The holidays are right around the corner, which undoubtedly means spending time with the friends and family that you don’t often see, and taking plenty of photos of these special moments. And while it’s easier than ever to take and store lots of great photos, the nature of digital storage means that it’s just as easy to instantly lose those memories. A stolen computer or corrupted hard drive can wipe out an entire life’s worth of photos. Thankfully, taking just a few proper steps can ensure that your most precious memories will stay safe for years to come. Here’s how to keep your digital photos safe with secure backups.
The first step is to properly transfer your photos from your digital camera to your computer. This is actually a pretty straightforward process, but like any digital procedure, there’s always a chance that a simple mistake can compromise your data.
Start by making sure your camera is off —wait a few seconds after hitting the power button, because the camera can still be writing data even when “off.” Then remove the card from the camera and use a card reader to transfer the photos to your computer. Only remove the card reader once you’re sure the data has finished transferring to your computer, and use your PC’s “Eject External Storage” option just to be safe.
You can also transfer photos directly from camera to computer, without removing the memory card, by using the USB cable that came with your camera. This adds another layer of safety by reducing the chances of you losing a full memory card.
Successfully loading your photos onto your computer’s hard drive is only the first step to ensuring they’re safely stored. You should also back up the most treasured ones with one or more physical options. Here are the three most popular physical photo backup methods:
Write to recordable DVD/Blu-ray discs. These are some of the most cost efficient ways to back up your photos. A single Blu-ray disc can hold thousands of photos, takes up next to no space, and costs less than a dollar per disc. Recordable DVDs are even cheaper, and can be read by just about any computer made in the last decade, as well as most home DVD or Blu-ray players. That makes them an excellent option for sharing with non-tech savvy family members.
Add a second internal hard drive. Most desktop computers and many laptops will have space for a second hard drive. Installing a new hard drive is usually an easy job for the average DIYer, but a quick trip to your local computer service technicians can get it done for a reasonable fee. Once installed, this secondary drive can be used to store only certain data, or it can be set to automatically copy everything that gets saved to the main drive—this is known as drive mirroring. In the event that one drive has a physical failure, all of the data would still be safe on the second drive.
Backup to an external hard drive. This is the best physical way to back up your photos, because it can be easily transported, and kept separate from your computer. An external hard drive that holds all of your most important photos and documents is easy to grab in an emergency situation, and can be hidden in a spot away from your computer. Even better, it can be permanently stored off-site.
With one or more physical backups of your treasured photos, the odds of permanently losing any photos will be greatly minimized. But physical duplicates are not a complete backup strategy, because they can all be lost in the same home fire or stolen in a single burglary. That’s why it’s a good idea to have some method of off-site backup, which is where online storage comes in.
Storing your photos in the cloud
“The cloud” describes any web-based data backup service that can be accessed from a computer or smartphone. Users upload photos to the service through an app or website; those photos get stored on that service’s secure servers. Cloud storage services use enterprise-level hardware, and they save your data in multiple locations spread across the country, so the risk of ever losing a photo in the cloud is effectively nonexistent.
You may already be familiar with cloud storage, which is a popular feature of both Apple and Android smartphones. If you’ve ever stored a photo on iCloud or Google Photos—the online storage that comes with your Apple or Google account—you’ve used the cloud. Both of these systems automatically back up your photos to the cloud, without requiring any extra steps. Once you take a photo on your iPhone or Google Pixel, the image file is saved on your phone and in the cloud. If you ever lose the phone, you won’t have to worry about losing the photos you’ve taken with it.
While both iCloud and Google Photos are best known as mobile apps, they can also be accessed from a personal computer, so users can upload photos not taken on a smartphone. They each offer free storage, with some limitations. Google Photos will provide unlimited storage for photos and videos, as long as the pics are 16 megapixels or smaller, and the video is a max of 1080p HD. A free iCloud account has an overall limit, capping you at 5 GB of storage. Both services give you the option to pay more for extra storage space. And there are also plenty of other independent cloud storage companies, which may offer unique features that make them better suited to your particular needs. Three of the most popular are Backblaze, Carbonite, and Dropbox.
One of the great added benefits of cloud-based storage, besides keeping your photos safe, is that it makes sharing photos super easy. Because a user can access them from any device with an internet connection, you can simply send a link to family or friends and they’ll be able to instantly view your photos. Some even offer additional features, like the ability to order prints or a photo book filled with their favorite photos.
Implementing any one of these individual steps greatly decreases your chances of accidentally losing all of your photos and videos. And a photo backup strategy that uses multiple safeguards will bring those chances down to just about zero. It does cost a bit more and require some extra work to properly back up your photos, but it’s definitely worth it to protect your priceless memories.