Despite COVID-19, babies have still been born, graduation celebrations have been recorded and portraits have been taken. The digital age has made us the most photo-recorded generation in history yet we are also at the highest risk of losing all our images. Award-winning National Geographic photographer Ami Vitale says, about backing up her photos, “I’ve seen it all. I’ve had hard drives fail throughout my career. For example, back when I first started as a photographer, I had a nice hard drive system in my home, and the whole thing failed. I lost some historic moments from the first part of my career,” she says, “and they’re gone forever.” In other words, if you’re snapping away without a backup plan for your photos, beware: In an instant, you could lose them all, forever.
But before we dive into ideas on how to hang on to photos, it’s important to keep in mind the 3-2-1 backup rule, an easy-to-remember acronym for keeping your data safe in almost any failure scenario. The rule is: keep at least three (3) copies of your data, and store two (2) backup copies on different storage media, with one (1) of them located offsite.
Some storage options are: SD cards, CDs, and DVDs: These can all be a great way to back up your photos, but if you’re not careful you could end up with a large collection of media or a growing pile of recorded CDs and even DVDs and things can become potentially mixed up, but also lost or damaged.
External drive: mention this and people think of a huge standalone hard drive, connected up via USB to your computer, which you can then copy and write files to. Now you can purchase Terabyte hard drives that are almost the size of a credit card. And while that’s a fine way to run a set of backups, hard drives can fail too (www.techradar.com).
Solid State Drives (SSDs) are more stable, but tend to cost more, and while reliability may seem like an initial plus it does mean you will have to find space for the drive and connecting wires on your computer work space. That may not seem like a big problem, but it would seem more ideal to reduce clutter so that backups won’t get in your way. Additionally, you might not want to use up your limited number of USB ports with an “always on” external hard drive connection.
The Cloud: If you happen to be a person who isn’t very proactive about keeping a good backup of digital photos, syncing them to the cloud is a great way to “set it and forget it.” Many platforms offer generous amounts of free or cheap storage as well.
Some of the more popular options include Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, MediaFire, and Bitcasa, and many offer mobile apps that can be configured to automatically back up the Camera Roll of iOS devices.
The same services also work with libraries from desktop applications like iPhoto, Aperture, or Adobe Lightroom and other cloud services can do the same using software like ExpanDrive ($49.95, expandrive.com. Speaking of the cloud, mobile shutterbugs are increasingly embracing the convenience of carrying entire photo collections in their pocket. Services like Picture life, Adobe Creative Cloud, and ThisLife make it easy to back up photos from iOS or Android devices as well as Mac or PC, providing an additional layer of security plus the tools necessary to organize and edit photos from anywhere, no matter which device or web browser you happen to be on at the time. However, as mentioned in our 3-2-1 scenario, consumers should be wary of putting all their eggs in one basket or in this case, storing all your photos in one place.
It’s a good idea to find a backup system you like, will actually use regularly and stick with it, but also use apps like Amazon Photos (which offers free photo storage for Prime members) or otherwise import backup copies on the desktop for redundancy.
Remember you need your copies backed up on 2 places. So, if you are concerned about cost, then there are several services you can use for free, without limit but don’t rely solely on these as a form of back up. For example:
Amazon Prime: One understated benefit of Amazon Prime membership is the ability to store an unlimited number of photos on your account. Uploading is easy, and once done, so long as you remain an Amazon Prime customer, your photos will remain online and private with your account.
Google Photos (https://photos.google.com/) : is another free option for putting your photos in the cloud for free, and without limit. You can organize photos into albums, and a timeline feature lets you scroll through them by date.
Facebook: is another online service where you can upload your photos for free, without any apparent limitation. As with other services, you can set them up into albums, which is handy as otherwise Facebook will simply display the most recently uploaded in your photo tab. As with your Facebook posts, you can set sharing permissions, so that your photos are visible only to you, only to named friends and family, or else public for anyone to see.
As you can see, I cannot stress enough the importance of backing up your digital photos. Many consumers do not even bother printing their photos anymore since they can easily carry entire collections on a smartphone or tablet. Think of these files as your “negatives,” and treat them as such — even if that means offloading a copy onto some form of storage media and shoving it in a shoebox, similar to what generations past did with the real thing.
Unless your hobby is scrapbooking, printing out thousands of digital photos might seem like a waste of money, and time. But the time may come where having a closet full of prints might be preferred or even come in handy (think a funeral slideshow where you need photos from someone’s entire life). At the very least, a decent hard copy can be used to scan back into the computer, should the worst-case scenario transpire, and your digital memories get wiped out.
Thankfully, prints are reasonably inexpensive these days. Services like Shutterfly offer unlimited photo storage from desktop or mobile devices (and that can count as another backup, score!), and are quite aggressive with weekly deals to make prints, custom books, and other photo-based products on the cheap. And do not forget your local drugstore — Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS, Walmart Photo and others offer similar services with the convenience of being able to pick them up in store and save a bundle on shipping.
Of course, keeping two copies of your digital photos in the same location isn’t necessarily a good idea, either. A fire, flood, or other natural disaster could wipe out everything you own in a heartbeat, which is where offline storage comes into play. Services like CrashPlan ($5.99 per month), crashplan.com or LiveDrive ($6 per month), livedrive.com can securely back up entire desktop systems (including the digital photos stored there) for pennies per day without user interaction.
And last of all, test your backup periodically: When your backup systems are in place, be sure to test them, at least every month or every other month. For instance, try restoring a small group of photos. Also, check your backup service to see if it includes a feature that lets you test a backup after it is complete.
So, while you’re taking pictures of your new babies, your graduates and capturing those memories, remember 3-2-1.