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5 Ways To Never Lose Your Photos

The following post on Ways To Never Lose Your Photos is by San Francisco based photographer Jim M. Goldstein. Learn more about him at the end of this post.

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The biggest nightmare of every photographer is the thought of catastrophic loss of their photographs. In the days of film, options were limited and often serious photographers would keep their negatives and slides in fire proof safes or bank safe deposit boxes. Even still several great photographers have had their work taken from them due to fire, water damage and even sub-grade storage supplies. Digital photography provides an additional level of complexity to photographers as they look to keep their photographic work safe. Now in addition to fire and water damage there is the risk of file corruption, failed drives and file format obsolescence. With increased risk comes the responsibility to be diligent in heading off such catastrophes with a solid backup plan. Below are 5 steps you can take to minimize risk of losing your digital photos.

1. Immediately back-up your photos to DVD after off loading them to your computer from your compact flash cards

Here is where procrastination can get the better of you. I have known several people who have accidentally deleted files from their compact flash cards before backing their photos up or deleted files from their computer with out having a backup. These days it’s not too hard to find a deal on a 100 disc spool of DVDs. Have one on hand and take the extra 15 minutes to burn a disc.

2. Backup your photos to a spare hard drive

Once you’ve copied your files over to your computer your next step should be to duplicate your files on a spare drive. Hard drives are a far faster mechanism to back up large quantities of files. Unfortunately their downside is that they break from time to time. As a result one should always spread out the risk of such a failure by having copies on multiple drives.

One should be mindful that there are other ways of accomplishing this step besides manually copying files from one drive to another. Hard drives with RAID setups can diffuse risk of drive failures by providing some level of automation to the process. RAID 1 will mirror content between two drives automatically while RAID 5 will spread your files across multiple drives all while maintaining enough overlap between them to restore a drive if one fails. See here for more on RAID.

3. Backup your photos to a spare hard drive you keep outside of your home or business

Maintaining a spare drive with your photos at home is only half the battle. Keeping another spare drive away from your other backups is critical especially when accounting for fire or natural disasters. For most this may seem like paranoia is setting in, but this best practice is one adopted by professional photographers and businesses alike. Whether photographs or customer information it in the end is data and best practices around data backup are the same. I have several friends that will keep their off-site backups with family or at their place of work. In either case be sure your off-site backup is far enough away from home that it won’t be subject to the same risks, but accessible enough that you can make frequent updates.

4. Upload copies to an online archiving service such as Photoshelter

Another option that has gained increased popularity is subscribing to online archiving services. These services themselves have complex drive and system redundancy keeping your uploaded files on servers in different geographical locations. These services do cost money and their is a time commitment required to upload your file. The upside to these types of services is that they are continually expanding their product offerings enabling subscribers to display and sell their work. This by no means is mandatory for people to do, but it is an option worth evaluating.

5. Update both your file and backup formats to a modern standard

One risk that is often overlooked is time. Film or prints deteriorate over time while digital equivalents face the risk of file/backup format obsolescence.  Not too long ago floppy disks were the back up format of choice, followed by CD and now DVD. In addition hard drives continue to expand in capacity and have evolving interfaces Parallel, SCSI, Firewire 400, Firewire 800, USB 1.0 and USB 2.0. I won’t even go into the niche of removable drives that seems to have come and gone. In addition file formats are constantly evolving, GIF, JPEG, TIF, PSD, DNG, proprietary RAW formats and who knows what else is to come. As a result of this changing landscape photographers must be on top of new technology trends and not just be willing, but eager to keep their archives up to date.

Photography certainly has many more dimensions to it these days and backing up photos is a critical facet to a modern workflow. Staying ahead of the game will not only help you avoid headaches at some point in the future it may actually give you a competitive edge if you expand your efforts beyond hobbyist pursuits.

So do you have your photos backed up?

This post was written by Jim M. Goldstein. Jim’s landscape, nature, travel and photojournalism photography is featured on his web site JMG-Galleries.com, and blog. In addition Jim’s podcast “EXIF and Beyond” features photographer interviews and chronicles the creation of some of his images. In addition Jim can be followed on Twitter and FriendFeed.

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Jim Goldstein
Jim Goldstein

is a San Francisco based professional photographer. An author as well as a photographer Jim has been published in numerous publications including Outdoor Photographer, Digital Photo Pro, Popular Photography and has self-published a PDF eBook Photographing the 4th Dimension – Time covering numerous slow shutter techniques. His latest work and writing can be found on his JMG-Galleries blog and on 500px

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