Whether you want to speed up your computer, or simply keep your photo archive safe and secure, check to see if you're making any crucial mistakes that you may come to regret further down the road.
We've all been there. A successful afternoon photographing in the park with the kids, or maybe a local paid photoshoot that went so swimmingly is suddenly thrown into jeopardy when you can't find the photographs. The realization that you accidentally deleted them to make space on your laptop, or finding out that they became corrupted on an external hard drive throws you into panic. If you haven't been there yourself, then don't let it happen. Be the lucky one and take heed at the advice below to ensure you never lose your photos in the first place and find out what you might be doing wrong already.
Only Storing in One Place
If you're only storing your photos in one place then you're asking for trouble. Let's look at an example: you take some shots, import them to your computer for editing and keep them on the hard drive. You keep the images on the memory card until it's full, then think "well I have them saved on my computer so I'll format the card". This is all fine until the point that the hard drive corrupts or you drop and damage your computer. Now the photos are gone from the card and the computer. This nightmare situation has come true for many people I know (and for me, too). Sadly, at this point there's nothing much you can do.
To avoid this situation you should back up your photos to at least three different places. Why three? Because one spot, as already discussed, can easily become damaged or corrupt. Two is unlikely, but still possible. But three makes it much less likely you'll completely lose all your photos. My personal recommendation is to store them on three different types of storage. For me that's: one external portable SSD, one desk-based HDD, and a live backup on my computer. But as long as you back up three times you should be safe.
Sticking to Cloud-Based Storage Only
There are plenty of cloud-based storage options out there, from Google to Adobe, but only using cloud-based options for storage isn't such a great idea. In the event of a stock market crash (as we've seen twice in the past 12 years) the companies that operate those servers your images are saved on may close, and you'll be left with nothing.
I would also strongly recommend you avoid relying on a series of cloud-based backups. I'm fully aware that some companies (similar to the aforementioned) boast the most reliable and secure data storage systems in the world, and may even promise to keep your photos forever. But times change and when money's tight there are no guarantees. Does that seem alarmist? Well, visit Killbygoogle.com to see a selection of services that they've axed over the years. Google Photos just got a revamp to now charge users for storage instead of offering unlimited free storage.
Storing Photos on Your Desktop
It's not just about losing your photos altogether. There are correct and incorrect ways of storing your photos. For example, it's not a good idea to store your shots on the desktop of your computer. Desktop files are stored in the RAM and this is known as a volatile memory storage system, in that it needs power to keep the data there. It's quite unlikely to just stop working, but RAM does corrupt and so will your files if they've saved here. It'll also use a bunch of RAM power and your device may become sluggish and unresponsive if you're using enough of it.
It's better to transfer these images to a dedicated file on the computer's hard drive or solid state drive. Head to your "pictures" folder or make a custom folder and save them there instead. That way the RAM can run uninterrupted and your editing software might even benefit from a noticeable boost if you've been storing lots on the desktop.
Make Physical Copies
It might sound archaic to some but getting your photos printed out for framing or storing is one of the best ways to preserve them. I've always done that with my favorite photo trips. I simply edit the shots and then make a photobook of the best ones to preserve my memory. Flicking through the pages brings me joy and it's easy to hand out to friends and family when they're round for a cup of tea and want to see the shots. Otherwise, I'm bent over flicking back and forth on my phone or camera getting them to squint on the tiny screen.
Take your favorite shots and get them printed, or frame them and hang them up at home. In 2015 Google's Vice President, Vint Cerf, warned of a "digital dark age" where digital information is lost due to obsolete storage formats and limited backwards compatibility with newer devices. A physical print has much less likelihood of going corrupt. Even if there was a fire or flood the print would suffer the same fate as the digital copy on the hard drive.
I'm sure there are some that will scoff at my thoughts on this. But I believe it's a very real, logical approach to photo storage. I've talked with and listened to many photographers, much older than myself and with their combined years of experienced have gained an insightful track record of photo storage over the years. I intend to learn from past mistakes and vow to not let history repeat itself, at least not with my photo library! Are there some special tips that you've found particular helpful over the years? Or maybe there's a photo loss disaster story you want to share with the community? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.
Part of the main image by Tim Reckmann used under Creative Commons