The Heritage Library Division recognizes that the prevalence of smart phones with high quality cameras and affordably priced digital cameras has enabled ordinary persons to capture a wide variety of photographs in digital format.  In order to preserve this information for future generations, we will like to provide you with some useful tips to ensure that your digital photographs remain accessible in the future.


Photographs and their appeal

Photographs have long been established as a direct link to the past. There has always been a fascination and drive to capture moments whether happy, sad or auspicious.

Two factors have significantly impacted on the creation and exponential volume of digital images generated in present-day:

  • The advent of digital cameras and smart phones with high mega pixels, which allows the amateur to capture professional quality photographs of themselves, family events and the mundane.
  • The rise of social medial platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram just to name a few, which encourages the sharing and posting of images.


Laptop Computer and Camera


Many of these digital photographs are stored on cameras, memory cards and in cloud storage drives such as Google Photo, iCloud, Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox. The problem is that cameras and smart phones can be lost, memory cards can be corrupted and cloud storage drives are owned by third parties who ultimately create the rules for access to information placed on their servers. If these online platforms suddenly cease to exist you may run into problems trying to retrieve your digital photographs if they are not stored elsewhere.


Why Do You Need To Preserve Digital Images

How many of these experiences seem familiar?

  • “I lost my camera/smart phone/ flash drive and all of my images are gone.”
  • “A virus or something corrupted my image file, everything is gone.”
  • “My flash drive has stopped working”
  • “I got locked out of my Cloud storage and can’t access my photographs and information.”

How many of these statements do you believe?

  • “I don’t need to do anything in particular to ensure access to my digital photographs.”
  • “My digital images will last forever.”


Now that we have got you thinking, let’s ensure that you can access your photographs way into the future.


The Truth About Your Digital Images

Digital photographs cannot be viewed or manifested without the use of a computerized device (smart phone, tablet or computer) that has a power supply. These images are encoded as bits and bytes within a computer readable format. What does that mean? Bits and Bytes are represented as zeroes (0) and  ones (1). Each photograph, document, video or animation created in the digital environment has a unique composition of these 0’s and 1’s.


Image of Bytes and Bits

Image showing representation of Bits and Bytes – the zeros and ones used to encode digital information.


Digital devices are able to determine that a particular group of bits and bytes should be displayed as a photograph because of the format in which they are encoded. The popular formats in which digital photographs are encoded are JPEG, TIFF and RAW. Our smart phones and simple digital cameras capture images in JPEG by default. The more professional cameras such as Canon’s EOS M50 and Nikon’s D850 capture images in JPEG,TIFF and RAW format. JPEG format images are smaller or compressed, so your smart phone may hold over a thousand (1000) images at any given time. TIFF and RAW formats are much larger and are less compressed. These two formats also capture images in great detail, they require additional storage media to be used in conjunction with the camera to capture large amounts of photographs. In general, JPEGs are considered great for general use and file sharing while the TIFF and RAW are more resilient, versatile and better for the preservation of images.


Digital Image Formats

Image of the Icons used to represent the JPEG, RAW and TIFF image formats


Preserving Your Photographs for the Future

Step 1 Download

  • At the basic level it is advised that you download your photographs from cameras and smartphones at regular intervals.


Step 2 Organize

  • After downloading your photographs ensure that you give each image a unique name by replacing the automatic sequence number provided by your camera device. The name of the persons in the image, location and year should be included. This can be done by simply renaming the image by right clicking on the image and selecting rename in the dropdown menu.


A Renamed Image File

L-R Image showing automatic camera sequencing AIMG _20190421 and the renamed image file which includes metadata showing a title, location and date. 


  • Create a parent or main folder for your images and give it a name which represents the collection of images. Next, create folders for each group of images and give each folder a name which represents the images it contains.


Main and Sub Folder

Image demonstrating parent or main folder and sub folders


Step 3 Storage

  • Copy your folders on at least two (2) external storage media besides your computer or device. Your storage media options can include, but are not limited to external hard drives, flash drives, and memory cards. It is advised that both copies are not kept on the same premises.


Flash Memory Pendrive and Memory Cards

Image of storage media options SD Memory Cards and USB Flash drives


Step 4 Maintenance

  • Do not put away these storage media and assume that the images are safe. The storage media should be checked at least every three months to ensure that it is still accessible, and the images reviewed to ensure that they are still stable.
  • The images should be migrated to a new storage device every five (5) to seven (7) years at minimum. However, one must pay attention to whether a particular type of storage device is becoming obsolete or outdated as the modern computers may not be configured with the appropriate feature. A classic example of media becoming outdated is the CD Rom which is no longer available on most computers.
  • It is also important to pay attention to the file format. Is there a new and more versatile image file format being used for capturing digital photographs?  If this occurs, you will need to convert your image to the new format in order to ensure that it can be accessed in the future as software can also become outdated. While, most new systems allow for backward compatibility with respect to formats, it is advised that you convert your file format once the new format has become the established norm.
  • The storage media must be stored in a cool and dry location in the home or office where the temperature is not extreme or does not fluctuate between extremes. This location should also prevent direct light from coming into contact with the storage device.


Step 5 Print It

  • If all of this seems a bit complicated, printing out your images is a great option. Select the best images and have them printed at a photography studio to ensure the use of quality ink and photographic paper. Add your metadata (information) to the back of the photograph using a pencil or labels. This metadata should include but is not limited to the name of person(s), location, and the date the image was captured. Store photographs in your archival quality photo album.


Uncomplicate the Process by Printing Your Photos

Image showing examples of printed photographs


Photographs help us to remember, but what is the point of having them if in a less than a decade no one can:

  • access the image
  • identify when and where the image was taken
  • name the persons in the image
  • indicate who was the  photographer


If digital preservation at the most basic level is not conducted, how will the story endure? How will our heritage be passed on?



CS101 - Introduction to Computing Principles. “Bits and Bytes.”

Dadfar, Kav. Understanding all the Different Image File Formats. Digital Photography School. November 2015.

Schmidt, Casey. A Comprehensive Guide to Convert JPG to TIFF. Canto. 3 November 2019.


Images courtesy:

ph. Pxhere.


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