Documenting Your Family | Photo Tips | Back-up Your Images

In Sunday’s Denver Post, buried at the back of the A&E section, was an important article on the challenges of archiving our audio history – These are very similar to the challenges that we all face in archiving the digital images and videos that we are creating to document our families.

In my post last week, I talked about the importance of making prints. Of course, prints are the safest way of archiving your photos, but they don’t do much for videos or if you may want a larger print at some point in the future.

So, in addition to prints, it is imperative that you make digital back-ups of your images (videos). When you shoot pictures on your digital camera or cell phone, the images are saved on relatively stable memory cards. But these cards do “go bad” with no warning. Also, while these cards are in your camera, they hold the only copy of your images. This can be dangerous for a few reasons – loss, theft, breakage & card failure come to mind, so it is a good idea to get the images off of your memory cards as soon as possible. Don’t let them languish on the cards for months at a time.

As you copy the images from your memory cards, remember, you always need to have the digital images stored in at least two places at any given time. Digital data storage is a tricky thing. Drives can just fail with no warning and recovering the data is very expensive (if it is possible at all). Below is a look at my typical back-up workflow…

  1. Shoot, shoot, shoot – I rarely delete anything on the back of the camera. You never know when something in a picture may become important.
  2. Ingest, rename, and add ownership meta-data (I will cover this in a future post) to the images from my memory cards using PhotoMechanic. PhotoMechanic actually ingests the images to two different hard-drives (my primary “Images” drive and my “raw file” archive) at the same time. Automatically ensuring that I have saved the images to two different places – obviously, this is something that you could do on your own, PM just makes it really easy.
  3. At the end of my day, I kick off a system wide back-up. It makes a complete back-up of my entire system, including my “Images” drive. This ensures that I have updated back-ups of all the images that I have worked on that day. So, when this process completes, I have the images that I pulled off of my memory cards saved on at least three drives – raw file archive, Images drive, and back-up drive.
  4. The next morning, I come in and check that the back-up ran successfully. If it did, I go ahead and re-format my memory cards. Note: It is not good to have half used memory cards laying around. If you grab one and load it in your camera, you won’t know whether the images on it have been backed-up.
  5. A final step to consider is “off-site” back-up, which will cover you in the event of a fire or theft. There are a couple of ways that I handle off-site back-up. I upload a lot of our personal images to a Flickr account. This lets me share the pictures with friends and family and also lets me quickly order a bunch of prints. I also like to make CD/DVD back-ups of my “raw-file” archives and store them at a different location.

I know that the above series of steps seems like a big undertaking, and is probably overkill for many people. Documenting families and special events is my job as well as my personal hobby, so keeping those memories protected is something that I am passionate about.

For the average person, a few simple steps may be all that is required to keep your images safe…

  1. Get the images off of your camera and onto your computer
  2. Run a system wide back-up (you should have this for all of your valuable data, not just your images)
  3. Load your favorites to a photo sharing or printing web site
  4. Make prints

How are you protecting your images? I would be interested in hearing how others are working through these issues. Also, let me know if you have questions.

Tech Info:
Sigma SD9
Sigma 50mm f2.8 Macro
Natural light coming through an open door
f3.5 | 1/60 | ISO 100

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