Don't take a chance with your precious images. Digital storage of data can and does fail so it is vitally important to backup your photos to ensure they will be around for years and years to come.
We should do backup regularly because our computers and hard drives are NOT a safe place to store our photos for a long period of time. Hard drives crash; You could accidentally delete the files with a few mouse clicks; or (in the worst case) your computer could be stolen or destroyed by fire.
Here are some ways to save your photos for the future:
Make a print (or two)
With the digital age, we tend not to print photos. We take the shot, look at it later on our computer and then usually forget about it. There only copy of the photo is on your computer so if something happens to your computer, your saved memories are gone forever.
A print will be a physical copy of your priceless photo. You can keep the photo in your house, give to a relative, or best yet place in a bank vault. This provides maximum safety.
Use a professional photo lab to have your photos printed (rather than using your own printer) as some inks from home printers will fade after only a few years.
Create a CD (or two)
A more space saving way to store photos is to burn the image files onto a CD. This will keep a pristine copy of your photos just in case the unthinkable happens. Most image programs have an option to burn images to CD, as does Windows XP.
Be aware that your burned CDs won't last a long time. I make two (or three) copies of the images onto different CDs so that if one fails I still have another. You should check your CDs every couple of years (by copying the files to your computer so you know it can read the files) because they do wear out.
DVDs are in a similar boat. The coating they use to make the DVD burnable wears out over time sp keep checking your CDs and DVDs regularly.
Purchase an external hard drive
A more convenient option than burning lots of CD is to purchase an external hard drive. You can plug this into your computer's USB port and copy your images. Then put the hard drive somewhere cool, dry and safe. However, this is a more expensive option than CDs.
If you have a fast Internet connection, an online photo backup service is a great way to ensure your photos are backed up. Most of the Photo Printing services (like ShutterFly and HP's SnapFish) provide free limited backup services, as does Flickr. However, each of these require you to manually upload your photos. I recommend choosing a dedicated photo backup service like Protect My Photos that will (for a small yearly fee) protect your photos automatically. This is great because you don't have to remember to upload your newest photos. They are automatically backed up!
Don't just backup your images using one method. I subscribe to an online photo service, regularly create CD backups as well as storing my photos on my computer to ensure I have at least three copies at all times. I don't trust each one of these methods on it's own, but am happier that I have all three.
There are problems with all the backup solutions above. Unfortunately there is no perfect solution yet for long term backups in the digital age. Storage fails and formats change (who uses floppy disks anymore?)
Making regular backups, and keeping them current is a chore but a little time invested now will ensure your photos will be around for years to come.
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