How to Backup Your Digital Photos

It is important to back up your digital photos. The old aphorism states, "If you need it, back it up." Electrical surges, computer theft, and drive failure can happen at any time, and you will have no one to blame but yourself if you lose the only copy you have of your data. When backing up data, you have two options: local backup and online backup.

Backing Up Locally

The best option for local backup is an external hard drive. The cost of data storage has fallen drastically in recent years, and it should be easy to find an affordable drive that will work with your computer. USB hard drives are generally preferable to FireWire drives, as all modern computer have USB ports, but less than half have FireWire ports. Decide how much storage space you will need, and find a reliable drive.
Once you have your drive formatted and ready to go, (Mac users may find it wise to keep their drives formatted as NTFS, so that they can be accessed from Windows systems) decide on a logical backup scheme. Simply copying your iPhoto or Picasa library file from your local machine to your backup drive is not a wise option. Program-generated library files are designed to make sense to a machine, but not to a human. Such folders are organized in abstruse fashions and strewn with useless thumbnail files and dead-end directories.

A logical way to back up is to use your photographic organization program's library export tool. Picasa, for example, has such a tool, located under "Tools > Backup Pictures..." Consult your organization program's help files or documentation.

It is wise to set a backup schedule. One way to work is to back up your files immediately after you import new photos to your library. Remember, there is little use in backing up your photos if your backups are not current.

Backing Up Online

Online backup has its advantages. For small collections, it may be less expensive than backing up to an external hard drive. Also, collections that you back up online are available from anywhere in the world and can easily be shared with relatives and friends.

For collections of only a few hundred megabytes, find a service like Picasa Web, Dropbox, Flickr,, or Photobucket, which offer free hosting below certain limits. For larger collections, you should consider crossing over to the other side of the pay wall. Many services offer very reliable images hosting at low annual rates. Shop around and see what's out there.

Online backup has a lot going for it. Services like Picasa store your data on several-times-redundant systems, so data loss is further minimized. Many services have easy-to-use batch uploaders, so you can let your computer do all the uploading while you are out or asleep.

That said, be wary. Do not upload confidential information (scans of receipts or work-related forms, for instance) to cloud servers. Anything online is prone to hacking or security failures, and certain data should only be backed up locally.

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