Photographs: Print or Digital?

digital verses print photographs, printing photos, digital images or prints
digital verses print photographs, printing photos, digital images or prints

Since the 1990's digital cameras have virtually replaced film cameras, and the way we've processed our photographs has greatly changed as well.

The photographic process as we used to know it: buy a roll of film, take a limited number of photos, drive the roll of film over to a lab for processing, print every single image (usually order doubles), then pick them up, sort and store the photos in albums or stash them in a drawer.

The photographic process as we now know it: take dozens, if not hundreds of images, easily delete the bad ones, download them directly from the camera to the computer, store them in a digital image file, and.....forget about them.

Or, we might actually print a couple of the best images to share with family and friends, (but most likely we'll just email the digital image file to them). The most ambitious of us may actually place printed photos in albums. But more often than not we will simply do a decent job of organizing our digital files on the computer.

Of the two processes, I think most people would agree that the steps involved with digital images are much more convenient. You can see your images immediately, and continue taking pictures until you get good ones. You can edit out the bad images with a quick tap of the delete button. And you can store thousands of digital images compactly in one place, on your computer.

But there is something to consider with digital images that no one has really thought about until recently.

Longevity of the digital image file...How long will images in a digital format really last?

We used to think storing images on our computer was so safe and secure. Then we experienced computer crashes, losing all our data in an instant. We thought a good way to save us from that happening again was to place our images on back up discs, USB's, or external hard drives. But sometimes those would corrupt as well and everything was lost again. Very often unrecoverable.

Another thing to consider is the advancement of technology. The devices and digital formats we use today aren't necessarily the same as what we'll be using a few short years from now.

Remember VHS tapes? How many of us still actually have a video tape player in our house these days? Yet we still have stacks and stacks of VHS tapes on our shelves. Priceless memories stored in a now archaic format. Will those tapes be in good condition years from now? If future generations wanted to watch them, will they be able to?

I know most of us thought digital file storage had such a good advantage over print. Prints are fragile, they can become damaged, discolored or lost forever. But history has shown that printed photos stand the test of time.

If photographs 100+ years ago are intact today, how much better will images printed on our modern paper with our archival inks last? Surprisingly, experts now agree, that the "old fashioned" method of printing our photos is the most reliable way to maintain and preserve our visual history.

A recent article I read in Professional Photographer Magazine talked about this very issue. In it, Vint Cerf, Vice President of Google (widely credited as one of the co-founders of the internet), has a sobering warning against keeping our history completely digital.

Cerf says, ""The 21st century could become a second Dark Ages due to the amount of information that will be lost to history..." and "We could be facing a forgotten generation or even a forgotten century".

This is something we seriously need to think about. Vint Cerf's comments in the article are a reminder of how important it is to print our images. At the end of the article he said, "If there are pictures that you really, really care about, then creating a physical instance is probably a good idea. Print them out, literally."