Digital Photography Tips and Tutorials · Photo Storage

What this is about:

We've been taking digital photos for more than a decade. It's a wonderful thing. You can shoot pictures without need for processing, simply downloading and viewing them with a computer. In that time, we've graduated from a digicam capturing images at 768x1024 pixels (one megapixel) to the next which captured three megapixels, then seven, and now to a whopping ten megapixels. As a result, there's good news and there's bad news. The good news is the images with the higher resolution cameras are generally clearer and sharper, with more detail. The bad news is they require ten times as much storage space on a computer than did the earlier images. Although we no longer have to pay the photo lab for processing, or store our prints and negatives in a shoe box, we're beginning to realize there is a cost in archiving all the pictures we take.

Megabytes, Gigabytes, Terabytes, Oh My

Terabyte Hard Drive We may be unusual, but since we're into QuickTime panorama photography and each of the panoramas requires many digital photographs, we gather a lot of images. If we go off for a weekend to some scenic place, we might create several panoramas, ending up with 200 or more pictures when the weekend has concluded. Each of these 7-10 megapixel photos can require about three megabytes of data storage, so we'll have 600 megabytes or more of digital photos from just one weekend. You might have a similar result if you're the photographer at the family reunion or a child's birthday party.

New personal computers typically come with built-in hard disks perhaps 200-400 gigabytes (400 x 1024 megabytes) in size. Thinking of that 600 megabytes weekend mentioned above, doing it once a month or so over a few years might not fill up your disk, but storage does become a big issue when you start thinking about five, 10, or 20 years, the average time your kids will be at home; the subject of your photos. It adds up.

Hard disks fail eventually. So, since you won't have your digital memories in the old trusty shoe box or a photo book, you'll want to have backups of all your photo files. You don't want to inform your older children that you don't have any photos of them when they were kids because the hard disk crashed back in the year 2015, do you?!

Protect Yourself

So what is our point? If you're going to give up film photography and go digital, you should do some planning. Get organized. Store your photo files by date and description and back them up on a regular basis. Perhaps keep them in an online community photo album or scrapbook. Nobody seems to know for sure what media is best for long-term archiving of personal computer files. Until recently, we believed it was the CD ROM (write once CDR) but now we're hearing about chemical breakdown of CDR's after a few years rendering them unreadable. Now what?

The Latest in Archival Storage Our advice would be to maintain three copies of all your digital photos. Keep the originals on your computer's hard disk, a copy on another hard disk that you use as an external backup and a third on some kind of removable media such as CD or DVD. View your photos once a year on each of these media to be sure they're still readable and stay current with the technology. If, in ten years, you can't buy a CD drive any longer, transfer your photos to newer media before it breaks down.

Another option is the recent development of online digital archive storage. Dozens of storage providers are popping up offering online albums, electronic greeting cards, and other merchandising possibilities. Many are free, or at least, low cost. As usual, though, you get what you pay for. The history of dotcom longevity is not good. For reviews of many of these services, visit Photo Sharing Services Product Comparisons.

If all of this sounds too complicated, you can always stick with traditional film photography and the old shoe box. These methods have worked for a hundred years. Just don't be surprised if you can't buy film, or shoe boxes, before long.