Can I store my digital photos for ever?

Nothing lasts for ever, and digital images can disappear in seconds. People lose their most important photos every day when hard drives fail, when smartphones and laptops are stolen, when online services shut down, and when natural disasters strike. Fires, floods and earthquakes can also destroy digital records.

To be really safe, you should have more than one copy of each photo, stored in more than one way in more than one place.

Operating systems, software and file formats also keep changing, so being able to see a file doesn’t mean you can load it. Happily, the standard JPG/JPEG picture file format may well last “for ever” despite efforts to replace it with JPEG 2000, PNG, SVG and many others.

Making digital photos last involves:

* moving the data to new storage systems before the old one fails or becomes unreadable.

* converting files to whichever format becomes dominant before the old one is abandoned.

Hard drives

The one thing we know about hard drives is that most of them fail sooner rather than later. Some drives fail after a few months while others work for a decade or more. There is no way of knowing. Good rule of thumb is that a drive is increasingly likely to fail after five years or 50,000 hours of use. If you want to keep photos for 50 years, you might have to store them on roughly 10 hard drives in all.

To keep your files safe using another hard drive as a backup is a usable minimum. However, backup drives have their limitations. First, your data is vulnerable both to human error and to malicious software. Second, your data is still at risk of being stolen or destroyed by fire, flood or some other disaster.

External backup drives

If your external hard drive is always plugged into your PC, then you can delete whole folders by accident, or by making errors when copying files. If your PC is infected by malware such as ransomware, it will usually encrypt files on external hard drives as well.

SSD drives

External SSDs are a little more expensive but benefit from having no moving parts on the inside. The advantage over hard drives is that there is less chance of something going wrong. With no moving parts, they are rugged and shock-proof. 

However, SSD’s use semiconductor cells to store data. Unfortunately, the electrons will leak over time (that’s how SSD’s wear down), but they will leak much faster is your store your SSD unpowered. 

In other words, an SSD disk with no power will lose data fast.

storage for digital photos


It is a good idea to keep backups on removable storage media. With CD or DVD, you should use high-quality discs and store them in a cool, dark and dry place. USB thumbdrives and SD memory cards are not suitable for long-term archival storage because the charge decays over long periods. Ideally, they should be refreshed every four or five years.

Cloud storage

Storing photos “in the cloud” – basically, on someone else’s collection of hard drives – solves all the problems of using local hard drives and of transferring data to new physical media. But it is important to remember that data in the cloud is not safe and not under your control.

The biggest risks with cloud storage are being locked out of your account, being hacked by someone who deletes all your stuff, and by your account being closed if you don’t pay any charges required. Of course, online storage services may also shut down or go bust (check Megaupload).

Many large companies offer photo storage services however, these can be expensive if you need a lot of storage, and your photos will not be as accessible as they are on a local hard drive.

Be careful of services that don’t preserve your original photos exactly as you uploaded them. Facebook’s photo storage is free but it reduces images from printable quality to web-viewing quality. There are many alternatives, but the largest players – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft – are most likely to be around in the long term. Of course, prices and terms may change, and if you store photos for 50 or 100 years, the cost adds up.

So how can you really preserve your digital files?

It’s simple: you can preserve your images by printing them!

Don’t just print them at home or any of the cheap instant printing machines. Go for professional printing labs which use highly specialised HD printers and top quality paper. The best one is the archival grade paper used also in museums and art galleries which depending on type may last for 100 or even up to 200 hundred years.

When investing into a professional portrait session, choose photographer who provides the highest quality printed art options. These not only present your portraits as an amazing piece of art but also ensure it’s going to last for many years to come.

The best options are large framed prints and premium folio boxes with matted prints which will protect your images from damage and at the same time – they will be great addition to your home decor. In some cases, like wedding photography, I would also recommend high quality albums with at least 800 gsm spreads, ideally ordered with matching album box.

premium mega mat wall art Renata Clarke Glamour and Boudoir Photography Worcester

If you are considering professional portrait photography in Worcester, you can schedule a complimentary consultation with RENATA CLARKE PORTRAITS

To check my portrait gallery, click HERE.

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