Today’s Question: In yesterday’s email you mentioned that even the gold DVDs don’t provide a real long-term storage solution for photos. What storage media do you recommend for true long-term storage?
Tim’s Quick Answer: I think the short answer here is that I don’t recommend any single storage solution for long-time storage that might get “ignored” for extended periods of time. For the time being I recommend hard drive storage (and particularly flash-based drives) as a good solution, but even these require ongoing review and a certain degree of maintenance.
More Detail: One of the great things about digital photography (and digital technology in general) is that it is relatively easy to create copies of our important photos (and other data). Even better, those backup copies can be an exact copy of the original, with no degradation at all. That was not possible with film-based photography.
Of course, digital photo storage also adds a certain degree of complexity, with a need to update your storage over time. We obviously need to consider overall storage capacity over time, for example, with the photos we’re actively managing. But for many photographers there is a degree of archival storage involved as well, with photos put onto a storage device separate from their primary “active” storage.
When you are actively using a particular storage device, you will naturally maintain a degree of awareness about when it might be time to replace that device in terms of compatibility, storage capacity, and performance. For example, I can recall backing up my photos on floppy disks that held 1.44 megabytes of data, and it didn’t take long before getting to the point that it was incredibly obvious that a better solution was necessary.
The greatest risk in my mind relates to more “archival” storage that gets ignored for extended periods of time. I’ve been hearing from an increasing number of photographers lately, for example, who have been pulling out old CD’s and DVD’s and finding that they can’t be read. The key is to periodically review what type of storage you have, and to consider whether an upgrade is necessary.
It is also important to not simply ignore your storage devices. Traditional hard drives with spinning platters can seize up if left unused for extended periods of time, for example. By periodically reviewing what you’re using for storage and what types of (perhaps better) solutions are currently available you’ll help ensure you won’t ever run into a situation where you’re not able to access archived digital photos.
And as many photographers have pointed out whenever I bring up this subject, it isn’t a bad idea to make extra archival copies of your photos in the form of beautiful prints produced with archival inks!