Saving pictures with technology a touchy business

You can save your pictures to CD and DVD but good old fashioned negatives are still a safe if not safer bet. - NORMAN SILVERSTONE/Special to the News
You can save your pictures to CD and DVD but good old fashioned negatives are still a safe if not safer bet.
— image credit: NORMAN SILVERSTONE/Special to the News

As a photographer, archival storage and rapid retrieval of photographs are both of prime importance.

When I started shooting in digital format I decided that the best way to store the mountain of images that were rapidly filling my computer hard drive would be to burn them onto CDs or DVDs. The difference between a CD and a DVD is that a CD would give me a burn of 700 Megabytes whereas a DVD would give me 4.7 Gigabytes.

Because retrieval of photos on a CD would be quicker than photos stored on a DVD, I decided to burn most of my photo files onto CDs. I made sure to use only quality archival CDs and DVDs that would at least last long enough to carry me over until the next technology change.

I labeled quite a few of them, making sure to use archival acid-free labels that would not attack the thin aluminum information foil underneath.

Last week I was looking for a photo that I had taken in late 2004 or early 2005 so I waded through a mountain of CDs. (Actually they are neatly arranged by date in a three-drawer storage thingy on wheel casters that have long since fallen off.)

I pulled out a CD that looked like the right date in 2004, put it into the CD tray on the HP, sat back and waited. Nothing…Nada…Zip….so I removed the CD from the HP, put the same CD into the MacBook Pro slot, waited, gave it a good few minutes and the Mac came up with a dialog box saying “CD has been through WWII therefore cannot retrieve information” or something like that.

I decided to see how bad the damage was, so I started checking every CD in the computer. So far I have weeded out 34 unreadable CDs all from 2004/2005, most of them have labels stuck on and they are all Imitation brand. I have checked the ratings and reviews for Imation CDs on the Internet, they are all positive.

Desperate, I emailed Tony from Tony’s Tech Services, who e-mailed me back and advised me to run a file recovery program to retrieve any or all of the photo files that were not accessible.

I downloaded one of the free recommended file recovery programs, put in a corrupt CD, pressed start and left it alone to do its thing.

Two days later the gauge on the recovery program showed that the CD contained 281mb with a recovery so far of 116kb in damaged files. At that rate it would take about one month to recover a CD.

Tony came over, I gave him seven CDs to take back to his shop and see if he could recover any files.

Now the question of the day is: “Is there any safe archival way to store digital images?”.

I have looked into the Cloud, external hard drives, external SSD drives, flash (USB) drives, DVDs, and have not found an acceptable solution. Give me negatives and slides any day.

Any questions?  E-mail me at nsilverstone@telus.net or see me online at www.silverstonephotos.com.


Norman Silverstone teaches photography through North Island College and Eldercollege in Port Alberni.

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