Digital Focus: Photo Backup Tips and Tricks

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Feature: Protect Your Pictures With Backups

Professional photographers are a paranoid bunch. For instance, I know one pro who goes to extremes to ensure that he never loses any work. After a day's shoot with a digital camera, he immediately uses his notebook to make not one, but two distinct copies of his original images on a pair of CD-Rs--just in case one of the discs gets damaged. Once back in the office, he copies the images from the media in the camera onto his hard disk, edits them, and then makes three CDs with the final images: one for the client, plus two backup archives to guard against catastrophes like theft, a scratched disc, or, say, attack from space aliens. Needless to say, he stores one pair of CDs (one with the original images, the other with the final edited versions) in a physically remote location from the other pair of CDs. Whew.

I'm not suggesting that you use such a rigorous backup scheme. Heck, my own backup system can charitably be referred to as "somewhat relaxed." But this much is true: You absolutely need to back up your digital images somehow. Anything from a user error, to a power surge, to a virus attack can (and will) wipe out your files. And when that happens, you don't want to lose years of precious photos in one fell swoop.

Different Backup Strokes for Different Folks

So we've agreed that you have to back up your image files. But exactly how you do this is up to you. There are a lot of options out there, but they boil down to two typical methods:

  • Use a backup program to regularly copy your photos and other important files to another hard disk, an optical disc in a CD-RW or rewritable DVD drive, or another storage option (including network volumes if available).
  • Manually copy (drag and drop) your images onto a CD or DVD at regular intervals.

Do You Need Backup Software?

There was a time, some years back, when backup software was the most common way to save copies of your data. You needed one of these dedicated programs if you used a tape backup drive--and they offered handy automation and space-saving compression tricks to those of us who used high-capacity removable storage devices such as Zip or LS-120 drives. Unfortunately, most of these programs couldn't handle recordable CD drives, so your options were somewhat limited.

Today, the prime backup programs, Stomp's Backup MyPC ($70 to $80) and Dantz's Retrospect Professional ($90) are capable of handling a wider range of devices, including most CD-RW and rewritable DVD drives. That makes them a nice choice for folks who use them for business purposes.

But most home users don't really need these high-powered packages. There are more practical ways to keep photos and other important files backed up. I've found the backup software in Ahead Software's Nero 6 Ultra Edition CD/DVD burning package (about $80) to be superb, making a nice compromise between the traditional full and incremental dedicated backup software and the less formal drag-and-drop backup approach that suffices for most of us. (For the latest prices, check the PC World Product Finder.)

The high capacity of CDs and DVDs has made backing up photos a snap for most of us. Personally, if I want to back up a bunch of digital images, I find that it's a heck of a lot easier to just drag and drop a folder onto a CD-R or CD-RW, wait a few minutes for it to complete its burn, and then file the CD for safekeeping.

And that's exactly the advice I'm offering here: In general, there's no reason not to back up your digital images by manually copying the files onto a disc using the CD/DVD copying features in Microsoft Windows XP, Nero 6, or Roxio's Easy CD & DVD Creator 6. (For the latest prices on Easy CD & DVD Creator 6, check our Product Finder.) If you have a really large collection of photos, you'll welcome the added capacity of a rewritable DVD.

A good rule of thumb: Never erase the media in your camera until you have not only copied your photos onto your hard drive but also made another redundant copies on removable media. Taking the extra steps to protect against accidental erasure or loss means you never have to say you're sorry you lost your precious photos.

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