Digital photography has come a long way from its sluggish debut – just make sure you take extra care over your hoard of recently captured digital memories.

This article appears in the September 06 issue of PC Advisor, which is available now in all good newsagents.

Photography has come a long way since French inventor Nicéphore Niépce produced the first-ever photograph back in 1826, using a polished pewter plate covered with a petroleum compound. This first step towards modern image capture was much like the debut of digital cameras. It needed an eight-hour exposure in bright sunshine, and you can bet that even then everyone in the picture was either out of focus or their heads had been cropped off.

Digital photography became a commercial reality some 164 years after Niépce was asking everyone to ’watch the birdie’ for hours at a stretch when, in 1990 Kodak released the DCS 100.

Its high cost precluded anything other than photo-journalism, but the beginning of the end of film had started. Only, as I’m sure you’ve discovered, digital photography isn’t without its quirks.

My first digital snapper was a 3Mp model. It was so slow it would have had Niépce drumming his fingers with impatience. The camera seemed asleep most of the time, reluctantly rising to half-heartedly capture a scene some five seconds after the good bit had happened.

Offspring taking first-ever bike ride? That’ll be the picture of an empty path and a blurred rear-wheel exiting, stage left. Dream holiday to Dolphin Land? Cue masses of photos of large splashes and empty pools where moments before porpoises and whales had been cavorting. Basically, you needed the gift of clairvoyancy to get anything other than frustrated.

Guns don’t kill images, laptops do

Today, though, it’s a different story. Having stumped up for a Canon 350D digital SLR (single lens reflex) camera, suddenly photos actually look something like I had hoped they would. Kids remain resolutely centre stage, while performing sea life actually appears in all its leaping grace. I now manage to recapture hours of my time that would have been wasted waiting for the damn thing to start up. Down side: hundreds of photos and an unexpected risk.

Last month, my laptop decided to take a permanent vacation. And, as I frantically tried the equivalent of CPU CPR, I got that icy feeling you get when heading over the brow of a rollercoaster. My photos. I’d dumped my life, in pictures, on to the laptop and now it’d all been trashed. Luckily, the hard disk was saved and images promptly restored, but I learnt a nasty lesson.

Digital doesn’t mean indestructible. While we can now confidently snap away like a professional, digital photos can be as fragile as a daguerreotype. My advice: always back-up your digital life, or you’ll be getting your now-older offspring to begrudgingly recreate their first steps or bike ride. Which, when they’re 20, is asking a bit much.