If you are like me, you love taking as many digital photos as you can. You go out to shoot, fill up your SD card, and then pull a few more cards out of your pouch before continuing on. By now, you probably have at least a few gigabytes of digital photos on your hard drive. That is a lot to keep track of, and if you don't manage them somehow, you'll end up losing all of your favorites. So, in an effort to make your photo viewing and sharing more enjoyable and less frustrating, I am presenting my tried and true digital photo storage methods. They have served me for years, and I am certain they will serve you.
How to keep your photos safe
The most important aspect of any digital photo storage plan is security. You want to be 100% certain that your photos will be with you in ten, twenty, or even thirty years from now. That means you need to be absolutely vigilant about backing up your photos.
But just because you put your photos on an external hard drive, doesn't mean they will be completely safe. I like to store my photos as if were investing in stocks. The more you diversify, the safer your photos will be. Get an external hard drive, but also invest in an online backup service like Mozy that you can upload your photos to for a low monthly fee. While you're at it, you might as well take advantage of the fact that you can store more than just photos with these services. You can backup your most important files and everything else.
Online storage services aren't 100% secure, but they are far more secure than your laptop or an external hard drive. Both laptops and hard drives are easily lost or destroyed while servers sit in locked rooms and hum away for years. You can further increase your chances of keeping your favorite photos by signing up for a free Flickr account and uploading your photos to it as well. Not only will you get the free storage, you will be able to share your best shots with your friends and family. (Note, I show you exactly how to upload your photos to Flickr when you purchase my bestselling Digital Photo Secrets book.)
As a last measure of safety, take an inventory of your photos every few months. It doesn't have to be completely thorough. Just make sure your external hard drive is still working and that your backup server account is still valid. There is nothing worse than breaking your laptop and forgetting where you put your external hard drive all in the same day. It is a humbling experience that will make you wish you had followed this advice.
Be passionate about the photos you keep
Don't bother storing photos you aren't absolutely excited about. What's the point of taking a bunch of shots and then having to wade through thousands of them just to find the ones you like? Although I must admit that I have a hard time letting go of so many photos, I have found that doing so has made my photo viewing and sharing time all the more enjoyable.
It's always a good idea to do an initial sweep before you store a set of photos from a recent shoot. Go through your new photos and delete the ones that aren't cropped right, have poor lighting, or aren't properly exposed. After you have gone through the ugly ones, you have to start making some tougher decisions. On your second sweep, you need to get rid of the photos that are good but not great. Don't think about it too much. Like I said earlier, if it doesn't excite you, press delete and don't look back.
When you do store your photos, organize them by date. Start with the year and get more specific with it as you go. I store my photos by month, and then I categorize them into folders named after the events where I took them. I find this works better than trying to organize your photos by individual days. It serves as a handy mnemonic device.
Keep pruning your collection
Every now and again, go through your photos and promise yourself you will delete a fixed number of them. It may sound masochistic, but I promise you it isn't. We often feel a fondness for new photos just because they are new. Going back through and paring down your collection will ensure that you are only keeping the photos that make a lasting impression.
I also love to keep a desktop background folder containing my best pictures. Not only is it great to have your desktop constantly cycling through your best work, it also functions as a portfolio. If you do this, make sure you have extremely high entry requirements. If it isn't a WOW photo, it shouldn't belong there.
What other methods do you use to store your photos? Would your photos be safe if the unthinkable were to happen?
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