How safe are your memories?

As I’ve been experimenting and playing with the new Lomo’instant camera, I got to thinking about what it was like to take photographs before digital technology. Digital photography has made it simpler to take nice looking photographs, as well as given us the ability to enjoy them instantly. But, it’s also set the stage for a potential disaster, if you are someone who cherishes your photos and memories.

The convenience of digital photography certainly has pushed film photography to “niche” status. But this convenience has also made us dependent on the technology – dangerously dependent, if we’re not careful.

One of the advantages that film photography has over digital is the ability to look at and enjoy your photos any time you want, whether you have electricity or not, whether it be today, tomorrow, or fifty years from now. As long as you keep your photographs in relatively good condition, you’ll have them to enjoy for many generations. You are not reliant on anything further to ensure instant access to your photos and cherished memories. This isn’t the same for your digital photographs.

With digital photos, you are completely reliant on your laptop, desktop, tablet, smartphone, or other digital device to read and display the digital files that are your photographs. If, for some unexpected reason, the storage device on which your photos are stored fails, or becomes obsolete and cannot be recognized by said device, you might as well consider your photos as gone.

Just think about it for a moment. As time goes on, each and every form of electronic storage will (or has) become obsolete. Are you old enough to remember having files stored on floppy disks? If you ever came across those floppy disks again, would you be able to look at those files today? How about ZipDisks? Sure CDs and DVDs are used today, but for how long; and do you still have a device that reads them? Today’s tablets, Chromebooks and smartphones don’t usually come with optical disc drives. There’s probably going to be a time when these optical drives won’t even be offered on laptop or desktop PCs. So, you better keep your older PCs in good working order, if you want to be able to look at your library of photo CDs in the future.

Services, like, are a great way to ensure you have backups of your digital pictures, stored “off site”. But, services like these depend on having access to the Internet, and outages do happen. So, completely relying on them to safeguard your memories isn’t the best solution.

So, how can someone safeguard cherished photographs, giving them the best chance of being around to enjoy fifty years from now? The only way that I can think of doing this is doing what our parents, grand parents and great-grand parents did before us: have paper prints stored away in a photo album for safe keeping. I know, in this digital age, printing photos isn’t something that many of us think of doing. But, it really is the only way I can think of to safeguard memories from obsolescence or from being erased.

These days, printing your photographs isn’t all that expensive. Photo labs, at least around where I live, charge between thirty and forty cents a print. I print our photos with the Canon Selphy, which I purchased a couple years ago. The cost of printing my own photos is about forty-one cents a print (not considering the cost of the Selphy). This is quite reasonable, especially when you consider the cost of photographing with Instax instant film, which runs about ninety cents a photo.

Polaroid also makes a photo printer, called the Zip mobile. I haven’t done a cost comparison of the prints, compared to the Selphy, but I did read somewhere that it’s Android compatible, making it easy to print photos from your smartphone.

So, while photo printing is still affordable, just like film photography used to be, now’s a good time to get your favorite memories and works of art on paper for safe keeping. You never know when electronics are going to fail; and with the quality and craftsmanship they put into electronics today, failure should be expected. There’s also something I really like about holding a photograph in my hand, rather than just looking at it on a screen.

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  1. One thing that is quite nice about physical prints is the cost forces you to pick the very best photos (and therefore the most memorable). With digital, its far too easy to end up hoarding gigabytes of photos – most of which aren’t that good.

    1. Yes, I agree! It does force you to be a little more discerning with the photos you choose to preserve. And, as a result, may actually help you take better photos, out in the field. Thank you for taking the time to share your comment with me!

    2. Agreed.
      Even when I was going out with a dozen rolls of 120 film that meant I had to get the best of the 144 possible shots. With a I could shoot and not care that I took 400+ pictures on a day. Then it would take me days to filetr out the better ones and more days (possibly) to edit the rest for printing at work. We had booth a 48 inch colour and a 36 inch Black and White that I could off hours.
      Also with digital, you give a flash drive to a processing place and how do you know that the kid at the counter isn’t making copies of your files???

      1. That’s very true! Today, with digital information, you never know where your data ends up and in who’s hands. Very good point.

  2. I now keep a very small SD card in my digital camera, which I found out by accident only has the space to hold 24 photographs at full quality, or 36 at lower quality. These numbers seem incredibly small, but they are the same as the nominal capacity of a roll of 35mm film. I like it for the nostalgia, and also because – like in the days of film – it forces me to be very selective over whether a given scene is really worth one of those precious few available shots.

    I have been wrestling with the issue of gigabytes of mediocre photos for a while, and have decided that I will soon print all the ones worth printing, and delete the rest.

    It’s funny how the possibility of a “digital dark-ages” is always lingering in the background… I vehemently clung on to backing-up things to floppy-disk for years after people generally stopped using them day-to-day, because “every computer still comes with a floppy-disk drive, so you’ll always be able to read them”. I had a similar approach with CDs and compact-cassettes – yet many devices don’t come with CD drives any more, and hardly any car has a CD player anymore, let alone a tape player.

    I still keep the means to extract information from 3.5″ floppydisks, VHS video tapes, compact-cassettes, 0.25″ magnetic tape, 16/33/45/78RPM records and minidiscs if I was absolutely desperate, but in practise I hardly ever need to do this. Over the years, I gradually copied everything I needed to my computer hard drive, USB sticks, DVDs, etc. as I needed it, so anything left over is stuff I have forgotten about for 10 or 20 years or so.

    1. Isn’t it amazing how things, which we at one time thought would always be around, just silently disappear?

      Like you, we still have our VHS player, cassette deck and I even still use my Commodore 64 and floppy disks. But, the problem is, as these electronics age, the disappearance of their replacements parts make it very difficult to repair and maintain them. I’ve been able to keep them going so far, but I know there’s going to come a time when I won’t be able to.

      Backing up on different formats is a great idea. Having photos or data on USB, hard drive and CDs/DVDs (along with printing) at least gives you a better chance of having something accessible in the future. It just takes a lot of time and space to organize it all.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    1. I haven’t had any problems (so far) from hackers, just spam posts is a bit of a nuisance. As for how to best prevent WordPress hacking, first I strongly recommend a good and complicated admin password. Don’t use actual words; I like using acronyms with special characters and numbers, and throw in a few upper case letters in there, too.

      You might also want to check out this article on the subject:

      Hope this helps!