How To Safely Store Your Digital Photos

This week is all about photos. You can read about what to do with old photos here and how to pare down your digital photo collection here.

When I was back in Vancouver recently I asked my sister if her boyfriend was still using the old PC laptop we had given him. I wanted to pull some photos off of it that I hadn’t transferred over to my Mac when I got it four years ago.

Unfortunately the PC had died and taken my photos with it. We were leaving Vancouver a few days later and I didn’t think to remove the hard drive from the laptop to see if anything was salvageable.

So I’m now missing a chunk of photos, mostly from my honeymoon and 2007/2008. I have an inkling that some of them are in a half finished photo album on Shutterfly under my old email address. Some investigative work is needed.

More photos are now lost to hard drive crashes than fire and flood.

We need to start being diligent. We need to start backing up. Backing up isn’t for nerds or the ultra organized. Backing up is for everyone.

Store your digital photos in three places.

  1. Current computer or laptop. Easy, right? You’ve already done this.
  2. External hard drive or USB drive. We have a Mac Time Capsule. My laptop updates to it automatically using a software program called Time Machine. If you don’t have a lot of photos you could get an external USB drive and back them up to that manually.
  3. Online. NOT FACEBOOK. If you are using Facebook as your photo back-up please stop. Facebook isn’t photo storage. They make no claim to keep your photos or store your photos or not lose your photos. Choose Flikr, Picasa or another online storage solution.

Back up. Regularly. Our Time Capsule automates the back up of files so that’s easy. My online storage isn’t automated and it means I need to remember to manually update my photos that are stored there. I am considering buying online storage with Apple to simplify things.

Anyone else have a digital photo storage system they can tell us about?

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  • We are using a USB hard drive attached to our wireless router as central storage for all our data. I’m using Goodsync on my macbook to sync data with the USB hard drive. That way I always have a duplicate and items can either be placed on my macbook or on the USB drive and they will sync automatically.

    I have yet to find a decent online repository to store/backup photos. Photos take up a lot of space and online storage space is still expensive. Plus I’d want bulk download capability, and most of the photo sites don’t offer that.

  • I started scanning old photos and paperwork last fall. We also have a Mac with Time Capsule with regularly scheduled back ups. Then we purchased an external hard drive that I keep at my parents ( who live in the same city so it is convenient ) I labelled it so they remember whose it is and I included instructions so I remember what to do! Once I’m done a large batch of scanning I pick up the external hard drive and do the back up before I destroy the photos or paperwork. I figure if we have a house fire my time capsule will be gone; but my parents will have the back up.

    This Christmas we went away for a family vacation and came home to a dead Mac. We had to buy a new one; but fortunately everything was on the Time Capsule so we were ok.

  • I too have a Mac, with the Time Capsule. When I bought both – I upgraded to the largest capacity storage, knowing I would have a large volume of photos. I also have a separate external hard drive – not much bigger than the Time Capsule, probably cost $200. I back up everything once a month on that, and really should do it once a week. I plan to buy another one – to store with a family member. I’ve heard of Time Capsules that have crashed, although rare. I’m still working on organizing it all – hence to have the double back ups with me currently. The future third back up to be with a family member so I feel I’ll be extra safe that way.

    In terms of organizing the photos? I have over 60,000 now, going back decades. The bulk of the family collection are still in print form. When I can afford it – they will be scanned professionally. One thing I like about the Mac photo system, or iPhoto, I can save all the photos technically – but organize them into individual albums, and even if pictures are duplicated in albums – they do not take up duplicate space in the hard drive. Plus you can pull up a person via “Faces” and go from there too!

  • Another good idea is dropbox. You can photos to it and allow people to view the photos that are stored there but without the password no one can get it. Saying that i must have thousands of photos on CD’s.

  • I have yet to get on the online photo storage train. My fear is these sites are companies & companies fail all the time. What’s to say they won’t have a server crash & lose all your data.
    I burn copies of photo’s onto DVD’s & store in a safe depost box along with an external hard-drive and my Apple Time Capsule.
    I’ve been dinking around with Apple’s iCloud – but nothing yet worthwhile.

  • Such a timely message! I have been toying with what to do w/ “the dud’s” as I call them–the pictures that didn’t make it into the scrapbooks(I’m a paper scrapper). I usually burn copies onto DVD/CD’s, or onto a flash drive (which I did this a.m. thanks to your post!). One question I do have–have you purchased a digital photo frame to share pictures on? My “plan” was to scan the “dud’s” (remember, not true dud’s, just not s/b worthy!) & put a flash drive or memory card in & have the pictures rotate. I’m thinking that would eliminate the box of pictures, I would still have access to them for when the kids say “I need a picture of me for “xyz”, & yet enjoy them–I always find that I have too many pictures in frames & not enough room to display all of them!

  • I love that you wrote this post! :) I teach individuals how to organize their digital photos using technology. We get into software like Picasa, iPhoto, Aperture, Lightroom and the like learning how to use metadata to organize photos. There are so many cool things you can do – even simply that will make a huge difference in how your photo library is passed on to future generations. It also helps to be able to just find what you need when you want it.

    However, all that said, my first lesson is always about backup. I recommend local backup with an EHD – personally I use Time Machine but for our PC friends SyncBackPro is a great software program that will do automatic backups similarly.

    I also recommend an online solution. My favorite is Backblaze – it is the fastest online backup provider I have found. I also recommend SmugMug because it is the only online service that stores your metadata in the files. If you ever have to download your images, the tags, keywords, and captions stay intact.

  • When I was in my local apple store recently they talked about the “rule of 3”. Store your precious files in 3 places. I now keep mine on my Apple Time Capsule, and external hard drive and my laptop.

  • I use Carbonite, which is similar to your Apple system. Except that I think your Apple Time Capsule is yours at home? While Carbonite is an external backup service. But it does the same thing as in it backs up my whole computer automatically. There is a fee to it (around $55 per year), but I calculated that that was just a bit more expensive that burning everything on DVD-R, plus I have the added benefit of having my system files and such backed-up and not having to think about it :) AND it’s done daily so I’m never out of date (versus the computer crashing days before my next quarterly DVD-R back-up – meaning I could loose 3 months of data). I’m been using for 2-3 years now and I’m pretty satisfied! My old laptop crashed maybe 1 year ago, and I bought a new one, and it was easy peasy to just click the “restore” option in Carbonite and have everything back, in the same folders they were in, while I slept that night :)

  • I use multiple external drives, then I have them all stored on Flickr and also use Backblaze. Being a pro photographer. I have more photos than fit on my computer so it was important to me to find an automatic onlimyne backup that will domy external drives as well.

  • My external hard drive is almost full and now I have several movies and 4000 pictures on my Mac Book that are making it run slowly. What is the best alternative for storage if I want to remove the pictures and video from the actual Mac Book so that it runs better, but have them to accessible when I am creating new albums or movies?

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