Backup is one of those incredibly tedious topics that only ever really hits you as important when you actually need a backed up file. By that time it’s all too often far too late, and that’s a very painful lesson to learn. It’s especially painful in the case of digital photographs, as they represent a fixed moment in time. Lose an Excel or Word document, and you’re perhaps looking at some tedious research and work to recover, and that’s just a matter of time taken.
With photos, though, it’s a lot more sensitive, because, short of having your own personal time machine, it’s not feasible to travel back to your kid’s birthdays, that special moment in the nightclub or that clear day when you got that amazing bird photo. The bird has probably moved on, for a start. There’s no real way to recreate a photo, which means that it’s most vital that you keep them as secure as possible.
That’s especially true now that photography is everywhere you are. The chances are high that your smartphone has a passable digital compact camera, if not an excellent one, and the price of entry level DSLRs has tumbled in recent years, making digital photography a highly affordable hobby to take on. We’re not printing as many photos as we used to, and that means it’s feasible that you’ve got hundreds (or possibly thousands) of photos sitting on multiple devices or storage cards. With any storage format — be it a hard drive, SD card or internal device storage — it’s not a question of whether it will fail, it’s just a matter of when. There are good data recovery solutions out there, but they’re costly and never one hundred per cent guaranteed. That’s where a good backup strategy can save your precious memories for good.
I mentioned that we don’t print our photos any more, but a printed photo isn’t, in and of itself a backup either. Photos fade, or they’re lost, or (in extreme circumstances) they can be lost due to natural disasters. It’s worth your while grabbing your most precious photos and scanning them for digital backup, just in case.
Equally, don’t equate backup with “I have a single external hard drive plugged into the back of my computer”. That’s not a bad start, and certainly better than absolutely nothing, but at the same time it puts a single critical point of failure on your backup. A single office or house fire would take the photos on your PC and your “backup” hard drive with them. Anything that precious deserves a multi-point backup strategy; preferably one local backup (for which a local hard drive is fine) that you can access quickly in an emergency, and one offsite (which usually means online) backup that would give you slower access, but access that you could use from just about anywhere. The costs aren’t all that prohibitive, and they certainly beat the kinds of prices you’ll pay for good data recovery, or for that matter developing your own time machine so you can retake your photos. Although if you do ever develop that time machine, drop me a line.