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Backup and store those digital photos now

Published July 3, 2012 7:39 pm

Tech • As fire threat looms, protect your memories with these easy steps.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The devastating Utah wildfires have likely left a lot of people pondering an important question. If you had just minutes to evacuate, what would you save from your home first?

Most might answer their photos or family albums. But today, many people have their photos stored digitally, not on prints. In that case, it's more important than ever to make sure your digital photos, videos and documents are backed up and stored properly so that a disaster doesn't swallow up years of precious memories. Here are some tips to remember for keeping them safe and sound.

Storage medium • The first mistake many people make is to shoot pictures on a camera's memory card and then just leave them there. That means photos are never backed up and that the small memory cards can easily get lost.

Others may transfer the photos to their desktops or laptops and that's it. But what happens if the hard drive crashes or someone steals the laptop?

Turns out backing up your photos and videos is one of the easiest things to do, but very few actually do it.

First, you don't need special software. You can just use the drag-and-drop file systems in Windows or the Mac's OSX.

You can store your digital photos and videos on a CD or DVD, which certainly is the cheapest and most readily-available medium. But discs are not necessarily reliable and durable, and the optical disc format is starting to wane as a storage format anyway (Apple, for example, now makes many of its laptops without an optical drive).

The data stored on a disc also will be irretrievable if extreme heat warps it. Scratches or regular wear and tear also could make the data unreadable, so you'll want to be careful about storing them.

If you do go this route, Ken Sintz, manager of the Salt Lake City photography store Pictureline, recommends you use gold CDs or DVDs from a company such as Mitsui. These discs, the same used in such archives as the Smithsonian, have a microscopic layer of gold to store data for extra durability and reliability. They cost a little more than regular blank CDs or DVDs — about $2.95 for each.

You also can use a thumb drive, those small solid-state USBs that plug into a computer. But the affordable ones come only in small sizes such as 1 gigabyte or 2 gigabytes, so they won't hold as many photos as a DVD.

For serious backup and storage, Sintz says your best bet is a portable external hard drive. They're cheaper than ever ($80-$100), and they can hold huge amounts of data, potentially hundreds of thousands of photos on a 500-gigabyte drive.

Storing the storage • Of course, it's not enough to just back up your photos from your computer or camera's memory card. You also have to protect the backups.

Storing optical discs or a hard drive in a metal safe at home is not enough. Although flames from a fire may not get at them, the heat could eventually warp or melt the plastic discs or a hard drive's magnetic platter, rendering them unusable.

It's best to make multiple copies of your photos and videos. Then save one in the home if your computer hard drive crashes, but also keep another copy at a family or friend's home or in a safe deposit box. Making digital copies of your photos is cheap and easy. Retrieving lost memories is not.

'The cloud' • The newest way to back up your digital files is to use the cloud, the process of storing your photos, videos and music on a company server that provides a backup service.

Perhaps the most common is Apple's iCloud, if you use any of their devices. Every time you take pictures on an iPhone or iPad, the photos are automatically uploaded to Apple's servers for storage. That way, you can view them on any Apple mobile device or even on your Mac. Apple gives users the first 5 gigabytes of storage for free, and then there's a charge (ranging from $20 to $100 a year).

Amazon has a service called Amazon Cloud Drive in which the first 5 gigabytes also are free.

Perhaps the most well-known cloud service is Dropbox.

The downside to these services is the initial free offerings don't give you much storage — 5 gigabytes most likely isn't enough to store all your photos, videos and music. And you better have fast Internet service if you want to use them. Because you're uploading all your files to the company's servers, you'll want a fairly fat Internet pipe or it will take awhile to transfer them to the servers.

Scan old photos • Finally, scan your old photos and documents digitally if you have the time. Most affordable printers are now all-in-one devices with scanners that cost as little as $80 or so. And don't worry about buying special software. All come with their own scanning software that allows you to convert your old photos and documents digitally.

vince@sltrib.com

Google+: +Vincent Horiuchi