In this day and age, the documentation of our greatest memories are all stored electronically. While this can be beneficial if utilized properly, it also brings major risks with it. These risks—which I will identify below—concern me when it comes to the longevity of all of our photographic images. Many people don’t actually print their photos anymore, especially those taken with smartphones or personal cameras. Not making prints of your images leaves you without a physical copy in the event the digital versions get lost or deleted. Our personal images are very important. They need to be highly cared for and protected. I think there are only a few things that can be passed on to our descendants: wealth, stories, wisdom, and photographs. We want to make sure that those images will still be around when the time comes to past them on. It’s about legacy. We’re all about leaving a legacy. I want you to leave a legacy for future generations to come.
Your photos will show your children’s children who you were, how you lived your life, and some of the greatest memories you have experienced like your wedding day. I’m worried that 20 years from or 50 years from now, many people will lose some, if not all of their photos at some point in their life, at least those stored electronically. Let’s stop that from happening.
So what’s the big deal with the way I’m storing my wedding photos or my family photos? The big deal is that ALL hard drives eventually fail. Most hard drives contain moving and spinning parts or in the case of USB sticks, microchips and transistors. The same goes for computers, they will fail too or they will become so outdated that they’re unusable. I’m sure many of you have already experienced this in your life. Additionally, if it’s not a computer component failing, it’s possible that the images could be accidentally deleted, overwritten, erased, or worse, permanently lost because of a virus. Your images are also at risk of fire or water damage. This is obviously less likely to occur than a computer or memory card failing. Yet, it should not be dismissed so quickly.
The goal of this article is to bring to your attention the seriousness of this issue. I aim to provide you with some practical steps you can take to minimize the risk of losing your images. Thus, preserving them for future generations to come.
Common failures and problems that occur which lead to the loss of images:
- The computer hard drive or USB drive your images were stored on stops working for no apparent reason. The components wear out and won’t work any longer.
- The computer hard drive file system gets corrupted and yields the files or the entire disk unreadable. This is a major issue that I’ve personally experienced multiple times. Many times this is unfixable. This is also a major issue for USB thumb drives.
- Smartphones get dropped, smashed, or dunked in water. It’s very likely that the storage memory in the device will be greatly damaged and all content will be lost. Or you have lost your device. It’s gone. Not getting those images back if it wasn’t backed up to the cloud.
- You thought your smartphone was backed up, but it wasn’t. Be sure that your backup is turned on and there is adequate storage space available.
- USB thumb drives have major issues with the file system getting corrupted. This can be caused by being inserted into many different computers and used a lot. USB drives are rated for a certain number of read and writes over their lifecycle, approximately “10,000 to 100,000 write/erase cycles” says Peter Cardin. “Once this number is reached, it’s possible that the memory chips inside the device will start to fail and they will no longer hold portions of the data” (Cardin, FlashBay.com).
- Your images get accidentally deleted or erased by you or someone else, possibly by even your children or a spouse.
- Photos just disappear out of nowhere. Anyone else had this happen? It’s happened to me. I can’t explain it. But you can’t figure out why some files just disappear but they just do.
- A house fire destroys everything you own. Yikes!
Guidelines and recommendations for handling and storing your images:
I want to give you some practical guidelines to follow when determining how to minimize the risk of losing your images. If you take the approach I recommend, you will greatly increase your chance that you will never have to experience losing any images again.
- Obtain a minimum of two external hard drives. Something like a 3TB or 4TB will work great. These hard drives will work as a set, they will be mirror copies of one another. This way, if one hard drive fails, you still have an exact copy of everything on the other drive. All of your important photos and data should be stored on there; anything that you do not want to lose. Stay tuned, I will post another article soon outlining the detailed setup and configuration of this method. Basically, you will be copying your images and files to both hard drives. But, I will give you a semi-automatic method for doing this.
- Do not permanently store or save anything directly on your computer’s hard drive. Instead, save important data on your mirrored, external hard drives. Doing so will prevent you from losing data if the computer crashes, gets a virus, gets stolen, or becomes physically damaged.
- Store one hard drive in a “fireproof safe for digital media” in your home, if you don’t have a safe, store one hard drive at an offsite location such as your office at work. If you store your backup drive offsite, be sure to periodically take it home to update the mirror copy. An offsite location is great because it adds additional protection against physical damage such as a fire or flooding.
- Apple Mac users: An alternative to a mirrored hard drive is the use of Time Machine. If using the iPhoto or the new Photos app on your Mac, I highly recommend the use of Apple’s Time Machine backup program (included on every mac). You must still buy an external hard drive but you only need one. The Time Machine app will automatically backup your files. I recommend that you still apply the principles of offsite storage to this backup drive or store it in a “fireproof safe for digital media” in your home.
- Print your most precious photographic images. Order physical prints of all your most beloved photos. I recommend ordering 4×6 proof prints of all images from your most important memories such as vacations, events, getaways, or your wedding; and 8x10s or larger of your absolute favorite photos. Prints are also great for storing in boxes and then pulling them out and sorting through them during the holidays with your family. #printyourphotos
- Incorporate online backup services. Do not solely rely on these services but it’s great to add these into your backup method as added protection against losing files and images. I use Dropbox to store important files such as contracts, business data, and select images. Dropbox syncs these files to all of my computers and also backs them up online. I also maintain additional copy on an external hard drive.
- My iPhone utilizes iCloud backup to keep the images on my smartphone safe and sound. Periodically, I will download these images onto my computer and back them up using the same method as I do for my other images.
- The rule of thumb is to have as many copies of your files and images as possible and store them in multiple locations. In the real world that means your files and images are stored on multiple hard drives, keep those hard drives in different physical locations. You can also make other copies on USB drives, copies on CDs, and don’t forget to make prints and albums of your photos.
- Do not entrust the preservation of your images solely to an online service such as iCloud or Dropbox. It’s ok to use these services, but be sure to use them in combination of other backup methods I’ve recommended.
- If your hard drive starts making weird noises, backup your files and replace it immediately. Don’t take any risks.
- If your hard drives takes a long time to load files off of it or if your computer locks up when trying to open files from the hard drive. Again, backup your files and replace it immediately. Don’t take any risks. It’s going to fail.
I’ve lost some of my best personal photos early on due to hard drive failure and computer failure. I have since learned how to stop this from happening to me now. I want the same thing for you. Don’t wait to do this, if you wait, it could be too late.
It’s all about leaving a legacy for your family. I want you to keep your images safe so that you can pass down things like your wedding photographs, yearly family photos, and all of your other favorite images and most prized memories to your children’s children.
Leave a Legacy. A Photo Legacy.