No one knows for sure how long digital images last. But if you use Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, here are some steps you can take to increase your digital photo’s lifespan.
1) Save all your images as PSD Photoshop files. Photoshop can still open an image made with the first version of the program and that’s 16 years old. If you use another file format you run the risk that future generations of the program cannot open it.
2) Save images in at least three different places. I suggest an internal hard disk, a removable hard disk, and a GOLD CD ROM.
3) Save to an old fashioned tape drive or the web as an additional backup.
You might also consider online storage with a service like .Mac. I believe that online storage solutions will become very popular as bandwidth availability and price improves.
Another thing to realize is that a print is a back up. That’s right, for decades, a photo print was a backup. So make prints. If you use archival papers and inks they could last 100 years under the right conditions.
While none of these technologies will survive more than 100 years, they don’t have to. For instance, I believe that future generations will use holographic storage. And when that becomes available, people can simply start transferring images to those mediums and converting formats if necessary.
And to put it in perspective, if you have old slides taken by your parents in a shoe box somewhere, chances are they have already degraded to the point that they are not salvageable. Photographic prints from your local drugstore or chain processor last an average of 27 years.