Don’t Lose Your Photos: Simple Ways to Keep Pictures Safe

Don’t Lose Your Photos: Simple Ways to Keep Pictures Safe

It’s always been said that there are two types of people in this world: those who have had a hard drive crash, and those who will have a hard drive crash. To that, I’ll add another two: those who’ve dropped a phone into a toilet, and those who will drop their phone into a toilet. Or oven. Or puddle. Or snow. That’s why it’s important to have a backup plan. A new article in the New York Times breaks it into the simplest of terms for even the greenest of photographers.

One of the main things photographers should do is enlist the help of some sort of cloud service for backup. Some of the recommended ones from the article include Dropbox, Amazon Prime Photos, Google Photos, and Apple iCloud. One thing to note, however, is that some of these services will down-res your photos and others will charge you for any meaningful amount of storage. They also advise to turn on automatic backups. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I want all of my photos automatically going to a cloud service. A lot of the photos I shoot tend to be junk, and that would end up burning through online storage space quickly.

An alternative method is to plug the phone in into a USB port and periodically download files to a computer for backup to a hard drive, which is what I do. I only really use the cloud services for file delivery, storing client files in Dropbox for a year or so.

The other reason I caution against solely relying on the cloud for backup is that sometimes it rains. Major sites such as Digital Railroad or Photobucket have shut down or changed their service in untenable ways leaving photographers in the lurch, even those who had thought paying for a service meant it would last.

Two other great tips shared by the photographers in the story is to buy an external hard drive,and keep a folder of your favorite photos on your computer with a backup, so that if in a worst-case scenario all is lost, at least you’ll still have something.

If you go the external hard drive route, though, buy two. I duplicate the drive and keep a copy off-site (in another town, on the fourth floor of a building), in case of disaster. About the only way I’d lose everything completely is if all of New York went underwater.

Head on over to the article to read a few more tips for archiving your photos.

[via The New York Times]

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Benton Lam's picture

Another option would be backup services like Backblaze:

They treat the data as data, without resizing, and there are competing services like them too.

Other things of note is that if you do back up to your own media, you'd need to store them well. CDR / DVD-R / BD-R are not the same as the mass-produced pressed items. They use a photo-sensitive material that lets you burn the data, and they will degrade over time.

I'd advise against burning BD-R as a form of backup...

Storing hard drives and tapes should be done in a humidity controlled environment, and if it's on-site, probably in a fire safe.

Douglas Turney's picture

I recommend using a bank or credit union's safe deposit box as the off sight storage location. Well worth the $50 a year I pay for it. It is humidity controlled, protected from fire and of course theft.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I can't remember the last time I used CDs or DVDs to back up things! I'm running out of computers that even have the drives.

Benton Lam's picture

That's a good thing, no? ;)

Douglas Turney's picture

Of course every backup strategy has pluses and minuses and also not everyone needs the same level of backup. Therefore there is no one size fits all backup solution. And there is NO approach that reduces the risk of loss to zero.

My approach is to download my photos to an external hard drive. This drive is then cloned once a month with another hard drive that has been stored in my banks safe deposit box. Once the cloning is completed the first hard drive is then taken to the bank's save deposit box for storage until the next cloning cycle the next month where drive 2 is cloned to drive 1 and drive 2 goes the bank. This backup leapfrog is repeated each month. Advantages: The bank's safe deposit box is secure from theft, fire, flooding, etc. One drive is always offline so it isn't at risk for malware ransom. I've gotten to know the people at the bank really well.

Each drive, when used as my monthly working drive, is also backed up to another external hard drive running Time Machine. This helps protect me from myself doing something stupid and deleting a file or folder.

I do use DropBox and iCloud to backup work that is currently being worked for clients as one last backup but I don't use this for long term storage.

This approach isn't for everyone but for my studio it is enough to reduce the risk of lost data to a level I'm comfortable with.

Be aware that Dropbox is a file synchronization service, not an offsite storage service per se, and that files copied to your Dropbox folder will be duplicated on your hard drive. For example, if you store all of your master photo files on an external drive, when you copy these files to an in the cloud Dropbox folder they will also be simultaneously copied to a Dropbox folder on your personal computer's hard drive. I discovered this the hard way when after uploading my rather sizable Lightroom masters folder on an external drive to Dropbox (in the expectation of backing it up in the cloud), I got a warning message that my Macbook pro's hard drive had only a few megs worth of space remaining. Also be advised that Dropbox does not give refunds on upgraded accounts once purchased. I'm not busting on Dropbox; I think it's a fine company and service. Just be aware of what Dropbox is and what it is not before purchasing 12 months of upgraded service.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

The synchronization is precisely why I love it! Throw a file in it while on the road, it's on my desktop back at home.

Douglas Turney's picture

Tom thanks for pointing that out as it's something I failed to list in my original post. That's why I only use it for backing up files that I'm working on with clients. First it lets me share the content easily with the client and I know the version that I'm placing there is the file that I want backed up in one more place for a short period of time.

Agree that services like BackBlaze or Carbonite are great for automatically backing up your hard drives.

Another nice option that I started using last year is SmugMug. They allow for unlimited photo uploads (no RAW files, unfortunately), so great for storing hi-res JPGs in private galleries. You can also create password-protected galleries to share with clients.