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What are the best ways to store, organize and protect your digital photos?

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Gina Duwe
April 18, 2014

So you've taken thousands of digital pictures, and they're in your computer.

How should you organize them? How should you store them? How do you make sure you don't lose them?

Those are questions common in online forums, and a couple local photographers offered their thoughts:

Q: How should I organize my photos?

A: Devising a simple way is imperative, said Bill Olmsted, photo editor of The Gazette.

At The Gazette, digital photos since 2000 are stored chronologically.

“There's tons of different options … no right way or wrong way to store things,” said Shannon Schaapveld, owner of SMR Photography in Milton. “It's all a matter of what works for you.”

She organizes her personal and business photos by year, then with sub folders and uses a program called Adobe Lightroom to help sort them.

Other programs such as Apple's iPhoto offer a way to organize photo albums and sync with digital devices.

If people have the time and the inclination, Olmsted suggests deleting bad photos.

“That will help in the storage issue,” he said. “My general rule of thumb is if there's any question of whether you might want it, go ahead and keep it. One picture here and there is incidental.”

Q: How many back-ups should I have? In what forms?

A: “If you're really worried, my suggestion would be to do three copies,” Olmsted said.

The first copy is on your computer, the second copy is on some sort of back-up drive such as an external hard drive and then a third copy that is stored off site such as at a relative's house, he said.

“If your house burns down, then you have that third copy stored off site to recover,” he said.

If one of your backups is on DVDs, they should be burned to new discs about every five years, he said.

“Something that most people don't realize is that the burn-it-yourself CDs and DVDs can't be considered permanent because they do degrade over time,” he said.

How you store them is important, too. Don't leave them on a bookshelf in front of a window, he said. Instead, a closet where it's darker and cooler will help them last longer.

The recommendation for professional photographers is to have everything backed up on two external hard drives, one at your computer and one in a safety deposit box that's taken out and updated about once a month, Schaapveld said.

"Even with external hard drives, they can still go bad,” she said.

Don't pack away a removable hard drive for a long time, either, Olmsted said.

“They like to be run periodically,” he said.

Another option is storage in “the cloud” on the Internet.

Many websites offer storage for free or for a monthly rate, based on size. Using the web also offers that third, off-site storage, Olmsted said.

Schaapveld recently started using a site called Dropbox, which gives her access to her data on her iPhone or computer, and it automatically syncs when she connects via wi-fi.

Dropbox offers 2 gigabytes of space free, with additional space for referring friends. Google provides 15 gigabytes free while Flickr offers 1 terabyte free.

Olmsted cautions the cloud can fail, too, and emphasized the three-phase back-up.

“The three-step, I think, is important, and one of them being completely, physically removed” from your home, he said.



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