Developments in photo preservation

Wednesday, February 1, 2012
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It wasn't all that long ago that taking pictures consisted of snapping photos on a roll of film and then taking the film to an area drug store or photo lab to be developed. Developing time could take as little as an hour or as long as a week. With the digital age came a whole new way to develop pictures. Film is not totally obsolete, but its use has rapidly declined.

"Only about 20 percent of our customers bring in photos on film," says Amber Jones, photo lab team member at Target. "Most customers bring in pictures on a camera card, a memory stick or on their cellphones. Then, they use our photo machines to edit the pictures that they want to keep and print."

Print copies are now available in as little as a few seconds or as long as an hour, depending on the quality of prints you want and what you are willing to pay.

Digital photography allows you to see, edit and share pictures with precision and speed; the trick is to make sure any pictures you wish to save are backed up properly so those images aren't lost forever.

Lynne Palmer, an avid amateur photographer, enjoys taking pictures of her three teenage sons who play ice hockey and baseball. "After I take pictures with my digital camera, we store all of our photos on our home computer," says Palmer. "Then, every few months my husband, Steve, copies the photos onto a flash drive and saves it. This way, if the computer crashes, gets damaged by fire or gets stolen, we still have copies of the photos on the flash drives. We store the flash drives in our fireproof safe."

She is also a big fan of the website Shutterfly. "I upload copies of my photos to Shutterfly and make photo books. You can choose your picture size, and you aren't locked into just the standard 3-by-5 (inches), 4-by-6, 5-by-7, etc., photo sizes. You can alter the sizes of the photos to fit the page. You can also be really creative and add writing, background color, etc., to the pages. The finished product can be a hardcover, bound book with copies of the pictures directly on the pages rather than in plastic sleeves like in a photo album or stuck with tape or glue like in a scrapbook."

Palmer says once you get the hang of making the books, it takes less time than organizing photos in albums or scrapbooks yourself.

"I really prefer making the photo books as they look so professional. ... I also printed our photo Christmas card on the Shutterfly website this year," she says.

Dr. Lisa K. Speer is an associate professor and special collections librarian at Kent Library at Southeast Missouri State University. She advises having multiple copies of the photos you want to save.

"The most important thing you can do to preserve photographs taken with a digital camera is back up your files in multiple places," she says. "Probably more data is lost when equipment fails and/or we accidentally delete files and we didn't have a backup. So, buy a good external hard drive. My husband and I have a one-terabyte hard drive, and we have all of our family digital photos saved on it. Our photos are also on our individual laptops as well as on CDs, but the portable hard drive is our 'archival file.'"

Speer also suggests using different file types -- TIFFs in one place, JPEGs in another -- when saving photos.

"TIFF is an uncompressed format, which means that when your digital image is saved, none of the data will be lost (or compressed) for storage purposes. ... The downside to saving as a TIFF is that the file sizes are large and take up a lot of storage space, so a lot of people save as JPEGs. JPEGs are also the standard file type if you are trying to upload photos to sites like Flickr or photo printing services. They transmit a lot faster because they are smaller files. For long-term storage of your digital images, though, the best scenario would be to have TIFFs for your master copies -- think of them as comparable to negatives which are the 'back ups' to prints -- and then to have JPEGS for uploading to Facebook or printing at Walgreens."

Speer's final tip is to make sure your files are compatible with evolving technology.

"Backing up images to multiple formats (portable hard drives, CDs, DVDs) is important, as anyone who has experienced data loss can attest, and migrating your data is also critical. As you upgrade your computer and/or software, be sure you can still open digital image files on new equipment," she says.

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