By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator
September is Save Your Photos Month, with the last Saturday designated Save Your Photos Day. Each year during this month you’ll find photo retailers, websites, data storage companies and others reminding you to safeguard your photos. Whether you’re a professional photographer, photo enthusiast or just take family snapshots, it’s a good time to revisit how you’re organizing, describing, storing, and protecting those precious images.
Protect your photos and data
The importance of having a well-thought-out, redundant strategy for backing up your photos was illustrated by a recent snafu associated with an update to Adobe’s Lightroom CC (the mobile version, not the Lightroom Classic desktop version). After installing the update, a number of photographers found that all of their photos that had not already been backed up to and synced with the cloud, as well as all their presets, had been irretrievably lost, as reported here and here. Quite a few photographers lost presets they had purchased. Some lost all the photos from a recent shoot, sometimes hundreds, that they hadn’t had time to back up. Adobe says the photos and presets are permanently gone. That’s one reason to avoid automatically installing updates as soon as they are released, but there are other reasons, too, as Bernard P. Friel wrote in a previous article here.
Having one and only one copy of your photos is asking for trouble. Drives fail. Homes are robbed. Fires, floods and other disasters happen with increasing regularity. What are the consequences if you lose your computer and everything on your desk or in your office? It would certainly be painful and could be catastrophic.
That’s why many photographers swear by the 3-2-1 rule. It was originally established to address hard drive failures because, well, every drive will eventually fail. Here’s how it works. Have at least three copies of your data stored on two different media, with one backup copy stored offsite. In practice that might mean that you have the originals on your computer hard drive. A back up of everything is kept and regularly updated on an external hard drive on your desk. Another external drive with a full backup is stored in your safety deposit box or at a friend’s house. Once a week or month, depending on how active you are, you retrieve the off-site back up and swap it with the desktop back up, so your off-site back up is always reasonably current. There are a variety of options for backup software, from Apple’s Time Machine and Microsoft’s OneDrive to paid services like Carbon Copy Cloner, Good Sync and others. Using these, you set how often, when, and where you want to back up your files and the program takes care of the rest.
As photos accumulate, storage needs change and some photographers invest in a RAID array. In its most effective configuration, multiple drives are housed within a single enclosure, with your data split up and written to several of the drives. That way, if a single drive fails, your data are still on at least one (and often more) of the remaining drives. (Note that a RAID array counts as only one backup copy in a 3-2-1 strategy.) Jerry Ginsberg described how his backup strategy evolved from file cabinets to an array of hard drives here. As a traveling photographer, he has developed his own backup workflow, described here.
Increasingly, photographers are adding cloud storage to their backup plans. A service like Backblaze, Amazon Prime’s Photos cloud storage or Google Photos (or Drive) lets you upload copies of all your photos to the cloud. Some are easier than others. Some are free, up to a point. Others have annual fees. Some make it easy to restore from a cloud backup. Others are devilishly complicated. And getting set up originally takes a long time. If you have a lot of photos, the initial cloud backup can take months (mainly because ISPs tend to throttle the speed at which you can upload). Cloud storage isn’t foolproof and shouldn’t replace your 3-2-1 backup. Companies go out of business. Software fails. Data is potentially vulnerable to cyber threats.
Organize and preserve photos and data
Save Your Photos Month is also a good time to reexamine how you’re organizing your photos and what metadata you’re adding.
Does your file structure make it easy for you to find photos? To find the right spot to import new photos? Would someone else be able to look at it and find things for you? You just might need assistance sometime, maybe for a big job. And, when you’re gone, will your family be able to retrieve the precious family photos you have?
Have you identified your photos by adding the relevant metadata? Things like key words, location, names, subjects and so on make life much easier. Most photography applications let you search your photos by metadata. Need a photo of a flock of snow geese in winter? It’s easy to find if you’ve added good metadata.
Think of all the boxes of photos in people’s attics or basements. Unless someone’s written the details on the back, who is going to know the location, occasion, or people? My mom had family photos going back to the mid-nineteenth century but we don’t know who half the people are or where many were taken. Don’t let that be you!
Review and replace drives
Let’s assume you’re one of those highly organized people who has an excellent system that you rigorously follow. Good for you. Save Your Photos Month is a good time for you to look at the age of your external drives. If they’re more than a couple of years old, it’s probably time to replace them with new drives. Storage is relatively inexpensive, so it’s better to get a new drive than have to deal with an old one that fails.
This month is as good a time as any to do a little decluttering, too. Are there programs on your computer you no longer use? Files that have outlived their usefulness? Maybe it’d time to delete or archive them and free up some space on the drive. Call it a bit of housekeeping.
Nobody wants to see their memories, their work, their livelihood destroyed by equipment failure. Certainly not when you can take a few simple steps to dramatically reduce the possibility. Nothing’s foolproof, but a 3-2-1 backup strategy, good organization, and useful metadata can go a long way towards keeping your photos safe, secure, and manageable.Frank Gallagher is a landscape and nature photographer based in the Washington, DC, area who specializes in providing a wide range of photograph services to nonprofit organizations. He manages NANPA’s blog and edits NANPA’s annual journal, Expressions.