Digital decay: why you should worry about your wedding photos


You’ll hear it time and time again in the lead up to your wedding: “the only thing left after your wedding day is a pretty dress and the photos”. Unfortunately,  even that might not always be true.

There is a strong trend out there at the moment where wedding photographers are selling budget “CD only” packages. This means, they come along and shoot your wedding, edit the photos, rip them to a disc or USB drive, then send that to you. The awesome thing for you is you get your photos, and don’t have to pay for physical copies, so the price is usually a lot more affordable.

I wonder though, how many of the couples who get these packages actually print all the photos out? Sure, you might print a few of the highlights – but what about photos of the rellies who you don’t know super well, or the small details that, in years to come, will transport you back to your day in an instant?

It doesn’t matter, you think. I’ll just look at them on my computer! Or I’ll print them off some other time, when I have the money (note – you’ll never have the money!)

My photographer supplies hard copies of my wedding photos, so I’m safe, right?

The best you can hope for is a photographer who gives you a digital copy of your wedding photographs, and also gives you a print of each photo they’ve taken. That way, it’s done. Your wedding photographer also knows a LOT more about printing photos than you do – making sure that the colours are correct and the developer uses the best photo papers.

However if you use a photographer that charges per print made, and doesn’t give you any method of reproducing photos, you can run into problems too. The wedding bills come in and it’s suddenly no longer a priority to get a glossy 6 x 4″… but the less photos you have in the first place, the less chance you have at preserving.  Obviously there’s a line to be drawn – quality over quantity and all that… but I can promise you, if I want photos of my parent’s wedding day, I’m going to be shuffling through their photograph albums, not trying to track down the photography studio and requesting copies of their negatives.

Digital decay of your wedding photos

Long term, storing your wedding photos digitally is a dangerous gamble. And that’s thanks to something called digital decay. So then – what is digital decay?

Digital decay is where anything stored in computerised form is vulnerable to breakdown and obsolescence.

Think about how many home videos are you no longer able to watch because your video player went to the tip. How many of your grandparents pictures are unable to be viewed because they’re on slides?  It’s like that, but with your wedding photos.

So one day, a few years from now, you want to show the kids your wedding photos. Only, you realise, you’ve just upgraded to the latest iPad 2000 and that only supports a certain image file (like holograms or something?!).  Suddenly you’re in a position where you have a digital file, but no way to open it.

The answer to this issue is easy: printing your wedding photographs, create albums – in short: have a physical, hard copy backup.

Why you should get your wedding photos printed

Have I convinced you to get them printed yet? How about an example? Here’s a picture of my grandparents on their wedding day – then us, 65 years later.

The thing is – we’ve only got two wedding photos from my grandparents.

My grandparents did get a chance to print several photos (not the hundreds we usually get, but enough considering).  Through the course of time, we now only have 2. They are SO precious, especially since they’ve both passed on.

Aren’t we lucky to be able to see my grandparents cutting their wedding cake, confetti in their hair, freesias for a cake topper… the people come to life with the details, and the details are only available thanks to a physical photograph.

This photo wasn’t a big one that hung on the wall, it’s just a small copy that’s been floating round in our family photograph albums for years. It’s the small, candid shots that you don’t appreciate much now, that in the future, give us a window back to the past.

Printing your wedding photos

When I got married, my photographer gave us a printed set of wedding photos, but I ended up using Snapfish for some extra copies, plus I made a wedding album with them too.

TIP: if you’re going to print all your wedding photos at once, pre-purchase your photo prints. Most places do a discount for large orders of 500+ prints – so perfect for getting all your wedding stuff done at once.

You can also get canvas prints done, so if you do fancy a nice picture on the wall, or an album for your parents, then they are an affordable place to go to.  Quality-wise the printing websites are okay. But your wedding photographer’s canvas prints and albums will be professionally printed and of the highest quality, so if you have the budget for it, go pro. The extra money you’ll pay for a high-quality colour-managed print lab will shine through in the quality and richness of colour in your images.

Here’s some more advice on your wedding photo printing options.

Backing up your wedding photos means having a second plan… and a third…

Once you have your wedding photos safely printed, make sure you have the digital version tucked away safely “in the cloud” too. Having a digital copy is a pretty fool-proof way of storing them if the worst happens (proactively “knocking on wood” for everyone that nothing bad like this happens).

I live and breathe Dropbox.  There’s a generous free version which will keep most people happy, but I’ve been a pro user for a couple of years now and the 1TB of data is showing no signs of being used up! I use it for all my work files and to securely store all my important photos and documents. Dropbox uploads everything online to secure storage, so I can access them from wherever I am (they have an app for your phone, you can login via their website or download the program to your main computer/laptop and seamlessly save, edit and store your files there without having to remember to backup).  Plus, if disaster was to strike and my computer died/was destroyed/got stolen – I could still access my files!

Make a date with yourself to get your wedding photos uploaded to Dropbox this weekend. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a free plan which gives you a good amount of free space, but as an extra bonus, if you click on this link and sign up to Dropbox, you’ll receive an extra 500GB of storage space.

Married folks: here’s your homework

Okay guys, hands up who has been procrastinating on getting your wedding photos printed and saved securely… I’m guilty too. It took me till January to get my photos uploaded into the cloud. It’s been 7 years since we got married! I actually dedicated a weekend to doing these sorts of “I need to do that one day” tasks.  It took our friends losing their house in the November earthquakes to realise how quickly you could lose everything. So right now, make a date with yourself and stick to it – get your photos printed and saved to Dropbox. Do it, then come back here and tell me in the comments – I’ll give you a virtual high 5!

11 thoughts on “Digital decay: why you should worry about your wedding photos

  1. Agreed, a mix of both is essential.. I also lost a whole months worth of images and an entire holiday was on a sd card in a camera stolen.

    1. Oh no Suzanna!! That’s awful! I need to back up my old stuff from my external hard drive in case of fire or flood :/

  2. Great post Amanda. Our wedding photos are all printed and in a basic album. 10 years later and we’ve never really done a lot with them aside from having a few small ones in frames. Might be time to get a few blown up a bit and put into pretty frames 🙂

  3. Great blog! I had never even thought about this until now. I would be devastated to lose our photos and I know our photographer no longer has them, thanks for writing 🙂

  4. I have two albums – my “special” album with maybe 50 photos – and my “3 day event everything” album. Along with my physical albums of my kids as babies – I would grab these two if my house was on fire. Fingers crossed that never happens!

  5. Digital photos are never viewed – for special events I print in book format so much nicer. I have footage on film from 1930,s which I copied to cd. Reminds me to keep all formats for safety

  6. We were told that we’d get a certain amount of photos in an album and the rest of the images on disc when we got married. We got the album, but the disc is a slide show and we can’t get the images off. I was so upset!
    This is a great point for all photos though – I couldn’t tell you the last time I had photos printed. They are all stored electronically. Maybe I need to look at making up some physical albums. Thanks for the prompt!

  7. I am not married but this is a timely reminder to take better care of all digital photos. I must admit I have been a bit cavalier with digital storage before and this is the kick up the butt I needed.

  8. Excellent post! I’ve always preferred looking at printed photos over digital ones. Plus it’s annoying when you lose a memory card, or it stops working and you don’t have hard copies of the images anywhere – I’ve had that happen a few times!

    1. Amen! I lost a ton of photos from my trip to London because the computer froze as we were loading them on. It was so upsetting – and demonstrated to me how easy it was to lose them 🙁

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