3 Keys to a Great Photo Backup Plan


Like any asset, your photos need to be safely stored. Think of your photos in the same way you think of your retirement savings. Just as you shouldn’t keep your life savings under your mattress, you shouldn’t keep your photos shoved in boxes—or hard drives—in your closet. And the reality is, having hard drives shoved in your closet is as dangerous as having printed photos shoved into boxes. If disaster struck, you could lose all your priceless photographs in a matter of minutes. Nobody wants to find themselves in that real-life nightmare! Yet a recent survey (commissioned by Seagate and conducted by Harris Interactive) found that 54 percent of adults have lost files or know someone who has lost files. Yet 25 percent never back up their digital assets, and 72 percent ranked photos and videos as their most valued digital assets. With those numbers in mind, here’s what everyone should know about backing up family photos.

Embrace Redundancy. Back up, back up, and back up again. Repeat that mantra; it’s your best safeguard against disaster. Remember, all media fails over time. Whether you have your photos stored on flash drives, solid state drives, conventional hard drives, or optical disks, they can all fail or become obsolete. The question is not if your hard drive will fail or become obsolete, the question is when. But don’t panic! Instead, turn to the Library of Congress—arguably one of the most reputable archival institutions on the planet—for best practices. The Library of Congress actually recommends having five copies of your image files. That’s right, FIVE!

Based on their expert advice, here are steps you can easily follow for safe photo archiving:

  1. Identify your most important digital photo files. These may be photos you created digitally or photos you digitized from analog originals.
  2. Make five copies of your selected photos—three digital copies and two analog copies.
    • Leave one copy on your computer or laptop. (This is the most vulnerable copy.)
    • Create two printed copies. (A combination of individual photographic prints and a series of photo albums or books works well!)
    • Make a copy on separate media, such as archival-quality discs,and store it as far from your computer as practical. For the truly paranoid (like us), a safety deposit box is a great offsite location.
    • Upload a copy to a cloud storage service.
  3. Check your photo files at least once a year to make sure you can still access and open them.
  4. On the latest archival discs or drives, create new media copies every five years to avoid data loss.
  5. Cull and print your favorites at least once a year. After all, there’s still something special about holding a printed photo in your hands. Here are some services that will make printing your best photos a snap. Remember, prints don’t require technology to view them!

Leave It to the Professionals. Cloud storage providers (think Google, Amazon, Dropbox, and Backblaze) are data management professionals. Just as you wouldn’t try to perform heart surgery on yourself, you shouldn’t assume you can tackle cloud storage like a trained pro. It’s not worth risking your family’s visual legacy! Cloud service providers will keep your data safer than you could with hard drives or discs alone. Since cloud storage companies routinely upgrade their storage and copy data to keep it current and safe, you can rest assured that your photos are protected. That said, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Choose two reputable cloud storage providers, and upload your photos to each of them regularly.

Automate for Sanity-Saving Backups! Automate the backup process. For example, you can organize photos on your hard drive, and then sync them with DropBox. Then you could use Backblaze to back up your Dropbox folder from your computer. Choose cloud systems that make at least one automatic backup, with no manual effort on your part.

  • Apple Photos will keep a copy of your photos on your local hard drive and another in Apple’s cloud, but you need Apple devices to use it.
  • Google Photos, Google’s answer to Apple Photos, is great for any computing platform: Android or iOS, Windows or Mac.
  • Backblaze will make a backup of all of the documents on your computer, including your photo library, and store them in the cloud.

If all this sounds like overkill, just remember—these are your memories we’re talking about. And when it comes to preserving your memories, it’s better to be safe than sorry. After all, photographs are more than snapshots. They are visual assets that capture moments and milestones. They tell your life story. And your life story is worth protecting.

About the authors:

Andrew and Rachel Niesen

Andrew and Rachel Niesen are co-owners of LaCour + Niesen, a photography and digital asset management firm based in Atlanta and New York City. Andrew earned a dual-degree MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and WHU-Otto Beisheim School of Management in Vallendar, Germany. Before pursuing his MBA, Andrew studied photojournalism at the Missouri School of Journalism. Rachel studied photojournalism and art history at the University of Missouri, where she and Andrew met and joined personal and professional forces. She is a word wizard who loves serving clients who want to solve real problems for real people. If you're really interested in their hobbies—or if you happen to love family history and vintage photos—check out their passion project and latest startup, Save Family Photos.


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