Back when I was a child, especially at holiday gatherings, my favorite aunt loved to pull out boxes of family photos. There were candids and portraits. Matted studio photographs of my great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents dating all the way back to the 1880s. Snapshots of my dad as a little boy at 1950s family reunions, decades before I came along.

For an hour or two at a time, my sisters and I would lie on the floor and sift through memories, listening as my aunt and dad reminisced about the scenes captured in the photos. We heard tales of our relatives’ younger days, stories of family members who were no longer with us. The people in the pictures came alive.

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Years later, as an adult with a family of my own, I find myself looking at photographs in much the same way. Some days I’ll pour myself a mug of tea, drag an old album or a box of photos from the closet, and tell myself I’ll peruse them for just a few minutes. Before I know it, the memories have flooded back, I’m transported to a different time and place, and the better part of an afternoon has passed.

In recent months, however, I’ve noticed something a little sad: My family’s photo archives are growing thin. As my son matures and life gets busier, we’re printing fewer photographs than we were even a few years ago. And that’s saying something—I’m a professional photographer. The advent of the digital age makes photo printing a bit too easy to skip.

What will your children discover 10, 20 or 30 years from now? Will they find rich visual reminders of your life together, or an obsolete flash drive filled with mysterious filenames?

Don’t get me wrong: I love technology. At this point, I could barely function without it. Still, I yearn for memories to hold in my hands. I kick myself for pushing so many photos to the cloud or Dropbox, likely never to glance at them again. My son’s first steps. His early baseball games, first days of school and birthday parties. Family walks and dinners around town. My wedding photos.

Not too long ago I was hired to photograph a wonderful family of five in Manhattan. The parents—a mother and father—were eager to capture images with their trio of nearly grown daughters before the girls moved away and dispersed, an event that would make group photos about as regular as Halley’s Comet.

Photographer Claudine Williams on the importance of printed family photos

As I captured shots in front of their Upper East Side townhome, Mom and Dad beamed with pride. Their daughters grinned as the light hit them perfectly. The mood was poignant. With change at the family’s doorstep, these photos would turn a precious, promising moment into something the family could cherish forever.

What will your children discover 10, 20 or 30 years from now? Will they find rich visual reminders of your life together, or an obsolete flash drive filled with mysterious filenames?

I understand why photo printing doesn’t always happen. In addition to the passive ease of digital storage, personal hangups can sometimes interfere. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably thought, I don’t like how I look in this shot. I’m not printing any photos until I lose the weight. I promise: You will look back lovingly at the person you are today. Time has a beautiful way of shifting our perspective.

Printing doesn’t have to be complicated, either. So many companies now make it simple to print gorgeous albums right from an Instagram, Facebook or Dropbox account. Online photo labs like Adoramapix and Mpix are great sources for everyday photographers to get high-quality prints.

Sure, back up your digital images to the cloud. Post those fun moments on your Instagram story. Just know that nothing can replace vibrant handheld photographs that you and future generations can pore over and treasure.

Print your photos. Not only for yourself, but for your children and their children. Print large, print small, print often. The time is now.

Heymama member Claudine Williams is a photographer specializing in portraiture. She lives in lower Manhattan with her husband and son. All photos by the author.

More on heymama: 5 Genius Fixes for the Mama With Way Too Many Photos on Her Phone

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