Thursday, 30 November 2006

Image storage - keeping them safe (part 1)


Where do you keep your digital images? On the computer's hard drive, on CDs or DVDs, or maybe on an external drive. But how safe are they? I have heard it said many times that image loss is a bigger problem with digital images than it is with film. I disagree for the following reason. Most film based images will one day show visible signs of ageing. Dye based images (colour and mono C41 films) will show deterioration first, but even black and white silver based negatives will age if not given proper treatment and storage conditions - how well did you fix and wash your negs all those years ago. Also, how many versions of your negs do you have? Most people don't have duplicates, and making dupes results in some loss of quality.

There is no doubt that keeping digital images safe is hard work. It is a pain. But it can be done, and if you take sufficient precautions your images could last indefinitely without any data loss at all. There are really three main risks to the prolonged life of your digital images.

The first is media failure, where for some reason the disk can't be read in the normal way. With CDs & DVDs this may be because of the affects of ageing on the disk. Some CDs have been known to become unreadable in less than two years. CDs and most DVDs are also vulnerable because the writing surface is unprotected from handling - fingerprints, scratches and dust. Hard disks normally fail due to some sort of mechanism failure meaning that the information may still be on the disk but can't be accessed, or the disk itself may be damaged.

The second threat is corruption of the data on the disks, which could be caused when writing or copying them or if some sort of problem occurs with the computer (such as a crash or virus infection).

The final danger is from external influences such as fire, flood or theft. I lump these together because the solution is the same for all of them. In brief you will need a version of your images which is remote (not in the same building, or even same area if flooding is likely) from your normal storage.

In fact there is a fourth risk. It is called human error. More of that another time.

Having dealt with the risks here, I will look more closely at the solutions in the next part - coming soon.

Image: Lake District 2005 (goes all the way to the Lake District and photographs grass, of all things)

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