You are sitting in front of this big box full of pictures of your grandparents, parents and children being children. Prints, slides, negatives, letters, maybe even little greetings and drawings – the memories come back.
What to do with all these memories? Make photo albums like grandma before? Nah, too bulky; not enough shelf space these days.
In addition, we are in the age of technology, of digitalization so to speak.
Scan it all into the computer, make a batch of CDs, keep it on USB sticks, pull it into the “cloud” and get rid of that mountain of impressions and negatives?
Not so fast.
We spoke with several local photographers, as well as Mike Bajc of Digital Arts Plus, about what it takes to preserve photographs and photographic media for posterity, how to make those precious memories last – forever?
Camera Club board member Joel Goldstein ended up with 167 trays each containing 100 slides. He said he picked up some of Digital Arts Plus and after finding a trove of negatives and prints he went to work himself.
He first bought a Kodak mini digital camera for taking pictures of the photos, then a Fujitsu high speed scanner for documents and a flatbed scanner for prints.
Goldstein said the Camera Club has taught classes on preserving old photos and using Google Photos to store them in the cloud to organize them into virtual albums.
Note the virtual album he created of his mom, an acrobatic dancer: https://photos.app.goo.gl/9WZyfdPG0ZsSbbJx2.
He also shared the life of his late brother: https://photos.app.goo.gl/eHq1Fb9CxBvrYVMV9.
For about 25 years, digitizing photos, slides and negatives has been touted as the way to make them permanent.
However, photographer and gallery owner Ludo Leideritz warns that this is not necessarily the case. Digitizing media requires storing files in a physical way, he said.
“Do you remember the floppy disk drives?” Zip readers? Jazz records? None of those that were once considered permanent storage methods exist today, ”said Leideritz. “No machine today has the components necessary to operate these devices.”
Even hard drives in today’s computers, he said, fail eventually, as do portable drives. CDs and DVDs degrade eventually. Blue rays last longer, but how long no one knows; the same goes for USB sticks.
Leideritz is also wary of the cloud, describing it as a vast array of servers operating 24 hours a day, every day, and open to breaches.
“Nothing is 100% sure,” he says. “Even the Library of Congress and the National Archives have spent millions archiving and updating their files constantly moving them from the oldest to the newest technologies.”
What to do then? Many photographers keep their files in JPEG (.jpg) format, which Leideritz calls “lossy”. This means that every time you open, close, send or resend a file, data is permanently lost.
It recommends TIFF (.tif) files, which are architecturally configured to be opened, closed, and saved multiple times without degradation.
“Compare them to pots of boiling water,” Leideritz said. “With jpegs, the lid is left closed and the water evaporates. With the tiffs, the lid is closed. The file keeps all of its x’s and o’s.
“Most people, when they scan their photos, get a CD with jpegs.”
Solution? Get two files of each photo, jpegs for sharing, tiffs for good, and always aim for the highest resolution.
What about those boxes and boxes of old photos?
“Keep them in a cool, dark, dry place with the negatives in an archival sleeve,” Leideritz said.
Laura Hoffman has shared her art with photographers and art aficionados of different ages. His distinguished courses in photography and art appreciation administered by Saddleback College fill up quickly.
Hoffman weighed in on the value and techniques of preserving photographs as visual history and a legacy of those who came before us and those who will come to see us as part of history.
“It’s up to us to make this legacy secure,” she said.
“Thirty percent of people have never backed up their images, and data loss is a constant risk due to human error, computer viruses, software corruption, hardware and software corruption and yes, natural disasters, ”she said via email.
To prevent such losses, she has some suggestions:
First, go old fashioned and print. Use archival paper and permanent ink. But it can get expensive.
Other than that, she recommends professional photo labs like Pro Photo Connection in Irvine. Demand robust solutions; 300 dpi, she advises.
Second, keep multiple backups. A batch of photos can be kept in the cloud (jpeg only) and in photo galleries such as Smug Mug. Larger files can be stored on cloud services like Google Photos, Microsoft OneDrive, and others. They cost money and must be serviced by a paying member.
However, “don’t rely 100% on cloud-based services, think of them as a backup,” she said.
She says family members should learn how to access important photos, and she recommends using external backup drives – three or more copies. She also suggests making photo books as gifts.
Hoffman approves of scanners, which are relatively inexpensive and accessible, and also recommends learning retouching and color correction skills through Adobe Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. Scanned photographs can be stored on all of the assets already mentioned, she says, as well as mirrored external hard drives. Make sure you check your data at least annually, she cautions.
Pam Houseknecht, photographer from Mission Viejo, received a scanner 10 years ago and has digitized thousands of old photos and transferred them to discs.
The problem is, modern computers run out of disk slots, so what next?
Houseknecht said she has disposed of thousands of old photos, but all is not lost. While scanning the photos, she copied them to her computer and organized them into files by subject and date. Its I-Photo library contains approximately 51,000 images.
Houseknecht said she continues to enthusiastically endorse the scanning of photos and store them digitally instead of keeping photo album shelves.
“I keep about seven of my own photo albums because they are also filled with little memories of special trips I have taken over the years that cannot be digitized,” she said.
Still, storing photos digitally is the only thing that makes sense in space, she points out.
Photo restoration, curatorial services abound
There are many photo / media professionals and online businesses that provide services to ensure that valuable photographs and other media become and remain a valuable heirloom.
Mike Bajc, owner of Digital Arts Plus in Mission Viejo, preserves, enhances and digitizes old photos, films, videotapes and audio recordings.
Once the old material is digitized, it is “frozen” in quality. It further improves quality with software that adjusts colors and cleans and corrects images or audio recordings.
“Many times our end product exceeds the quality of the original material that we received from our customers,” he said.
Once digitized, client documents can be reproduced, shared and reused in a variety of digital formats. Digital files are compatible with PCs, Mac computers, and smart TVs, and can be downloaded and stored on smartphones, in the cloud, and on home networks. They’re technically future-proof because they’re not media-dependent, Bajc says.
Prices depend on the services required. Bajc offers a 20% discount for residents of Laguna Woods Village.
For more information, call Digital Arts Plus at 949-206-1644 or email [email protected]
Other laboratories that restore and digitize photographs and other media:
Professional Photo Connection, Irvine: 949-250-7073
Reflective Image Studios, Laguna Beach: 949-350-9370