The Importance of Being Archived

The Importance of Being Archived

Our friends at SmugMug really care about photography and the importance of taking pictures in everyday life. This is part 2 of a 3 part series on improving your online life as a photographer, whether that is by improving your website or backing up your files. Here are some tips on how to avoid a personal, digital meltdown and keep your memories safe against fire, flood, hard drive crashes, and other unexpected blips in the matrix.

SmugMug’s 9 Must-Haves for a Successful Photography Website
reprinted with permission 

We see so many websites each and every day and love hearing about how people are using their online websites and how having an online presence affects so much of what they do. Not long ago we shared 6 top mistakes people make when they put together a website but this time we’re addressing a topic that most people probably don’t want to even consider: backing up your photo and video files. A hard demon to face but we’ll show you why it pays to prepare for a potential doomsday disaster.

The Worst-Case Scenario

Imagine this: you’re booting up your laptop, ready to email your recent trip photos to your friends, and all of a sudden you get the BSOD. In one split second, poof! Your hard drive is gone.

As you wipe the sweat from your face, you realize – oh no! All the photos and videos I shot, all the things that I lived and saw in those two weeks abroad, those were the only copies I had. And they’re gone. Forever.


Why Back Up?

The subject of backing up your files may seem like a really boring topic (we won’t pretend it’s not) but it’s one of the most important things you can do as a computer-using human. There’s always a small – but possible – chance that your machines will fail you so saving your memories in more than one location helps you ensure they stay safe.

In other words, don’t rely on your home computer or your camera’s memory cards to have your best interests in mind.

Plan Your Attack (Measure Twice, Cut Once)

If you’ve never formally backed up your photos before, or if you’re just not sure your backups are up-to-date, now is a good time to think through your strategy and get started. Here are key questions you should ask yourself:

• What’s your end goal? Are you looking to create a family legacy site that your relatives can browse? Or are you simply interested in keeping your files to yourself?

• How will you sort? Will you organize your files by date, by topic, or by person?

• How much are you willing to spend? Whether you’ve got room in your monthly budget or prefer to make a single purchase can dictate which backup solution you’ll use.

baldy hard drives-1495

Your Options

There are three main types of backup solutions today and we’ll sketch out the pros and cons of each. Of course, there are lots of options within each category, so if one method sounds good to you, it’s worth digging deeper and doing additional research.

• External hard drives. The simplest option.

Pros: These are, overall, one of the least expensive solutions over time because you buy your hard drive once and will only pay your monthly energy bill to keep it running. These are compact and convenient and may give you peace of mind if you prefer to keep your files off of the internet for personal reasons.

Cons: External drives are the least safe backup method because all physical drives fail, eventually. If you do decide to go this route, we recommend getting a RAID, which automatically creates an extra copy of your files each time you save them. And one last thing to remember: External hard drives, no matter what, can’t protect against fire, theft, or other physical catastrophes.

• Cloud-based services. The challenge (and expense) of maintaining enough servers to keep your files safely backed up is the reason why this industry exists today.

Pros: They take the complexity of hardware off your hands so you pay a regular fee and can retrieve your goods whenever you want. You’ll get the benefits of a huge network of servers with none of the hassle.

Cons: The trade-off is usually the cost; the more you store, the more expensive the fee, and sometimes you’ll find yourself also paying transfer fees when retrieving or backing up your files. If you’re also not keen on putting your files online, then you’re better off going with a local, external hard drive option.

• Photo websites (like SmugMug!) – online services that allow you to upload your files to the company’s cloud service and share the photos or display them online.

Pros: These services combine the ability to display and share your photos with the security of cloud-based storage backups. A great option for busy people who like to also use their photos to tell a story about their lives, or for professional photographers who need an online presence and the ability to retrieve their files at any time.

Cons: Most online photo gallery services don’t offer backups of full-resolution originals, or they may only support certain file types, so you may need to shop around to find a service that best suits your needs.

What You Should Look Out For

We think the online photo website option is the best balance of benefits and price. But there’s a lot of options to choose from, so be sure your service offers features that make sense to you. Here are some we recommend you look for:

  • No compression. What good are your backups if your originals get squished?
  • Unlimited traffic. You don’t want fame to take down your website.
  • Unlimited storage. So you don’t have to choose which memories matter most.
  • Ability to retrieve your files at any time. In the event of an emergency, you’ll want this process to be as painless as possible.
  • You keep the copyright. Would you want photos of your kids used in ads?
  • No minimum print order to keep your site running. No one should hold your photos hostage…especially if you forget and one day find your photos are gone.

With that, we hope everyone sleeps better knowing that, no matter which option you choose, your priceless memories (and all the great photos you’ve captured with your once-in-a-lifetime rental gear) stay safe through any hardware emergency. Happy backups!

Cover image by Stuart Whitmore. Read more about backup options from IT professional and photographer Zach Egolf. Burning computer image, titled “Server028”, by AM + MOCC.

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Alexandria Huff's photography and lighting tutorials can be found on 500px and her blog. She is a Marketing Coordinator for and also writes for SmugMug. She learned about lighting and teaching while modeling for photographers such as Joe McNally and has since gone on to teach lighting workshops of her own in San Francisco. See her chiaroscuro-style painterly portraits on her website.


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