the all-seeingeyeProtecting Family Photos: Backup

Let's face it, disasters happen; floodwaters rise, fires rage, lightning strikes. How do we preserve photographs in the face of this? Simple, offsite copies. A copy, of course, is never quite the same as an original. But it is possible, with some care, to get close enough that most folks won't care. This will not, however, be cheap. There are two ways to build a good backup set of photographs. One is photographic, and the other is digital.

Photographic Copies

A professional copystand in use. This particular model has a backlighting feature that is useful for photographing large-format negatives.

Rolls of processed, uncut slide film.

The photographic method is probably the first one you should attempt, simply because it is the fastest. What you will be creating amounts to color microfilm. You'll need access to a copy stand, a good camera, and a lot of professional tungsten-balanced slide film. You'll first need a test run. Once you've established the proper exposure for this copy stand, shoot one frame of each photograph, including the corner of the envelope that contains the catalog number. If, as I do, you have a number of old glass plate negatives, these can be shot as well, if you have access to a backlighting arrangement. Might as well do them in catalog number order too as long as you are at it. Have the film processed, but not cut or mounted. For the time being, these rolls of film can simply be rolled together carefully and stored someplace like a safe deposit box-so long as it isn't in the same building as the originals. One of the reasons to leave the film uncut is that it is far cheaper to have photo CD's made from uncut film later. If the slide-film copies are well done and properly stored, should you lose an original, a satisfactory copy can be made from the slide film.

Digital Copies

Handling proxies made from digital files-the first using Photoshop's "Contact Print" feature. The second is printed from a database application

There are some good reasons to make digital copies of all your images as well. While there is some initial expense up front, the cost of duplicating and distributing thousands of digital files is considerably lower than giving photographic copies to all of your family who might be interested. Digital versions are also handy if you intend to create a database of images and their captions-you can include the image as part of each record and make a fully searchable catalog. Finally, like me, you can use the images on a family web site.

There are three routes to digital files from your originals. The first, most expensive but highest quality, is to have Photo CD's made from uncut film. Depending on quantity, this can cost anywhere from 50 cente to 1 dollar per image. If you have the hardware and skills, you may use a scanner to copy your images, provided they are neither too large or fragile. Finally, if you have a digital camera, you can use it rather than a film camera on a copy stand.