5 Tips for Preserving Your Digital Photos

Everyone loves old family photos. Whether laughing at Uncle Mark’s 1976 baby-blue prom tuxedo or imagining the life of your great-great grandfather as you gaze at an image of him in a Civil War uniform, we connect with times past and pass along our traditions and memories to future generations through photographs.

With the advent of digital photography and the accessibility of affordable camera equipment, many of us have begun stockpiling photos on our computers. As with physical photos, these digital images are subject to loss and decay over time.

In order to make sure our descendants continue to have opportunities to learn about our lives, action needs to be taken today to preserve and protect the memories we capture using digital media.

On Saturday, April 30th at 11:00 am Kansas City Public Library is recognizing Preservation Week (April 24-30) with a special session on caring for digital photos (we’ve already conducted a session on caring for print photos). This free presentation will be led by me, Jordan Fields , digital projects manager for the Kansas City Public Library. For details on how to attend the session, click here.

Below are some recommendations for how to preserve your digital images.

1. Locate all of your digital photos
Chances are pretty good that you have more digital photos than what you’ve taken with your primary digital camera. Have you thought about your smartphone? What about your spouse or child’s digital devices? Have your friends taken photos and posted them on websites like Facebook for Flickr? Make sure you consider all of the places where digital images could be lurking. If you do not have original copies, request them from friends and family rather than copying them from the web.

2. Choose the most important images
It’s easier than ever to take and store thousands of digital images; however, preserving those photos does take a certain amount of work. Once you know what you need to do to preserve digital images, be realistic about what you have the time to save. If you have several similar images, choose the best one to preserve.

3. Organize your important images
In the past we wrote information about an image on the back of a physical photo (always in pencil, of course). Today you should give your digital image files unique descriptive names. “JuliaClarke_MtRushmore_2007.jpg” is much better than the default “IMG_1362.jpg.” Many websites and software include the ability to “tag” people and places or create captions. This is a great thing to do, but be aware that in many cases if you move your photo to a different site or use different software, you might lose that information. You should also organize your digital photos using the file folders or directories on your computer and create a description of how your organization scheme works to store with those folders.

4. Make copies
One of the advantages of digital images is that it’s easy to make digital copies. Be sure that you make at least two copies of all of your digital images and store them on different devices, ideally at more than one location. An easy way to do this is to copy them on to an external hard drive, thumb drive, or DVD-R and give them to family and friends as gifts. There are also many online storage options, but you should always have at least two backup copies of your own. For your most important images, make professional-quality physical prints.

5. Check your photos regularly
Technologies and file formats are always changing, and digital images are much more fragile than printed copies. Once a year, open all of your most important photos to make sure that nothing has happened to the files. Create new copies every five years. If you cannot open a file or any of your backup copies, seek professional help.

For more information on caring for digital images, come to the Central Library on Saturday, April 30th at 11:00 am. Please RSVP online if you wish to attend. For questions, feel free to email me or call 816.701.3555.

-- Jordan Fields