We’ve lost plenty of electronic data over the last five years. First, my love’s computer blew a system board. We didn’t have money to fix it, so we pulled her hard drive out in hopes of one day recovering her data. Then the computer we shared died; this time the hard drive itself went and we couldn’t recover anything.
When we finally got into a position to try and recover the data from her old HDD, it was gone. Lost for good, and mostly my fault for being more careless than I should have during installation. Maybe it was fate, maybe it was stupidity, maybe, maybe…but we lost it all, including some irreplaceable pictures of the kids.
We decided never to have that happen again. We’ve had plenty of electrical storm scares in the past few years to prod us into action, and we’ve decided to take a scattershot approach to backing up our data. Here’s a list of recommended ways I found on the Internet to save and protect your precious digital photos.
Don’t Rely on One Method
The first thing to learn is, there isn’t any fail-safe method to preserving digital data. None. Nothing exists which can fully ensure you won’t lose your data in a catastrophic event.
Think you can use paper? Nope, still not safe. You’d have to have multiple copies in at least two locations to protect against full catastrophe. But who prints their pictures? And better still, how do you do that? You need a really, really good printer, or pay for someone else to do it, and if something happens to your physical copy, you still need the digital one to recover it. It’s akin to having the negative from days past, when film (a better medium for archival purposes, frankly) still recorded and captured our frozen moments in time.
Flooding, fire, and theft are only a few of the many things which can go wrong with physical media. So you’re going to need to have a copy in digital format somewhere. Let’s just go from that premise and talk about ways to safeguard them.
Instead of picking A way to protect your digital photos, the better way is to pick SEVERAL ways to protect them. This allows you fail-over and recovery possibilities.
Move to the Cloud
The Internet is becoming the ultimate storage drive. You can store anything and everything on the immeasurable hard drive space of the ‘Net, provided you have the right service to do so…and are willing to pay for the privilege.
I like SkyDrive. Back when Microsoft introduced it, they wanted to compete with services like SugarSync and DropBox. To make it more appealing, they offered more space to their initial adopters. A lot more space…25G, in fact, for each Hotmail or Microsoft Live email account with which you signed up. All you had to do was claim your storage prior to a certain date and voila! Big, generous cloud storage.
I claimed at least one of my account’s space, but I can’t remember the others I had and the date has long past for that. Still, SkyDrive offers 7GB free to anyone signing up for an account, and that’s significantly larger (by a couple of gig) than anyone else is offering. And the best part is, it’s free. All you have to do is have a free Live Mail account and download and install the SkyDrive app for your device, be it mobile or desktop. The SkyDrive folder can be put anywhere and you can tell SkyDrive (now) which folders to sync. Then voila! Cloud storage backup. Nice!
Another alternative is Google+’s photo storage capability, which you can sync to the cloud with their proprietary Picasa© program. It’s pretty sweet; tell Picasa which folders (and the subfolders, which aren’t automatically included – you’ll thank them later) to sync to the cloud and voila! again, you’re backed up to the cloud.
Now, the bad news: Pictures can take up a LOT of space. It’s not hard for them to suck up and consume all the space you’ve got in the cloud and then some. Google’s option doesn’t count ALL picture files, only qualifying ones over a certain size. So choose wisely what files you’re backing up, and their sizes.
Alternatively, you can simply pay for more storage, but that gets expensive quickly.
Back in the good ol’ days of 2001 or so, we in the IT industry started using USB flash drives for portable storage. More reliable than floppy disks and with far greater capacity, they offered better versatility than CD-R/RWs and were more portable. They even started to operate as a bootable device in many computers, circa 2004 or so. You could load a version of Windows, or *nix, and boot a computer to the USB device instead of the internal hard drive.
As they became larger and larger, and faster and faster, competing products like the near-extinct FireWire (on PCs anyway) were driven into the shadows. Now you can get a 64GB USB 3.0 flash drive for less than $50. And guess what? They’re still better options than DVDs or CDs for backup, because of their ease of use and their portability.
Every computer has several USB ports lying around, some USB 2, some USB 3, and all of them afford the opportunity to port data. So using USB flash drives to store pictures is a good idea, and easy to do.
They do fail. There is a limited lifespan on the devices, whether they’re measured in read-write cycles or in time. There’s a lot of things which can go wrong with that, and I know from experience, because I lost a USB drive with all of my hard-fought edits on it in 2008. I lost most of the edits of a full-length novel and never, ever had the heart to redo them.
Today, USB flash drives are getting smaller and harder to find. We just spent several hours at an electronics/computer specialty store near us, and several more online, and couldn’t really find anything we were happy with. We finally did locate some, but the advice many digital photographers are giving is this: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Rather than use one large flash drive, get several smaller ones (the price is generally going to either be lower or a wash doing it this way for some reason). We opted for three 16GB USB flash drives each, which will accommodate all of the pictures I have on my hard drive, all of my documents, and all of my miscellany, for quite some time.
But it’s not fail-safe. It’s just another way to back up.
Now, as a side note, it’s becoming easier to use SD cards and to get them in a variety of storage sizes. You can also get them in standard and micro formats, and the micro format sometimes comes with an adapter. What that means is, you can use the micro storage in something like your phone or a tablet and then port it to your computer without problem. So that may be a better alternative to the USB flash drives.
Burn, Baby, Burn
As a long(er) term solution to the matter, you can still burn DVDs or CDs in most modern computers. I don’t know about the new “Netbook” sort of devices, but for most computers, be it laptops or desktops, you still get an optical drive with the computer. (Who knows how long that’s going to last, though, so heads-up there.)
What that means is, you can still burn your pictures to DVDs as yet another means to back them up. And, in fact, you should.
DVDs can support 4.7GB of storage, so you can fit a lot of pictures on them. If you’re backing up to CDs, you’re going to get about 700MB or so, which means you’ll need a lot more of them to do the same amount of picture backups. Despite smaller storage sizes, CDs may be longer lived devices. And no one really knows, and probably can’t know for sure, how long a DVD or CD device can last.
All that being said, it’s still a good idea to burn the pictures you have to optical media and stick it in a good, safe container somewhere away from likely fire and/or flood damage. You can recover them this way for years and years. And years.
A single caveat here: Don’t do any sort of read-write media with this method. Only use write-once discs; nothing else is suitable for backing up data. Read-write devices don’t have the lifespan of write-once discs and aren’t intended for long-term storage, period.
So, get goin’. It’s going to take a while to burn all those pictures to disc, but you gotta do it.
Well, you’ve got DVDs of all your images now. You have your stuff as much as possible in the cloud. You’ve got a cadre of flash devices tucked safely away. Anything else?
If you can afford it, you should probably go out and get yourself an external hard drive. There are several kinds, so I won’t go into gory details, but in rough, very general terms, you can get the kind you have to plug into a computer directly for data transfer, the kind you can connect to a network for data transfer, and the kind you can connect to wirelessly for data transfer.
Some of them use the term “personal cloud” in their description. Be aware, unless the manufacturer is offering a subscription to a cloud storage service, there isn’t any “cloud” portion of this.
I bought a 3TB (that’s “terabytes” for the unassimilated) device from Western Digital (WD) called My Book Live. Seagate makes one too. So do a lot of other companies (which is why I’m not going to link to any of them). So, do your research, find one you can afford and trust, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for setup and deployment.
For me, one of the requirements was auto-backup or syncing of files from my computer the to device. I want to have all the files I’m backing up be backed up whenever the computer and the drive notice each other on the network. I was willing to pay more for the larger storage capacity too, but all of those are personal decisions. I also have a USB hard drive bay, which allows use of an internal (and less expensive) hard drive as an external one. But I never used it, and that was the problem. To make it idiot- and lazy-proof, I wanted the device to be set up once and do the backing up automatically.
Last, but not Least…
So, there are four ways you can protect, to some extent anyway, your digital photos from data loss. But what’s the fifth? Didn’t I promise five ways in the title?
Well, I did, but I can’t really speak on this final one too authoritatively. First because I know nothing about it, and second because I don’t know who’s inclined to do it.
But the final way I know of to protect your photos is the one I mentioned at the outset: Printing them.
Back in the good ol’ days, companies like HP and LexMark made really high-resolution printers with outstanding color recreation abilities. They were really, really slow, too. But they (supposedly) did a good job of producing high-quality photographs on paper. They were higher resolution (how many dots per inch of paper could be printed) than standard printers, and they were pretty expensive too.
You can still get spendy on printers for photographs if you want, but a quick Google search will show you you can pick ‘em up for as little as $90 bucks or so at the time of this writing. That’s a lot less than they used to be, and the resolutions are probably higher too. (Keep in mind, the printer only goes so high on resolution, so anything out of its range will be problematic.)
And the paper isn’t the standard copy paper, either. Most manufacturers recommend using their brand of paper (of course!) for their brand of printer (naturally!) to achieve the best possible results.
Sometimes, the camera can connect directly to the device. You then print the pictures from the camera itself instead of transferring them to the computer first. (A mistake, in my opinion.) But whether those devices were capable of communicating with digital SLRs or only with point-‘n’-shoot cameras, I can’t answer.
Even if you can’t swing a nice photo printer (because, remember, it’s not just the printer – it’s the ink too), you can have your special moments printed at many photo processing centers. For a fee, of course. But, your local Walmart can do it for you, so it’s not something hard to track down, if that’s the way you want to go.
But, here’s the problem with any and all backup methods: you have to use them. We’ve spent a pretty penny getting ourselves positioned for backing up our precious pictures, those unrecoverable moments of time frozen for an instant, but if we don’t execute the backup plan, it’s all for naught. The next catastrophic failure of either computer will mean a permanent loss of data…again.
So, what are you doing to backup your precious and irreplaceable memories or documents? Anything? Got a great plan you care to share?
Sound off, and let me know.