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How to Backup Digital Photos

Let me paint you a picture: It was 2009. I had just made the switch from a film camera, to a digital one. I also got a phone that had a camera for the first time. Back when I shot film exclusively, I would get my rolls developed, and hold on to the negatives “just in case”. You know, in case I ever needed a reprint or something. But when I switched to digital, after I’d fill up my memory card I would transfer my photos to a folder on my computer and there they would sit. It never occurred to me to back up the files or anything like that. I just assumed they would be safe in that folder on my computer. And the photos on my phone? They stayed on my phone until it ran out of memory, then I transferred them to my computer as well.

Fast forward a couple of years. I had started a photography business and decided to store all of my photos on an external hard drive, to free up space on my computer. I kept my external hard drive plugged into my laptop most of the time. One day I came home, and my external hard drive was smoking! I immediately unplugged it and started to panic- ALL of my photos were on it! Photos of our family, travel photos, even some client photos! When I tried to open them, there was only a handful that would, and they were corrupted- parts of the photos were missing or had crazy lines and black shapes on them.

I was really lucky, because I had a friend who was great at recovering hard drives, and I paid him to see if he could recover my photos. He told me that the hard drive had overheated and actually melted! He was able to recover about half of my photos. All of my clients’ files were recovered and some of mine. But I lost a lot of my family photos and I’m still really sad about that. I’m missing tons of pictures from when Natalie was a baby.

Why it never occurred to me to backup my files is probably just because I was naive. When a tragedy happens, though, you learn an important lesson. Backing up your photos in a safe place is the equivalent of keeping your film negatives in a safe place. Any time I hear of someone who loses their digital photos (it happens a lot!) my heart breaks. Hard drives fail. Computers malfunction. People make mistakes. I want you to learn from my mistake and take the time to backup your photos. Especially if you’ve invested in professional photos. These photos document a moment in time that we’ll never get back.

You don’t really realize how awful it is to lose your photos until it happens to you. Whether your photos are from your phone, iPad, camera, or whatever- you can use these easy techniques to make sure they’re safe.

Cloud-Based Storage

There are many different ways you can backup your photo files. One of the best ways is to utilize an automatic backup to cloud-based storage. That’s the least amount of work, and there are many ways to do it. Phones usually offer cloud storage through the provider- mine is Verizon and they have Verizon cloud that I can automatically back my phone pictures to. Google Drive and Dropbox also offer apps for your phone that you can set to auto back up your photos.

Manual vs Automatic Backups

The digital photos that you receive from your professional photographer (like the ones you get from me) should be stored on your computer, and also backed up to another location. You can back them up by manually copying the folder they’re in to a cloud-based storage like Dropbox or Google Drive, or you can do an automatic backup of your computer with programs like Backblaze or Carbonite. I recommend this option because it backs up all of your files, not just your photos. I use Backblaze to backup my photos and computer files. I like it because it’s easy to use (I’m certainly not a computer wizard) and it’s simple to retrieve your files if you need to get to them. If you’d like to try it, use this link for 3 free months!

External Hard Drives

Another way to backup your computer files is to use an external hard drive like this. Just copy your files to the hard drive, and then store it in a safe place. I recommend using a fire and water safe box. Although this option is a good one, cloud based storage is the best because your files are safe from damage or corruption. If you really want piece of mind, do what I do and backup your files twice- one copy to cloud storage and one copy to an external hard drive, and keep a copy readily accessible on your computer- so you end up with 3 copies altogether!

Printing Your Photos

Printing your digital photos is also important. You don’t need to print all of them (for me, that would be a ridiculous amount of photos- I wouldn’t have the space to store them all!) but you should choose a selection of your favorites, from time to time, and get them printed. You can create a book of your images easily using services like Mpix, Artifact Uprising, and Shutterfly. Every year I make a book from my Facebook posts with My Social Book– it’s super easy and fun!

If you have professional photos, order some of them through your photographer! You’ll find the quality of professional prints and print products is much better and your photos will last longer. If you don’t print your photos you’re really missing out on the best way to enjoy them!

Photographs are memories that you can see, over and over. You can show your memories to family and friend in the future. And when you’re gone, they will have your photos to look at and remember. It’s so important to protect your photographs and back them up so you don’t risk losing them forever.

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