At our newborn photography studio in Los Angeles, digital files are a major seller. But how long do digital images last? With each client, we give the same public service announcement about the risks associated with ONLY getting digital images. The truth is: in our experience, most clients write to us within 12 months saying they want to repurchase because they lost or damaged their images. Here are the key facts we tell our clients about caring for and managing digital images.
Not all USB drives or external hard drives are equal. And it is very likely that none of what you own was meant to last more than about 3 to 5 years. This is because of the quality of the hard drive itself and also because of the hardware you will need to read the disc as it ages. Technology changes quickly and before you know it, you may no longer have the ability to read information from a hard drive even if the files are still intact.
Cloud storage seems great. And in many ways, it is. But here is the catch; in order to save all the billions of photos and millions of hours of video uploaded daily, cloud storage companies have to preserve space. To do this, they make your files smaller. This is called compression. For example, if you keep your images in free services like Google or Shutterfly, you can upload large files. But when you download them to print, you may notice that the image is not as crisp or sharp looking as you remember. This is because some of the information of your file was removed to make it smaller so more information can fit on the cloud.
No matter how careful you think you will be with your precious baby’s newborn photos, the truth is that you will take hundreds of images as your baby grows. Most of these will be just snapshots for social media. Soon, any professional images you downloaded on your phone will become one of the thousands on your phone. If you lose your phone, or only have cloud back up from your mobile service, it is very possible to lose your baby pictures. Or the USB the photographer gave you is lost in a drawer somewhere
1. Migrate your external storage to new external storage every two years, or as technology changes significantly.
2. Back up your digital files on 2 or 3 external devices and do not keep them together.
3. Select a Cloud Storage service that does not compress files. Dropbox is one possible option. But there are likely many others.
4. Use a high quality Cloud back up system, such as Carbonite
Even doing all of these things does not ensure your digital files will last more than 10 years. It is best to always get a professional grade print of your images. Printed photos will last generations when cared for properly and protected from fire, water, etc. When you ask, do digital images last?, the answer is that they can last a decade or more when cared for properly.