Archival Photo Storage Tips

Here’s a topic that keeps many photographers up at night: how can you be sure that the photos you are saving will be readable on computers 50 or 100 years down the road, with vastly different technology?

Will Canon, Nikon, Sony or another camera manufacturer’s proprietary RAW format still have full software support, and will the images be reproduced exactly as before when loaded?

DVD, Blu-Ray, or other removable media has been the primary method of consumer backup for quite some time. They have the advantage of being reasonably inexpensive and broadly compatible and last a lifetime of 50-100 years. It can often be difficult to tell which longevity category your media purchase falls under.

Do not assume that all writable media is created equal. There’s often a dramatic difference in longevity between one brand and another. Pay attention to the type of dyes used (blue, gold, silver, etc), to online accelerated aging tests, and to reports of issues with a particular model/batch.

The best location to store your archival photo backups is in a cool, dry place with a reasonably constant environment and minimal need for movement. If there’s a chance of humidity, be sure to seal the media in a plastic bag prior to storage.

However, unforeseen accidents such as theft and fire can occur, so any fail-proof backup strategy should make use of multiple backup locations. This could mean having a duplicate archive in a safety deposit box, at a friend or family’s household or at some remote online server.

If your internet connection is fast, backups can even be transferred regularly and systematically via FTP. Depending on the size and quantity of your photos, some even treat online photo sharing sites as backup locations. However, this is not an option for true digital negatives, such as RAW files, since they cannot be displayed as is.

Try and stick to a regular backup schedule with an easy to follow naming convention. After all, if you cannot find a photo once it’s been archived then it’s as good as lost.

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