About Me

My photo
Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer had been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a blog about photography in New England.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Dead Tree Photo Archiving

If you're feeling safe, I have a cure for that

Hard Drive Maze
 We Digital photographers are often proud of our elaborate back-up schemes. It is usually some combination of multiple hard drives, on and off-site storage, and ethereal cloud-based repositories. My current approach includes a maze of external hard drives, including two, nearly saturated Dobro arrays.

Bob's Closet

 I have a couple of Hard Dive docks which allow back-ups to bare drives that can then be easily stored on or off-site. My neighbor's down-stairs coat closet is home to a couple of large external hard drives which should protect me from fire and theft.  

In the Cloud
To shield my precious images from tornadoes and other more global disasters I regularly back-up full size, high resolution JPEGs of my finished images to a private directory on my Zenfolio web site. That's a lot of back-up, I have over 30TB of magnetic backup on my desk, another 9TB resting in Bob and Lynne's closet and almost 4,000 of my favorite finished images are floating contentedly in the sky. I don't have the best, system for automatic back-up, but overall I should be able to rest reasonably comfortably at night. But there is a problem.

"Stuff" Happens

Hard drives are mechanical devices which, at some unpredictable time, are guaranteed to fail, even those protected by Bob's massive, champion weight-lifter, body are mortal. My Drobos' have reassuring built-in redundancy but even these can, and have, failed. Twice I have been forced to struggle through difficult and time consuming recovery procedures to save data which had disappeared within the unfathomable maze of Drobo's proprietary protocols. Floating above the vagaries of weather and other desk-top disasters, the cloud seems the perfect solution. Reassuring, but, at its base, cloud storage is just more hard drives managed by companies which can decide to go away tomorrow if their financial equation shifts away from adequate profitability.

But wait, there is even more discouraging news!

Fleeting File Formats

All my images are saved in various common image file formats. I routinely store mine in there native RAW format (Canon's CR2) as
Abigail & Grayson
well as separately in Adobe's non-proprietary Digital Negative
(DNG) and I have JPEGs in the sky. But all these files are view-able only because current software recognizes their protocols. If there is one thing that seems inevitable, it is that the file formats we will be using 10 or 20 years from now will be entirely different from those we rely on today. Better, no doubt, but different. Unless we are vigilant, and migrate our files and storage devices, our current hard drives with all those precious memories will be reduced to uselessness, suited only to be inanimate door-stops. The depressing news is that, once we are gone or reduced to senility, no one, certainly not my children, can be relied upon to do the necessary updates and our drives will likely migrate from door stop to land fill status.

Wow, that's way too much gloom for a lovely summer morning, but it is important to understand the limitations of even the most rigorous back-up strategies. The good news is that there is one additional archival step that can protect our most precious images. Make prints.

Make Prints

Great Grandfather Louis
There is something magical about a printed image that seems to defy the passage of time.  Because a photograph was preserved on a piece of physical media, my great grandfather can still gaze into my eyes from a picture taken during the civil war.  I can still see the little dribble on my mother's Easter dress from nearly ninety years ago.  It is true that the flawed dyes in my father's Kodachrome slides from the late 1950's have faded to a nearly
Mom 1926
monochromatic orange. Looking at those terribly discolored images, I can smugly insist that digital images are perfect and immutable, and it's true, the pixels of my digital images will never fade.  But I trust I've made the point that they can just disappear. My father's old slides are faded, but they are still here and will probably be here, in some form, a hundred years from now. Can you say that about your precious JPEGS?  I have been sorting through just a few of the hundreds of slide boxes I've inherited from my father. I have a similar number of my own carousels from my slide days, but I especially love exploring my father's images.

Martha's Vineyard in Orange, Early 1960s

Photoshop Magic

Jeff learns to sail, 1964
Studying all those pictures that he took of his young family and our many vacation cruises along the New England coast, it is like looking through his eyes. Many of the Kodachromes are orange but it is amazing how much of the original color can retrieved with the application of a little Photoshop magic. Those piles of boxes are an annoyance, filling up the dark corners in our house, but I am grateful to have them. 

Jeremy and Abigail in Pixels, A fragile treasure

The point of this long and discouraging polemic is that archiving to paper can be the best way to protect your most precious images and
the history they tell, for yourself and future generations. I enjoy the process of print making and believe that there is a magic quality in holding a physical print. I have printed many of my favorite landscape images and when properly protected, the high archival quality of current inks and paper promise that they will have a long life, but I have printed only a few of my recent family photos. I have shoe boxes filled with old prints of our young kids from my film days, but since digital arrived, about ten years ago, they are almost all delicate pixels.

My Paper Project

Abbby and Nellie Black Mountain

My current project is to collect those essential digital family photos into a directory and then systematically print them. The best, I will print myself to 8x10s, but for the majority of the images, I decided to perform a comparison among my other options. I brought ten images to my local Walgreens and another ten to Monadnock Imaging, my local camera store. That's right, we still have a camera store and, in addition to printing from digital files, the place actually continues to develop film. Bless them! I have no need for film development, but bless them none the less. I compared the
Susan and Nellie, Indian Pond
results from the two stores. The prices were about the same (a little over 30 cents per 4x6" print), but I found the Walgreen images to have too much contrast.   Monadnock Imaging uses a wet process on Silver Halide paper which has a nicer pearl finish and probably better archivability, and, for a more accurate rendition, I was able to match their sRGB color space. When I mentioned sRGB to the well meaning teenage drone at Walgreens, his eyes glazed over. It was helpful to make the comparison. Your results may vary, but for me, I'm going with Monadnock Imaging. Besides, whenever I can, I like to support our helpful local camera store. 

An Actual Camera Store!

I did some simple clean-up on my first 190 images and then used
Lightroom to export them as sRGB files to my USB thumb drive. The 4x6 prints will be destined for an album or more likely another shoe box, any place that is cool, dry and dark. Once I catch up, I'll try to be rigorous about routinely backing up to paper. This doesn't mean that I will be less compulsive about my digital back-up, but for the family images that I, and presumably my children, will find most valuable, I will sacrifice a few trees and place them in a format that will be more easily protected for years to come. It is a simple final step in my convoluted back-up scheme and I urge you to consider it as well.

First Batch, It's 20cents each for 190

All Archiving is Relative
Thanksgiving 2006
Of course it is important to be coldly realistic about all this archiving. In a few hundred years, even prints which have been carefully sheltered in the cool dark of my underground vault, will crumble to dust. In a few thousand years the deeply chiseled faces on Mount Rushmore will erode away. In about 4 billion years all life on earth will be incinerated by our exploding sun and in about 100 trillion years our entire universe will have expanded to a empty, dark void, with a temperature hovering around absolute zero. 

Have a nice day!

Jeffrey Newcomer


  1. I hate when someone verifies the reality of my trying to preserve all these images...and it ends up all for naught. Sandra J. Klem

    1. Cheer up Sandra. It's going to be a lovely evening.

  2. Nice post Jeff. I work with a lot of librarians in my field and one of the things I found interesting is when it comes to archiving, they still prefer microfilm and microfiche. I always thought the decision was made on how long the media would last (e.g. does tape produce more errors than dvd's, etc.) but they are more concerned about whether the "reader" will be available since that is often the first to become obsolete (8-Track players anyone?). Whereas microfilm can ALWAYS be viewed even if it is with just a magnifying glass. The parallel with your desire for prints is interesting.

    1. Absolutely Tom. With digital files, it is the future availability of the "reader" more than the persistence of the pixels that's most important.

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