Preserving Family Photos in the Digital Age

SusanAustinPhotography_Denver5966_web(Guest post by Susan Austin)

It’s been said today’s generation is the most recorded – yet least preserved – in history. Think about all those iPhone photos you’ve taken. Quick, where’s that one of so and so from two years ago at that place we use to visit on weekends?

Oh, it’s on a phone you no longer use or an SD card you misplaced or an old laptop that takes forever to load so you don’t bother trying. What are you going to do when your child needs a baby photo years from now for a third-grade project? Yup, that day will come, and those long-lost memories won’t be of much help. 

How long would it take you to put your hands on the digital copy, let alone an actual print, of the one image you’ve captured with Aunt Jenny snuggling baby Trevor? What about that special shot of you and your best buddy and his family taken two years ago when your families finally got to spend a weekend making new memories in the mountains? Chances are that if it’s on that phone you no longer use, the misplaced SD card or that old laptop that takes forever to load, it’s as good as gone.  Maybe if you’re lucky or have some free time you can power up that old technology, find a way to transfer it to your new gadgets, print it and preserve it this time. But let’s get real. It’s probably gone.

If you’ve got elementary school kids, you’ve probably already done the “picture scramble.” Fathers of pre-school children – that day is sure to come.

As with anything of value, preserving precious memories does take time, and it helps to have a a system. It’s well worth the effort. 

Here are some tips to not only capture heartbreaking moments but keep them as long as you wish.

  • Keep Your Camera Handy (and Know Where It Is): Kids do the cutest things at the most unanticipated times. If you’ve got to look five different places to find your camera the moment will be lost. That cute smile will morph into a tantrum by the time you’re ready to shoot. Store your camera in a place you visit often – near the family room, hall closet or anywhere you typically go several times a day. Outdoor enthusiasts can place the camera bag near the place where the coats, diaper bag and other must-carry essentials are stored. Always avoid storage places where the temperature can fluctuate significantly. Heat and cold can damage cameras and memory cards. For those of you who primarily use your phone for all your photos, I’m guessing it’s usually pretty handy.  However, as wonderful as our phones are, they might not always be the best choice for moving kids, low light (bedtime), high light (beach or snow) or other times you need to make necessary adjustments to get that good shot in common but difficult shooting conditions.
  • Develop a System for Managing Your Photos: Set aside a specific time – like the last day of each month – to download all your photos from all your devices to one “master” folder on your computer. Sort the photos by date, activity or other obvious category (Grand Canyon, spelling bee … Baby’s first tooth). The system doesn’t matter. It simply must be a plan that works for you. I like to set up my year and month folders at the beginning of each year just to get it done. I suggest using 01January, 02February, etc so that your months stay in order as computer may decide to sort April first and September last with the rest of the months nicely alphabetized in between, as computers tend to do. I suggest you set up a similar system in albums or photo boxes for actual prints you make in the last step below.
  • Create a System for Backing Up Your Photos: The good news here is there are many ways to ensure those precious photos don’t disappear with one calamitous laptop crash. You can store photo copies on CDs, DVDs, external hard drives or other computers. Cloud-based solutions are a new way of protecting precious memories. For the most secure scenario, store the backup materials at a best friend’s house or safe deposit box in case your home is compromised by a fire or other disaster.
  • Delete, Sort and Print: It doesn’t waste film to shoot, and shoot, and shoot some more with digital cameras. It does slow the entire storage process down to hang on to mediocre pictures. Yes, hit the delete key early and often as needed. You can even create two separate files or folders while sorting your snapshots (favorites, non-favorites) if you feel uneasy about losing even overexposed memories. Consumers aren’t as reliant on old-school photo albums as they once were, but printing photos is still a good way to ensure they last. Better yet, digital photo companies like MyPublisher, Shutterfly, Mixbook, Blurb, PhotoAmerica and many others allow you to create photo books that can tap your creative side. Some such sites tend to be slow, but they are often easy enough for even newbies to navigate. Be sure to keep prints in albums or photo boxes that mirror the organization plan you set up digitally. That will help when Johnny’s teacher asks him to bring in a picture from his toddler years, and you’ll know precisely where to look.
  • Set Aside Time and Budget for Professional Photos in Addition to Your Snapshots: It’s so important to save and preserve your families memories and history with photos but don’t neglect to have professional photos taken on a regular basis. Some families have professional photos done a few times a year, and others do so every few years. Whatever your schedule it’s also a critical part of documenting and preserving your family’s story and your special and unique history. Today wall portraits are a popular and modern way to decorate your home, but the added value is that these same professional portraits get to be passed down and cherished by your children and their children. Finding the right personal portrait photographer for you, one who fits your style, personality and budget need not be too daunting, if you know some key things to look for and consider. But that’s a blog post for another day.  

SusanAustinPhotography_Best way to preserve photos_web

Susan Austin is principal photographer and owner at Susan Austin Photography.  She’s been photographing longer than she will admit to but will admit to being that girl with the camera back in her teens and getting her first DSLR when something called “film” was used.  After dropping out of art school to go to business school, a career in Finance and Small Business, and then interrupting it all to enjoy stay at home motherhood as her now teenage children were growing up, she’s finally pursuing  her long-awaited photography career.  Her photography is self-described as artful, soulful and authentic.  She shoots primarily children and High School Seniors in-studio or in natural light, plus travel and food photography.   She currently resides in the small, quiet Midwest city of Des Moines, but often commissions portrait sessions or food or travel photography as part of her travels.  This year’s schedule currently includes Denver, Minneapolis, Washington D.C., Lisbon Portugal and Aruba. 
You can contact, follow or keep in touch with her at

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