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Backing Up Your Photos

As photographers we go out and take lots of photos every year. Initially in camera these photographs are stored onto media such as compactflash cards, SD cards and all variants. These cards come in various capacities currently up to 32GB, and if you take JPG pictures this will be many thousands of images. On the other hand those taking RAW images will only have space for a few hundred, typically a Nikon D300 RAW at around 15MB in size, a 4GB card will hold around 260 images, however the new D3x with an ability to have a file size of 72MB will only hold around 50 images on the same card. For this reason many of the media companies have been making their cards hold larger capacities and many photographers have a number of different cards sometimes at a single capacity but others will have a range of capacities in order to capture their shots.

On returning to the office the images are uploaded onto our computers hard drives. Depending on when you bought your computer the hard drive could have a capacity of anything from 80GB to 500GB, unless you upgraded it to a larger capacity at point of purchase. On the hard drive within your computer however you will not only have your images, but also an operating system, software packages for editing, word processing, spreadsheets, media players, web browsing, email handling etc and all of this takes space, so you do not get the total capacity for holding your images and what space is left, once you start uploading images onto the computer, gets used up very quickly. Also the more space you use up on the internal hard drive the slower your computer runs.

However this doesn't mean we have to go out and buy a new computer with more capacity, or that we have to be ruthless in determining which photos we want to keep. What we have to do is find a workable way of storing and managing all the photos so that we are able to use, find, edit, store and have a workable workflow system.

Whatever method you use to store your photos, if you are intending to want to keep and access them for a long time in the future it is important that you back up at least 3 copies to allow for the possibility of equipment malfunction or back up errors occurring in the future. It is also important that at least one of these copies is kept at a different and secure location. After all what's the point of having 3 back up copies all at home and then when a flood or fire occurs all are lost.

Backing up is something that very few are good at, it can be a slow process and we can all think of better things to be doing with our time, like taking more photos. But it is an essential part of any photographers workflow and if you are earning a living from them or intend to, these photos are your businesses assets and should be protected as such.

One other factor to consider when backing up is longevity. All technology has a short lifespan, things become out of date, technology advances and new methods are being invented all the time. So backing up is not only something that has to be considered at the point of backing up the image for the first time, but also how you will go about upgrading it to the new technologies that come onto the market place. For instance a few years back computer storage was onto floppy disks, and every computer was supplied with a floppy disk drive, however today no computer sold in the high street has a floppy disk, so anyone having backups in this method may now not be able to read/access them, so it is lost for good.

Today there are a number of options that can be used to hold/back up the images including CD, DVD, External Hard Drives and Online Storage facilities. They all have advantages and disadvantages, and some like CD's are already starting to become a little outdated, although they can generally still be read by DVD readers.

Storage methods

CD. Many of our computers come as standard with a CD or DVD reader/writer. A CD however is not very useful for storing RAW images as the maximum capacity of a CD is only 650MB which is less than a 1GB card. Obviously if taking JPG's you can still get a reasonable number of images on this method. It is also reported that burned CD's (those you write yourself) only have a short life span of around 2-5 years due to material degradation, and the lasers in the drives not then being able to read them. On the plus side however they are a cheap form of backing up with a single CD only costing around 5p.

DVD. Unlike CD a DVD has a higher capacity of 4.7GB, however this is only the equivalent of a single 4GB compactflash or SD card. So you will get more images on a single DVD than the CD but it has its own problems. The first being there are lots of variations/types available and understanding which is the right one to use can be a challenge, and if that wasn't enough not all written to can be read on different computers.  Typical Price 19p each.

Blu-Ray Discs. This is an optical disc format and has been developed to store high capacity HD video or image data. Currently capacities stand at 25GB but in order to both read and write these discs you need a specialist Blu-Ray/DVD burner, computers do not come with these as standard and typically the burners cost around 200. With the 25GB discs costing around 8 each.  The problem I see with this technology is that the price of external hard drives is falling substantially and will I feel have a significant impact on how long this technology is around.

USB Flash Drives, Pen Drives, Memory Sticks etc. These devices are all the same thing just referred to by different names. They are not really suitable as a back up device, but are a good tool for moving images/files between computers plugging into the USB port when required. As they have no moveable parts they are less prone to shock treatment so are less volatile to environment hazzards such as pressure, moisture, and heat. They come in a range of sizes from 128mb up to 65GB (in 2008). For more information on Pen Drives click here.  typically prices I have seen prices of 1GB at 39p (but typically around 3); 4GB at 7; 8GB at 10; 16GB at 20; 32GB at 50; and the latest 64GB starting at 100 this is obviously a bit pricey, but in the coming months as with the other sizes prices will drop.

Image Viewers are devices that allow you to not only store images, but also view them. Probably not a cost effective option as a routine back up device, but are good for backing up whilst on holiday or longer trips when you may want to use your cards more than once and those with an LCD screen which allows you to view the images, such as the Epson P-7000 with a 160GB hard disk and 4" screen, certainly has the capacity and attraction of becoming a useful portable portfolio device. One thing we do want to point out those is that we have noticed that some of the larger compactflash/SD/media cards, may not fully backup onto the image viewer, so if using this as a method of backup when out and about make sure you check all images are where you expect them to be before wiping the card to re-use in the camera again. Their current (2008) storage capacities range from 30GB-250GB and prices range from 160 up to around 550 depending on the make and storage capacity you choose.

Online Storage. Another option is to use some of the online storage facilities such as those provided by the likes of Flickr, Snapfish, Picassa, Jessops Picture House. These services not only offer the ability to store your photos, but also allow you to be able to share your photos with others get prints made etc. At first site many of these appear to offer free storage of photos, videos, music, multimedia files etc. However on closer inspection you will find that the free storage capacity is usually restricted to either around 1GB of storage or being able to upload a minimal amount a month. To be able to get larger storage capacities and unlimited uploads in a lot of cases there is usually a monthly or annual charge involved, such as $24.95 pa on Flickr, or 34.99pa on Free Virtual Servers.com.  BT also offer a service for it's BT Total Broadband users called BT Digital Vault with 5GB of storage included for free and a pay for service called BT Digital Vault Plus which allows 50GB of storage and has an auto backup facility, for 4.99 per month. Using these systems does not automatically mean that anyone can get hold of your images or files, in fact in most cases you have the ability to select which files you want to share.

There is one other online option that is of having your own website hosted on a service that will allow unlimited webspace. With this facility you can have a web presence but can also have web areas that are not on public view and used to store your images on their webservers. Some providers have restrictions on how much you upload to their servers, so you will need to shop around to find the right one for you. Other considerations for this method are that uploading large files over the internet is not always quick, and again it is still important to keep other backups because if the web hosting company should fail your images will go with it.

With any of these systems you still need to keep copies of your files on other storage/back up devices, just in case something goes wrong, your internet connection doesn't work satisfactorily, or the company you are using goes out of business and you are no longer able to access your files. The other thing to remember is that when uploading files over the internet it can be a really slow process and if you have large RAW files it will take an age. For this reason prior to taking this route it may be wise to do a test of say uploading 100 photos to a site and timing how long it takes to get them all up, if you find this process takes about 3 hours then to upload 10,000 images would take about 50 days.

External Hard Drives. These are hard drives that plug into either a USB, Firewire or eSata connection on your main computer. This is probably the best option for backing up particularly if you create RAW files. Take a look at this article for a more in depth look at External Hard Drives.

Remember whichever method you use out of these it is always a good idea to keep multiple copies, as once the image it lost it is lost forever. What you choose will depend on your own individual needs, how you organise your photos, your budget as well as the other considerations mentioned here.

See Also:

Organising and Indexing Your Images

Keywords and Captions


Flags and Filters

Free Organising Software

External Hard Drives



By: Tracey Park Section: Photography Section Key:
Page Ref: backups Topic: Editing, Printing and Publishing  Last Updated: 11/2010

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