Backing up photos! - Vancouver family photographer

Backing up photos is easy and important! 

This is my way...

Family album. Great grandfather holds baby girl with cane. Digging in the sand at the beach. Swimming in the swimming pool. Summer holidays with family.

Every time I visit my mom's I comb through our family albums. Every time. I LOVE our albums, and this last time I wanted to take some of them with me. My family is in Norway, and I'm in Canada, I need a piece of our family history here. So what did I do? I photographed them. I spent hours photographing page after page, and still I only got through a fraction of our collection.

I also did four sessions while I was home, and saw my 97-year-old grandmother and my new niese, so I came back with a bounty of pictures. They were all stored on two hard drives, and I was excited to show the kids the photographs of the albums. I wanted them to see their grandparents on their wedding day, baby me sitting on my great-grandfather's lap, him teaching me to walk with his cane. But where were they? I went through all my files, both hard drives, they were nowhere.

Where had they gone?

I'm religious about backing up my work. Any photo I make I have to back it up. I have countless hard drives. Some are at my mom's, some at my dad's, some here. I'm so paranoid about loosing my memories, my pictures, I'm a bit of a digital hoarder. Yet these photographs were mysteriously gone. I looked everywhere, and copped it up to the fact that I had been exhausted from two sessions the day before and may have accidentally formatted a card that wasn't downloaded yet. But I still couldn't understand how I'd do that. Once, in 2003, I accidentally formatted a card with irreplaceable photographs, and since then I make sure once, twice sometimes three times that all my cards have been downloaded. This time the photos that were missing were only the ones of photographs in an album, so if anything I could ask my mom to scan them or photograph them next time I was home. This time the pictures were replaceable, but I still couldn't understand how it happened. It's so unlike me.

Last night I needed to clear some space on my computer and found a folder in my Pictures foler named Family Photos. I found them. I never use my computer to store photographs. It slows it down, and also computers are unreliable in the best of times, so I never trust it to keep my pictures safe. I store folders of photographs I already have backed up, but rarely a whole set of raw photographs. I must've been tired when I downloaded these, to put them there, and not on the two external hard drives I traveled with. Sigh of relief, I found my pictures. With another note to self: Always, always, always back up my photos. No matter how tired I am.

Here's my step-by-step to how I back up my work. Backing up all the photos and documents you need in your life is something everyone should do, technology is fragile and unstable. For my system you need three hard drives: one for your desk to upload your pictures, one that you use as a backup for the one on your desk, and an additional backup to be stored in some other location. The third one I only put my most important photographs on. Like family photos or pictures related to long-term projects.

Here's how I back up:

  1. Download cards onto external hard drive on desk. My folders are divided like this: Folder for year, folder for month. With clients an additional folder with client name. These folders are then copied over to the second hard drive about once a month. (In a week June will be over, so I will drag June over to 2018 on my second drive.)

  2. Photographs I love get backed up onto a third hard drive. I think of my third hard drive as my album drive. Any photos I want to keep forever goes onto here. **HARD DRIVES EXPIRE AFTER A FEW YEARS! Every three years I buy a new one, load everything over on that and retire the old one, which I then put in storage with any cables it needs. That way, should both my other backups fail, at least I'll have images up until that point and won't loose all the photos.

  3. PRINT PICTURES!!! No matter how vigilant we are about our technology, or how many times we back things up, the future of technology is ALWAYS changing. Chances are if your grandkids should find your old hard drive in the attic in 30 years they won't be able to retrieve the information. Already my hard drives from early 2000s can't be used on modern computers. Just think about old mixed tapes or VHS tapes, it's the same for hard drives. Make your photographs analog, put them into albums, onto the wall or just print and store in a box, because that way they exist in physical form. And imagine what a treasure that will be for future generations. Another bonus is that photo albums are so much more fun to look at together than a screen.

I want to mention there is also the option of storing photographs into a cloud, a paid service online. I don't do this for two reasons: it's expensive and I don't like the idea of my private photos floating on someone else's server. I'm also not 100% convinced it's very reliable.

So, here's a task for you. Buy three external hard drives with enough space to store all your pictures. Find your family photos and put them all on there. Keep one in your house and store one outside your home. Maybe at a family members home, your bank box, your storage, anywhere that is safe but not your home. Back up regularly. Once a month I drag any new photos onto the second drive, then about once every six months I drag my favourites onto a third hard drive. When each hard drive is about three years old I stop trusting it altogether and drag all the files onto a new hard drive while the old one gets put in a box for storage. 

It may not be a perfect system, but it's been my system for 15 years, and it works for me. Whichever system you use, just make sure you back up your digital life. Especially your photographs.