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Backup Photos to Digital

If you’re like most of us, you’ve got boxes of old family photos spilling out of the corners of your dusty closets, but no idea what to do with them all. Your family around the world can’t enjoy those photos like you can, and there’s always that nagging worry about fire, flood, or any other disaster that could hit your home. Will it all be safe?

It’s your legacy, but one that you’re waiting for a rainy day to digitize. Here’s all the reasons why backing up all the photos you have – physical or digital – is a sensible investment of your time.

Know Your Scope

Before you do anything at all, you need a clear idea of your long-term plan. What do you plan on using the digitized photos for? Will you be displaying them only on your computer/online, or will you need to make prints, books, and enlargements one day?

Do you want to share your photos and video files with other people, or is privacy important to you?

Scanning: From Paper to Pixels

Now you’re ready to move forward. Scanners and scanning may seem intimidating at first, but we promise that it’s not any more complicated than learning how to use most consumer software programs. The trickiest part may be deciding on the type of scanner that will work best for your needs. Here’s a few questions to consider:

  • What will you be scanning? Most old formats include prints, documents, 35mm negatives, slides, all of which can be scanned from most consumer flatbed scanners. (Yay!)
  • Are your files going just on the web, or will you need to make prints? This affects the resolution at which you’ll scan. 300 ppi is great for web display, but you’ll want significantly more for good, large prints.
  • What’s your budget? Scanners range in price from under $100 to as high as you can imagine.

Option: Short on time? A Google search will turn up plenty of scanning services that let you ship out your prints and negatives and they’ll do it all for you. Just be sure to check out each company’s pricing, shipping options, policies (in case of loss or damage), and turnaround times.

Backup Photos to Digital

CYA. Copy Your Assets ;)

So now you’ve got digital files that live on your hard drive. Great! But you’re not out of the woods, yet. Your computer could still Blue Screen of Death, or a hurricane could still come and sweep your house right off its feet. It’s always a good idea to keep every important file backed up to more than one place. Here are three great options:

  • External Hard Drives – A simple external drive may be just what you need to start, as it’s affordable and lets you keep your photos and videos close at hand. But remember that all drives fail, eventually! And external drives won’t necessarily save you from flood, fire, or theft.
  • Cloud-based Storage – Letting a third party keep your files for you gives you all the benefits of an external drive, with a few additional benefits: You can access your data from anywhere in the world, and you get security against any disaster that strikes your home. If this sounds good, consider the cost (based on the amount of data you’re storing, usually), additional upload/download fees, and their policies on lapsed or overdue accounts. Disadvantages? Cloud storage services typically don’t excel at accessibility – that is, making it easy for you to share those memories with friends and family.
  • Photo Websites – Like SmugMug! This option gives you the best of both worlds: the security of cloud-based storage plus the ability to share the photos and videos with people you trust. Ease of use, storage limits, cost, accepted file types, file compression (if any), and policies for expired accounts should all be things to consider when you research your options.

Backup Photos to Digital

Get (and Stay) Organized

No matter which method you’ve chosen to go, you’ll end up with hundreds, if not thousands, of individual files… and more and more every year as you shoot more photos and videos. Finding one in a few is easy – finding one in a million is not. Keeping your garden pruned and orderly is the best way to ensure success and a joyful trip down memory lane. Plus, helping photographers stay organized is what SmugMug does best.

  • Sort by whatever method works best for you and what you shoot: By date, by child’s name, by family name, event, or by location. The possibilities are endless, but these are all ways that will help you easily drill down to find the exact photo or video you’re looking for.
  • Pair good folder organization with keyword tags. If you use a program like Adobe Lightroom to manage your photo library, keywording is a breeze! Simply select all the photos you want to tag and start typing. This will help you search and locate the badge number, event, vacation location, or even a person from within your archives.

Tip: Take it a step further and give your most important files descriptive filenames. After all, “gail-bridal-portrait.jpg” is much more obvious than “L1002950.DNG.”

We hope you’ve all learned something today about archiving your photos, and that you’ll no longer face the idea with terror. We’ve all been through this and know that the hardest step is always the first one to take. Happy archiving!

Schmoo Theune Editor-in-Chief SmugMug
Schmoo Theune is Editor-in-Chief at SmugMug, where they strive to help everyone on the planet have more fun taking better photos, showing them off, and keeping them safe. Check out the recent video tutorial by Jared Platt showing how SmugMug fits into your Animoto workflow.
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