Roy from USA writes

“We have family pictures that are about 100 years old.  B&W photos properly fixed and washed seem to last very well. You often say,rightly, that the HDD will fail.  In what format can we keep pictures for our descendants that they can see in a 100 years time.  Optical discs permanence is uncertain, but it is interesting to speculate on what will be in use then. Perhaps good old hard copy is still the answer.”

Hi, Roy.  Thanks for the great question.

First off, let me say something that may shock people, but… ALL ELECTRONIC MEDIA FAILS.  All of it.

As far as hard copy goes, let me say “Yes, keep the hard copy”.  Do not dispose of those priceless old memories.  Ever.  No matter how many times you have them backed up.  As a matter of fact, as a photographer, I would recommend putting your photographs into polyethylene sleeves, one per photograph, and then packing them flat into a light-proof box of some sort.  Cardboard would work well, as long as there are no handles to let the light in. 


Make sure that you pack the largest photographs on the bottom to prevent warping of the photos stacked on top.  Then store the box in a cool, dry environment.   If you choose a rented storage unit, make sure that it is climate controlled and DRY.  Moisture and light are the enemies of your old photos.

As far as storage media goes, I would recommend a three-tier approach, so that you always have the photographs handy.  First, scan them in to your computer so that you have them to run as a slide show.  Then, back that directory up onto portable media of some sort, like a thumb drive or a USB hard drive.

  That way you can keep these memories with you to show off.  Finally, back the directory up one more time onto an external hard drive or DVD’s.  If you use a hard drive, save the original box and packaging to store the unit.  If DVD’s, lock them into plastic cases that have rings to hold the DVD in place.  Make sure that you choose cases with rings that don’t fit the DVD’s too tightly.  You don’t want to have to fight the DVD’s to get them out if you ever need the backup.  Then, pack those plastic cases into a box. 

Finally, put your drive or DVD’s into a cool, dry space and check them once every month or so to make sure that your storage media or the files on them haven’t been damaged.  If they have, make a new backup from your portable media. 

I hope that this helps!

~ Randal Schaffer