Simple Ways to Store & Protect Your Photos

Over the winter I read both editions of Peter Krogh's The DAM Book (DAM = Digital Asset Management) on photo organization, storage and backups. These are technical books, not for the faint of heart! But they contain valuable suggestions for steps to take to preserve our digital images for the future.

The simplest way to describe Krogh's approach is 3-2-1. This stands for
  • 3 copies of your pictures on
  • 2 different types of storage media with
  • 1 copy stored off site, away from your home or office
Now this might be too much extra copying for your time and tastes, so here are some simplified storage and backup solutions. While they don't exactly follow the 3-2-1 idea, they do provide some protection against the inevitable hard drive failure or just the inevitable upgrade to a new computer.

Starter Backup System
  • Use a dedicated hard drive (external or internal) just for your photos. As you've probably noticed, pictures take up a LOT of storage space on your hard drive. If you keep them on your main hard drive, eventually you'll run out of space. And before that, the lack of empty space on the drive can cause other programs or applications on your system to run slowly. So have one hard drive (external or internal) dedicated to just your pictures.

    Be aware that some photo organizing programs (Apple's iPhoto for one) do not allow you to store your photos anywhere except on the computer's main hard drive. Check the documentation for your photo organizing software to find out if it can save your pictures to a different hard drive. If not, making a back up your main drive is VERY important if you want to protect your digital pictures.

  • Have a second (external) hard drive to back up the first one. And while you're at it, having another separate hard drive to back up everything else on your computer (email, documents, music, etc.) is a good idea, too.

  • Use dedicated backup software to create the duplicate copies of your pictures. This type of software allows you to schedule the backups to happen automatically on a regular basis, say, once a day or once a week, depending on how often you add new pictures or edit the ones you already have. Using Windows Backup or Time Machine (Mac) is preferable to having to remember to make the backup and manually copy the files.

  • Get a third external hard drive for another back up to store off site (say, at a friend's house or the office) for additional safety. Remember to update this backup periodically so it will actually be useful in case of problems. Refreshing the files once a month is probably sufficient.
Krogh was still recommending in 2009 that we burn backups to DVD or Blu-Ray optical disks. But this is increasingly inconvenient due to the ever-growing capacity of our memory cards. We can now save hundreds of still photos and videos on a single card that won't fit on a single optical disk. That means we would need to divide up the images before making the back-ups. It's too time-consuming and tedious for most of us to commit to doing regularly.

An alternative to DVD or Blu-Ray disks is to store your most treasured photos in the "cloud." This means paying a company with a huge hard drive storage system to store your photos on their equipment. This costs money (more dollars for more space) and requires a fast internet connection as well as sufficient time to upload the large files that are your preferred photos. I'm reluctant to use this option since it places my images in someone else's hands. While it might be okay for a third copy of my pictures, I would not rely on cloud storage as my only backup.

Better Photo Backup System

All of this works fine....until you run out of space on the hard drive storing your photos...and you will! So when your photo drives fill up, buy another set of main and backup drives. Be sure to buy more than enough capacity to give you room to add to your collection.

Copy all the photos from your old photo hard drive to the new photo drive. (Do NOT use your backup software for this process! Just use the old fashion drag and drop or copy and paste method.) Then back up the new photo drive to the new backup drive. Keep the old drives for a while to make sure that all your pictures transferred completely and correctly. Later you can reformat the old drives and use them for off-site storage.

Following at least some of these suggestions will help protect your pictures against computer failures and ensure you can enjoy your digital photographs for years to come.