digital files are NOT archival

May 5, 2017

No one can deny that we're in a digital age... Everything is digital! And... we (society) are trying to digitize everything for preservation - important documents, historical pieces of art, our family legacy... But, when you stop and think about that, does it make any sense? Digital files are not as archival as we think. Have you ever tried to open a file from a previous version of an application without success? Software changes, new and improved versions come out; some software just goes away completely, and new programs replace the old - that maybe don't even support those old files!


Not only that, but the storage device you're saving that file on could corrupt or become "extinct". (Think about Floppy Disks, or CD/DVD's... I bet your new computer doesn't even have a CD drive!) Or, the file itself could corrupt. And, it can happen at ANY TIME! Whether it's new, or old - it doesn't matter. This digital age is simply too new to truly know the longevity of what it is we're creating. 


I also completely understand the benefit of having your digital files. They give us a flexibility, and peace of mind. They do still have value. 


So. Are you now wondering how you should back up your digital photos?! Well, you should if you're at all concerned about preserving your precious memories for future generations. Whether they're personal snapshots or professional family portraits - archiving them correctly will save you from having them slip away from a hard drive crash or a damaged phone. Here are some simple steps to make sure you're safe - or at least as safe as you can be: 



Digital photos are so easy to take that most of us snap many more pictures than when we had to develop film. To lighten the job of archiving and to save digital storage space, sort photos and delete pictures that are blurry or otherwise undesirable. Crop out unwanted elements, rotate sideways shots and correct red eye. Software to do this is pre-installed on most computers and phones. 


Also, digital photos should be stored as a JPEG file, (.jpg, at quality10-12 - I say higher the better!) or as TIFF files (.tif), though TIFF files can get big! Both are very universal file types. 



Next, organize photos chronologically, categorically or both. Use a method that makes sense to you. 


As you sort photos, give them file names that describe when they were taken, where and who's in them. Using the full names, "Susan Jones Smith" and not "Aunt Sue" so future generations know who you're talking about. Use a regular format, such as 2017-0301-SusanJonesSmithMabelJonesMaryJones.jpg for a photo of Aunt Sue, Aunt Mabel and Aunt Mary taken on Mar. 1, 2017. Having the date up front, with the year first allows the files to automatically organize themselves in chronological order. Use numbers instead of month names to follow suit. Alter the photo's file name by highlighting the existing file name, right clicking on the mouse, choosing "properties" and clicking on "details" where you can select the file's name. On a Mac, you simply click the file name once in your finder and it'll become editable. 


If you organize the photos by occasion or chronologically, you can place all the photos taken at Aunt Sue's birthday at Aunt Mabel's house in a folder named "2017-0301-Susan Jones Smith 50th Birthday Mabel Jones House" or include a document file with more information about the occasion. This information is priceless. 



Printing your photos can be the absolute best way to preserve them. How many of you have sepia colored prints from your great great great grandparents??! Or, ok, maybe you don't have any from that far back, but they're pretty neat to have, yes?! And, I bet you they're in pretty decent shape! Archival prints can actually withstand quite a bit. You can scan that photo back into the computer, do some restoration work if you'd like or if it's needed, and reprint it to preserve your most important memories.


As you find photos you wish to print, you can use an online service such as or take a USB drive to a drugstore. For a better quality, that will last longer though, stick with mpix. If you print your photos at home, make sure to use archival quality paper. Don't forget to label your printed photos. Place printed photos in acid-free mats and frames, boxes or albums. 


Store printed photos in a space that's between 40 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, where the humidity is below 60 percent. It's likely your attic, storage shed and basement are no-nos.



Back up your electronically stored photos in more than one place, such as on a thumb drive, an external portable (or studio) hard drive, and the cloud. Most digital phones automatically back up photos and other data to the cloud. Some anti-virus companies offer automatic back-ups for digital photos; make sure yours does.


However you choose to back up your digital photos, use at least three methods. One should be in a different physical location than the others. DropBox, among many other companies out there, offer online storage, for example. This could be a good option for the "different physical location." You could also save to multiple external hard drives, and leave one with the grandparents, or somewhere else in a fireproof safe. Or, fill up thumb drives with mutual favorites to pass on to family members and friends.


However you do it is up to you. But, whatever you do, don't just have those photos on your phone or computer, or leave them on your camera's SD card without a back up! 


When you book a session with me, and you buy your full resolution digital files (in my Create a Collection custom package), you'll already have a head start. Your files will come on a thumb drive, in a proof box with 4x6 printed proofs! 


Interested in a session? Reach out! I'd love to chat with you and preserve your family's legacy for generations to come! 


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abra klinger

Los Angeles, California based newborn photographer, serving the greater LA area. Offering newborn (my favorite!), maternity, kids (watch me grow) and family sessions.


Reach out if you're interested, or just have a question - I'd love to chat! 

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Port Orchard, WA 98366

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