Protect Your Digital Photos Now!

My Mom as a baby in 1931 with Dad, Grandpa, Grandma, auntie and uncle (her Mom was taking the photo)

This weekend I popped a Kodak PhotoCD in to my computer that I had made in December of 1996—a “gold” version Kodak touted at the time as having a “100 year archival life“—and found that I didn’t have ANY software on my system to open that “.pcd” filetype. Alarmed, I finally found an inexpensive utility called Graphic Converter, an open source tool called ImageMagick and another called pcdtojpeg that would all do the job of converting the photos. Poking around I also discovered that Apple’s iPhoto would, in fact, pull all the images in to my system and convert them.


This only goes to prove the point that I made in a post I wrote nearly one year ago entitled, “Will Your Digital Photos & Media Survive?” and why YOU MUST PRESERVE YOUR PHOTOS NOW:

Most of us have hundreds (if not thousands or like me, 20,000+) digital photos sitting on hard drives, at Flickr, or on some old and obsolete media? In my home office closet I have Syquest, Jaz, Zip, Mac OS 7 formatted CD’s, DOS CDs, and other media I can’t read NOW…and it’s been less than 15 years. My grandchildren or great-grandchildren will pick up a Jaz cartridge and say, “What the heck is this!?!” Viewing the photos on that cartridge? Not a chance. But it gets worse since most of the digital media we’re creating today may not survive the media it’s on, let alone if it’s in a proprietary format.

THAT is the problem I ran in to this weekend: Kodak PhotoCD was a proprietary format that, due to a lack of consumer acceptance, was abandoned slowly until essentially vanishing in 2004.

I found the photo above in a “baby book” my grandmother began after the birth of her first child, my Mom. I hadn’t seen many of her maternal grandparents, the Steens, and it was an absolute delight to come across this artifact which was so perfectly preserved and in excellent condition for scanning. The kicker? This nearly 80 year old photograph was one I could see, hold, scan and preserve but a 14 year old PhotoCD photo came close to being unreadable or unusable!

Think about that as you gaze through your photos—most of which probably start with “DSC” or some other naming convention—and realize that unless you do something NOW to preserve the readability of these photos, it’s likely they’ll be lost to your children or future generations.



  1. Ken Wedding on March 7, 2011 at 8:40 am

    As one of those people trying to preserve family artifacts for all three of my children (and any later generations who might be interested), I’ve scanned photo albums, transcribed 18th century wills, and retyped reflections of WWI vets.

    I’ve decided that acid free paper and acid free sheet protectors in acid free 3-ring binders are the best guarantees of accessible preservation.

    I doubt that 20 years from now, anyone will be able to access the digital copies of my parents’ photo album of their first year of marriage, but the printed copies I made will be safe for much longer. Similarly, the family tree information that’s saved at an online site or on “gold” CDs might become as antique as wax cylinders, but the printouts will still be around.

    Now, I’m open to suggestions about digital alternatives to paper archives, but given changes in media and software that are inevitable and desirable, the “stuff” I save today is only temporarily saved. Most of it will be as inaccessible as the HyperCard stacks I built in the ’80s.

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About Steve Borsch

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.