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The searing hacking attack on Wired.com writer Matt Honan convincingly makes the point: back up your pictures! All over the media, Matt has described the deep regret he feels at losing irreplaceable pictures of his one-year daughter with her now deceased grandparents.
There are several ways to avoid this awful fate: back-up to an external hard drive, burn images onto a CD, or print photographs. But are all methods equal? However rarely, hard drives can fail just like a computer and the information on a CD does not last forever. If you wait long enough, formats change. Remember how Super8 movies had to be converted to VCR tapes and then burned onto DVDs? And does anyone remember the floppy disk?
I vote for the tried and true photographic print. If my clients order prints from me, I work closely with my local lab to ensure they receive true, balanced and beautiful photographs. However, if a client takes one of my lovely digital images to the local drugstore or orders prints from an internet service, the image stands a good chance of acquiring unfortunate color shifts and density changes.
A print is a print is a print. Put another way, a beautiful photograph stays a beautiful photograph, usually for generations. If it somehow comes to harm, it can be professionally restored with much greater ease than an old or compromised digital file. After the copyright is up, it can be copied easily and inexpensively. Even if a client purchases a digital copyright from me, a print is still the most aesthetic and reliable “back-up” that exists. And you can put it in a frame and display it.