With digital cameras, people are taking more photos than ever. A single memory card can hold thousands of photos and a common home PC can hold millions of photos. This was never an issue with film as a person was limited in the amount of film they could carry, number of pictures they could take, and by the cost of developing the pictures. Photos that people liked were put in frames or albums and the negatives were crammed into a shoebox somewhere. Fire, flood and time were the only things that would ruin the photos.
With photos being digital people are much more careless with them. Rather than taking one picture of their cat eating ice cream, they take 5 and a video. Albums of kids and grandkids now have thousands of photos for each year of a child’s life. Some people inadvertently backup their photos by posting them online, having them printed, or e-mailing them to friends. Usually the quality is degraded a bit, but the photos remain printable.
The worst thing that can happen is for your storage device holding the photos to break or get lost. The storage cards used in cameras are very reliable, and usually only break with extreme abuse. The hard drive in your computer though is a lot more dangerous. Failure rates are lower than ever, but it still happens. A complete drive failure would mean that the photos on the computer are gone forever. Likewise, a computer virus or malware can damage images or make them susceptible to being deleted.
I recently came across a customer of mine who experienced a hard drive failure. It was dead and no data was able to be recovered. I somehow managed to find a previous backup of some older files, but their most recent photos taken with their new camera of their grandson and new puppy were gone! Imagine losing hundreds of family photos! Upon delivering a new computer to them, I asked to see their digital camera. I noticed a small pouch that they kept with the camera and found a stack of memory cards. As it turns out, this couple had not lost their photos! They still had the originals since they had not been deleting images from the cards as they were being copied to their PC. In another case, my sister had lost a digital camera with a 2GB card in it. Fortunately, she had copied photos to her computer only a few days before losing it. Lesson learned: don’t erase photos from your memory card unless you really don’t want them and make sure that you copy them to your computer at the very least.
For the really paranoid and others that realize the need for a good backup strategy, there are a number of free or cheap online backup programs. I personally like Mozy but others like Carbonite and Amazon S3. Google also offers Picasa online for free for a certain amount of storage, with the ability to add on for a very reasonable fee. Google’s service is for photos only, while the others will do documents, video, and much much more.
So this weekend spend a little time looking at the safety of your pictures. The odds are in favor of you needing to use a backup copy at some point in the next year.