Almost everyone, these days, has a collection of digital photos.

As a photographer of many years, I feel strongly about protecting my collection. I’m hoping this word of caution will save some of the Mankato Area’s creatives future grief.

The Durability of Film

Let me tell you a story about a collection of photos that survived being smuggled out of a communist country shortly before the wall fell.

The images were on film, in several formats, both black & white and color, and spanning 20 plus years of events. At the time, some of the film was 30-40 years old. With the film stuffed into the nooks and crannies of a small vehicle to evade potential inspections, the holders of the images crossed the border into Austria.

These photos were the essence of a family’s visual history – highly valued and personal. The film required only minimal care to survive. It was stable enough 15 years later to be scanned and converted to digital images.

Perhaps less dramatic, but common to many people’s experience, is the shoe box of forgotten photos under the bed, in a safety deposit box, the closet, attic or basement. That box didn’t require any special handling or management to remain viable. It could be and often was forgotten for decades at a time.

Natural disasters are the primary enemy of film. Even so, there are many stories of it surviving even a drenching by sprinkler systems.


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How Long Does Digital Last?

We find ourselves in a different world today. Looking back, it seems like the transition from film to digital happened amazingly fast. In the world of technology, though, things seldom come up suddenly even though they may seem to.

Engineers at Kodak had the basic technology for digital photography worked out long ago as you can read in this article, This Man Invented the Digital Camera in 1975 — and His Bosses at Kodak Never Let It See the Light of Day.

The article left me scratching my head at how legendary humans are in their shortsightedness — blinded by greed or lack of a larger vision.

Even though the personal computing platforms required to make digital photography practical and affordable didn’t exist until the late 80s, the technology has been with us for quite a while.

I’ll spare you my more apocalyptic version of where the digital revolution could end up, but I strongly encourage you to backup your photos in several ways.

The Dark Side of Digital

But digital is not all rosy!

MankatoLIFE requires a steady diet of photos. Many are new, but some of the ones I’ve shared are 15 plus year-old digital photos that have already traveled a long path on numerous hard drives to get to where you can enjoy them here.

I’ll spare you my more apocalyptic version of where the digital revolution could end up, but I strongly encourage you to backup your photos in several ways.

For all the “improvements” that computing and associated digital technologies have brought, I am concerned enough about the longevity of my data that I have taken several steps to hedge my bets against the enemies of bits and bytes.

Not Just the Cloud!

Many people have already lost months, or even years of their personal, visual history when their phone met an untimely end.

Apple and Google have gone to great lengths to develop cloud-based backup schemes to ensure your data can live on in the soul of a new smartphone, ideally again and again. For several reasons, this is not enough and we’re only talking about photos taken with a smartphone. Stand-alone digital cameras take the necessity of multiple backups to another level.

The primary shortcoming of relying solely on cloud-based backups is that companies in that space tend to come and go abruptly. In many cases, the legal agreements they require you to click-through, that no one ever reads, state that the data doesn’t even belong to you.

Large technology corporations (cough *Apple*) are also known for end-of-lifing all sorts of initiatives because it doesn’t suite their fancy any more.

Pick a Method and Stick to It!

For the management of your precious digital assets, especially photos and video files, certainly use the wealth of proven backup plans you can find on the internet, but ultimately, trust only yourself!

I encourage you to seriously consider investing in at the very least an external hard drive to back up your digital photographs!

Perhaps you’re already paying attention to things like data degradation or “bit rot,” as it’s sometimes called. If so, maybe I can even convince you to add a secondary, off-site physical backup.

If you take nothing else away from this article, after any event … execute your backup plan. Every single time!

A Method That Works for You

One really simple way to manage your backup strategy is the 3-2-1 Backup Rule. In summary, from the article, “The 3-2-1 backup rule is an easy-to-remember acronym for a common approach to keeping your data safe in almost any failure scenario. The rule is: keep at least three (3) copies of your data, and store two (2) backup copies on different storage media, with one (1) of them located offsite.”

Personally, I have at least 3 copies of my files, stored on hard drives, in multiple locations – 2 of which aren’t in my house.

One quick tip if you’re using an iPhone and also use a Macintosh computer. Look in the Applications folder for “image capture,” and give it a spin.

The key to successfully protecting your digital photos is to pick a backup plan you can stick with. If you take nothing else away from this article, please remember this, after any event that you consider a notable part of your personal, visual history, wedding, graduation, birth, child’s sporting event, reunion, engagement, birthday party, family trip, etc., execute your backup plan. Every single time!

As they say, “the best backup plan is the one you use.”

You Won’t Be Sorry

Digital photography, including video, will require an increasing focus on intentional management if we want to cherish these pixels, bits and bytes 10, 20 and 40 years from now.

Investing in a backup plan is an investment in the future of your family’s visual history.

Rick Pepper
A life-long Mankato native Rick's current distraction of choice is photography. He especially enjoys event photography - capturing life's moments - and gets plenty of practice at his children's sporting events. He enjoys other media including live sound production and recording. He serves as a sound tech at his church.