It happens and may well have in this case. So what can you do to make sure your precious images of the kids, vacations, etc. are safe – forever?
I recommend doing what the pros do. When it comes to their commercial work, here’s what they do:
Once they’ve finished shooting for the day they download the images from their memory card to their computer’s hard drive.
When you do this at home your computer might ask if you want to delete the images after the download? Tell it NO!
Once you’ve got the images onto your hard drive take the memory cards and put them in an envelop where you will keep them until you’re certain you’ve got at least two sets of backups in two separate locations. I keep mine in envelopes for at least a week after a shoot.
Memory cards are relatively cheap so buy more than one. A two gig card is okay but I’m using four and eight gig cards and I normally carry at least four with me at all times.
Back to what the pros do. As soon as you can burn a DVD of the unedited images. This is your second location for storage and means even if your hard drive crashes or your computer is stolen, you’ve still got a copy of your images safe and sound. I put my DVD in an envelop where I write the date and subject and store it in a box in my basement. This has saved my bacon on more than one occasion. New formats such as BlueRay promise greater storage capacity and durability so we’ll have to wait to see what the future brings when it comes to long-term storage.
If you’ve got more images than can fit on one DVD burn a second or third. DVDs are cheap but they are NOT archival (which is commonly taken to mean will keep your images safe for 50 to 100 years). DVDs will and do fail but they’re a good enough medium for now. I just wouldn’t trust them to work 75 years from now. (The surfaces can become unreadable over time.)
Don’t store your images on USB sticks or leave them forever on your memory cards. First it’s way too easy for someone else in the family to accidentally erase or worse format (which is permanent) the cards or sticks. Besides these devices are expense and reusable. Once you’re certain your images are safe, it’s then time to format (not just erase which doesn’t do as good a job) your media in the device you use them in. In other words let the camera you shoot with do the formatting as it can almost always read its own formatting but may have trouble with cards formatted by a computer or different camera. Formatting returns the card to a pristine state.
Now pros will use multiple hard drives (I’ve got three separate terabyte external hard drives.) that automatically mirror each other thus making exact copies in two places. Plus, in addition to the DVD backup, they will upload the images to an online storage site like SmugMug which offers unlimited storage for $50 a year. I upload my fun images to Flickr and my professional images to my SmugMug site. I can control who sees what on SmugMug and it looks more professional than my public Flickr site.
If you want 100 per cent archival storage make prints using archival paper and inks. You can do this yourself if you’ve got the time and money or have a pro lab (not WallMart) do it for you. Or you can have a coffee-table size book printed of your images for around $100.
A good photo printer will cost $500 and ink isn’t cheap. My $1200 Epson 3800 printer is amazingly wonderful as it will do a 16″ X 20″ colour or black and white print. The inks for this beast are around $800 for a full set. Now you don’t run out of all the inks at the same time but it’s still not cheap to run. But it’s wonderful watching your own big prints roll out. Of course, then there’s the cost of framing.
Seems like a lot of work and expense doesn’t it? Nobody said digital photography was cheap and easy.
Well, it isn’t but digital photography and the new automatic cameras which are found everywhere these days have made photographers of us all. But unless you take some steps to protect your images you’re going to find the family photo album of the future isn’t going to be as safe as the family photo albums of the past.
I’ve got photos of my family that go back 75 years sitting in boxes downstairs. Now that’s archival and precious as all get out. 🙂