The year is 2037. A loved one has passed away. You grieve over your loss. You want to relive your favourite moments with them. You recall the summer of 2017 when you traveled together. Your fading memory can only relive so many moments so you want to see the photos again. But they are stuck in your iPhone 7 whose battery died a long time ago. But you had also copied the photos to your pen drive. Alas, USB ports don’t exist anymore. All you are left with is a low res image on Instagram/Facebook with multiple filters applied.
Photographs are like fine wine. They become more valuable as time goes by. What may feel like a mundane moment today becomes an invaluable memory a decade down the line. Don’t print your photos because I’m telling you to do so. Print your photos because your cherished memories are worth more than the risk of losing your digital copies in a mishap. Do not underestimate the impact of changing technology on our lives.
Unless you have a foolproof backup system with multiple copies of your photos in different physical locations and various storage formats, it is highly unlikely that your memories will last the test of time. Too often these days, photos are simply taken for the moment, uploaded to social media and swiftly forgotten about. The likes on the photo matter more than the preservation of memories. The only long term copy of the photo might be a compressed version on Facebook. And that is hardly ideal.
Print your photos because archival and organizing of digital data effectively is way more complicated than it sounds. Even us professionals photographers are still debating over the best way to do it. I know some people who swear by Blu Ray backups. Many others have multiple hard disks and RAID setups. And few rely solely on online storage systems. But the bitter truth is that every system is susceptible to failure. We can only plan well enough to hope that even if one system fails, another backup will exist.
For those who have their files on hard disks – Do you have multiple hard disks with the same data? Do you maintain backups in different locations? (in case one place burns down). And apart from that, hard disks are also susceptible to failure. Have you checked whether your old hard disks still work? Do you move the data to a new one every few years? And then you need to have an excel sheet to ensure you know which hard disk has which data. And what if you had the photos on 2 different hard disks but they both fail? (because they happened to be manufactured in the same faulty batch)
Laptops tend to be a popular choice to store old photos but you are still essentially relying on hard disks. For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume those hard disks or SSDs don’t fail, will the laptop still work? Or will Windows force you to update the OS to the latest version before you can access your files? Will you remember where you stashed the charger for the laptop? Or was it accidentally misplaced when you shifted house? As of DVDs, will there even be DVD drives in the future? All new laptops don’t have drives already. And with a move towards a wireless world, your future laptop won’t have a USB port to attach to your hard disk.
The cloud and online storage solutions are increasingly popular but what if the service shuts down? Does anyone remember ‘Copy‘? They closed last year after operating for a few years and all your data on Copy vanished overnight (yes, they gave you a couple of months notice but if you missed the emails, then all was lost). And what if the company decides to increase prices one day? They can essentially hold all your data and memories in ransom. One can assume that the big boys like Google Drive, One Drive and Dropbox should hopefully last forever but then again, nothing is guaranteed. And their current 1TB allowance is nothing for us professionals. And of course, file formats change. Can your computer read .cr2 & .nef raw files in 20 years? Will Lightroom still exist and your catalogs be readable?
Phones are the single worst place to store your photos! We change phones virtually every year. Do you ever copy photos from your phone to another storage device? If you are one of the few that do, that’s a good step ahead! But which device is that? Your laptop? (see above point). And if you have photos stuck on your iPhone 4 – do you have the old 30-pin cable for it? And will Apple force you to update that old phone to the latest iOS which would render the phone almost unusable? Most phones these days have fixed unchangeable batteries which are pretty much guaranteed to die in the long run. However, if you have a phone with an external storage option like a microSD card, you are probably saved (assuming you still own a working microSD card reader). Google Photos’ offer to store unlimited “high quality” photos is probably the best option as of today – I use it myself and it automatically syncs all photos taken on my phone.
Nothing is as reassuring as holding a physical album in your hand with memories of loved ones and cherished moments. All the above situations may occur – they definitely aren’t a stretch from reality. Are you willing to risk memories with family for lack of discipline? Coming up with a good storage solution is only half the task. Easy and effective retrieval is another problem. You need to label images accurately, with dates, tags, locations, occasions, etc and then also remember which folder is in which hard disk or laptop.
Photos are never as important today as they are after a few years. So you have a dozen selfies from the latest family wedding saved in your iPhone? But where will they be in 10 years? 20 years? Think of the next generation. Print your photos.
Currently listening to – Plimsoll Punks by Alvvays
Currently watching – Curb Your Enthusiasm S01
All photos for this post taken by wifey Mandakini.