Are You Making Any of These Photo Storage Mistakes?

Are You Making Any of These Photo Storage Mistakes?

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.

Store your photos in at least three different places to avoid the catastrophe of a corrupt or damaged hard drive. It doesn't matter whether it's HDD, SSD or a physical format.

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.

What happens when the servers turn off from your favorite cloud-based storage company and everything goes dark? There's likely not a lot you'd be able to do to recover your photos, so it's best to keep them stored locally as well as, or instead of on the cloud

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 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.

If I store photos on my desktop (stored in the RAM) I find that the operating system and other software (including Lightroom and Photoshop) slow down dramatically. That's because these systems use RAM to keep things moving, so if it's designated to photo storage it can't run efficiently

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

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AJ L's picture

Files saved to Desktop on a Windows computer are saved on a local hard drive or SSD, in the Desktop folder of the user’s home folder, which is usually on the C drive. They are NOT kept in RAM!

This is easily confirmed. Open Task Manager, go to the Performance tab and click Memory. This shows RAM usage. Now go to a Windows Explorer window and check the usage on the C drive. Then navigate to find a folder with a few gigs of images in it and copy/paste it to the Desktop.

You’ll see RAM application temporarily change in task manager, because the system is reading the files into RAM and writing them to the desktop folder. When the copying is done it will settle back down to the previous level, plus or minus a small amount. Check C drive usage again and you’ll see it’s gone up by an amount equal to the size of the copper folder.

Deleted Account's picture

I agree wholeheartedly with these comments - any files on your desktop are stored on your primary drive - NOT in RAM. Jason (author), please edit your article in regards to the RAM content for the desktop.

I will say putting your photos in a folder on your desktop probably isn't the best way to organize your photos as you're one button on your keyboard to dumping these into your recycle bin. However, I'd suggest storing them somewhere in your computer with a shortcut on your desktop. Delete the shortcut and your photos are still safe on the computer.

Anthony CHAPITEAU's picture

Wait, wait, WHAT?
Files stored on the desktop are loaded in ram? Where the hell did you get that?
And it is needed to move them to a hard drive or solid state drive? Really? So what is the "C:\users\<insert username>\Desktop" folder then and where is it located?

And more importantly, can you prove it please? What is your C drive screenshot trying to prove?

Isn't there some kind of moderation to prevent nonsense like that being posted. I barely comment here but i had to say something, sorry

Kathy Robinson's picture

If power was required to keep desktop files in place because they are only stored in RAM, we'd have a clean desktop every time we rebooted...

Michael Ferton's picture

Like Anthony said, I would like to see how your computer is made.
Because except the fact that new type of storage are as fast as ram, I can't believe in that third part of your article.

Gerry O&#039;Brien's picture

On lesson I learned a decade ago: if you save your work on two different local drives, make sure the drives don't use the same interface with your computer. I once lost my external drive and external backup drive because the Firewire 800 controller that connected both of them to my computer failed and the data got corrupted.

bbetc's picture

I went with RAID for a while, then my motherboard crashed and I learned my RAID storage was built into my motherboard. I lost a couple years worth of photos.

Charles J's picture

In the main image, why is there ribbon coming out of that card?

Musing Eye's picture

It's a bizarre choice of clip art, isn't it?

Robert Lype's picture

One method of archival method even though it may sound old fashion Making copies on CDs and storing them in a safe if you think about it CDs have been along longer than any other most storage option it may take up space but makes sense. .

Anthony CHAPITEAU's picture

In IT, tapes are still used for archival. You can get a 12To uncompressed (30-ish To compressed) tape for less than a hundred bucks

AJ L's picture

Local hard drive, backup to usb and cloud. Easy.

Andrew Eaton's picture

When it comes to data loss there are 6 main areas to protect yourself against... Hardware failure, hardware theft, accidental deletion, malicious local deletion, remote malicious deletion and cloud provider insolvency. Strategizing against all of these is not easy. Just remember a compromised computer can access anything you have, encrypt it, wipe it etc.. and yes this include you cloud storage... none of this is easy to mitigate... my last line of defence is a full copy of my images stored off site on a new drive updated every 6 ish months...

Paul Scharff's picture

Yup. I have a safe deposit box just for that purpose.

Rayann Elzein's picture

"Desktop files are stored in the RAM". Yeah, right... The funny thing, is that it's the 2nd time I read this on this site in just a few weeks. High level journalism!

Daris Fox's picture

Aye not quite The Verge level of ignorance but still it's pretty awful and they should really have a technical editor to go over this piece. There's no real strategy here about data management just want to avoid which is useless other than there's an issue.

My own strategy involves LTO, NAS-to-NAS and multiple workstation redundancy mirroed. Expensive? Sure, but I got lucky on a old LTO drive that's more than sufficient to cover the 30Tb or so of media I need to archive.

James S's picture

Wow, I finally created an Fstoppers account just to address the desktop RAM stuff.

What Jason is no doubt thinking of is the old advice for speeding up your Mac: don't store a ton of files directly on the desktop. The OS keeps the desktop in memory at all times so that it renders immediately under windows as you move them. If you have a ton of files stored directly on the desktop (like, thousands), all those icons add up to more memory required. It's especially true for photo and video files, which are rendered by MacOS as individual thumbnail images.

This is only true if you are storing files directly on the desktop--i.e. the classic "grandma with thousands of icons." I'm pretty sure that anyone bothering to read Fstoppers is not doing that. Even putting them all in a folder, and sitting that folder on the desktop, is not an issue. (The folder is just one generic icon.)

I have a hard time believing it's even an issue anymore at all, now that laptops routinely come with 16-32 GB of RAM. I'm writing this from memory about Mac issues years and years ago.

Does it affect file longevity on the hard drive? I guess it's POSSIBLE since to build the thumbnail icons, the OS will have to read the image files off the hard drive, and every HD operation has a chance (teeny tiny infinitesimal chance) of corruption. I can't image it's worth worrying about, compared to other HD ops.

AJ L's picture

That’s a good point. I can see where the confusion would come from.

Andrew Broekhuijsen's picture

Amazing that this guy is being paid to write a technical article that is 33% flat out incorrect.

Rick Bingham's picture

So I read the article and the comments. I didn't see or perhaps I missed, any option that included the storage option of the original card that held the photos in the camera in the first place. Personally, I now purchase 64gb cards for my Sony aspc 6500 and shoot that card until filled. After shooting on a given day, I transfer those files to a folder under Pictures on my Windows laptop that's named " Year-Month-Day - Subject" and then remove the card from the reader and back into the camera or, if filled, into a storage pouch. I also have an SSD drive with 2x's the storage my hard drive and back up my " Pictures" folder to that every few weeks. With regard to "Edits", I just create an "Edits" folder under each subject folder and hold them there. I use some online storage for albums ( Smug Mug), but the primary storage is still the original camera card and the harddrive. I'm not a professional photographer, but this method has worked pretty well for me. At some point I will have to delete photos from the had drive ( it holds 1 Terrabyte), but so far it's not past half full. The the camera cards are relatively cheap and pretty secure, so I just add another card whenever needed.