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What a tangled web (Part II)

November 29, 2010

In my last post on this topic, I discussed the problems that we have in trying to preserve our digital images.  I will give a few thoughts on my back-up routine and some thoughts on what a good back-up routine consists of.

My preservation process starts shortly after I get the images home.  I start by downloading the images from my cards to my local hard drive.  I then also save those images to a drive on another computer.  I’m willing to take the chance that for at least a small amount of time it is safe to keep the images on hard drives without backing them up elsewhere.

On a regular basis, dictated by doing it more often when I’ve shot a lot and less often when I haven’t, I copy the images to an external hard drive that I have allocated for only that purpose.  At the same time I backup my Lightroom files so I can have a copy of all of the work that I have done in that environment.  Once I get done copying the files, the external hard drive gets unplugged and sits on a shelf until I need to do my next backup.

Annually, usually during the holidays when time is plentiful and shooting opportunities are not, I back up everything that I have shot in the last year onto DVD-R’s.  Those DVD-R’s go into a fire-resistant safe.  That is what I do for all of my images, regardless of how valuable they are to me.

For the “keepers,” you know, the really good stuff, I also burn those to DVD-R’s on a regular basis.  Again, I do it more often when I’ve added a lot of them recently.  At worst I do this every couple of months.  The disk has everything that I have shot that I really, really, REALLY want to keep.  That disk goes to off-site storage so should the absolutely worst happen, I have a copy of those images somewhere else.  Every couple of times I will also mail a copy of that disk to folks that I trust and they keep a copy as well.  This way, when the flood, tornado, earthquake or whatever natural or not so natural disaster occurs hits, there is another good copy in another region of the country that is safe and protected.

This works for me, but others have other ideas.  Scott Kelby, as an example, has opined on this subject a couple of times.  He is a considerably more hard core than I am, but he does this for a living.  I do this hoping someday I will also be able to, but for now I don’t so my needs are not as strenuous.

So what about keeping up with the changing times of recording media?  Every 2 or 3 years I re-evaluate where we are.  If there is new technology that has been introduced since my last re-eval and it looks like it is gaining a foothold, it might be time to move the entire library over to that new media.  I did that with CD-R’s about two years ago.  I don’t see DVD-R’s going away any time soon so I will stay with them for a while.   When I do that full media swap over, I burn two sets.  One that stays with me and one that goes to off-site storage.  I do this both for protection of the images, but in case there is a failure on my primary set I still have a secondary source of the images.

Another way to help keep those images is by making prints.  If everything else blows up, you still have what was important in the first place–a record of the memory.  But even some of those methods have limitations in terms of shelf life.  Choose your method carefully.

The last thing that has to be contemplated is the type of file your images are stored as.  I foresee a day where today’s image formats, especially the RAW ones, may not be easily readable.  The key is to stay ahead of that wave as well.  Thankfully RAW files can be read by many different software packages, to include some that are free.

All this trouble just to save images?  If you really value your images, the answer is an unqualifed yes.

So what makes up a good back-up routine.  In my opinion it is one that:

  • Takes into account short-, medium-, and long-term storage needs
  • Periodically moves, at a minimum, the most important images off-site to keep from having all of your eggs in one basket
  • Takes into account that technology evolves, and so must the media that we store our digital images on

Remember.  Murphy’s Law is the law of the land when it comes to saving our memories.  Take steps before it happens to you.

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