Dealing with Digital Photographs

In the previous blog post, we discussed the preservation of analog photographs or those in print form.  This post will focus on the care and maintenance of digital photographs.  Chances are, most of us have hundreds or even thousands of digital photographs stored on computers, smartphones or even uploaded to social media sites.  Others may be in the process of scanning analog photos into digital formats.  Regardless of the case, it is important to consider taking the appropriate steps to ensure they will be around for years to come.


If you have analog photographs, be sure to begin the process of scanning them into digital format.  This is one of the best ways to preserve photos.  Not only will you have a copy, but one that can easily be shared with family and friends whilst minimizing the handling of the originals.  Scanning is labor-intensive, but worth the amount of time and energy invested.  You can accomplish this with a computer and scanner or you may elect to outsource scanning to a photo scanning service.


It may seem overwhelming to think about what you should do with all of the digital photos stored on your devices.   You may have a digital camera, a smartphone, discs, and a tablet which all contain photographs.  Begin by moving your photos from these devices to a central location, preferably a computer.  A central location will make it easier to organize the deluge of digital photos in a way that will make them easy to retrieve.

I highly recommend weeding out any photos you don’t plan to keep.

Is it really necessary to keep all 100 Hawaiian sunset photos from the cruise you took in 2004?  Probably not.  Instead, select the best image (or two) that captures the moment and delete the rest.  This makes organization easier and saves space and time.


Organization is arguably the most time-consuming aspect of dealing with digital photographs.  Often, our digital cameras and smart phones assign a generic file name to each photo we take.  The file names usually reveal little more than the date of the image.  The following article, “What Everybody Ought to Know When Naming Your Scanned Photos” by Curtis Bisel provides a step-by-step approach with examples of how to tackle naming digital photos in a way that will make identification and retrieval quick and easy:

Now What?

You have consolidated all of your digital photos onto a single device, weeded out the duplicates and undesirables, and decided on a file naming and organization system.  Now it’s time to back up all of those memories and hard work.  Leaving all of your photos on one device with no backup copies is a huge mistake.  Any number of things can go wrong resulting in the loss of all of your photos.

Here are some options for backup copies:

  1. External hard drives – One of the best ways to backup. External hard drives offer ample storage space and are reasonably priced. Drives with 1 terabyte of storage  are available for under $100. Based on the file size of an average digital photo, a 1 terabyte drive can hold hundreds of thousands of photos.  You can also store other files (such as music) on an external hard drive.  Many external hard drives are portable.
  2. Temporary storage devices – Memory cards, compact discs, and USB or flash drives can be used to store copies, but beware. None of these devices are meant for long-term storage. They can easily be lost or damaged and storage space is limited.

In the unlikely event of fire, flood, or other catastrophe, the devices above should be stored at a location separate from where the files were initially stored, such as a safe deposit box, your office, or other residence.

  1. Cloud-based storage – Storage space varies based on the company used and/or the subscription selected. Cloud storage can be accessed from anywhere and can allow for file sharing. Because items are stored offsite in “the cloud”, there is no risk to files due to a catastrophe at home.

Regardless of which option you choose for backup copies, be aware of advances in technology.  None of the above options run a risk of becoming obsolete in the near future, but in the technology world, anything is possible.

Speaking from personal experience, I cannot stress how important it is to have more than one backup.  A couple of years ago, I returned from vacation to a house with no power.  There were violent thunderstorms while I was gone which resulted in a storm surge.  Unfortunately, most of my electronics were fried, including my computer and backup hard drive, both connected to a surge protector.  None of the material on either device could be recovered, including several decades worth of photos.  If all of my photos and personal documents had not also been backed up to cloud-based storage, they would have been lost forever.  In this case, the cloud was actually the silver lining.

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