Recommended ways to save your images securely, with a workable backup strategy for offline, online and quick access.

It’s been estimated that more than 1.8 trillion photos will be taken this year; which amounts to roughly five billion each day. According to data agency, Photo Statistics, the average smartphone user keeps around two thousand image files on their phone. Have you ever wondered whether they are safely stored?

Pictures and videos captured during memorable occasions should be stored safely for future reference and use. (Source: iStock by Camera House.)

Unfortunately, many of these images will be uploaded to social media for sharing, attached to emails and then forgotten. Unless you take steps to preserve your favourite photos and videos, you can’t be certain they will even be there for you to access in a few years time – or if they remain online they may not be in a condition that allows you to make use of them.

Saving securely

The safest way to preserve photos for the longest time is to print them and share them by handing them to the intended recipients. If they are printed on an archival quality paper, the inkjet print will last considerably longer than the 20 years (for Kodak paper) to 40 years (for Fujifilm paper) traditional silver halide technology delivered. That’s why chemical photo labs have virtually disappeared from our shopping centres.

Today’s inkjet printers claim fade-free lifetimes in excess of 100 years for prints made on ‘archival’ papers and stored in acid-free boxes or books. Even framed prints can remain fade-free for 30 years or more when printed on appropriate media.

The best way to make sure your photos and videos are preserved for future use is to take control of how they are stored. (Source: iStock by Camera House.)

Experienced computer users normally backup important files to external hard disk drives (HDDs). You can choose between compact SSDs (Solid State Drives – which use the same flash storage technology as USB thumb drives) or cheaper magnetic drives that have a spinning platter with a thin magnetic coating that stores the data.

SSDs are more robust but both can fail or become corrupted. When that happens, your valuable data may be lost if it’s not backed up to another location. The chance of disk failure increases significantly as storage drives get older.

Backing up your important files to external hard disk drives gives you the security of knowing they will be accessible in the future – provided the drive is stored and used correctly to minimise chances it could fail or be corrupted.

Optical discs (CDs and DVDs) have become largely redundant as the prices of disc drives with greater capacity have fallen. They are also more prone to failure if they get scratched, damaged by exposure to chemicals or if they are re-written many times.

Although many people place their faith in backing-up their files online to cloud storage, it shouldn’t be seen as a total solution (see issues below). We advise readers to consider using physical means (printing images and storing video and images on disks, cards and drives) as essential back-ups whenever your data are shared.

Issues with cloud storage
Don’t rely on automatic back-up systems in portable devices to protect and store your photos and videos safely for extended periods of time. While your phone can automatically save copies of your photos online, in reality images sent to ‘the cloud’ are sent to servers that can be located almost anywhere on Earth. In Australia roughly 99% of the overseas transmissions go through submarine cables, with satellite transfers handling the remainder. Both are vulnerable to hacking and other disruptions.

Most servers and cables are owned by private companies like Google, Apple, Meta (which runs Facebook and Instagram), Amazon and Microsoft and this means they must run at a profit (which could also require cost-constraining measures). And while the cables may be protected against tides and storms close to the coast, further out they become vulnerable to accidental damage as well as deliberate attacks.

Cloud services have also been known to close suddenly without giving clients options to decide how to safeguard their files. It pays to check the terms and conditions before signing up with any online service provider – look at the level of security they offer, file accessibility, and protection against invasions of your privacy.

If your files vanish, you have little or no recourse with the free services, while for subscription services at best may give you a refund on your last month’s subscription fee. This makes relying on cloud storage and sharing risky. Use cloud services for the convenience and quick access they provide for your photos, but to keep your digital files safe we recommend additional storage of at least two hard drives (external drives or on computers), stored in two different physical locations.

Cloud storage services

In addition to the services bundled with your smartphone or action camera, there are plenty of ‘cloud’ services seeking your patronage. Most offer automatic uploading of files as soon as your device is connected to the internet, which can be a very useful feature. Cloud storage also makes it easier to share your photos and videos since they are accessible from anywhere with an online connection.

If you’re looking for alternatives, free uploading sites like Dropbox allow you to upload all kinds of files from your computer or portable device and save them in online storage. Subscribers can access files on their desktop and on mobile, with a free plan up to 2GB and various paid plans for higher capacity.

Dropbox can provide easily accessible temporary or long-term storage for your images, along with the ability to organise them and share them with relatives and friends.

Google Drive is another universally used cloud-storage solution for sharing files of any kind. Google Drive is preferable if you have lots of videos you want to store since it provides 15GB free of charge. You can compress large video files before uploading them to Google Drive using software like VLC Media Player or Shotcut. Windows users can compress it into a zip file by selecting  Send to>Compressed>Zipped Folder, while MacOS users should right-click on the video file and select Compress (file name) and follow the subsequent steps.

You can store all kinds of files in Google Drive, which makes it useful for small businesses as well as individuals.

Microsoft’s OneDrive is another cloud storage service that offers free personal accounts as well as subscription plans. Similar to Google Drive, it enables users to access their files from all their devices and provides a basic back-up service as well as enabling users to share documents and photos with friends and family and collaborate with colleagues in real time with Office apps.

OneDrive automatically uploads files when a portable device (in this case a smartphone) is connected.

Because OneDrive automatically uploads files from your camera or phone once the device is connected to your computer, it provides an easy way to back-up files. You use your mobile device to scan and store photos, documents, receipts, business cards and notes and gain an added layer of protection by saving them in your OneDrive Personal Vault.

OneDrive offers a basic plan with 5GB of storage for free, plus paid plans with more storage space. These services work with Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android devices and give you access to desktop, web, and mobile versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and an ad-free Outlook web, desktop, and mobile email and calendar with advanced security features.

A workable backup strategy

The golden rule of archiving is to create three copies of the files you want to keep – in addition to the files stored on your main computer. One copy should be stored off-site to prevent a mishap at home from destroying your photo and video collection. Cloud storage is an option for this situation – at least for the short term while you’re sorting out an alternative.

The remaining two copies should be stored on different storage devices, such as one backup external drive (preferably SSD) and another to a separate drive that is stored offsite and kept exclusively for your media collection. This drive can be stored in a bank deposit box or at a friend or relative’s home.

Make sure you run a full backup of the files on your computer regularly. Most high-capacity external drives come with backup software that can be set to automatically backup your computer hard disk at regular intervals. You can normally choose between daily, weekly or monthly backups.

Useful links

Make your prints last

Photo backup and archiving

This article by Margaret Brown is an excerpt from Shoot to Share pocket guide 

Pocket guide Partner: Camera House