This week's column by Ctein
One of the complaints I've seen raised about Adobe's new subscription-based license for Photoshop is that if you fail to keep up your subscription, years of your work will become unavailable to you. Which brings to my mind two questions:
1) Are you completely out of your friggin' mind?
2) If not, what unmitigated fool ever managed to convince you that Photoshop Document (.PSD, hereinafter rendered without the "dot") files were an appropriate way to be archiving your work?!
PSD's should not be considered an appropriate format for archiving. Especially not layered PSDs. Especially, especially not layered PSDs that include active elements like un-rendered type or smart filters or objects. No way, no how.
There is no guarantee that previous versions of Photoshop can open your current work product correctly. Equally, there is no guarantee that future versions will be able to open it correctly, or at least in exactly the same form it is now. Filter algorithms change. Type rendering changes. Just to give two examples. These complex structures you're building right now? They're intermediate work product, highly dependent upon the platform you're interpreting them with. It is nice and convenient when they endure; God knows, I take advantage of that. But they are not an archival format. There is no guarantee you will be able to read them in the future in the same way.
It's not just about a subscription-based license. What happens when Adobe goes out of business? It will. Very few companies and product lines of any sort make it to the age of 50. Only a minuscule number will make it to 100. None of them are immortal. Some of you reading this will be around and still making photographs when Adobe disappears.
Personally, I'm hoping it doesn't happen in my lifetime, and not 'cause I'm hoping for short life. But it will happen.
If you're treating these fragile and temporal constructs as your long-term archives, you're just asking for trouble.
There's an easy way out of this. So easy, in fact, that no one can be excused for not implementing it. It doesn't take terribly long or very much money, even for a very large base of PSD files. Which means that even if you don't do it now, like you should, you can do it when the time comes that you no longer feel able or willing to support a Photoshop subscription.
Here's the scheme:
Grab yourself a spare coupla-terabyte hard drive. Don't have one at hand? Go spend $100. Seriously, this is your "life's work" you're talking about; if it ain't worth that much to you, you've got nothing to whine about. Besides, you know you'll just need the new space in the next year, anyway. Admit it. Nature abhors an empty hard drive
Go through your existing inventory of work and copy anything with a .PSD extension to that drive. Specific details depend on exactly what directory structures and naming conventions you use for your work. You can figure it out; it is definitely not rocket science. If this takes you more than a day, no matter how large and complex your inventory is, I'll be amazed. Most of your time will be spent waiting for hundreds of gigabytes of data to get copied over.
Open up one of the files in Photoshop and create an action that does the following—first it flattens the file and second it saves it as an uncompressed TIFF. Yes, uncompressed. Less fragile, nearly universally readable and it will be for the rest of our mortal lifetimes, barring the complete collapse of technological civilization. (In which case, honestly, the disposition of your photographs is not going to be your biggest concern.)
Now tell Photoshop to batch-process all the files on your new hard drive using that action, and let 'er rip.
Come back an indeterminate amount of time later, and now you have rendered, universally (almost) readable versions of your work in its most current final state. Archive those, according to your taste.
Oh, not quite. All of you complaining about being forced onto the upgrade treadmill so that you can read the RAW files from your newest camera? Adobe still distributes its free DNG Converter, which is kept as current as Adobe can, so you don't need the latest and greatest Lightroom or Photoshop to be able to access the files from your latest and greatest camera.
Now I'm done.
©2013 by Ctein, all rights reserved
Original contents copyright 2013 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Jack: "According to John Nack, Adobe will be offering a way to use files once you've stopped paying the monthly tax. I'll believe it when I see it."
Mitch: "One copy on one hard drive isn't enough for archiving. Hard drives always eventually fail, so you should archive to at least two drives. Ideally, a) buy the drives at different times from different manufactures so the drives and components within aren't from any of the same production runs. This will reduce the likelihood of both drives failing around the same time; b) store the drives in different places, preferably in different geographic areas. If a major natural disaster or fire destroys your home, having a second drive at a friend or family member's home in another city/state means you're much less likely to lose work."
Ed Hawco: "Well, that seems very sensible. It doesn't fully apply to me, as I don't use Photoshop. I do everything in Lightroom, where I do all my adjustments on 'virtual copies,' which are essentially another locked-into-Adobe format. (In fact, they're not even a format proper; they're just descriptions of adjustments that are applied to previews and export files).
"My big worry is that I'll reach a point where I just cannot live with Adobe anymore (I'm not far from that now). The solution is obvious: Export all of those virtual copies (or at least the important ones) to TIFF.
"I think your idea makes some people uncomfortable (wrongly) because of its apparent finality. For those of us who do this more casually than professionally, we don't necessarily want to fully 'commit' our edits. We like to think we can always go back and tweak a bit more for the next print or export. We're not always convinced we got it right, so we don't want to commit.
"It's a completely bogus worry, of course. Just because you commit to a TIFF doesn't mean you can't still tweak the virtual copy/PSD, at least until such time as the plug is pulled on the format. But we're talking about fear of commitment, not practical methods.
"After reading this I'm going to make it a project to go through my Lightroom library and commit all of the images I've tweaked as virtual copies. The nice thing about Lightroom is that I can make those committed copies part of the library, grouped with the 'originals' so it will be easy to keep track of them.
"Thanks for the kick in the pants!"