In addition to hardware and software issues, there are a number of other factors that can impact the longevity of your stored photo collection. Here you can learn more about maximizing the life of your photos — whether printed or stored digitally.
Aging of Storage Materials
All materials may be vulnerable to the effects of aging, and the term “degradation” refers to the reduction in quality of the materials used to preserve a photo. It’s a natural consequence of the chemical changes that happen to plastics, dyes, adhesives and even metals over time — the same materials that are used for prints, hard drives, and for CDs and DVDs which we use to store digital photo files.
The rate of degradation of magnetic and CDs and DVDs will also depend on:
- Proper disc handling (i.e., no scratches, shock)
- Proper storage (i.e., temperature, light, humidity)
- Initial recording quality (i.e., defect free disc, recorder quality)
- Disc construction which varies by manufacturer
- While magnetic media are vulnerable to chemical degradation, physical damage and demagnetization, mechanical failure may also reduce the expected lifetime of your photos. Lifetimes range from about five years for the typical hard disk to 10-30 years for magnetic tape.
- In general, high quality CDs and DVDs will last longer than magnetic media, however these discs are also vulnerable to chemical degradation and corrosion. Life expectancy predictions from manufacturers and others for CD and DVD discs range from five to 300 years, depending on the disc type and the person making the prediction. While a standard International Organization for Standardization, or ISO, test method for making CD-R lifetime predictions does exist, manufacturers do not yet consistently use this method to test their products.
- Which disc should I buy?
- Will the brand make a difference?
- What should I look for in a disc?
- What is the minimum number of years the disc will last?
- Will price make a difference? Technology Obsolescence
- Computer and digital photo technologies have continued to evolve rapidly, and as a result, we have seen constant improvements in camera, scanner, computer and software capabilities. The downside of this tremendous development is, of course, technical obsolescence: Computers, storage devices, media, cameras, camera phones and software purchased as recently as three years ago may no longer work as well with newer products. This means that you'll need to watch what's happening with computers, or get some sound advice on how to maintain your photo collection over time so that you may continue to enjoy it, always.
Online services such as Kodak EasyShare Gallery, Shutterfly, Snapfish and others provide convenient ways to backup, print and share your photos with family and friends. Some wireless carriers such as Sprint also offer Internet photo sharing and storage services that allow subscribers to upload, print and share pictures taken from your camera phone or computer.
In addition, some services provide fee-based online backup services. In looking into these, be aware of their terms and conditions, and be sure to ask some basic questions such as, “Does the service allow me to store my photos at their original resolution or does it always compress them to save space? Does the service guarantee the safety of my photos? If so, does this require payment of fees? What happens if the service is discontinued?These services may or may not be suitable for long-term storage of your photos. In addition, some of the sites expect you to purchase prints or other products on a regular basis in order to continue storing the photos.
Be aware of the terms and conditions under which the website will keep your photos, and make sure that you meet any purchase requirements or fee payments.
Keep high-resolution copies of your photos at home or other secure location, using one or more of the recommended alternatives.
During the long history of photography, materials, just like cameras, equipment and techniques, have also evolved. This has presented additional challenges to scientists who work to develop methods that predict how a photograph will look 10, 50, or even 100 years from now. A new set of print technologies known as digital inkjet, dye diffusion thermal transfer (often called “dye sublimation”), and digital versions of traditional “silver halide” photos has emerged out of the range of digital photographic techniques in practice.
While there's no accelerated method that simultaneously combines all the relevant factors that degrade photographs, there's general agreement regarding which individual factors are primary sources of degradation. This allows scientists to estimate the effects of each primary factor, and also enables recommendations on how best to display and store photographs in a way that minimizes the degradation resulting from each of these factors.
It’s a natural consequence of the chemical changes that happen to plastics, dyes, adhesives, and even metals over time - the same materials that are used for prints, hard drives and for CDs and DVDs which we use to store digital photo files.
A few things to avoid:
Avoid photo albums with storage sleeves made with polyvinyl chloride as chemical out-gassing can damage the prints. Using high quality albums will help you avoid this plastic (which smells like a new shower curtain). Albums designated as “archival quality” may be a good choice.
- Avoid using ink and paper combinations that manufacturers of inkjet printers do not support.
- Avoid storage in hot, humid, or excessively dry areas.
- Avoid placing prints near un-vented kerosene furnaces and natural gas heaters, or near copiers, laser printers or air cleaners that may generate ozone. Pollutants generally do not affect prints in albums or prints framed behind glass.
- When displaying prints, avoid brightly lit areas—especially areas with direct sunlight—and use UV-protective glass or Plexi-Glass TM types of materials to protect the print. Again, to maximize the life of the print, store the print in the dark.
- Manufacturers' claims regarding the display and storage longevity of their products often come from testing at an independent test lab, from measurements performed by the manufacturer, or in some cases, a combination of both.
To best interpret these claims, follow the guidelines below:
Be sure to differentiate between “display” and “storage longevity” claims. For example, a claim that read “lasts 100 years when stored in a photo album” suggests that if stored in a quality photo album at moderate temperature and humidity, it should last approximately 100 years—and not that the print can be displayed in the presence of light for 100 years.
When determining storage longevity, look for key words such as “album”, “stored in dark”, “thermal degradation,” “temperature-induced fade testing” or “based on dark fade testing.” By contrast, claims relating to “display longevity” are typically associated with words such as “lightfastness,” “light fade,” “air pollutant fade,” or “ozone fade.” While “thermal degradation testing” applies to both storage and display longevity, it's generally more important in storage longevity estimates. In addition, the reason glass or other protection is strongly recommended for display is because it essentially removes the effect of airborne pollutants, but of course, light fade will still be a relevant factor.
How is the longevity claim supported? On packages where there's little room for detailed footnotes, visit the company's website to view their test assumptions. In other cases, the test details may be listed in the footnote near the claim.Be clear on the system for which the claim is valid. For example, if an inkjet ink or printer package claims “50 years of display fade resistance,” make sure the manufacturer specifies what type of papers will validate the claim.
Take the time to go manufacturers' website and access the section that explains their photo longevity claims in more detail.Be cautious about generic terms such as “archival quality,” especially if specific testing doesn't justify the use of such a term.
While the rapid changes in the newer digital printing technologies, such as inkjet, have created challenges for measuring and predicting print life, it's clear that fade resistance of name-brand digital media for making prints has improved significantly over the last several years. These include:Traditional photographic prints (“silver halide”) made by traditional photographic companies and usually obtained from retail stores or through online or mail order services. This includes on-site one-hour processing and overnight or two-day processing, but not prints made from kiosks.
Photographic quality thermal prints made by traditional photographic companies for printing at home (often in camera docks), and from many retail kiosks.
Photographic quality inkjet prints made by name-brand printer and imaging companies when used with specific brands of ink and paper for printing at home and on kiosks at retail locations. For best longevity, it's important to follow manufacturer recommendations about paper and ink types since certain ink and paper types are designed to work best with each other.Remember that good control of the storage environment is important to maximizing long-term preservation of the print together with the quality of materials used to make the print. From category to category— traditional, thermal, inkjet—as well as within the category, you'll notice a wide range of quality and performance. For additional information on the stability characteristics of the various media used for digital printing, please see the section called “Printing”. And remember the basic, common-sense usage guidelines: avoid brightly-lit display (or better yet, store away from light), and avoid conditions such as high humidity or temperature—if they make you uncomfortable, they'll probably make your treasured photos uncomfortable as well.
The destruction caused by hurricane Katrina in August 2005 and the Pacific tsunami in December 2004 demonstrated how suddenly disaster could hit. The magnitude of these events dominated the media and our lives for months, but disasters on a smaller scale from fires to floods, continue to destroy homes and property on a daily basis. Of course, human safety and basic needs — food, water, and shelter — remain immediate concerns, but the emotional healing from the sense of grief, loss and displacement can take much longer.
Keep a copy of your important photos in locations outside of your home, such as at an Internet photo service, in a bank safety deposit box or at the house of a friend or relative.
If you live in an area prone to natural disasters, make sure that you keep a backup in a location far away from your home.
Theft or Loss
Physical photo storage in the form of negatives, prints and albums are unlikely candidates for theft. However, thieves target many of today's electronic photo storage options and laptops, portable multimedia players and digital cameras, both at home and on the go.
Nowadays, you can store your entire photo collection on a single compact desktop computer, laptop or portable hard drive while in the past, negatives, prints and albums made for a very bulky collection. Unfortunately, if one of these devices is stolen, your photo collection is missing also.
The increasingly small size of portable electronic storage devices also makes them easy to lose. Consider that a 1GB camera flash card can hold about 500 of your photos in a package the size of a postage stamp.
Keep a copy of your important photos in locations outside of your home, such as at an Internet photo service, in a bank safe deposit box or at the house of a friend or relative.
Copy your photos from your digital camera to your computer as soon as possible after you took them in case your camera gets lost or stolen.
Keep the original film negatives, slides or prints if you created your digital photo files with a scanner - they are less susceptible to theft.
[Source: I3A - Intl Imaging Industry Assn].
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