4 Tips For Keeping Your Digital Pictures Safe

Where would we be without photos? We’d have no blackmail, no things to cut up after a divorce, no US Weekly, and no pictures to stare at on The Consumerist. And now that there are digital cameras, anyone can take ’em. But like emails, thesis statements, and that Great American Novel you’ve been working on for years, they’re prone to digital oblivion if you don’t take some precautions. The Associated Press has four basic tips that you should already be following to keep your digital pics safe.

  1. Keep backups at multiple locations. Use more than one computer, and don’t rely on your work PC (we’re amazed at how many family members and friends do this). Also, use external drives or storage media. For the best preservation security (but least privacy), look at online storage services that will let you store original files for a yearly fee.
  2. Manage your CDs and DVDs. Don’t burn a backup once and forget it. Migrate your backups to new discs every few years so that you never worry about a scratched surface or outdated technology trapping your data.
  3. Don’t place blind faith in online storage. Yes, we know we just said online storage is the best, but it’s not the only thing you should be relying on, since you can’t control when or if the business will disappear overnight and take your photos with it. Also, if you use an online photo printing service, check whether or not you have to pay to get access to your source files—Shutterfly, for instance, charges a premium fee to get back those photos you store for free on their servers.
  4. Migrate your data and verify that you can access it. Don’t put off moving your photos from your old computer to a new one. Do it immediately and verify that the files can be opened, so that if your old computer breaks or is wiped clean, you’ll have no regrets.

“Preservation Tips for Digital Memories” [Associated Press via Reuters]
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. faust1200 says:

    I like the Ben Popken method – Take pictures every waking moment of your life. There’s no way you can lose all of them.

  2. kimsama says:

    You can get a good external hard drive for less than $100 now. Buy one immediately, trust me. I lost some of my wedding photos from a hard drive crash, and hadn’t thought to get a back-up drive because my computer was normally so well-behaved. I will never make that mistake again.

    Also, a lot of drives have a nifty one-touch backup program, in case you are lazy or not technically inclined. Makes backup a breeze.

    Also, completely on a side note…this brings back memories of working on my thesis. After I saved each draft on my hard drive, I emailed that sucker to myself every night. I think I still have like hundreds of webmails of thesisy goodness, which I can probably now safely delete.

  3. Dangerdog says:

    Thanks. I just got a new camera and was thinking just this morning that I’ll have to set up a system to backup my files. Good timing :)

  4. MercuryPDX says:

    Also, use external drives or storage media.

    Case in point: A coworker and I were both laid off on the same day. He stored a lot of personal stuff on his work computer (Music, photos, etc.) as well as a Trillian install which had his personal contacts as well as work ones. I kept everything on my personal external drive, including a portable version of Trillian.

    The company gave us 10 minutes of access to remove whatever we had on there that we needed/wanted. I unplugged my drive, and he had an agonizing 10 minutes of “Sophie’s Choice” trying to figure out what he wanted that would fit on ONE CD burned under close supervision by the IT department. In the rush, he didn’t think to delete any of his chat logs.

    Moral of the story: Your work machine isn’t yours, so don’t put anything on there that you can’t walk away from should it come down to it.

    External drives make great back-up devices.

  5. Toof_75_75 says:

    Or, you could print them out and put them in a safe place :-)

  6. edwu says:

    now, is this good advice for protecting all of those naughty pics i take with my isight cam?

  7. acambras says:


    That makes me think of a friend of mine who was working on her doctoral dissertation and going through a nasty divorce at the same time. She used to give me her backup disks to keep at my apartment, in case her soon-to-be-ex-husband decided to wipe out everything in his vindictive rage.

  8. cde says:

    Another reason to migrate your cd/dvds every once in a while. CD-R/RW/Dvd-R/Rw/+R/+RW do not last long. Consumer recordables last 3~5 years on material alone, not including use. Rewriteables less so. Press cd’s and dvd’s are expected to last 10~13 years. So newly pressed recordables are needed every couple of years.

  9. medief says:

    This is ancient advice, but one thing I do to make backups easier, is that all “programs” go on the “C” drive and all my “data” goes on “D”. I don’t need to make backups of the OS, they’re on the CDs already. Other programs such as Reader or Java, etc can be re-downloaded. The non-replaceable data is all there on one place for easy backup.

    And don’t forget to export/save your email client mailboxes, too! :)

  10. LetMeGetTheManager says:

    I picked up a 400GB external hard drive for $100. At less than 25 cents a GB, it’s a great deal in making sure nothing gets lost if the computer crashes.

  11. mopar_man says:


    Got a link to that?

  12. So, are we supposed to have a backup for our external hard drive if we use this all the time?

  13. LetMeGetTheManager says:

    @mopar_man: It was via Buy.com a while back. Do a search on Bargainist or Dealhack for other good external options. Most average out around 26 cents per GB.

  14. bilge says:

    @structuralpoke: Back up to your level of comfort. If you have an external drive with important stuff, you’ll likely want to back it up somewhere. If it’s stuff you don’t mind losing, there’s no reason to backup.

    Ideally you’ll have an offsite backup as well. All my important stuff fits on a single DVD. I burn my files and take the disc to work where it gets locked in my desk.

  15. umonster says:

    I use Mozy.com for online storage. It’s pretty easy to use, and it isn’t a system hog. Highly recommended. They give you 2 gigs for free, or you can sign up for $4.95 a month for unlimited backup space.

  16. edosan says:

    @cde: Do you have actual data on that? I have all sorts of burned discs I’ve had for more that 3-5 years that work just fine.

  17. spinachdip says:

    @structuralpoke: External hard drives can crap up occasionally too, so for the really important stuff, it makes sense to have a backup of the backup.

  18. girly says:

    I thought this was going to be about privacy.

    (like encrypting stored photos)

  19. Mark says:

    Put an old computer to work with a couple of new hard drives and some Linux and store the pictures there. Use the external drive as a backup for the old computer. Take the external hard drive to work and now it’s an off-site backup; keep it away from the work computer. I suggested a file server some time earlier on these comments and was made to feel like an uber-geek but I know this can’t be too nerdy if Microsoft is now offering a Windows Home Server for far more than any self-sufficient Lifehacker can do.

  20. One easy (but not free) way to keep a backup of your photos is Flickr. Their “professional” membership is $25/year, which isn’t too bad, and they removed storage limits earlier this year. There are currently several third party apps for Mac and Windows that will allow you to upload lots of pics at once or download them, so you can use it as a makeshift online photo storage solution. And you can set all of your photos to “private” if you just want to use it for personal storage.

    Smugmug is another popular service, but it’s more expensive at about $40/year.

    A third somewhat affordable solution is the combination of JungleDisk.com and Amazon’s S3 storage service. JungleDisk is a one-time $20 fee, while the Amazon S3 storage it uses charges you per megabyte. If you don’t have a lot of files, it costs peanuts to use the service. However, if you’re storing dozens of gigabytes you can quickly hit $40/year or more in fees.

  21. HungryGrrl says:

    I was hoping this would be about how up and coming actresses can keep “foxy” pictures out of the hands of internet tabloids. Oh, well.

  22. ddrager says:

    Am I the only person who is paranoid that a world-wide EMP would wipe out all magnetic media? I keep multiple backups in multiple locations, but I still burn to CD/DVD once a year in case this happens.

  23. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    @ddrager: Seeing as where an world-wide EMP pulse would probably destroy anything with a microprocessor (excepting EMP-hardened military hardware), you wouldn’t have anything to view them on anyway (plus there’s be that whole collapse of civilization and WW III thing to worry about).

    Besides, all hard drives fail eventually, usually from much more trivial issues, so backing up to a DVD-R or CD-R is good advice even when doomsday isn’t imminent.