Photographs are precious things, especially ones of our friends and family. They help to keep our memories fresh and allow us to remember things we might otherwise have forgotten, such as those ridiculous fashions we wore or that stupid moustache I had when we got married. At the time of writing its is the start of a new year and we have all shared some great photographs but will we take care of them and will they survive for years to come? I was reminded of this the other day when I scanned a photo of Jill's grandfather taken in 1915 when he served on a royal navy hospital ship. His photo has survived 100 years, will any of ours do the same?
There have been a lot of great photos posted by proud parents on Facebook and social media this year. When I look back at the photos of our children at that age, they were taken on film. I still have the negatives or slides somewhere, but few of us now have the means to scan them and get back to the original images. In the space of a few decades photo technology has changed out of all recognition and the pace of technology is not slowing down.
Modern photos mainly live in the cyber world and exist as just files on a computer or mobile phone. What if disaster strikes and you lose your phone or your computer hard disk failed? Would your pictures be safe? You might think that because you backed up your photos to a disc that all is well but CDs can be unreliable and can deteriorate with age. Indeed a lot of new laptops these days do not even have a CD drive. Remember floppy discs, VHS tapes, cassettes and even 8 tracks? Most people would not now have the means to read such media, assuming it had even survived the ravages of time.
So what is the answer? There is no best solution but many photographers apply the mantra "On-line, Off-line and Off-site"
If possible keep all of your pictures on-line on your computer. Keep them organised, I save mine by year and then in folders for Events, Travel, People, Locations and General. This way you can access them whenever you want plus they are easy to save and backup by year. You may find that you don't have enough hard disc space on your computer in which case an external disk or even a wireless/network enabled drive could be added for the whole family to use.
The idea of off-line backups is that they are not affected if your computer gets a virus that wipes the hard disc and are not lost if your computer is stolen or broken. This would typically mean copying your files to a CD rom a memory stick or using an internet backup service such as Dropbox, iCloud, Backblaze, Amazon and others. Note: a service that synchronises the backup with your hard disc will also be wiped if your computer is wiped by a virus. Another idea is to use such services to synchronise several computers but if possible make sure photos can only be copied but not deleted.
Whatever method you use, make sure the media is still viable every year or so. I would recommend re-burning CDs or DVDs every 3 years, just to be sure and keep the old ones just in case! From time to time, check you can still download files from the cloud.
Off-site offers the best protection of all in that it is both off-line and unlikely to be lost at the same time as the other sources. You need to save your files to a removable media such as CD, memory stick or external hard disk. You then give it to a friend or relative to store at their house. You do need to remember to update it periodically. Every few months would be typical.
Mobile phone memory is always in short supply and photos have to compete for space alongside music, apps and other files. Don't just delete those old photos, copy them to a PC and back them up. In years to come you will appreciate you made the effort.
It used to be quite difficult to transfer images and other files from your phone back to your computer. The Apple solutions tend to drive you to use their applications, which are fine if you like them. The latest version of IOS 8.1 allows the use of iCloud to sync photos but personally I have found that Dropbox offers the best solution for me as it is platform independent, that is, it works just as well with Android as it does with Apple, PCs and Macs. It also has a generous free allowance of 2Gb and dedicated phone apps.
I set the app on my phone and tablet to sync photos with Dropbox and then from time to time you can download them using the Dropbox website straight to your PC. Once backed up safely, you can then start deleting some old photos from your phone and free up valuable space. You need to delete the files from Dropbox too otherwise it will restore them back to your phone.
Everyone has different requirements, different numbers of photos and different ways of using photos. If you can, try to make sure you have at least three separate copies of your favourite images. Facebook and other social media do count as one source but bear in mind the images you can retrieve are often low resolution, compressed and may not be available forever. Cloud based backup services could also become unavailable without notice, the company could fold or your subscription could lapse without your notice.
One form of backup that is durable and will not become outdated is prints. Remember the picture of Jill's grandfather? Commercially produced prints will typically cost 10p to 20p for a 6x4 or 7x5 size and they should last for many years, especially if not exposed to bright light. There are numerous on-line print services such as Tesco, Photobox and Snapfish. If you print photos yourself check what type of ink your printer uses. Dye based inks will fade in light much faster than pigment based inks which can last for 100 years if stored well.
In case you want to know what I do, I have a large external drive attached to my computer for on-line storage, I have a backup program that copies (but does not delete files) to a network drive elsewhere in the house. I then periodically copy files to an external hard disc that I keep off-site. I may be paranoid but I don't want to lose any of our photos.
Note: the same principles apply to all other computer files you create.
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