Printing and Archiving your Photos
If we examine all the reasons there are for taking photographs, I think most people would agree that the number one reason would be as a memory to be kept. You may be quite alarmed to realize then, that our digital photos are more vulnerable than ever to the ravages of time.
A couple of things you may not know about longevity.
I've been printing my pictures on various inkjet printers for a few years now. When I first started I was very disappointed with how quickly the prints would begin to fade. When I first started making posters, some of which would be displayed in sunny windows, they would start to fade in about two weeks. Even the prints that were displayed indoors, well away from the sunlight, would fade in a few months. Longevity was, and I believe still is, a major problem for the manufacturers of inkjet printers. Although I must say that things have improved and prints do last longer than they used to.
Inkjet prints do not, however, last as long as conventional photographic prints.
I've got photographic prints that are 30 or more years old and they still look as good as the day I printed them. How many of my inkjet prints will look as good in 30 year's time? At the moment of course, nobody knows. They can make guesses based on fast ageing techniques but, if the results are not promising, they are probably not going to tell us anyway. Some manufacturers have brought out 'archive' systems but you need to buy a new specialist printer and the right inks and paper which are all quite expensive.
With all this in mind I have been dragging my heels in some areas of photography, such as school portraits which are going to be around for a long time, and up until last autumn I continued to shoot on film. When I went to buy the film last year I asked the assistant at the lab what most of the other school photographers were doing these days and discovered that almost everyone was now shooting on digital.
"But how long are the prints going to last?" I asked.
"what do you mean?"
"Well, when I print from my computer the prints don't last very long at all."
Then I was treated to a smile and an explanation that, even from a digital original, the printing process at the lab has not changed, they still produce photographic prints, developed in chemicals, which will last as long as they ever did.
Well, I may have missed something here but, as far as I was concerned, this was the best kept secret in the whole photographic industry. Maybe you already knew this but most people I have spoken to didn't and had never really thought about it.
I think the photo finishing industry has missed out on the one good reason why we should still send our photos away to be printed, longevity. They are still going to be viewable long after the inkjet prints have faded to nothing, even if you use new printer ink.
Of course prints from the lab are also a lot cheaper and less time consuming but neither of these reasons has ever been a good enough incentive for us dedicated hobbyists. The idea that our 'masterpieces' will fade away to nothing in a few years though is a big incentive to using a photo finishing house to make those final prints.
Archiving your files
The other problem with digital photography that has been bugging me for some time is how to keep my picture files safe. We all know how reliable our computers are, we could lose the entire contents of our hard drive in the blink of an eye. We are constantly being told that we need to make backups, but what are we going to back up on to? The only medium that comes readily to mind that is big enough to take more than a few photos is a DVD-R. I've been working with these for a while now and can tell you that, as a long term storage medium, I wouldn't trust one further that I could frisbee it. I've got DVD-Rs that I made a couple of years ago which just wont play at all now. My short term solution is to keep buying bigger and bigger hard drives but I can't go on doing that forever.
Whatever medium we choose for backups the only sensible way to make sure we don't lose our work is to keep 'churning' the files. What I mean by that is, every few months or so, replace your archive disks with new copies. Another way to make sure that your archives are churned automatically is to store your best photos online. The companies who operate the servers make new backups every day at least.
With these two things in mind I've been looking at some of the 'online albums' as a solution to the problem. Some big names like Kodak and Sony are offering to take care of our printing needs and offer us a place to store and share our photos and, although I personally don't spend a lot of time bombarding my friends with photos attached to emails, the idea of having somewhere safe to keep my photos and someone reliable to make prints when I need them is very appealing.
Make sure you read the small print, especially on the sites that offer free storage. They will delete your pictures after a certain amount of time if you don't spend any money on prints orders. Well after all they're not running a charity are they? If you are primarily looking for a safe place to store your pictures then it might be best to look at one of the subscription sites like Zenfolio .
If you enjoyed this page you might
be interested in my eBook
Learn Photography with Geoff Lawrence
Other tutorials in this section
Printing your own and sending them out.
What to do with your masterpieces.
The world of microstock.
Have Your Own Photography Website.
Do it now before you lose all your photos.
What is it and what's in it for you?