Your entire collection of beautiful photographs are in risk of being forever lost. All too often, people lose years of photographs due to improper archiving methods. With so many different ways of backing up photos, which one is right? Find out about the history of photo storage and learn how to store photographs for a hundred years.

The Question

One of the questions regarding photography that is often asked, is how to store photographs for the long term. One day as I was working in a camera store, a gentlemen came in and wanted to know if there was a difference in the storage quality of CDs that were available. He mentioned that some manufacturers claimed the CD’s to be of “archival quality” and would last for over 100 years. The question was more about how to store photos than which CDs might have a longer life. If we look back on the photographs that are available from the last century, we notice they black and white since color photography is a relatively recent phenomenon. If stored properly, those prints held up well and were a hard copy, meaning that you were looking at the photo rather than a representation of the photo from media. But back to the gentleman’s question, how can we store photos for the long term? Since digital photography seems to be eclipsing film photography, we’ll start there.

A Brief History of Media

Let’s look at the recent history of digitally stored media. In the early 1980’s, a 5.25” floppy disk was the most common method of data storage. If we look around, only 25 years later, it’s difficult to find a device to read those floppy disks. Then the 3.5” removable disk became more popular and had several capacities. Those are also becoming difficult to find with most computers shipping without them. Now a popular storage format is the CD and more recently the DVD. If you were going to attempt to store photographs on these media types for the long haul, it may be there will be no devices available to read the CD or DVD 100 years from now. If we take a look at music recordings, we see the same progression from cylinder recordings to 78 RPM records, to 33 RPM, to 8 track and cassette recording to CDs and now to portable media devices (iPods) via compressed audio file formats such as MP3. In video, we see the same progression from 8mm, to Super8, to beta and VHS to DVD. The technology marches on and this can make it difficult to decide how to proceed. Obsolescence seems to be stalking our ability to store our captured memories.

Storage Solution

So what’s the answer? Since the advent of lower cost digital cameras, many photos are not printed. Back in the days of film, you had to get the pictures developed to see what was on them Now they can be viewed on a computer screen or on the back of the camera using the LCD screen and many never make it into the family photo album. To store photos for generations to come, use a quality photo finishing service and store the pictures in an acid-free photo album or storage box. If printing pictures at home, use archival inks and papers and store them in a similar fashion. If storing them on media such as CDs or DVDs, we’ll have to make certain that we keep a device around that has the capability to read the media inside a computer or CD/DVD player connected to a television that can accommodate that device. Finally, if you have chosen CD’s as the media for long-term digital photo storage, choose a name brand that you recognize and ask if they are archival quality. These are some ways that will allow the possibility of someone a hundred years to to view your photographs from today.

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