I have many family photos mounted in photography albums, all becoming aged, some photos fading, some water damaged in frames, but all bringing back precious memories of family and children. Most of these photos, if they need replacing, will require me pulling out negatives and dusting down my scanner – a practice I’m glad is also becoming a past memory. With digital photography now, your images don’t fade or scratch and could last forever – or could they?
The one big disadvantage of digital photos, is how easy it is to loose them, you can have a hard disk fail, a computer pack up, or you might even simply delete them without realizing what you have done. This is where having a back up strategy comes in very useful. But is your backup strategy really up to it. Take those CD’s you have, did you know that CD’s don’t have a reliable archive life. I’ve discovered this, even on commercial music CD’s. I remember picking up a music CD from my collection bought from HMV from my teenage years and finding the silver colour was peeling off, completely unusable, and that is without even factoring accidental damage like scratches that can spoil out the usability of your disk. (I’m too embarrassed to tell you what the music was!)
I realized the risk of photography data loss early on when I calculated how much I would have to refund to customers if by some disaster I lost all my data. The insurance company would cover the cost of replacing my hard drive or equipment, but no monetary value was offered on the value of the actual data. With so many wedding photography customers having paid, but not yet having finalized their choice of photos, this carried a significant risk. This is when I took a backup strategy serious.
My research considered several options, I looked at optical disks (CD’s and DVD’s), tapes, hard disks, USB drives and online storage. All have their advantages and disadvantages, but none of them guarantee 100% that you data will be retrievable. With this in mind, I find the best option is to have several backups of photos, so if one is corrupted or broken, their is a good chance another will be usable. I also store photography backups in several locations, so if there was, say a house fire or other disaster, I still have a recovery plan in place.
CD’s and DVD’s – one of the big advantages with optical disks, is that as long as you don’t use re-writable disks, you can’t accidentally delete your data once it is burnt to disk. The disadvantages are if you have a lot of images, you will require many disks, and it is very time consuming to burn disks. You also don’t have a guarantee how long your disk will last. They are also easy to damage and become unreadable, simply with a scratch, or by decay over time. CD’s and DVD’s are easy to transport and even send in the post should you want to store them offsite.
Hard Disks – the big advantages of hard disks are the size and convenience of writing data to them. This is my first line of defense when it comes to backing up photography. All hard disks can fail, and so mirror copies of your data over more than one disk is worth considering. Hard disks are a little vulnerable to transport. I came in the office the other day to see one of my hard disks on the floor, an ominous sight – unfortunately one of my children had knocked it off and it was completely unusable. It was a backup disk, and fortunately I had a mirror copy of the data on another disk, so it was not a total disaster.
Tapes – this is probably more for professional photographers, mainly because of the price of equipment and software. I have a tape backup of everything, but it becomes costly to keep up with technical advances. My old tape drive will not run on any desktop software newer than windows XP unless I spend another