Is it possible to have too many backups to your digital images?

Long, long ago in a galaxy that feels far, far away, negatives were the only backup to most photos.

If the history of photography were “Star Wars” weaponry, film would be the slow-moving four-legged All Terrain Armoured Transport vehicles used by the Evil Empire in the Battle for Hoth, the remote ice world in “The Empire Strikes Back.” And digital film would be the fast moving, agile X Wing fighters that Luke Skywalker maneuvered to take down the Death Star.

Digital images are wonderful things, but they present a big challenge: Backing them up. If you don’t back up your digital images, you risk losing them in the ether. Nowadays, many digital images live precariously on the edge of going viral and being lost forever in a system crash.

The Association of Personal Photo Organizers recommends photos be backed up three or four times. This might seem like a lot if you’ve never moved your photos from the original camera card, but ironically, I think some people go overboard on backing up their photos. And that’s not good if volume contributes to paralysis.

Too many backups are possible, particularly if you’re not entirely sure where your digital images are and how they got there.

Here are some examples of backups of digital images:

  • A print is a backup of a digital image. This is the best backup because no matter what happens with technology in the next 40-80 years (a lifetime), you’ll probably be able to enjoy that print.
  • Copies of prints are backups to the backup. Did you print 50 extra images of your Christmas card photo? That’s 50 copies floating around out there with your relatives and friends, and 50 copies in a drawer.
  • Do you take 20 shots of one event “just to make sure”? Digital is free! Why not? Unless you actually change the settings on your camera (flash, etc.), all the images are probably very much the same. That’s 19 backups.
  • Your Photo Stream is a backup of your camera roll on an iPhone. Your Photo Stream only keeps your latest 1,000 photos, but it is considered a temporary backup.
  • Shared photos are copies. If you send photos to Mom by email, share images on Facebook or post images on a blog, those are backups. In many cases, they may be low resolution images, but they’re better than no backup.
  • thumbdrivesMoving images from your camera or camera phone to your computer creates a backup (unless you also delete the original image from your camera or phone).
  • Images stored in a memory vault (such a Memory Manager or Panstoria Historian) are copies.
  • Photo editing software many times creates copies of the original image. Sometimes the edited version replaces the original one, but usually you get two: The original with the unintelligible name and edited version with the name you assign.
  • If you use Carbonite, Mozy or another cloud backup program, your photos are probably backed up.
  • Copies of photos moved either automatically or manually to an external hard drive are backups.
  • Copies of photos moved to a thumbdrive or other portable memory device are backups.

Creating at least one backup of your digital images is crucial. Having three or four backups is smart. But having 10 or 50 backups is overkill.

Backups require valuable computer memory, but they also require valuable brain space. Without a good system and knowledge of how your computer works, you’ll end up asking yourself, “Did I already save this?” “Did I save this with a different name?” “Did I save this in my unedited folder or the one called ‘family’?” “What is a C: Drive anyway?” “Has my cloud backup run yet?” “Which thumbdrive did I transfer those images to?”

Know where your images are, label them, and know where your backups are. May the force be with you.

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One comment on “Is it possible to have too many backups to your digital images?

  1. sagescenery says:

    I don’t understand all that you shared, but thank God I have a “techie” son…and perhaps this summer, when we’re both off work…we can organize my photo cyber space a bit…thanks for the valuable info.

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