It’s Almost 2019. Do You Know Where Your Photos Are?

Do you plan to keep your family photographs forever? If so, where will you store them?

As printed photos: a bad idea as photos printed with most of today’s technology solutions, including those printed at the local drug store, will fade within a very few years. The problem is best seen on color photographs where the reds will fade first, only to be followed by the other colors over time. Even black-and-white photos made by today’s techniques will fade. (Photographs printed years ago by chemical means in a photographer’s darkroom lasted much longer than today’s photographs printed at home on an inkjet printer or in a commercial film development lab using a more-or-less instant printing process.

On floppy disks: a bad idea as floppy disks have almost disappeared. Within a few years, floppy disk drives probably will only be found in museums where they may or may not still function.

On microfilm: a bad idea as microfilm has never been a good method for storing photographs. In addition, archival-quality microfilm is no longer manufactured although you can still purchase lower-quality microfilms (at high prices) that have no promises about expected longevity. In addition, new microfilm readers are almost impossible to purchase today and spare parts for the older readers, needed to keep the machines operational, are becoming scarce.

On CD-ROM or DVD disks or Blu-Ray disks: a bad idea as these optical drives are also disappearing. Many laptop computers and quite a few desktop systems are now manufactured without such disk drives. Within a few years, these optical drives probably will only be found in museums where they may or may not still function.

In flash drives: a bad idea as the life expectancy is limited. Flash drives can last up to ten years, but as mentioned on at, flash memory doesn’t usually degrade because of its age, but rather because of the number of write cycles, which means the more you delete and write new information, the more quickly the memory in the device will start to degrade. Since all these devices are similar in that they all use flash memory, they’ll all degrade in a similar fashion.

In an iPad or other digital tablet: a bad idea as these things change rapidly and standards are still evolving. If you purchased one of iPad’s first models when they first appeared in 2010, would you still be able to use that device today? How about 25 years from now? Will your descendant be able to use it 100 years after your death?

In a so-called “digital picture frame”: a bad idea as these devices seem to appear and disappear every Christmas season. Will the digital picture frame you purchase still be useable in five years? Twenty-five years? Or longer? Sure, they look great hanging on the wall, displaying a new photograph every few seconds. However, most of them do not have a capability of searching for and displaying a specific photograph upon demand from hundreds or even thousands of photos stored in the device. Even worse, most of them do not have any capability to copy the pictures FROM the picture frame to a different device.

In a cloud-based photo storage service: a bad idea as these services have a history of appearing and disappearing at most any time. According to an article by John Herrman in the New York Times at

In March 2000, Yahoo created Yahoo! Photos, a place to store your photos. It had limited storage space available as was typical of online storage services of that time.

In 2005, Yahoo acquired Flickr, the popular photo site.

In 2007, Yahoo announced it would discontinue Yahoo! Photos and that users should move their photos to Flickr.

In 2018, Flickr, now owned by Oath, a subsidiary of Verizon, was sold to SmugMug, a smaller competitor. Flickr said that users could only store a maximum of 1,000 photos. Users could begin paying or take the rest elsewhere. SmugMug later switched to a plan that requires payment from ALL users with plans starting at $5.99 monthly or $47.88 a year if billed annually. Details may be found at There are similar stories from other online photo storage services.

My thanks to the several newsletter readers who told me about the recent New York Times article by John Herrman.

So where do you want to keep your photos?

The New York Times article mentioned previously offers several suggestions about storage of your precious photographs but neglects to mention the one major risk of all the suggestions: these services appear, disappear, or get bought out regularly. If bought out, the new owners may change the policies and prices of the previous owners.

Then there are the hardware, software, and operational issues:

Dropbox had an outage in 2014 where many files, including photographs, were accidentally destroyed and were unable to be restored. See my earlier article at for the details.

RootsWeb had an outage about a year ago and still has not been able to restore all the user-contributed files. See my earlier article at for the details.

There are other, similar stories. In short, your photos are at risk.


Of course, you will always want to keep copies of your photos at home where they are conveniently available to you. In fact, “at home” is an excellent solution, even if it is imperfect. Never use “at home” as your only solution! What happens if you are the victim of a forest fire? Just ask the folks whose homes and all the contents of each home were destroyed in the recent California fires. For more evidence, ask anyone who has had homes damaged or destroyed by hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, or even burst water pipes.

The reality is that you always need to keep backup copies of your photographs and other valuable digital information and the backup copies must be stored in a place that is located far away from any disasters that would destroy photos kept in your home.

Archivists and others have long used a technique called L.O.C.K.S.S. – Lots Of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe.

L.O.C.K.S.S. to the Rescue

The L.O.C.K.S.S. Program, based at Stanford University Libraries, provides libraries and publishers with award-winning, low-cost, open source digital preservation tools to preserve and provide access to persistent and authoritative digital content. However, then techniques of the L.O.C.K.S.S. Program may be used by anyone, private individuals as well as libraries and publishers. While the L.O.C.K.S.S. Program used at Stanford and elsewhere is sophisticated, it is based upon a simple concept: if something is valuable to you, keep lots of copies of it stored in lots of different places. They won’t all disappear at the same time. Even iof one service goes away or if a disaster occurs in your home, you will still be able to retrieve copies from the MULTIPLE locations where the many copies are stored.

For details about the L.O.C.K.S.S. Program, see

The basic concept of L.O.C.K.S.S. isn’t brand-new. In fact, it was first described more than 200 years ago!

“…let us save what remains not by vaults and locks which fence them from the public eye and use in consigning them to the waste of time, but by such a multiplication of copies, as shall place them beyond the reach of accident.”
-Thomas Jefferson, Feb. 18, 1791

While you have just read several reasons why you should never use only one backup method, there is nothing wrong with using a combination of the same methods. In short, keep copies in your computer at home, in your iPad, in a desk drawer at the office, at a relative’s house, in multiple cloud-based file storage services, and elsewhere. Follow Thomas Jefferson’s advice!

L.O.C.K.S.S. – Lots Of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe.


Photo color fading – I insist on ONLY HP inks
In the beginning only Eastman Kodak Digital Inks were worth using but then they made some deal with HP to share ink technology. I guess EKCo still makes inks but they are hard to find so the market for reasonably stable inks is left to HP. I have tried many other brands of ink and all begin to fade noticeably in weeks (depending on environmental conditions). Inks are the very last place you want to look for a bargain…you definitely get what you pay for.
Peter Evans, Retired EKCo Research Engineer for what it is worth.


Thanks. This is a good reminder to double check our systems.


The problem with L.O.C.K.S.S. is keeping it going after you have passed on. Of course that was also a problem with the paper copies of years ago.


The short answer is as you say multiple copies on multiple formats. But the alleged deterioration is in most cases a myth. Opening a jpeg and closing it, does not change the file in any way. Re-saving it does, by a tiny amount. See
The advantage of a digital record is that it can be easily saved in multiple formats. So make a copy on CD / DVD / Stand-alone hard drive, and Flash Drive. As time goes by, formats will become obsolete and other formats will take their place and you move with the times. The advantage is that it will still be digital, so easy to make those changes.
Those relying on a cloud and paper, need to think. But don’t think your digital pictures will fade away on your flash drive like a inkjet photo, they won’t.


    I disagree with the position that printed photos will fade “within a few years”. We have photos that we printed from our home computer printer as well as from Walgreens or CVS. Some of these photos are 15 years old. I have not noticed much of any fading.


I have my photos printed at a “real” camera shop with a high reputation locally. They have an in-house lab to develop photos. Quality is excellent. I always presumed their prints would would “last longer” than Walmart or a drug store. Am I wrong?


    —> I always presumed their prints would would “last longer” than Walmart or a drug store. Am I wrong?

    I believe you are right.

    Higher-quality prints produced by darkroom techniques or even by automated machines that use darkroom technology (chemicals) and then are printed on high quality photo paper will last much longer than the “quickie prints” that are so common today. However, if they are color prints, they still won’t last forever. Yes, they will last many years longer than the “quickie prints” but eventually the colors will begin to fade. The reds will fade away first, to slowly be followed by other colors. It might take years to fade but even the best color prints will not last forever.

    Black and white prints usually last much longer.

    My recommendation: when the prints made by any method are brand new and have maximum color, digitize them. Then save BOTH the paper prints and the (multiple copies of) the digitized images in different places. You probably want to keep the prints at home but I would suggest also keeping digital copies in other locations in case of an in-home disaster that might damage or destroy your prints. You can keep copies at the office, at a relative’s house, in the cloud, or any other place that makes sense to you. If it was me, I would keep the prints at home and also save digital images in two or three or even more places. I never want to place all my eggs in one basket or even all my baskets in one truck.

    I would suggest you simply want to be prepared in case the prints are ever damaged or destroyed.


Thank you for that information!


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