka,” comes from Gadling Flickr pool member and travel photographer Jen Pollack Bianco.

On Flickr as MyLifesATrip, and hosting a website of the same name, Bianco has also graced the pages of Gadling with some helpful tips on travel photography.

This photo is timely right now as Sinhala Ravaya, a Sinhalese Buddhist pressure group, staged a march this week to protest the repeated attacks against Buddhist monks in Tamil Nadu. Here, we see a different scene depicted. Bianco’s work depicts snake charming, the practice of pretending to hypnotize a snake by playing an instrument.

In addition to the Gadling pool, this photo appears in an interesting Flickr set called A Picture Per Day, which we see others mimic on Flickr, Tumblr, Instagram and other photo-sharing venues too.

It’s a way of sharing our lives with, literally, a snapshot of what is going on with us at any given point in time; what we see or do that can bring us closer to friends and family that may be far away.

Sound like a good idea? Your photos don’t have to be of some iconic destination. After all, how many of us are able to do that day in and day out?

My best friend has been doing this for a couple years now. Including photos of a beautiful sunset while stuck in traffic on the way home from work, a flower blooming in her front yard or some other image she captures going about a day.

Some share these with the world or include only family and friends.

Want to be featured? Upload your best shots to the Gadling Group Pool on Flickr. Several times a week we choose our favorite images from the pool as a Photo of the Day.

Tips for being featured: add a caption describing the image and (better yet) your personal experience when capturing it, details of the photography gear used and any tips you might have for others wanting to emulate your work.

Now, you can also submit photos through Instagram; just mention @GadlingTravel and use the hashtag #gadling when posting your images.

[Photo Credits Flickr user MyLifesATrip]

Storing Travel Photos, Let Us Count The Ways

In the olden days of storing travel photos when hard drive memory filled up, travelers turned to a variety of external storage devices to manage the shots they had take along the way. Zip Drives, Memory Sticks, DVDs and other forms of storage have all had their day. Today, a variety of storage devices, cloud storage like Google Drive and even social media oriented storage options offer more choices than ever. But which is right for you? Let’s take a look at the options available right now.

External Hard Drives
External hard drives came down in price and up in storage – going from over $500 for a few
Gigabytes (GB) down to about $100 for a Terabyte (TB) of storage – and still offer an affordable option. iPhone users can turn to Apple’s Time Capsule with continuous backup of their Macs and 2 or 3TB of storage. Western Digital, among other manufacturers, offers up to 16TB of storage. Nice to know: lots of space for storing travel photos, but not convenient to take on the road.

Flash Drives
Moving and sharing photos became easier too with flash drives like
Kingston’s 16GB model for around $20, which works for many travelers who might later move that 16GB of photos to another source when travel is complete. Eco-friendly flash drives, too, have been popular with business, replacing brochures and packets of printed information.

Cloud Storage
Remote cloud storing travel photos from a variety of sources is where we are right now and using one or more services offers some distinct advantages.

First, if our hardware device is lost or stolen, all our digital photos are not. Safe and secure in the cloud, we can access them from anywhere in the world. Most travelers can store a huge number of photos for free from a variety of sources like Google Drive, a file and synchronization service that rolled out last April.

Google Drive gives users 5GB of storage free, with more available for a fee – 25GB runs $2.49 a month by subscription and storage can be up to 2TB in size. Google Drive is also now the home of GoogleDocs, a suite of productivity applications offering sharing and collaboration of documents, spreadsheets and presentations too.

But is cloud storage of travel photos safe?

The short answer: yes.

“Photos are safer when stored on line,” says Suzanne Kantra from Techlicious in a USA Today article, adding “files are encrypted on most major cloud storage sites” and “unless you are a celebrity, your family photos are only valuable to you,” concluding that “most of our photos aren’t worth a hacker’s time and effort.”

Other cloud-oriented services like Flickr offer a great deal of storage for free then charge a fee for premium accounts with more storage. But using a variety of sources can eliminate the fees and provide some redundancy for critical shots, which can be stored on multiple sites for the most severe skeptics.

Social Clouds
Many travelers choose to shoot and upload on the go to social sites like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest that share their journey as it unfolds.
HipGeo is a convenient journaling app that enables travelers to keep track of what they saw and where they saw it. Users then share their travels and use what other people share to enhance their own travel experiences.

In a new release, HipGeo instantly transforms all those elements into virtual journals that can then be automatically shared a variety of ways. A new one, ThisLife, allows users to store 1000 photos and uses geotagging to create a timeline of all photos uploaded, making finding them easier. ThisLife wants to be the permanent home for all our photos

Regardless of what device or cloud storage service we use, there are a bunch to choose from so look for one that seems like it will be good in the future too. I used Webshots for years but compared to other options today, I find it clumsy and difficult to use. At the time it was one of the few choices available, but today there are so many to choose from that picking the right one for your needs is critical.

Facebook, for example, is limited to tagging, likes and comments. If users want to order prints or search for photos, they are out of luck. Probably of more importance, what happens when Facebook is not their primary place to go. Let’s not forget MySpace right? Thinking that way, a service that is totally photo-focused like Flickr, Snapfish or Picassa might be the best choice.

Each individual traveler’s photo storage decision might depend on the volume of photos we are talking about too. For most non-professional photographers, just regular people who travel, a good free cloud-based service will probably be just fine. For mega-users, premium cloud storage sites like SmugMug, PhotoShelter or ZenFolio might be better.

Today there are so many options to choose from when storing travel photos that travelers can surely find one that will work for them now and in the future. Check CNET’s “Google Drive is not for everyone, so try these alternatives or a variety of articles from our friends at Engadget about photo storing for more information.

[Flickr photo by Gilderic Photography]

Cherish your photos – how to protect and preserve your digital memories

Very little in the 189 year old world of photography has evolved as quickly as the transition to digital. Twenty years ago, there were no consumer grade digital cameras on the market and even during the 90’s, digital photography had a very slow uptake from consumers, mainly due to the insane cost and poor quality of digital cameras.

In just 9 years, the entire film camera market has virtually disappeared. Iconic brands like Polaroid stopped making their cameras, and the major players in good old film photography have all moved to Digital, with just a handful of them still selling small amounts of the products that made them famous.
With this transition, we’ve also completely changed the way we make, store and publish our photos. Ten years ago, getting your hands on your photos involved a trip to the local 1-hour store, or dropping them off in an envelope at the drugstore. Nowadays, many people don’t even bother making physical prints, and just upload them to their photo hosting site of choice or store them on their computer.

The move to digital photography also opens up a bunch of new ways things can go wrong – with old fashioned film, a decent photo developer could pop the film in a dark box, open it up, and in the worst case scenario, you’d lose a couple of shots. Nowadays, digital usually means you either have your photos, or you don’t.

In this article, I’ll go over some basic ways to protect, preserve and publish your photos, and look at products that can help keep your photos safe.

The risks

The risks involved in dealing with digital photos are real – any time you store photos on digital media, something can go wrong. This could be as simple as physically losing the storage card, or as aggravating as some kind of data corruption deleting all your photos.

Thankfully, current digital storage methods are quite fail-safe, but there are still things that can go wrong, though more often than not, you can prevent them with a couple of simple measures.

The basics of data protection – part 1 – your memory card

When it comes to data storage, you need to know how things can go wrong:

  1. Physically losing a storage card
  2. Data corruption on a storage card
  3. Physical damage to a storage card
  4. Loss or damage to your camera
  5. Loss of data stored on your computer

Preventing physical damage is simple- always take good care of your cards. If you use multiple cards, number them, but use a marker instead of sticker, or you may find your card becoming stuck in your camera. If you are using multiple cards on a single trip (and you should, more on that later), invest in a decent card storage solution.

Staying away from data corruption is slightly tougher, as you have very little control over what happens to all those 1’s and 0’s being sent to your card. The best way to prevent data loss is simple – invest in a good card.

Don’t be tempted to settle for one of those cheap cards at the local supercenter or grocery store. This is an investment that should last for years – so stick to brands geared towards professional users like Sandisk and Lexar.

Yes – their cards are probably 2-3 times more expensive than other brands, but this is one product you won’t want to be cheap with. When buying a memory card, you’ll need to pay attention to two other things – the size and the class.

The size is a simple one – pick a good balance between the number of photos you want to store, and how much you’ll be hurt if you lose the card. A 16GB card is awesome, and will store a weeks worth of photos, but losing it also means you’ll lose a weeks worth of photos.

A simple chart showing how many photos a card can store can be found here. I use 4GB and 8GB cards, but tend to only fill them about 50%, swapping them out after I’ve shot about 200 photos, or when I’ve just finished shooting stuff I really don’t want to lose.

Picking the “class” of the card is tougher. The class rating is a small number usually printed on the label, which describes the maximum speed the card can sustain. The higher the number, the better the speed. On SD and SDHC cards, a class 4 card is slower than the current fastest rating, class 6. Some cards also print the actual speed on the label, so pay attention to what you are buying.

Especially if you plan to use the card with (HD) movie mode, you’ll need the speed. If you use your camera with a slow card that can’t keep up, you may run into write errors, or failed photos/videos.

The quality of the card also comes into play – a poor quality card will eventually break. I’ve had cards where the plastic shell split open, and cards with damaged contacts. One other advantage of a good card is good warranty – should something go wrong, the manufacturer of a good quality card will be there to help you.

When handling your card, make sure to treat it according to the user manual of your camera; never pull the card out when the camera is still writing to it, and always make sure you “unmount” your card if you used it in your computer.

The basics of data protection – part 2 – photo handling

Think of your photo files not just as files, but as memories. When the time comes to transfer them from your card to your PC, use a good quality card reader – once again, it pays to invest in something decent. If you invested in a pricey memory card, it doesn’t make sense to stick it in a $5 reader to transfer the files.

The easiest way to transfer files is of course to use your camera when connected to your PC. As you copy your files, start indexing them right away. Most cameras come with some kind of transfer/index software, but I highly recommend downloading Picasa (made by Google). This free application makes the transfer process as smooth as possible, and once all your photos are indexed, finding them is a breeze. In addition to this, Picasa can help send your photos to an online storage service.

The basics of data protection – part 3 – become a paranoid nutjob

Photos are just bits and bytes, and storage space is cheap. This combination is perfect for becoming a bit of a nutjob. If you are on vacation, don’t settle for storing your photos on a memory card in your purse – get those photos on a hard drive or online service as soon as you can. In my personal setup, I’ll have THREE copies of all my photos stored, even before I arrive back home from a trip.

One copy is on the memory card. I never ever format a memory card when I am on a trip, and I always carry enough spare cards to store everything I plan to shoot.

A second copy goes onto a laptop as soon as I reach my hotel, and a third copy is on an external storage drive (or uploaded if the hotel Internet is speedy enough).

Is this overkill? You bet! Does this make me a paranoid nutjob? You bet! Have I ever lost any digital photos with this method? Nope.

Yes – I agree that my method looks silly, but by safeguarding my files, I don’t run the risk of losing anything. It doesn’t matter if you are not a professional photographer, those memories can’t be recreated if you lose them.

Of course, having three copies of photos is useless if you store the three copies in one place – so I usually keep my SD card holder in my jacket, my laptop in my laptop bag, and my external drive in a second piece of luggage.

The basics of data protection – part 4 – gadgets are your best friend

When it comes to safeguarding your photos, you are not alone. There is an entire industry that revolves around selling cool gadgets with the sole purpose of keeping your stuff safe. Of course, not every backup method requires a gadget, the easiest way to create backups of your photos is to record them to a CD or DVD, just keep in mind that recordable optical media is not going to be a permanent solution – some discs only have a shelf life of 5-10 years. My four favorite tried and tested gadget solutions are:

  • External storage device
  • Dedicated photo storage device
  • Eye-Fi Wireless memory card
  • Smugmug photo hosting site

External storage device

The External storage device is just that – an external hard drive (or USB memory key). They are simple, cheap and reliable.

An 80GB portable hard drive can be found for as little as $40, so there really is no reason to ignore them. Their USB connections are speedy, and you’ll be able to copy all the photos off your laptop onto a drive in about 5 minutes. Since they are designed to be portable, they can also survive a bit of bumping around, though the additional investment in a carrying case is worthwhile.

Dedicated photo storage device

Dedicated photo storage devices are what you buy when you take things to the next level. Not everyone wants to travel with their laptop, despite the recent trend towards smaller machines.

Products like the Epson P-6000 are designed for (semi) professional photographers. This $600 product has a 4″ LCD screen and card slots for SD and Compact Flash cards. Simply turn the device on, pop a card in, and start the backup procedure. The Epson is very fast – an 8GB memory card is fully transferred in about 4 minutes.

Once copied, you can view, index and even edit photos, plus the device doubles as a media player. Once you arrive back home, you simply plug the P-6000 into your PC, and transfer all your photos. I’ll post a full review of this amazing little device next week.

If $600 is out of your league, don’t worry – basic photo storage devices start at about $150.

Eye-Fi Wireless memory card

Next in my gadget lineup, is the Eye-Fi Wireless memory card. The concept is simple – take a normal SD memory card, and add a WiFi interface.

The result is a memory card that can send its photos directly to your computer, or a whole variety of photo hosting sites. Imagine taking a photo, then walking up to a WiFi hotspot – your camera instantly sends all the photos you made directly to Flickr, Smugmug or one of 30 other sites, all without any user intervention. When it starts transferring, you can even get an email on your phone.

The Eye-Fi cards start at just $59.95 for a basic card (for sending photos to your own PC), up to $119 for a card with geotagging (which adds your location embedded in each photo file).

Smugmug photo hosting site

The final tool in my photo storage arsenal is a service instead of a physical product. For years, I’ve relied on Smugmug for storing my photos. The service has been around since 2002, and of all the online services I reviewed, it is quite simply the best. They provide professional (and friendly) service, charge just $39.95/year for unlimited storage and their interface is easy to use, yet very powerful.

Uploading to Smugmug is easy, and they offer a variety of tools for PC and Mac users, as well as a nice iPhone application.

One other reason I really like Smugmug is their security – I can pick who can see my photos, on an album level. For a fee, I can even have them mail me a DVD backup of every single photo I have stored with them, which is perfect if I ever lose my files at home.

Final thoughts

My tips may seem like overkill, and they are by no means the perfect solution for everyone. Even if you only stick to the most basic tip (protecting your memory cards), you’ll be safer than doing nothing.

How much effort (and money) you put into safeguarding your photos all depends on how important those photos are to you. You don’t need to be a professional photographer on an assignment to cherish your photos. Even a $150 photo storage device can mean the difference between having your photos, and losing them.

That said, if all you do is make photos of the Eiffel tower and other objects photographed by millions of others each year, losing them won’t be too much of a disaster.

DPHOTO: Online Photo Sharing

Sometime long ago when I first discovered the amazing Escape Lab / Route photographic travelouge created by one guy to share his worldwide experiences with friends and family back home, I blogged about it here on Gadling and now I will happily blog about it again. I was blown away by the 3D, 2D, and flat interface of the project. Easy to navigate through and stocked with high quality shots from damn near everywhere I could begin to dream about, I remember feeling jealous. Not from the travels abroad, but from the advanced nature of his online photo album. I wanted one just like or something close.

Thankfully, after what looks like a while in the making, the same dude brings us DPHOTO, an online photo sharing site. I know many of us are already big fans of Flickr and I am by no means trying to start a revolution or move over to DPHOTO, but I promise you it’s worth a look. The high-speed photo uploading of multiple pictures is one of the more impressive features. The album also looks a bit more elegant and sleek than many others I’ve seen. Last night, I set-up an album of my own and was sad to find I exceeded the trial size limit with my shots from across the country, but when more storage space becomes available I’m almost positive it will be the next big deal in online photo sharing.