I can’t remember the last time I so much as held a film camera. I have been shooting all my photos with a digital camera for years now. I’d be willing to bet that many of the rest of you have been doing the same. It’s quick, easy, convenient, cheap (free even – after the initial cost of the camera – because you don’t have to pay to develop film, and prints are optional), etc. So go ahead, take 10 shots of that weird bug you found on your porch.
My favorite part of digital photography is the ability to take a photo, check it, and take it again if you don’t like it – no more disappointment when you get the film back; no more taking 3 shots “just in case” (and still maybe not getting a good one).
What’s not to love, right?
Well, from an archivist’s perspective: a lot.
To a certain extent, I think a lot of archival and historical material manages to survive “by accident.” Once something is committed to a tangible medium, such as paper (a printed photograph, a letter, a diary, a newspaper, or whatever), it is pretty much going to remain in existence (somewhere) until it is physically destroyed in some way (thrown away, burned, flooded, shredded, etc.). Even materials stored in horrid conditions still sometimes manage to survive and are perfectly usable after decades. (Remember that box of old photos you found in Grandma’s sweltering attic? Okay, not the best storage location, but by God, they were in that shoebox and still perfectly viewable. And hopefully you rescued them to a more appropriate storage spot, like a main floor closet. Right? RIGHT?!)
Now, don’t get me wrong, your digital photos are still perfectly susceptible to dying in a fire or any of those other things I described — whether it’s the camera itself, the media card, your hard drive, or your prints. But in my opinion, digital photos are actually more fragile than old-school film/print photographs, because it actually seems to take a lot more work to keep them safe.
With both regular film photos and digital photos, you have to snap the picture, and you have the option to make prints. If you make prints and keep them safe the same way you would your old came-from-a-film-negative prints, then you are reasonably good to go on that front, as far as preserving your memories. But with the digital photos, you have no film negative – so what if you want to make another print? You need the original digital photo. (You could make a copy from one of your prints—if you have any—but it wouldn’t be as good of quality because it’s really a copy of a copy; the digital is the original.)
So what should you do to protect those digital photos, to ensure that they will both exist, and be accessible to you, for a long time?
The Ohio Historical Society’s recent blog post “Tips for Saving Your Digital Photographs” (May 7, 2012) has lots of great general advice in regards to safeguarding your digital photographs. In addition to general tips on how and where to save your files, the post has advice about the best way to use CD-Rs as a backup method, file formats and naming, and making prints.
I am pleased to report that my personal practices in regards to digital photo preservation seem to fall within the recommendations made in that OHS blog post, so in Part 2, I will share the specific details of my digital photo preservation regimen.
But before I get into any minutiae, I want to drill one thing into your head. If you take nothing else away from this article, please, for the love of God, remember LOCKSS, an acronym meaning “Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe.”
Golden Rule of Saving Digital Content: Remember LOCKSS = Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe.
If you only have one copy of something, especially if that something is digital, I can almost guarantee you that at some point, you are going to lose it. It will not be a matter of “if” but a matter of “when” and “how.”
Ever had your hard drive or disk crash and just stop working with little or no warning? Had your computer zapped by lightning? Spilled a drink in your laptop? Had your computer get virus’d, hacked, or stolen? Lost your USB thumb drive? Had your camera or cell phone get lost or stolen? Dropped your camera or cell phone (perhaps into a body of water)? Left your electronics in the car on a hot day?
Yeah, that’s what I thought. Hey, you’re not alone. These things happen to the best of us. Now, the question is, the next time one of those things happens to you, how many of your precious memories will be lost along with your electronics?
Now that I’ve really got your attention, stay tuned for Part 2, and I’ll tell you exactly what I do to keep my photos safe from the disasters described above (and doubtless many that I can’t even think of right now).