Hard Prints are your Archive – Digital Files are your Backup

How do you archive your images?

Do you have them all stored in digital files on hard drives? Do you leave them on your memory sticks and cards? Are they all tucked away in your phone?

By archiving all of your images digitally, you run the risk of losing them all. Let me tell you why.

I was speaking with a fellow the other day who was very proud that all of his images were stored on hard drives and CDs. He had digital backups to digital backups. He should be proud that he has the foresight to store images in multiple media.

So, how does he find the photographs that he wants? I asked him to get me a photograph of Snow White’s castle (a lot of his photography is from Disneyland) and he asked me for the date that he created the image. All of his files are stored by date.

Obviously I don’t know the date, and he can’t remember a date. So to find photographs of the castle we have to rummage through all the folders on all the CDs or on the hard drives.

Do you have that much time to search for images?

My premise is that hard prints are your archive, digital files stored on media are your backup.

The reason I say this is that digital files are transient. They’re even more transient and fragile than your grandparent’s film negatives and slides. Ask your grandparents to see their photographs. They’ll pull out prints and show them to you. Now, ask them for the negatives so that you can have some prints made yourself.

The most likely answer to that question is, “We don’t have the negatives anymore.” Or, another answer might be, “They were damaged when they were stored in a garage.”

You might be lucky and get another answer and they’ll tell you that all the negatives and slides are in a box in the attic. Good luck finding what you want, and good luck finding negatives that are not damaged with scratches or mold.

Do you see the corollary between the two? At least with the negative you have something physical. With the digital file you have ‘0’ and ‘1’ coded into a JPG file on a hard drive.

How do you find your prints when the drive has gone bad, dropped? How you find the images when every file has the same name, like – img1.jpg, img2.jpg, img3.jpg, img4.jpg?

Your real archive of images is hard prints. Because in 30 years you won’t have your digital files or you won’t be able to search and find the images you want.

Let me know what you think.