Back-em up, buttercup! Today we’re talking about the only way you can truly save your photos. Think about all the forward progress you made over the past 9 days. Feels pretty awesome, doesn’t it?
Now imagine all those sorted, named, labeled, captioned, starred, tagged, face identified, album-arranged photos disappearing in the blink of an eye. GONE! One second and all your effort is vaporized. Hurts, huh?
My goal is to help you avoid the agony of regret by proactively preserving your pictures. To do that, you need to back them up. Sure, you say, duh, I knew that. Oh yeah, well how many of you have actually done it? On a regular basis? With 3 copies in 2 different formats with one being off-site? Yeah, I thought so. Feeling a bit inadequate right now? That’s okay. You’re not alone at all. But we don’t want you to be sob story of what happens when your computer crashes, hard drive fails, tornado wipes out your whole house, or the kids accidentally spill a can of soda over your laptop.
They’re called accidents because they aren’t planned. But you CAN plan on being prepared by taking the steps today to (finally!) get your photos (& other files if you wish) archived.
You must have an archival strategy. This includes not only the choice of media and location of storage solutions, but also the schedule or system for performing regular, routine backups beyond this initial archive of your photo collection.
Would you believe that today’s “Digital Generation” is in danger of losing everything? Their entire life history in photos? While they may be the most photographed generation, they are at risk to have no pictures in a decade? One photographer wrote a thought-provoking blogabout this growing problem. He feels that most of what we shoot today isn’t really important enough to print. Or save. So sad. Hope that’s not the case — and it must not be if you’re here bothering to read this & do my daily steps for 15 days to get organized!
PHYSICAL BACKUPS CAN’T BE BEAT
First of all, let me state what should be obvious…your computer hard drive where you just organized all your digital pictures is NOT a backup. That’s the home of your originals. A backup must be a second (or third or fourth) copy of your files. By the way, Facebook is NOT a backup! (I’ll talk more about that next when I cover DIGITAL backups.)
Consider the life expectancy of your media choice. If something has an average life span of 5 years, that means HALF of those devices will fail before that! Here in Vegas, we call that “the roll of the dice!” Can you easily make another copy of your media? Can you easily update your backup to add in your newer files? Can you be sure that technology will be around 5 years from now?
EXTERNAL HARD DRIVES
One easy physical way to back up all your photos from your computer hard drive is to use an external hard drive, or EHD. This is like a second computer (minus the operating system & such) so it makes sense to copy your photos onto it.
With the price of EHDs dropping and the capacity rising, you can find a huge terabyte hard drive for less than $70. That’s a small price to pay for the peace of mind and safekeeping of your entire digital photo collection, especially if you consider at least a few of those shots to be pretty priceless!
Most of them simply plug in via USB to your computer, making it fairly simply to copy the files over. And should the need arise, you can easily restore your photos from that EHD backup to a new computer if that’s the case. (Congrats on the new hardware, by the way! I’m jelly! That’s jealous, for you non-hipster lingo peeps!)
Portable hard drives are an ideal peripheral product because they don’t require external power, are small enough to carry conveniently, and work with multiple computers for file sharing/syncing. Most models come with backup software to ensure automatically scheduled backups and file syncing in a compact, phone-sized package. Granted, the smaller they are, they easier they are to lose, or drop — both of which will ruin your backup strategy!
I own numerous external hard drives. My first ones were larger and required a power source. My most-recent ones are thin, tiny and only need USB power. Surprisingly, the smaller ones hold more photos and cost much less than the earlier editions!
The other problem is that some 90% of EHDs will fail. Typically within the five years of life. With. No. Warning. Could be 6 months in, or 2.5 years or 4-plus years. Since you don’t know when it will one day croak, you can’t simply depend on just this backup either. And you have to plan to upgrade your EHDs every couple years. Kind of like trading in your car/phone/computer for a newer, updated model.
By all means, use an EHD, but with caution and care, realizing their days are numbered and you’ll never know when its death will suddenly cost you all of your priceless digital photos. Better yet, get two of them and rotate them every so often, keeping one drive off-site. I’ll talk more about this in a bit.
You might be lured into thinking a simple USB flash/thumb drive can solve all your problems as a small, economical backup source. And you might be just fine. In fact, some research shows that these are often a very stable storage device with a life expectancy of 5 to 8 years, slightly longer than optical media like the standard DVD.
Until, that is, the USB drive gets lost because it’s so tiny and portable. Or left in a pocket that goes through the washing machine. Or splashed by a spill of coffee or water. In other words, these tiny backups are the ultimate in convenience, but they can also be damaged or lost, effectively deleting all your photos. So this isn’t the only option you should use as a backup either.
OPTICAL MEDIA OPTIONS
If you don’t have a zillion (or so) photos to back-up, you might be able to back them up to optical media such as a CD or DVD. These media are often extremely economical and easy to burn from your computer hard drive. My suggestion is to stick to DVD for the greater file capacity as it holds 4.7GB vs. 700MB on a CD. I’m sure you have more than 700MB of photos. Otherwise you are crazy…go take more pictures! Now! The next step beyond DVD is the Blu-Ray disc that can hold up to 50GB on a dual-layer disc. That’s about 10 standard DVDs or 70 recordable CDs! And there’s talk of even larger capacity discs on the horizon — one company is offering a 100GB version any day now!
THE GOLD STANDARD
When it comes to DVDs, there are plenty of cheap, department-store brands sold in bulk. That said, there are also more-expensive options that are expressly made for archiving. These are often called “gold” DVDs, but the color isn’t the only way you can tell. Usually a premium price tag buys you greater peace of mind that the media will not fail as easily or as soon. Of course, most of them don’t offer a warranty or refund if it does before their advertised life expectancy. And even if they did, it doesn’t mean you get your photos back — just some cash back, which may help you buy file recovery software to try to rescue your lost JPGs. For the sake of today, I’ll keep this positive!
Most DVDs burn data into an organic dye layer that begins to degrade and fade right away, leading to “data rot.” In fact, the National Archives warns that the shelf life of a standard recordable DVD may be as short as 2 years, although a general estimate is 3-7 years on average.
A Delkin Archival Gold DVD is advertised to last 100 years, while their 25GB Blu-Ray version is promoted with a 200-year life expectancy! According to their website, “Archival Gold is the only storage medium guaranteed 100% uneditable, inerasable and tested to endure up to 200 years, based on the National Institute of Standards and Technology.” Now that’s a few generations worth!
Verbatim claims to be the “Number 1 Optical Brand in the World” as it sells a full-line of discs, including UltraLife™ Archival Grade Gold DVDs for 100-year life. It also offers a Photo DVD-R product specifically for archiving photos. It uses patented AZO™technology to secure the original quality of the digital image, plus a Crystal coating applied to protect the recording layer and label surface from data-damaging scratches.
SET IN STONE
When it comes to archival, stone scribbles have stood the test of time for the most part. Just like cavemen scribed their lives on the walls of their cave, the M-Disc actually etches your data onto a stone-type surface, offering what the company promotes as 1,000-year storage solution. Now that’s what I call long term! I’m a big fan of the M-Disc product line but it does require a compatible drive to burn them so read all about them on their website. Or click the image of the 15-pack spindle below to buy them (& the external drive) on Amazon!
R+ OR R- BUT NOT RW
Whether you go with DVD-R or DVD+R depends on your computer and DVD drive. However, it should go without saying not to choose RW discs but if you don’t pay attention, you might end up with a spindle of these. While they are great for storing documents you need to temporarily access and transport, they are terrible for long-term archival storage because they can easily (albeit accidentally) be written over. Does anyone remember the long-ago days of the lowly VCR tape when you’d discover you taped over something else you wanted to keep? Argh! Choose DVD-R or DVD+R only.
While I’m a big fan of labeling your backup discs, please be very careful with anything that goes ON the actual disc. You’re better off printing something that goes on the case and using a basic Sharpie pen to identify the contents of the disc. I’ve heard far too many horror stories of paper sticker labels that get ripped up and caught inside your computer’s disc drive, ruining both at once!
Now there are inkjet printable discs that eliminate the potential paper problems of earlier options. Look for this option when purchasing your DVDs. You can design a printed “label” for each DVD that includes a representative photo (or collage), and any text and dates to help identify the photos included on it.
PRINT FILE WINDOW
One thing you’ll want to do besides labeling your actual DVD is printing out the file directory list of what’s on it. To do this, you can use the PRINT SCREEN, PASTE & PRINT process in Windows. Or you can run a command to generate a list.txt file for editing later using thesestep-by-step directions.
On a Mac, it used to be as easy as choosing the Print Window option from the menu bar before OSX came to be. Since then, it requires some jumping through hoops or taking a screen shot to paste into something else so you can print it.
Or you could try out a nifty software app aptly named Print Window that lets you control which folders/files to expand and print, plus adjust the font and size. It has auto-format options for fitting onto a CD jewel case or DVD box case. You can even make a photo proof contact sheet showing thumbnails of all your images! How handy would that be? I’m sold on this idea but will have to try out the free version. The full version is $20 but if it helps me print files & folders for all my archives, including contact sheets of all my images, it would be well worth it. Of course, printing these in color will be rather costly ink-wise, especially if you have as many images as I do. Saving them as a PDF you can open and reference at any time probably makes more sense than a full physical copy.
Better yet, Picasa has a built-in feature to print a contact sheet from a folder. Simply select a certain folder first, then click the FOLDER menu to choose “Print Contact Sheet..” and you’ll see them nicely organized by thumbnails with the album name and date. You’ll have an option to either “shrink to fit” or “crop to fit” the pics into the thumbnails. Click on the other choice to see your options & pick a fave. I noticed it rotates any vertical photos sideways, probably to show enough of the image, although it still bothers me a bit.
Any archival solution runs the risk of data corruption, transfer failure or device death/obsolescence. Some experts say you should regularly check your data source by “running” it once in a while to actively seek and open a few files. That way, if you start to see any fishy behavior, you might be able to salvage the majority of your data before the whole thing blows. For your long-term archival storage, the pros suggest occasional testing of the data once every 6 months and migrating to a newer (or just different) media source every 3-5 years.
Aside from the obvious advice about putting the cap back on USB thumb drives, you’ll need to keep CDs/DVDs in their cases, and carefully handling them by their edges only to avoid fingerprints and scratches.
Don’t forget about storage solutions to keep your special backup disks safe from scratches, extreme temperature swings, dust, and such. Careful handling and using the case is a start. If you end up with a large collection of discs, you’ll need to find a way to store them.
To be literal, I suppose you could keep them in a fireproof, theft-proof safe in your home. Or better yet, at the bank in a safe deposit box, which gets you the ultimate in protection as well as off-site benefits.
However, you can just keep the cased discs in a cool, dark, dry space, such as your a shelf in your bedroom closet, in a dresser drawer or in a box under a bed.
Do NOT keep optical discs in the garage, basement or attic, as the extreme temperature swings and humidity will degrade the data. Ideally, your data archives need to be kept in a space that’s heated and cooled, depending on your location and season, as well as one that handles humidity. That’s why an off-site storage space won’t work unless it’s an indoor one that’s climate-controlled.
To avoid heat, cold, humidity, dust, debris, scratches, fingerprints, or sunlight, please do NOT store optical discs or delicate drives inside your vehicle, kids’ rooms, bathroom, kitchen, laundry room, outdoor storage shed, shoebox buried in the yard, etc. Try to keep them away from water, dust, bright sunlight, harsh surfaces, kids, and extreme temps.
I can’t talk about physical backups without mentioning the lowly photo print! Remember these? Back in the days of film, everyone HAD to print their pictures just to see what you shot. Now it seems like if we’ve “seen” it in our camera or phone, we don’t even bother getting a physical copy to hold. And that’s a crying shame!
Should you (or could you) print ALL of your digital photos? Probably not. I know I couldn’t. I wouldn’t want to pay for all those prints, no matter what the sale offer. Let alone the shipping cost. I also don’t want to pile up a zillion (that’s about how many I have) photo prints that I would then have to sort, organize, label, and store somehow.
It just doesn’t make sense to turn an all-digital collection into a physical prints one, as that has its own issues with space, clutter, and safe-keeping, of course. How many of you have had a toddler tear/Sharpie/crumple/etc a printed photo? So that’s not the only solution either.
But you SHOULD print SOME (or all) of your STARS! If all else failed, and I mean your digital backups on hard drives, thumb drives, DVDs, and such, you’d still have printed copies of your most prized photos. And those can be scanned into digital files again if absolutely necessary. At that point, your slight quality degradation from losing an iteration of your image will be the least of your worries. If this sentence didn’t make much sense to you, that’s okay. It’s just pointing out the fact that a copy of a copy is never as nice as the original. If you’ve ever tried to photocopy a crappy photocopy, you know what I mean. It doesn’t get better, that’s for sure!
I’m not going to analyze or advise on WHO/WHERE to get photo prints made, but I can tell you that the quality and service you’ll get from a local photo retailer (real store run by photo experts) will always outperform any online option or discount department store. You can Google side-by-side comparisons of quality (paper and color and clarity) for about any mainstream service on the market. You do want the colors to be true and sharp. And if the paper isn’t archival-quality, it won’t last as long as it should, defeating the point of having it as a backup to your backups. But if you aren’t prepared to handle the prints when they come into your home, you’ll soon be looking for blogs on how to organize prints. What’s that you say? You already have that problem too? No worries. I’ll be covering that soon but this is my primary concern — and should be yours too!
But the primary point for printing your photos is to ENJOY them, share them and show them off. Put them in frames around your home and office. Don’t let them be held hostage on your hard drive! Or be an unknown entity on a shiny circular DVD. Let them come to life in your own life!
I’ll talk more about ideas for printing beyond the basic 4×6 photo print but if you do nothing else, printing your starred favorites and putting them out to be seen and shared will still be considered a victory!
GET IN THE GROOVEBOOK
I’ve become a fan of the Groovebook app, which was recently bought out by Shutterfly after appearing on the TV show Shark Tank. For $2.99/month, it prints 100 photos from my mobile phone and ships them to my door. It’s super simple to select the ones you want to upload, and then the app automatically processes the print order on your monthly deadline day and ships you this fun booklet of your prints.
Each print has a perforated edge so you can choose to keep them in the book as a whole, like a mini photo album of sorts. Or, tear out the ones you want to share with loved ones, frame or scrapbook. Photo quality is not the highest but it’s an almost hands-off, relatively instant way to get pictures printed off my iPhone at least. I’ll talk about this more in a later post about playing & publishing your pictures. Use CODE (KRUSE58) to get a free Groovebook sample of your own!
Obviously, any physical backup system is at risk for natural disasters, including fire, flood, tornado/hurricane, theft, and unsupervised toddlers. So even if you have your photos on your main computer hard drive, an external hard drive, a set of DVDs, flash drives and prints organized into albums…you’ll lose them all in an instant with Mother Nature’s wrath or a homeowner incident if they are all kept in the same general location (your home or office).
Redundancy (multiple copies) is a key strategy in archiving but if all those copies are in the same physical geographic location, you’re risking it all. “Colocation” is a technical term that can refer to off-site data storage but it applies to your own photo backup too. Move at least one copy of your backups to a second location that’s outside your primary computer’s location. Even better is to make sure your backup-to-the-backup is in an off-site location that’s outside your same region. In other words, a tornado/hurricane/earthquake can wipe out a stretch of a town that could include BOTH your home and your mom’s house if you’re only a few blocks away. Think further out like a different town, or state! Sure, you may have to ship it there or deliver it when you go to visit but you can rest easy knowing that the same natural disaster is not likely to affect both copies!
JUST IN CASE
The easiest way to keep your optical media safe is to store them in cases. If you buy the economical disc spindle, you’ll want to buy coordinating cases. There are now slim versions that don’t take up as much space on a shelf.
You can also store them inside vinyl sleeve pocket sheets that go into 3-ring binders. Some are made to look extra nice like high-end photo albums you wouldn’t mind looking at on your bookshelf or desk.
Other disc storage devices depend on how many you’ll need to hold. Always buy more space than you currently have discs so there’s room to grow/add as you continue your archiving efforts. Tomorrow I’ll cover the digital side of archiving by backing up to the CLOUD! Don’t worry, I’ll walk you through it until you understand.
DAY 10 — 15 MINUTES. LET’S GET PHYSICAL WITH OUR BACKUPS!
Set your phone’s timer or stopwatch for 15 minutes and determine your backup strategy by deciding how you’ll backup your photos — to CD/DVDs, flash/thumb drives, external hard drives. Decide which photos to print and how you plan to print.
Now open Picasa and click on at least one album or folder. Under the TOOLS menu, choose “Back Up Pictures…” to then see all your available photos to select for backup. After you check all the boxes for the ones you want (or just “select all”), Picasa will total up how many GBs you’ll need, even how many DVDs or CDs that would take. Of course, if you backup to a large-enough external hard drive or flash drive, you’ll only need to do the backup “BURN/COPY” process once.
Be sure to create a backup “set” to identify which pictures, where to back them up, whether to include all files, all pictures (no videos), or just JPEGs with camera information. I recommend ALL to be safe, but you can test how big the backup would be with the various options. Maybe you’ll just want to backup videos elsewhere or whatever may be. After you create this “set,” you can choose it next time to do an “incremental backup,” meaning just the ones that have been added or modified since the initial backup. Yes, you’ll be revisiting this step in the future so get familiar with it!
In summary, your DAY 10 DUTIES:
- DETERMINE YOUR ARCHIVAL STRATEGY BY CHOOSING THE MEDIA TYPES YOU WILL USE FOR BACKUPS.
- ORDER ANY PERIPHERAL PRODUCTS YOU NEED FOR ARCHIVING (CD/DVD/BLU-RAY DISCS & RECORDING DRIVES, EXTERNAL/PORTABLE HARD DRIVES, USB FLASH DRIVES, CASES & STORAGE SOLUTIONS).
- OPEN PICASA AND LOOK UNDER THE TOOLS MENU FOR “BACK UP PICTURES.”
- CREATE A BACKUP SET TO CHOOSE THE MEDIA & FILE TYPES, THEN SELECT ALL THE ALBUMS & FOLDERS TO BURN/COPY YOUR BACKUP TO THE SOURCE YOU CHOOSE.
- AFTER CREATING/BURNING MULTIPLE COPIES OF YOUR ARCHIVE, PUT THEM IN APPROPRIATE LOCATIONS USING PROPER SAFE STORAGE SOLUTIONS.
- MARK YOUR CALENDAR (SCHEDULE A REMINDER IN YOUR PHONE) TO SYNC UPDATED PHOTOS TO YOUR BACKUP SOURCES & SWAP OUT THE DEVICES AS NEEDED.
Be sure to backup your ALBUMS as well as your folders! Because, if you remember, the FOLDERS are where your photos actually reside. Your ALBUMS need to be saved too so Picasa can retain all your organization as well. Otherwise if you load these onto another computer later, all that effort will be lost. You’ll still have your JPGs of course, and the tags that you identified them with, but not all that helpful organization and details from your ALBUMS. You can also backup your PEOPLE albums, or FACE/NAME tags. Re-read my post on that to make sure your faces get saved correctly WITH the photo file so you don’t lose all that priceless “people” info!
TALKING TIME LIMITS
This step might take some time as burning optical media discs depends on the speed of the drive. It may be something you let run overnight or while you go somewhere until it finishes. It may also take a little time messing around with printing your files/folders to go with the discs and drives. Unless you’ve already used this feature, your first few will take longer but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to archive as fast as can be.
Remember, this is your initial backup so it will take the longest. After this, your backups will only be incremental, meaning much less waiting while your files copy! Unless, of course, you wait far too long (like 6 months to a year) before doing another backup…then you’ll have to wait a while too!
© Brenda Kruse and PhotoOrganizingPro.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenda Kruse and PhotoOrganizingPro.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.