Will my grandchildren be able to look at my photos?

This week I was over at my cousin’s house and we were talking about old family photos. He had a stack of photos and pulled out this great shot of his grandfather, my great-uncle from when he graduated from university in the 1940s.

Nathan Fox 1940s
Nathan Fox, early 1940s

My cousin knew that the picture was somewhere in this pile and he was able to find it easily. It got me thinking about how this exercise in viewing a 75 year old picture might be in 75 years from now. At that time, it will be more a question of “where are digital photos stored on my computer?”

At the time of this writing, in 2018 there are very few printed pictures. That’s not to say that no pictures are printed. My wife enjoys making photo books from various family events and these are great to look at. All of the pictures are stored in my computer too.

I imagine that in 75 years from now, someone will want to look at an old picture but first have to figure out where it is. Is it on their phone or computer? Is it stored in the cloud? Today many photos are stored in the popular JPEG format. This common picture format can be viewed on almost all devices and has been around for a long time. One of the main downsides is that it uses a form of compression such that if you make changes, the quality of the picture will degrade. There are other formats that do not degrade but the files are larger and in some cases are not as popular or prevalent on all devices. The real question is this – how can I guarantee that my photos will be viewable in the future?

Let’s say that you have 20,000 photos stored over the past 20 years. That means you may have 20,000 JPEG images that potentially may be unusable if future computers cannot read them. The best solution that I have at this time is to be aware of what formats are popular today. Let’s say that it looks like JPEG will become used less and less – similar to VHS tapes and audio cassettes. This gives you time to convert your photos to other formats. I know of several free programs that can mass convert photos from one format to another. The same can be said for videos and other digital files. As long as you are vigilant in keeping up with what currently the standard then you will be prepared for the future. It’s also not a bad idea to get to know people who can help advise you about this too!

If all goes well, and you follow my advice about keeping your photos and videos stored by date and even labeling the files, then in many years from now when your grandchildren want to find a special photo of you, they can easily look through whatever digital / cloud system they have and will have the same good feeling you do now when you run your hands across an old photograph.


Review: Apple iCloud Photo Library

On a recent vacation to visit family in Montreal, I decided to turn on Apple iCloud Photo Library so I could give it a proper test. With my system for storing photos, I wasn’t so sure that iCloud Photo Library was for me but I get asked about systems like it all the time so I decided a test was in order. Let’s take a step back. When iPhones first came out, all photos and videos were stored on the phone. When you wanted to do something with them off the phone, you plugged your iPhone into a computer and transferred the photos. As we move to a more phone-centric world and always connected, having the ability to automatically have pictures stored in the cloud is an option. With iCloud Photo Library, as you take pictures and videos, they are uploaded to your personal Apple iCloud online space. You can decide whether or not to do this through cellular or only on WiFi. Let’s walk through how this is set up and some important settings.

Enabling iCloud Photo Library

First, when I mention iPhone here, it also applies to iPads. If you have a cellular enabled iPad, then all the cellular considerations apply to. For WiFi only iPads, it’s only going to upload when it has a WiFi connection. On your phone, go to Settings-> Photos and tap on iCloud Photo Library. If you expect to take many photos and don’t want to have to manage space, choose Optimize iPhone Storage. This will reduce the size of photos on the phone but the full sizes remain online. enable iCloud Photo Library That’s all there is to enable iCloud Photo Library. Now when you take photos and videos, they will get uploaded to your iCloud account. If you have several Apple devices, you’ll be able to view and even share these photos and videos from anywhere. And even from any web browser you can log in to icloud.com to see and manage your pictures from there. As time goes on, you’ll have all your photos easily available. So in summary, these are the pros for enabling iCloud Photo library:
  • backs up automatically to the cloud
  • becomes available on all devices including any web browser
  • easy to share pictures with others

The Other Side of iCloud Photo Library

When the great features of systems like iCloud Photo Library are talked about, it’s always about the convenience and protection of your photos and videos. The questions I always ask about any system that stores my precious memories include:
  • How easy is it to get my photos and videos out in the future in case I want to change to a different cloud provider?
  • What happens if they go out of business?
  • What happens if the system is hacked and I lose everything?
  • If they do stick around, how can I ensure that I can give these photos and videos one day?
So let’s look at the “cons” to iCloud Photo Library. First, if you use Microsoft Windows, like I do, then it’s not as tightly integrated with your computer as it would be with a Mac (more on that analysis when I get my hands on a Mac)

Hard to sync photos between iCloud and your computer

It’s not easy to sync up pictures to a computer if you use “my” method of storing photos. You can install iCloud for Windows which gives you some tools for synchronizing things like web browser bookmarks, email with Outlook and photos. As you can see here, you can both upload and download photos from your computer. In this case, I have 80 photos and 13 videos from 2018 that I can download to my computer. There’s no way to say only download photos that I’ve added since last time or a specific range.

It would be very easy with this download method to lose track of what is in folders on your computer vs what is in iCloud. If you keep your photos in organized folders by year, month and event, a much better choice is something like Dropbox or OneDrive.

Managing photos in iCloud web site

If you log into icloud.com, you can browse through all your photos. There is no easy way to delete multiple photos – no ctrl-click, to select multiple, all you can do is select a “memory” which is photos on a certain date or album. Otherwise it’s one by one.

Long term existence of the service

At the time of writing this, 2018, Apple is in excellent financial shape and show no signs of going anywhere anytime soon. Having your photos in iCloud Photo Library works great as long as Apple keeps the service going, but what happens if in 20 years Apple discontinues the service or makes such a drastic change that you don’t want to keep using it? If you care about the long term ability to keep these photos, then suddenly having to move all of them can be very difficult. If you create “albums” or any other proprietary structures in iCloud Photo Library, all you’ll likely get in a download is every single photo.

Summary and Recommendation

As I have said before, never rely on only one service. Because of the way that Apple traps you into their ecosystem without the ability to sync to other services, I am unable to recommend iCloud Photo Library for anyone who is relying on it as their sole source to store their photos and videos. In future posts, I will talk about how to effectively use different methods to both have access now to your photos and videos and protect them for long term. Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

How will you view your smartphone photos in the future?

In the ‘olden days’, my grandparents went on vacation with a camera and several rolls of film. When they got back, there was the excitement of waiting for the film to be developed so they they could see how well (or badly) the pictures came out. The best shots went into an album and then the album went on a shelf where it could be viewed at any time. As the keeper of family memorabilia, I now have many of my grandparents albums that even 50 or 60 years later are still able to be easily viewed.

Let’s compare this with what happens today. You go on vacation and take 500 pictures with your smart phone. Maybe you subscribe to an online cloud service like Apple iCloud so the pictures get safely and securely stored. You can view them on your phone at any time and send pictures to family and friends and post them to social media.

From the description of how things happen today, you might say that we have come so far and progressed so much. I say that it’s half correct. With these easy to use tools for capturing, storing and sharing, we have the ability to have quick access to our memories. But what happens in 50 years from now, will your children and grandchildren be able to view these pictures or even know how to access them? If I take care of photo albums, they could last for several generations.

Now, let’s not forget that paper based prints don’t last forever. In time, there are acids and other chemicals at work that slowly disintegrate these precious memories. The real question to ask is this – how can we take the benefits of both ‘old fashioned’ printed photo albums with the convenience and ready access of modern digital assets? There are several things to consider:

  • If my digital files are organized then I have a better chance of finding what I’m looking for – be it now or in 20 years
  • If I determine what is important to me then I can revisit how I’m protecting it over time, not when something goes wrong

The reality is there isn’t a one size fits all approach to protecting your digital files for the future. From my experience, working with clients to determine what approach to take is the best way to determine a solution.

A solution that combines multiple safe secure storage methods plus easy access to digital files is one that will be useful for a period of time – but then it must be re-evaluated. Just as early photos used a process called Daguerrotype that eventually changed to modern photo development, so does a digital process change over time.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail