So the wedding is over and you’ve got some prints, maybe an album, and most likely a optical disc (CD or DVD) of images. Actually you might be one of the many couples who just want the disc and worry about prints or albums later (my thoughts on that in a future post). But now that you’ve got that disc what steps are YOU going to take to protect the contents of it? Sure the photographer most likely has backups. Personally I backup to two external discs and two online data storage locations. But even with all that I hesitate contractually promise to have backups available for X number of months or years, mostly because too much of the offsite backup system is out of my control. Besides, even photographers who do promise to keep files available as backups do so only for a limited time, most 1-3 years of guaranteed replacement availability. That’s not a bad warranty for a computer, but for your memories. But then what if something happens to the photographer. They retire, move away, studio and storage equipment destroyed in a fire, maybe they pass away, etc. No matter what they may have said there are numerous reasons, many outside of their control, that might keep them from being able to recover your images a year or more down the road.
Couples this is where you have to take the initiative, you’ve got a disc that contains files to one of the most important days of your life. Protect it.
CD’s and DVD’s are a limited lifetime storage device. The laser writer in a home computer isn’t as good as the laser scribes cranking out the DVD’s movies, the data layer is more delicate and will deteriorate over time. During my time in IT I’d seen first hand data CD’s that where only 3-5 years old that where no longer readable. It wasn’t the norm, but it happened. Even the DVD’s I’ve started using for clients, Delkin 100 year Archival Gold won’t last forever, maybe not even the 100 years the package says, heck I probably won’t be around to tell for sure one way or the other. Besides it’s still one physical device that can be broken, melted, scratched, or even lost and stolen. Even if the disc lasts decades with as fast as technology advances do you really think you’ll be able to easily find a device that will be able to read that disc in a few decades. Seen any good Univac magnetic tape readers at the computer store lately.
So the first thing the newly married couple has to do now that they have the disc is to take ownership of the responsibility to make sure those images survive. Since untimely events are, well, untimely I advise doing this in the first 1-3 months after your wedding. I’ve talked to FAR too many people in my tech support years who told my there were planning on backing up their photos, or mp3, or important documents but just hadn’t quite gotten around to it yet. First of all check your paperwork from your photographer to make sure you have clear rights to make backup copies of the disc. Honestly I can’t imagine a photographer not being OK with this, but I’m sure there’s some out there charging $30-$100 for extra copies of the disc regardless of use. The first thing to do is make sure the images exist in more than just one place. The easiest way will be to just copy the photos over to your home computer. Now take the original disc and put it somewhere safe and don’t use it for day to day use, treat it as an emergency backup copy only. Now that they are on the computer you have to make sure your computer is backed up. The one storage medium almost guaranteed to have a shorter lifespan than a DVD is a computer hard drive. Mac users if you are running Leopard and don’t have an external hard drive and running time machine, now is the time to change that.
Windows users, yeah well I’m sure there’s software you can buy that will do a good job as well and you can buy the same affordable external hard drive to plug in and do the job. So now you’ve got the DVD of files, copies of the files on your computer and your computer is safely backed up. You’re all done right. Wrong. What if the unthinkable happens and you loose everything in a house fire? Two ways to protect yourself in this case if offsite and online storage. Currently offering unlimited backup for 4.95 a month, this backs up your computer over your internet connection at night. So by now you’re probably you’re probably pulling your hair out thinking this is far too much work to do for backing up files on a disc that will last for a while and the photographer probably has backups for a while as well. Why go to all this effort.
Your images should be there for you forever, not just until the next computer crash.
Well I’m not really concerned about your being able to recover your files in a year or two, yeah if something happens you’ll probably find a way to get them from the photographer.
But what about 20 years from now?
These are your memories. The current state of the wedding industry means getting a disc of images has become increasingly common and within a few more years that will be the expected norm across the board. Now that you’ve got that precious disc it’s up to you to make sure those images are protected and continue to survive and be shared with your family. Fifty years from now when your grandson comes to you looking for image files from you wedding so he can do a special gift for your 50th wedding anniversary, wether or not you have those files will be solely up to you, and you alone at this point. The actions you take in those first few months after receiving that disc will likely determine what is and what isn’t available in. You’ve invested a pretty good sum of money in a photographer to capture those images of your wedding day. As a photographer all I can do is point you in the right direction, but it’s up to you to take the initiative and protect that investment for the long term.