I have written about backup systems and how important it is to have both onsite and offsite copies of your photos. For those of you who have gone totally digital with your pictures, the urgency of getting those files backed up in multiple locations and media is even more important as digital files are more susceptible to lose than printed photos. You don’t need a tornado to have lightning cause a power surge resulting in damage to your computer, or a static shock corrupt your SD Card before you download photos to your computer.
The digital age has allowed us to share and even print our photos in ways that we couldn’t before, but too many people think their images are safe and secure for posterity, when in fact, they could lose everything tomorrow. It’s not even when will your hard drive fail, or will the online company go out of business, but how will technology change in the future and how quickly? When was the last time you put a floppy disk in your computer? Could you even read a zip drive? Operating systems, programs and file formats change as well. Preserving your digital photos becomes an ongoing job to make sure you can view them. This is one of the reasons when converting movies or video tapes to digital, I recommend getting the computer files, not just the DVDs. CDs and DVDs will soon be like those floppy disks that you can no longer read with your current computer.
The 3-2-1 rule is good to follow with your digital media. Have 3 copies of your files, on at least 2 different types of media, with 1 copy off site. I would add a 4th printed copy of your best photos, preferably with the stories written out with them. The three copies can be on your computer, an external hard drive or flash drive, and online storage.
The two different types of media are important because you don’t want a problem with one storage media type to make all your backups vulnerable in the same way. So if you’re buying an external hard drive, buy two and get different brands. It reduces the risk of failure at the same time for those drives.
The online storage gives you the offsite copy. This can be as simple as Carbonite backing up your computer with all the photos on it. You can also use other storage like Linea, or Flicker. Just be sure to check the privacy statements and if you can download at full resolution when you need to restore the files. Try not to have your photo collection scattered across different online storage sites. Choose one and stick with it. If you need or want a different one for a specific reason, document it! I would still have one main online site that had all my photos together.
You will want to check the different media at least every 5 years to make sure it can still be read, and everything is in good shape. By this time you will need to make a new backup copy anyway. If there is a big change or you move to a new computer system with a different OS, migrate your photos at the same time, not a few years later.
Make a document that tells you where all your files are, when you last checked them, any login information to online storage, and an inventory of your digital images. Keep that document with other important papers. If you forget or something happens to you, others will need to know how and where to look for your digital pictures.
How are you doing with your digital preservation?