Looking after your wedding photographs


Why you should be looking after your wedding photographs

Just before Christmas, one of my Brides got in touch. She was distraught, as her laptop had been stolen and in the DVD drive was … yes, her wedding DVD. She’d lost her entire wedding! Obviously, I burned another copy for her and mailed it, but it’s a classic example of why “newer” is not always “better”. Let me explain why (and how) you should be looking after your wedding photographs ….

Back in the “days of old” Brides had wedding albums. Yes, they were simple compared to those that we have nowadays, but they had albums. They also had prints, that they shared with family and friends. Photographers had the negatives, which, when stored correctly would be usable for 50 years or more. Now, I’ll admit that there’s an obvious “point of failure” here in that if the photographer lost the negatives then the Bride wouldn’t be able to get any further copies. However, Brides took care of their albums – they knew where they were and they could show their Grandchildren how good they’d looked on their wedding day 20 or 30 years previously.


Graphistudio Wedding Albums


When I was a child there was only film. Family photos were stored in shoe boxes or in those albums where you peeled back the sticky transparent layer to put the photos underneath. Granted, over time, those photos degraded (partly due to the fact that they were printed by labs not using the best chemicals) but they were prints. The albums were neatly arranged on a shelf. My Mum could lay her hands on those all-important family photos in just a matter of seconds, whether it was last year’s holiday or the cringe-worthy school photos.

Now let’s fast-forward to today. We shoot digitally, whether it’s on our smartphones or our cameras, everything’s on a memory card. “Lose your phone and you lose your life” I heard someone say recently. If we’re organised we copy those photos onto our tablet, laptop or computer. Again, they’re on memory cards, or hard drives.

There’s a piece of folk-lore that says if people had to grab one thing from their burning house it would be their photos. What chance would you have if they were all on a PC that you needed to disconnect and carry out?

Anyway, if we accept that things have now moved on and that digital’s an undeniable part of our lives (which it is for most), where do we stand?

Let’s get a couple of things clear – technology is not infallible, and technology moves on.

Storing images on any digital medium has its risks.

A DVD or Blu-Ray disc will not, I’m afraid, last forever. The DVDs that photographers use for their clients have an organic layer that’s burned through in the process of creating it and over time, that layer will degrade, eventually making the DVD useless. It happens with DVDs that we buy commercially, such as films, but slower. It’s generally accepted that even commercially produced DVDs have a maximum life of between 5-7 years.

USB sticks, which some photographers use for clients’ images, are even more susceptible to failure.

What about hard drives then? Well, hard drives are an integral part of our laptops and computers. They’re effectively discs operated by magnets, spinning around at something like 6000rpm. Like all things mechanical and electrical, they eventually fail. Again, it’s reckoned that most hard drives have a life expectancy of around 5-7 years.

Technology moves on at a really scary pace.  Look at how we record our TV programmes now, on PVRs or DVD players. 15 years ago it was tapes, VHS or Betamax. There’s no guarantee that your hard drive will be compatible with whatever form of technology we’re using in 10 or even 5 years’ time.

A great piece of advice from Ian Baugh, Director of Queensberry Albums on the importance of a wedding album as part of your photographic coverage


So the question is, how do you preserve your wedding photos?

There is no failsafe solution, as you’ll have gathered. All you can do is try and minimise the risks and here are my suggestions:

  1. When you get the photos from your wedding photographer (either on DVD or USB), copy them onto your computer.

  2. Then copy them onto a portable hard-drive, which are now really inexpensive. That gives you 3 sets of copies of your images.

  3. Now I’ll suggest that you keep one of those sets somewhere other than where you live (offsite contingency’s the official description) – why? Because it means you haven’t lost your precious wedding photographs in the (hopefully unlikely) event that there’s a major problem at home. I’m talking about things like a major water leak, a burglary or, heaven forbid, a fire. Just think how you’d feel if you came home after work to find that you’d had a water leak and that your laptop was ruined.

  4. Another option, of course, is “the Cloud”. Storing your photos on something like Dropbox, or Google Drive, or Amazon. It’s certainly a good idea to have them stored in a place where you can access them remotely, from wherever you are in the world. I’d suggest you do this in conjuction with having them stored physically. Also, make sure you use a Cloud provider that’s reputable – imagine trying to get hold of your photos if a Cloud service failed!

  5. Switch on hard drives regularly, to keep them “fresh”. As I said, they’re run by magnets, so you want to make sure they’re still working.

  6. Make a diary note (either paper or on your Google or iCal calendar) to replace them and transfer the files across every 4-5 years.

There is, also, the proverbial elephant in the kitchen – the files themselves! As I said, technology moves on and the format that we currently have our images in (jpg) may not be around forever. When a digital image is created by the camera, all of the data’s compressed into this jpg file. It’s not perfect, however, and there are currently technology companies looking at alternative formats that may give better quality but with smaller files sizes (therefore needing less storage space). If technology moves this way, you’ll need to make sure that your wedding photos can be read by whatever machines we’re using in 20 years’ time.

What about the photographer, you ask. Surely they still have my photos? Well, yes, we do. But, as you can imagine, with shooting dozens of weddings each year we accumulate tens of thousands of images each season. Now, when I’ve finished editing a wedding for my clients I save the images to a hard drive that’s separate from the computer (in case the computer crashes at any point). I also save these to two other hard drives, one of which is kept off-site. I now also save smaller copies on the Cloud, as a final fail-safe. But, as I’ve pointed out above, all of these have their fallibilities and aren’t bomb-proof. Would it be reasonable to expect in 10 years’ time to phone your photographer and ask if he could let you have copies of the photos?

Do you think I’m being a scaremonger, or paranoid? No, I’m just being realistic. When I started shooting weddings there was no digital technology. We used film cameras that needed smelly, nasty chemicals to develop the films and then create the prints. Today, although film survives it’s a niche market and commercial laboratories that can develop it have dwindled. If we fast-forward 20 years to 2035 who knows where technology will have led us? It’s changing at a breathtaking pace, and as you “own” your wedding photos you have the responsibility to make sure that they’re protected and cherished. They are, after all, apart from your wedding rings and the marriage certificate, the only tangible reminders of what’s probably the most important day of your lives.

Advice for Brides

Ian Hamilton is a leading Dorset wedding photographer and is recommended by a number of Dorset’s top wedding venues

Blog Post: Looking after your wedding photographs

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