Much otherwise good evidence is lost because of improper handling after the fact. This article will address the proper means of filing and handling your digital images and getting them out where they can be studied or viewed online.
To begin with this essay does not cover the actual making of the image. It is assumed at the outset you have used a good camera and the highest resolution and quality settings on it. We're going to cover what to do with the image after you get it home. Let's assume you captured a fantastic full body apparition setting by the flower pot on your patio. So what do you do?
Right now you have only the original on the flash card in the camera. The first step is to get a backup copy of the picture. If you are one of the few whose high end camera provides the option for the original RAW image file, use that format for backup of the original. But since most of us use cameras which produce JPG images we will use that for our discussion. Determine a destination folder for the picture on your computer. Then, simply transfer the image from the flash card to this folder in the computer. Use the COPY, not the MOVE Option. Sounds simple, but quite a few people have lost images in the transfer operation. By using COPY, if yours fails you still have the original available for a second try. The MOVE Option deletes the original from the flash card.
Once you get the file transferred you can view it on the computer. Take a look to verify it is properly saved. If so, the next step is dealing with its filename. Most cameras use a numeric system based on the number of pictures made. Something like "IMG2376.JPG" This is not very descriptive. better to rename it something more relevant, such as "Flower_Pot_Ghost.JPG". You can call it whatever you want, but two things need mentioned here. First, the extension MUST be the same as the original file. If it is a JPG, the extension must remain JPG. If some other format, the extension must remain the same as it started out. Second, and this is only a suggestion. Some early Operating Systems had problems with blank spaces in filenames. This has largely been corrected, but I still prefer to never leave a blank space between words. Instead of a space I use the underscore to separate them. Of course just as always, the file extension is separated from the name by a period.
Once the file is safely on your computer you can delete it from your flash card or camera. You can also make copies of the computer file as you wish from the renamed computer file to share or for additional backup using the COPY Option.
Sharing the Image for Study
Many want to post their evidence online, either to Facebook or a forum site. This raises a couple issues. The main problem is a result of file size. Take a look at the file list of images or right click on the image and view its properties. Most JPG images from a digital camera are about 2- 4 meg in size. If you have a RAW or high quality image it could be much bigger. In any event a file of this size is usually not well supported by some websites. For example, Facebook compresses ALL images submitted. This renders them useless as evidence. Thus Facebook, until they change their policy, is worthless as a site to evaluate photographic evidence. You need a site which allows the image to be saved in its original format. Three options exist for this.
First, there are photo sharing and hosting sites online that will store your image in its original form. I won't list any here simply because their policies change at times and to list one today might be wrong tomorrow. Instead I will outline a simple test you can do at any such site to determine if they compress files.
Start by choosing a photo hosting site. You will probably have to register and set up an account. Do so. Then, upload a picture for evaluation. It should be a fairly large JPG image, 4 - 5 Meg or greater. Once the picture is uploaded, close, then reopen the page to view it. Right click on the image to open the Options window. Choose "Save target As", or "Save to your computer". Download the picture into a temporary folder. When done, view the filename in the temporary folder. Compare the file size with the original you uploaded. They should be the same, or very close. If the downloaded file is substantially smaller, compression occurred. Find another website to host your pictures!
Another thing to consider, since this is the site anyone who evaluates your image will have to access, make sure the pictures can be easily viewed by all. Those who do photo analysis will not register or jump through a lot of hoops simply for the privilege of viewing your image! Also, some photo sites block the ability to download an image, instead requiring you view it at their website. If this one does, you'll need another host site. Anyone who analyzes images MUST have the ability to download an uncompressed copy of the original if they are to complete their work.
A second, preferred option for those who have a website of their own or their group, is to simply store it as a blind link on that site. To do that just upload it to the website host making note of the entire URL including the filename and any sub folders. Then all they need to do is put a link to the picture in the post. The analyst can go there and pull down a copy for study exactly as you uploaded it.
Photos saved using either of these methods can be studied in depth. There is a third method, but it doesn't permit public sharing. That is to simply e-mail a copy of the image as an attached file to the recipient. Keep in mind though, some free e-mail accounts impose strict limits on attached file sizes, although most serious analysts have long since moved beyond free e-mail and those limitations.
Sharing the Image among Friends.
This is much simpler. For this purpose the image may be altered or compressed. Of course the downside here is that any image so changed cannot be validated or seriously researched. This type of image may also be sent along as a supplement with an original where you wish to point out a particular detail. For this level just use whatever format the host site requires. Even the Facebook Wall Images are suitable here.
You can also change formats and reduce file size when you are only sharing among friends. But when you do this you should also change the filename to reflect the change. For instance, if you are cropping the original image we discussed above you might name it something like "Flower_Pot_Ghost_cropped.JPG" or if the size is reduced "Flower_Pot_Ghost_reduced.JPG". This clearly shows anyone viewing it that the copy is not original and that a better quality copy may be available for study if requested.
What About Enhancing a Picture?
The original must NEVER be altered or enhanced in any way. Otherwise it is unsuitable for study. The EXIF data will be lost and any credibility destroyed. If your image is difficult to see there is a proper way to point it out to the analyst. Provide two copies, the first is original as stated above. The second may be an enhanced version clearly indicated as to what was done to enhance it. For instance you may take a reduced quality copy and circle or otherwise mark it to point out something. Rename it to designate what alteration was done, such as "Flower_Pot_Ghost_marked.JPG". This can be sent to the analyst, along with a copy of the original. The analyst will use the original for study while viewing the marked copy to identify the area in question.
Photo analysis often requires various enhancements to obtain clearer images. But by keeping the original intact the processes to be applied will be determined by whoever is doing the work. This leaves the full set of tools available as he sees fit to use them. If you alter the picture before he gets it he has no way to undo what you did. It becomes a waste of time to try to work with such a picture. Besides, if you are dealing with a serious photo analyst he probably has better tools for that job than you do anyway. why do his work for him?
A Word About EXIF Data.
One of the most important pieces of data with a picture is the camera setting used. In the days of film it was common to record shutter speed, F-Stop settings, ASA rating, flash used, etc. on any picture. Today, digital cameras, even those automated point and shoot cameras are no different. The nice thing is that most digital cameras, even cell phones, record the settings used as a part of every picture. This is done in the Exchangeable Image File (EXIF Data file). Anyone doing photo analysis has a reader which can extract this data file and use the data to help identify certain characteristics in the picture. A picture lacking this data is generally assumed to be altered since this data is destroyed by most enhancing techniques. Most analysts won't waste their time if the EXIF Data is missing or altered. This is another reason the original must be available for study.
If you would like to see what is contained in the EXIF data there are readers you can install on your computer that allow you to view this data. I have posted another topic, EXIF Data Explained on this site that provides a line by line description of many EXIF data fields.
Keeping the above points when you work with your image files will ensure they are not corrupted by the file handling process. They will be capable of being properly studied under laboratory conditions.