How to Store Digital Photographs

Explore the Digital Storage Options for Your Precious Photos

An external hard drive.
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Few things are more disappointing than realizing that the great picture you took last year is gone. We are now taking more photographs than we ever have and it is important to store them properly so we can access them for years to come.

This storage issue is a concern to everyone, whether you use a DSLR or point and shoot camera or just snap photos on your phone. While it is important to save those images to share later, space on hard drives and phones are limited and they never seem to have enough room.

Some people choose to have prints made of their photographs and this is a great way to preserve memories over a long period of time. However, it remains important to create backup copies of digital images because neither prints nor computers are infallible. It is always best to have another copy of your files just in case.

Types of Digital Storage

As of 2015, there are three main types of digital storage -- magnetic, optical, and cloud. Many photographers find it best to use a combination of the three to make sure they always have one copy of their images in case disaster strikes.

Technology is constantly changing, so for a photographer with a lifetime of work, it is best to be ready to change with it. That may mean transferring all of your photographs at some point in the future.

Magnetic Storage

This refers to any storage that comprises a "hard disk." While your computer has its own hard disk (known as the hard drive), you can also buy portable hard disks which plug into your computer via USB or Firewire cables.

Magnetic storage is, in my opinion, the most stable type of storage to date. It also holds a huge amount of data, as a 250GB (gigabyte) hard disk will hold around 44,000 12MP JPEG images, or 14,500 12MP RAW images. It's worth paying a little extra for a hard disk that comes with a cooling fan, as it can get pretty warm!

The drawback to external hard drives is that if there is a fire or some other disaster at your home or office, the drive can be damaged or destroyed. Some people have decided to store a second drive at another location that is also secure.

Optical Storage

There are two popular types of optical storage -- CDs and DVDs. Both types are available in various "R" and "RW" formats.

While RW discs are re-writable, it is generally considered to be safer (and far cheaper) to use R discs, as they can only be burned once, and there is no danger of discs being accidentally over-written. On average, R discs are also more stable over the long term than RW discs.

  • CDs hold 700MB (megabytes) of information and can hold around 125 12MP JPEG images, or 40 12MP RAW images.
  • DVDs hold 4.7GB of information, which is about six times more than a CD. These are called single-layer DVDs.
  • Double-layer DVDs, holding 8.5GB of data, tend to be less compatible with computers at present.

Most disc-burning programs come with a "verification" option which, although it lengthens the process of burning a disc, is essential to follow. During verification, the program checks that the information burned on the CD or DVD is the same as that data found on the computer's hard drive.

Errors are not unheard of when burning CDs or DVDs, and they can be particularly prevalent if other programs are being used during the burning process, so, when burning a CD or DVD, close all other programs and use verification, helping to avoid the potential for errors.

The major drawback about optical storage is that many computers (particularly laptops) are now being sold without a DVD drive. You may need to invest in a good external DVD drive in order to continue using DVDs and CDs after your next computer upgrade.

Again, if disaster strikes your disc storage, these can easily be damaged or destroyed.

Cloud Storage

Automatically uploading computer files to 'the cloud' is the newest way to store photos and important documents and it is a very convenient way to create backups. These services can be programmed to automatically upload a file to the internet.

Popular cloud services like Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and Apple iCloud can be integrated into almost any device and computer. Many include a certain amount of storage space for free and you can pay for more storage if needed.

Online backup services like Carbonite and Code42 CrashPlan are convenient ways to continually backup all of your computer files to online storage. These services charge a monthly or annual fee but are very convenient in the long term. They will also automatically make updates to any files that you change and most store files even after you delete (accidentally or on purpose) them from your hard drive.

Cloud storage is still a new technology and it is important to not only keep any subscriptions current but to keep track of the company that is storing your files. Use a reputable company that you feel you can trust. Nothing would be worse than entrusting your valuable photographs to a business that goes under in a year or two.

When using cloud storage, also think about your family should anything happen to you. They may want to access your photographs after you die, so figure out a way to tell them where you store files and how to access them (username and password).

A Word About USB Flash Drives

Flash drives are extremely convenient ways to store and transport files and today they are holding more files than ever before.

Their small size makes them attractive for storing and sharing many images at once.

However, as a long-term storage solution, they may not be the best option because they can easily be damaged or lost and the information they hold may be too easy to erase.

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