About making pictures   - image preservation  by  Waeshael


Preservation of digital pictures

It is unlikely that your grandchildren will be able to see any of your digital images as they are presently stored. No matter how they are presently stored - hard drive, CD, DVD, flash drive (SD etc.) no device 20 years from now will be able to read them.

My experience with hardware

I originally stored my pictures on removable media hard drives that could store 80 MB of data. I have kept the drives and the discs since 1998. This was before I owned a digital camera, so the images were from scans of prints and negatives post processed. The drive is SCSI connected to the computer. Today no computer has a SCSI connector, so the drive can’t be directly connected to a modern computer. Luckily I have several powerbooks that do have SCSI ports, and I have kept the SCSI adapter that will connect to the drive.

I have used CDs to store images, but CDs have a short lifetime and many of my CDs have holes in the substrate and are unreadable.

I have used CF cards for storage, and these are reputed to have a long life, but it is hard to find a CF reader, except on the internet, and everyone has switched to SD format cards. The last Mac that could accept CD cards was built in 2005.

This digital image is from an old negative from 1965. The scan wasn’t very good, but at least I have the picture of my puppy almost 50 years later. In fact I have negatives earlier than that, from the 50’s, and prints from the early 1900s.

My family history is documented in B&W prints, many are still in good shape.

To store digital pictures you must transfer them every two years to state of the art hard drives, and update your computer every five years so that you will have something that will be able to connect to the drive. The images will need to be copied to two other drives, stored in separate places. These drives should be set to read-only once the files have been written to them. And the drives locked so that they cannot be accidentally reformatted. Hard drives have an average life of 2 years. Transient signals on the power lines can damage a drive, even if you use a UPS. So, disconnect the drives electrically i.e no cables connected to them. Do not use a proprietary back up system that requires the same software to read the file structure. Use a program that exactly duplicates you image file structure.

I have firewire drives that have been off line since 2005 which still work - I have kept the proprietary cables to power them up. And I have a few Macs that have firewire connectors - but hardly an PCs have them.

You should not use the cloud for storage as companies often lose data, and companies come and go, or change their services. Apple cancelled its storage service in 2010 and all images were erased - they warned you to download them before hand.

Don’t use a proprietary database like iPhoto, or Aperture that only runs on particular version of the Apple operating system. Don’t store your older images on your computer hard drive - off load them to a portable drive. Keep only current work on your computer, and back it up automatically every day at least.

If you use any database program to catalog your images, make sure than any file viewer program can access the images from any computer.

I store all my images regardless of file format in a single folder. My database program copied the images to this folder, and built an index of the folder. If my database crashes, it rebuilds the index (Cumulus 5.5 runs on OS9 only or classic mode on PPC Macs - no longer available.) In any case all the images are accessible to any program. The only caveat is that I must use the database program to delete images and add images, otherwise the database will get confused. I would then have to reindex all the files (18 GB and many thousands of images.)

I recommend using Graphic Converter for file viewing. It will read any format and convert from old to new formats. I have been using versions from 6 to 8 over the last 12 years or so, on various Mac platforms. It is regularly updated. A family pack for five computers only costs about $70.

Mt experience with file formats

Between 1998 and 2008 I kept many of my images in IVUE and FITS format. Today there is no software that can read these files. I have kept several computers (about 8, I think) that can still run the software to view and edit these files. I am slowly converting these file formats to 8 bit TIFF files.


I have some pictures on Kodak CD, which are in a proprietary Kodak format, and now there are hardly any programs that can read the color encoding and they make a mess of the picture. Luckily I have a program from the 90’s that runs under OS9 that can read Kodak CDs. But no modern Mac computer can run OS9. There is some software that can read Kodak CDs under OSX (Graphic Converter 8), I think.


Some older JPEG files are unreadable with some editing software and have to be converted by something like Graphic Converter which can read hundreds of file formats, like AMIGA. Sometimes the filename of the old file is not recognized by modern computers. For example on the older macs there was no need to add a .jpg extension, and many people didn’t. But even Mac OSX needs the .jpg to open the file. So these files have to renamed by adding the extension.


The only file format that has survived since the first days of digitizing images is the TIFF format. You should convert RAW and JPEGS to TIFF and you can expect that the images will be viewable for many years. Keep the JPG original as it has all the metadata about the camera which the TIFF format does not store, and you will probably want to copy some of this data, or use it to rename the files, while you can still read the JPG image.


RAW formatted images have a short lifespan because the software to read them can become obsolete as the formats are proprietary. Every time a new camera is released its pictures are stored in a different RAW format. Also a RAW formatted image does not represent what the photographer intended, only what the camera captured. So someone who might be able to view a RAW file ten years from now, will have no idea of what the photographer did to it to make his final picture, unless he also has a print to go by.


Prints of pictures can have a lifetime of more than 100 years if the appropriate paper and ink is used, and the prints stored in a dark place of moderate humidity and temperature. And the prints stored in archival quality envelopes.


Rename your files as they come off the camera with names that you will recognize later. Keep the camera filename as part of the new name. Names such as “Miller_family_1986_vacation_DSC-LM5_P10003087.TIFF” will help you find the file later on. The computer search engine can be used.