Keeping Your Photographs Safe



1. lasting a very short time; short-lived; transitory:
the ephemeral joys of childhood.
2. lasting but one day:
an ephemeral flower.

3. anything short-lived, as certain insects.

To which I would add:
4. photographs.

The transient nature of photographs

Digital photography has come a long way since I bought my first digital camera. That was so long ago I can’t even remember what brand it was. It took pictures that barely looked like the original subjects. As time went by, the quality improved. The major names in photography—Canon, Nikon, Fuji—eventually came out with their offerings. Today, it’s almost impossible to find film cameras or even film.

My iPhone takes better pictures than that long-ago camera I owned. If you own a smartphone, you own a camera. In 2017, Business Insider estimated that worldwide, 1.2 trillion pictures will have been taken by the end of the year, largely as a result of smartphones.

That’s a lot of pictures. Some of them will even be worth keeping. I say “some,” advisedly: will you ever really go back and look at all those selfies you took? Will there be any context in which you’ll want to preserve them for your children, your grandchildren? If so, how are you going to be sure that they’re still around? The pictures, I mean.

I can still look at prints of photos of bats flying out of Carlsbad Caverns that I took back in 1967. I have prints from photos my dad took shortly after World War II. Do you still have those selfies you took three years ago? I have a picture of me when I was less than two years 0ld that my father took. And selfies in the 1950s? They required a camera, a tripod, and either a self-timer or a cable release to trip the shutter.

It took time, thought, and planning in those days to record memories. And the only reason my brothers and I still have those pictures is because of the care my father took in organizing and cataloging them over the years.

Storing photographs

Assuming you, too, have images you want to preserve, what’s the best way to do it? On memory cards? Can you be sure that the technology to read those cards will still exist 20 years from now? Or will they have gone the way of floppy disks?

There are, fortunately, several options available to you. Apple’s iCloud® and Microsoft’s OneDrive® are excellent options, as is Google Photos®.

But even they have their drawbacks, which I discovered to my dismay. I upload all my pictures from my iPhone to all three of those services. The problem arose when I ran out of storage space on the iPhone. Knowing that everything had been backed up to the cloud, I deleted them from my phone…only to discover that they had also been deleted from all three of those services!

Fortunately, I had already implemented my iPhone’s version of Robyn’s First Rule of Computing, which states “Be Paranoid and Compulsive.” I’ve been using computers for almost 40 years, so I know that it’s not a matter of if you’re going to lose files, but when. And so I had a safety net: I also download my pictures from all three cloud services onto my laptop, and then also copied them to an external hard drive.

Design a system that works for you

If you want to keep your pictures safe, you need to come up with a storage plan that works for you. This is mine:

  1. Every day, I upload my pictures to iCloud, OneDrive, and Google Photos.
  2. Next, I copy them from all three sources to my laptop, where I have separate folders from each of them.
  3. Once a week, I copy those folders to an external hard drive. If you don’t have one, you can burn them to a DVD however frequently you prefer.

Whatever system you come up with that works for use, use it consistently. Back up all or even just a few of your pictures—that’s up to you. But whatever you decide, you’ll thank me later—especially since you won’t have to come up with the lame excuse that “my puppy ate my memory card.”

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