August 28, 2010

Wrong Date or Time Stamps on Photos & Videos & How To Archive Them

Hand-Made Mac Tip No. 13
Wrong Date or Time Stamps on Photos & Videos & How To Archive Them 

I was archiving some audio files today and discovered some of them had the wrong date stamp in the Finder's list view when sorted by "Date Created" so I thought I'd share this tip.

You just never know when the OS is going to bork your time/date stamp. It happens periodically and sometimes the time stamp does not transfer properly when burning files onto a disk or transferring to an external hard drive. Sometimes some of the data has become corrupted but is still perfectly useable. You can view the photo or video just fine, but the metadata – or time stamp – is wrong — REALLY wrong, like Y2K wonky! Sometimes it's the operating system, sometimes devices are not properly configured by the user, for example, in the case of a digital camera.

I discovered this when my mother-in-law got a brand new digital camera last year. She was so excited about it and started using it right away and was trying to learn about all the features as she went along. That's how I do it — manuals??! we don't need no stinking manuals!!

In our family, we always swap our camera chips/SD cards so that we all have the same collection of photos taken by each other when we get together for special occasions where all the cameras are out snapping away. This way there's a backup of everyone's precious memories all over the place — and at different ends of the country sometimes. Most all of us have a MacBook of some flavor with iPhoto so it's very quick and easy to download the photos and videos off the chips and be on our separate ways.

Right around the holidays, my mother-in-law and I were exchanging files from our camera chips. She had captured some really cute video footage of Lucian at his preschool holiday party. After I finished importing the files, I went to go view the photos and video in iPhoto but couldn't find them! I thought I was losing it. I could swear they imported properly! Usually, the newest photos and videos show up at the top because I've specified that I want it to view that way. I looked up and down, but these recent imports were no where to be found.

Luckily, I do not store my video files in iPhoto permanently. After some time I usually go back through my iPhoto library and move all of the videos to my Movies folder into the appropriate year folder. Then, I go through and manually rename the file names to the date and use a short description of what the movie clip is about. If it's a clip about the same thing, I add 01, 02, 03, etc. to the end. It's also much easier to navigate and locate clips in Front Row because they list nicely in a hierarchy by date and description. I use iPhoto to view & present photos and Front Row to view and present video.

When I archive the videos, I copy them twice. Once onto an external drive partition separate from my Time Machine backup partition. I repeat this process on another drive partitioned the same way located off site. Once I label them green, that means they've been archived twice on two separate drives and it's safe to remove them from my local hard drive on my laptop if I choose to do so to save space.

I don't bother to rename most all of my photos because I feel iPhoto does a decent job of managing everything for me and I can usually find what I'm looking for quickly by scrubbing through my Events. I'm fairly anal about it. There are some times where I may need to rename a file and for that I can use the batch feature in iPhoto or export them and do it manually in the Finder.

Now, in the case of the missing import from my mother-in-law's camera, the search feature in iPhoto is what saved the day. I was able to just type "movie" as the search term and this way it narrowed the results because I only keep a small amount of movie files in iPhoto before they get archived. I was able to locate the few movies that had been recently imported and that's when I discovered the date stamp was wrong which is what caused them to become buried in the 2009 files when I was expecting to see something in the January 2010 section at the top. It turns out, her camera was not properly formatted for the correct date nor time zone! Sometimes new cameras are formatted with the current date and time, but most times, you must set it up yourself. If you leave the date stamp on your photos where it shows up in the lower right corner, you might notice this, but that's not always on by default either.

You might not think this is a big deal, but when you're swapping digital files between family members, it helps when your camera's are synched up. Imagine five years from now, you're trying to view a collection of photos and videos of a family member's birth — or wedding and reception. You're scrolling through a beautiful slideshow but it gets confusing because the photos are out of order! The first couple of photos are in order — there's the baby getting weighed, there's the baby in grandma's arms, there's the baby — wait....why are these photos next ??— that's from the baby shower? Huh? The next few photos jump back to the hospital and then another few are from a different time. This is particularly annoying when looking through wedding photos that are out of order.

Now, imagine there are three different cameras being used on that special day. The first camera is set to the current date and time zone because the user went through the camera settings and configured it properly. The second camera was taken out of the box and never tinkered with. The third camera belongs to a family member visiting from the other side of the country where the time zone is three hours different and that camera has been configured to their local time.

Do you see what's happening here?

Many times it's just not convenient or even proper to school your 78-year-old Aunt Henrietta who barely speaks English about her fancy new gadget. You're lucky she even handed you her camera to pop out the chip so you could download it and you were able to convince her that you didn't just break her camera and no, there really isn't any film inside of it.

I have no idea why these voice memos from my iPhone did not save the correct date in the Finder listing but it's not helpful when I go looking for something and my search criteria or sorting is by date and time. Luckily the default file naming nomenclature IS date/time, albeit an ugly version of it that uses punctuation, which is why I clean up my file names removing the special characters. It's a habit from my days as a pre-press technician when I used to preflight files for printing service bureaus. Either way, I had no idea what these voice memos were about without listening to them. Now that I've renamed them, I'll know what to look for when searching later on.

This is why I take it upon myself to manually name my movie files using date format soon after the event because you never know if the data will reflect the true time stamp. I also try my best to name, tag, and comment on photos in iPhoto as much as I can and back up my iPhoto library on a regular basis. It's a practice I'd encourage you to try. It's best to try and manage the data right away rather than discovering problems with it years down the road when you no longer remember what happened and when. Maybe you won't even care, but maybe, just maybe, you or someone else will.

So now, my mother-in-law's camera is set to the correct date and time. When we swap chips, our photos are in the correct order. I can tell which ones she took versus mine because hers is a Kodak and mine is a Canon and they prefix the filenames differently. I can use the batch comment feature in iPhoto to make a note of which photos she took because I believe credit where credit is due.

I hope this may have cleared up a little bit of the mystery surrounding time and date stamps on media files and what you can do about it.

Be a thinker. Don't be afraid to tinker!