Most households have a collection of photos. Many have an assortment of printed photos and negatives and perhaps some slides, along with digital images. For the average person, losing precious photos is heartbreaking. For those of us in the photography business, losing photos is catastrophic. This article will outline the best way to preserve both digital and film photos, in the hope that readers will take action to avoid losing their mementos and/or potential income sources.
If you've been involved in photography for more than a few decades, you're probably aware that there have been an impressive number of attempts to extend the life of photographic papers and film. Acid-free papers, non-acetate plastic storage sleeves, archival boxes – there are dozens of ways to preserve your photos – and they all have finite lives. Not only that, you have to be sure to keep your films and prints away from things like moist air, dust and sunlight. In short, there's no really good way to ensure that prints and film are protected over time.
Fortunately, we've gone digital with our photography and the storage of our files. Compared to film and photo paper, digital data is much easier to care for. This isn't to say that digital storage devices don't fail – they do. The difference is that it's easy to transfer or copy the data files to other devices, and we now have a wide range of storage devices and services to choose from. The bottom line is that digital storage is a much better way to preserve all of your images.
Scanning Prints and Film
Of course, in the case of prints, film or slides, you've got to first convert them to digital files. Put simply, they need to be scanned. There are services available, but I prefer to do this myself. You'll need to start with a high-resolution scanner. If you don't have negatives for your prints, you'll want a flatbed scanner that will handle both reflective (prints) and transparent (film and slides) media. Here are just a few choices, to give you an idea of the possibilities.
As you can see, the differences in quality and price can be substantial. Use the best scanner you can afford, to get the highest quality reproduction.
Backing Up Files
The next step, whether you're dealing with your original digital images or the scanned digital files, is storing and backing up all those files. When you save your images, always use the highest quality file format possible. If your images are saved in .JPG or .JPEG format, your editing options will be very limited. Save files from your DSLR in .RAW format. For your scans, .TIFF or .PSD (if you have Photoshop) are good choices.
Now it's just a matter of where to save them. I recommend starting with an external hard drive that connects to your computer by USB. I also recommend at least 1TB of storage space on that drive – you'll fill it sooner than you think. These are very affordable devices now, and if you're really serious about saving your files, buying 2 is a great idea, so you can back up the first drive. Here are some good drive choices:
Backing Up Files Online
Now you're safe, right? Not quite. What if some sort of natural disaster like a fire or flood destroys your drives? To be really safe, you need backup storage somewhere else. Enter “The Cloud”. Online backup storage is a smart solution and isn't very expensive, especially if you consider the irreplaceable images on your devices. There are many cloud backup services available, and PhotographyTalk's premium members can sign up for a free year of one of the best, iDrive. If you're not a member, visit the signup page to see what you're missing.
With all of the measures above in place and a commitment to backing up regularly, you can rest assured that your photos are as safe as possible. Don't risk losing a single one.