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Storing Your Digital Photos

written by: Ryan C.•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 6/2/2010

Are you looking for a better way to store and backup your photos? Read on to find out the benefits and drawbacks to many popular methods.

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    Photos are priceless memories, which capture the particular moment. Don’t lose them due to a virus, natural disasters, computer failures, or anything else. With digital cameras, securing your pictures has never been easier, you just have to know which methods are best.

    When archiving your photos, keep a simple consistent naming scheme. For example, I sort my pictures by year, month, and day. So I have a folder for 2009, one for the month, and one for the day of the month. This allows me to easily navigate to the pictures I want to use. It also happens to be the default file path in Adobe’s Lightroom.

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    Memory Cards

    This is the worst method of storage and should never be used to store photos. The memory card is where pictures are stored right after they are shot. It is only meant to be temporary as these memory cards are tiny in comparison to your computer’s hard drive and they are not as convenient to access.

    Do not use this method for long-term storage.

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    Internal Hard Drives

    This is probably where most of your images will end up. I would recommend using this as your primary form of storage. This way the pictures are always at hand and ready to be viewed, edited, or sent to print no matter where you are. I stress that this should be your primary storage bin in addition to a secondary location as a backup. As good as computers are today, hard drives have moving parts and are susceptible to failure at some point in their lifespan. The drive may be under warranty, but that is no guarantee your files are safe.


    Fast and easily accessible


    Limited space (due to other files on your computer)

    Prone to hardware failure especially if you have a laptop you travel frequently with

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    External and Portable Hard Drives

    This is the best way to keep backups of your data whether you have a desktop or notebook. All you have to do is connect the drive to your computer and your files are at your fingertips. The reason this makes for a perfect backup is that this can stay at home or in a more secure location like a bank’s safety deposit box.


    Spacious (external drives come in a variety of sizes)

    Portable (you can use this on multiple computers and share large numbers of pictures)


    One more thing to bring along and connect

    Also prone to hardware failure if frequently moved

    Usually slower than an internal hard drive

    Read Choosing an External Hard Drive for Storing Photos for more information, tips, and recommendations.

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    Writable Media

    This method works okay for a limited number of really important pictures. For me, it is difficult to keep track of a handful of different DVDs or CDs let alone an entire collection. This, however, is an excellent method to give to friends and family and share your photos.


    Very safe

    Highly portable


    Needs to be stored in an organized and friendly manner

    Slow to access and find files

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    Online Storage

    Nowadays sites like Flickr and Photobucket allow you to upload many free pictures (Flickr has a 200 “large sized" photo limit for free accounts, Photobucket has no limit). For me, online storage is used as a last-resort backup since this is not a very friendly way to access and edit my photos. I use Flickr as a gallery to show others my work and access those select photos anywhere on the internet. If you are concerned with privacy, do not put any pictures or images up that you would not want the whole world to potentially see.


    Accessible anywhere on the internet


    Privacy concerns

    Account may expire after not logging in for some time

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    The bottom line is do not rely on any one of these methods. You should have backups and duplicates of all your files. I would recommend using your internal hard drive as your primary storage and an external hard drive as your redundant backup. Remember to backup your files periodically (at least monthly, weekly, or sometimes daily, depending on your needs) so that should anything happen, you do not lose too much data.