Keeping Your System Healthy

A Short List of Maintenance Musts

by Richard Lynch

The Health of Your Computer System

Keeping your computer system healthy will keep you from getting into trouble while editing your images, and can keep you from losing precious photos. Maintenance of your peripherals (camera, backup system, printer, scanner, etc.) can be just as important to a digital workflow. This short article collects some imperatives for you to follow for your system, camera, scanner and printer. Work maintenance into your agenda to have confidence in the health of your computer system.

Computer Software and Hardware Maintenance

*Maintain a firewall if using an open Internet connection (DSL/Cable/T1). If you don’t, you may experience performance issues as visitors scan your hard drive.

*Use virus protection to minimize problems with infected digital files. This is especially important if you trade a lot of files over the internet. Update your virus definitions regularly. Never open files from an outside source if it has not been scanned for viruses.

*Schedule maintenance for data backup, disk error scanning (such as defragmenting) using native utilities included with your OS (Disk Doctor on Mac; Check Disk and Defrag).

*Check manufacturer websites regularly for software updates, bug fixes, and compatibility notices.

*Keep a log of program installations to help locate software conflicts when they occur. When a problem occurs immediately after you install something it should raise suspicions of a conflict.

*Don’t jump to conclusions. Note multiple problems in the operation of your system. If you have problems with more than one program or device, there may be a common link to the real cause.

*Simplify your system whenever possible by detaching chronically unused peripherals and uninstalling unnecessary software.

*Don’t ignore whirring, clicking, clacking and unusual drive performance—something may be about to fail. If something suddenly changes on your system and you have not performed new installations, something is wrong. Either have it checked or check it yourself.

Digital Camera Maintenance

*Choose appropriate settings per manufacturer recommendations, and don’t change settings if you don’t know what they do—unless you are experimenting with and learning new features. Be sure to switch back settings if experimentation leads nowhere or makes things worse.

*Learn about special features and settings by reading the manual. This is especially important for resolution and color management issues.

*Understand image exposure, depth-of-field and how they relate.

*Be sure how to format your digital film/camera storage, and know manufacturer recommendations for removing and inserting memory cards, disks, etc..

*Know how to properly connect a camera to your computer and download images from the camera.

*Clean your lenses and possibly your sensor if you have constant trouble with dust and spotting. Sensors can be tricky to clean so it may be a good idea to have a reputable service do the maintenance if you don’t feel qualified.

*Use recommended power sources and chargers to avoid equipment damage.

*Store your equipment properly when not in use. Store lose equipment securely to avoid damage when packing for a shoot or traveling.

Scanner Maintenance

*Calibrate your scanner per manufacturer suggestions.

*Maintain a regimen for cleaning/dusting the scanner and scanned images / film / objects.

*Be sure to use proper connections and connection settings.

*Consider having important images scanned by scanning services, which may have better equipment and resolution than you may have at home (for example, scan negatives and slides to a multi-resolution Kodak PhotoCD scan [not the JPEG kind] rather than on a home flatbed scanner).

*Read about the scanner in the manual, and learn about the scanner software; you may get far more from your scans if you know the capabilities of the equipment and software.

*Never use your scanner as a chair or as a shelf to collect tchotchkes.

Printer Maintenance

*Use appropriate inks as suggested by the manufacturer.

*Use proper paper for quality prints (don't expect glossy-quality prints from lower grade papers), and always test output when changing paper.

*Read maintenance (head alignment) and cleaning suggestions (printer head / jet / nozzle cleaning) in your manual and follow these practices rigorously.

*Don’t expect RGB results from a CMYK printer. CMYK is a smaller color space, meaning there are simply fewer colors available.

*If you do not use the printer regularly and experience problems with printing, clean/align the heads per manufacturer suggestions, then replace inks if the problem continues. If prints become striped or irregular, and replacing ink, cleaning and other standard maintenance does not fix the problem, repair or repurchase may be necessary.

About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Richard Lynch
Photography Instructor: Richard LynchRichard Lynch has written 9 books on Photoshop and image editing. His expertise was born following interests in photography and design, honed as the editor and designer of a photography book publishing house and perfected by working with his own images. His photographic techniques and Photoshop work are steeped in darkroom tradition and photographic theory. He has spent more than 20 years adapting the darkroom to solid digital techniques, and is confident that he can make any image more than it was when it was shot using the digital darkroom.

American born and a US resident, Richard currently lives in Romania where he runs photo tours. He teaches courses for digital photographers and hobbyists in photography and Photoshop online and in the classroom. His articles have been in a variety of publications online and in print, including Popular Photography, PCPhoto, Advanced Photoshop, Digital Photography Techniques, and Photo Techniques. His books tend to fall outside of the series typical series algorithm. His latest book, The Adobe Photoshop Layers Book (, was the first and only book devoted specifically to Photoshop layers when it first came out in 2007. A completely new edition of the layers book was released for 2012.

In his ‘spare’ time, Richard experiments with both modern and vintage equipment (like manual-focus lenses, extension tubes, modifications), and devises new and better schemes for image editing (often in the shower). His creative prose has been published in a variety of literary magazines and online. A culinary background and interest in malt beverages led him to competitive beer brewing, and has won awards for his brews in national competitions in the US. Richard enjoys target shooting, a skill not unlike photography, and has a strong knowledge of pellet guns and rifle optics born of his interest in camera lenses and plinking little plastic army guys. He lives to follow his interest, sneak in a little fun, and is in possession of more camera and computer equipment than anyone realistically needs – but he can justify all of it.

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