5 ways to save your photos from disappearing forever

photo of dad and kids playing by Lisa Tichane

A few months ago I was attending a dinner and the conversation came to a sad story about one of the guest’s relatives whose house had recently burnt. We all agreed about the fact that even if the most important thing was that nobody was hurt, it would be pretty traumatic to lose some of our most precious belongings. Suddenly, one of the guests asked us: “If you had two minutes to save something in your house before it got totally burnt, what would that be?”. There were 10 people around the table, and 8 of them, including myself, replied, “my pictures”.

boys playing and having fun together picture by Lisa Tichane

It was not a photographers meet-up. Around that table, everybody else but me had no particular passion for photography. But those pictures they so badly wanted to save were their most treasured possessions because they represented their loving memories.

If you are reading this article, there is a high chance that photography is a passion to you. So I have to ask you one very important question: When was the last time you saved your pictures?

Fortunately, most of us won’t ever have to face the disaster of a burnt house. But there is another threat waiting for us around the corner, that is much more likely to strike, losing digital files. It can happen for so many reasons: hard drive failure, virus infection, stolen computer, lost USB drive, scratched CD or DVD. Digital files are amazing in so many ways, but are desperately fragile.

family portrait in black and white by Lisa Tichane

Here are a few options to secure your beloved memories:

1. Back-up your hard drive.

Make sure that your images are not saved only in one place (your desktop/laptop computer, for example). Duplicating the content of your hard drive periodically on an external hard drive is something to consider if you don’t have another back-up solution yet.

Since I’m slightly paranoid about losing my images, I actually save them on a RAID (basically, it’s an external hard drive that can back itself up internally through mirroring. With this system, you’re covered should one of the drives fail!). I use a LaCie Raid hard drive and I’m very happy about their products. If you are even more paranoid than I am, you can consider storing this external hard drive somewhere else (to avoid any risk of theft or fire) like at your parents’, or at work!

mother and baby snuggling on bed pic by Lisa Tichane

2. Burn your images on CDs/DVDs.

It’s a cheap and easy option to have a back-up of your favorite images. However, CDs/DVDs can be easily scratched or lost, so be sure to consider one additional back-up solution.

3. Use online storage.

If you’re not a heavy shooter, there are plenty of free online solutions that can be enough for you, like uploading your images to Flickr or Dropbox, or pay a small fee to secure your images on a web photo gallery like SmugMug.

On the other hand, if you have thousands of images to save, or if you want to save your whole hard drive (not just your image files), you might consider using a cloud storage. I personally use CrashPlan to automatically back-up my hard drive so that I have a mirror of my hard drive secured somewhere if something would happen to my computer. I don’t even have to think about it, it’s running silently when my computer is switched on!

photo of dad and kids playing by Lisa Tichane

4. Print your images and place them in a photo album.

It’s the best way to prevent them from digital loss, and the added bonus is that they will not be sleeping on your hard drive anymore (let’s be honest, do you often browse your digital archives on your computer?) and will be easily accessible for the whole family on a daily basis!  In case you haven’t seen it, here’s a great article from Lacey Meyers on printing and organizing your photos.

5. Last but not least: save your prints, too!

You probably have family albums filled with prints taken during the before-digital age, when film was our only option. These images are precious too, and should be secured. Digitalizing them with a scanner can be time consuming, but it is the best way to make sure that these priceless memories will still be there in the future, even if anything were to happen to your photo albums.

mom holding baby in air photo by Lisa Tichane

Lisa TichaneLisa Tichané, France
CMU Instructor | CM Mentor
website | facebook | pinterest | google+ | mentoring | daily project
Maybe it’s because she’s “a bit silly” or maybe it has to do with her being “a child at heart” but Lisa, based in Marseille, France with her boys, has an incredible talent for photographing babies and children in her fun, clean and playful style with her Canon 5d mark III and chosen lenses. She is the instructor of CMU’s Capturing Joy and the author of Photographing Toddlers | a recipe for success. Laughter is a must have, though, as she states, “a day without a good laugh is definitely a lost one for me.”

Read all photography tutorials form Lisa Tichané.

11 Comments

  • Julie Gropp says:

    My house recently burned to the ground in April. It was horrible. I always thought that having things backed up on an external hard drive was enough. In case of fire I would just grab it and run. The problem was, we were on vacation when the fire happened. We weren’t there to grab anything. I had lots online, but the pre-digital stuff is gone. So sad. We are rebuilding now but it is still hard to think about what was lost. This is a good article on ideas to save your pictures. thanks.

  • Kimberly Knudsen says:

    Great Article Lisa…I need to do something because nothing is backed up. Julie Gropp I am so sorry to hear that about your house.

  • Kristy says:

    Thank you for this Lisa. My photos would most definitely be at the top of my list. <3

  • Melissa Cottle says:

    Yes. Sadly my EHD failed DURING my initial Crashplan backup. It is heartbreaking to lose everything. Movies from my childrens first days, images from 7 years back are gone, PDF files, my whole life was on that EHD. Now I’m left waiting for any goods news Seagate has regarding how much they can recover. If I had 2 or 3 more weeks for that initial back up to complete, I would be in a much better situation. So important to have multiple copies!

  • layne says:

    Google auto backup is awesome. It’s free and automatic. I also share all of my favorite photos with my father through Dropbox. He lives in another state and his computer serves as another backup for me plus he loves having all of the photos of his grandchildren.

  • Misty Dawn says:

    This is a big fear of mine. I do periodically copy my photos to an external hard drive, but I often wonder if it’s enough. I mean, what if that hard drive goes bad too? It can happen! I’m checking into the online back up to see if that is an affordable option for me.

  • Rosie Ornelas says:

    Great article! The key is definitely to have multiple copies. I’m pretty anal – I keep all of my negatives and all of my sd cards in a fireproof safe. I was also really diligent about backing everything onto my external hard drive. I recently wanted to add more recent photos onto the ehd and it failed. Thousands of images are gone. If I didn’t have the original sources, I would have been devastated! It is going to be very time consuming, but I will be able to get the majority of the photos again. Only this time, I am either going with an online backup or making sure I copy everything onto more than one drive.

  • Anne says:

    As a former activist and librarian and a photographer I would say yes to all of these but would bump up PRINT your favorite photos and make a few duplicates to share to family (in other words have backup copies at other locations) to the #1 spot. Electronic copies are useless if the electronics fail, a CD as an item may last several hundred years but will you have the technology to use it? If its scratched or grows mold will the info stored on it be accessible? Digital storage is great, both on site and off site, but you still have to think about migrating that information as new technology comes along. You just need your eyes to look at a photo.

  • Anne says:

    LOL auto correct cracks me up archivist not activist :)

  • Kendra says:

    Do you have any recommended scanners for photos, Lisa? It seems that the everyday printer/scanners aren’t the best quality specifically for photos.

  • Andrea Ralston says:

    How come these articles on photo saving never mention free sites like Shutterfly or Snapfish? I use both, though Snapfish has better quality for prints and doesn’t compress your images during upload. I have probably over 20,000 images on Shutterfly and have been uploading them there since I first got a digital camera many years ago. I’ve made countless photo books for birthdays, anniversaries, year-ends, etc. In recent years I’ve just taken to creating albums of the entire year and ordering a DVD of all the pics at the end of the year. Even if I don’t order anything though, I know the pictures are safe, secure and they never delete them and it’s free. My family all know the username and password in case anything happens to me. There’s also an app on my phone which reminds me to upload any new pix I’ve taken on my phone. I don’t know if this is considered the “cloud” but it works for me! Now if I could just find the time to scan the other 20,000 prints I have rescued from my old magnetic photo albums from the 70’s…

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