Do you back up photos and video?
Everyone with a smartphone has a camera, and they’re using ’em right and left to snap photos and shoot videos. Add to that numerous digital cameras, from inexpensive to professional, and you’ve got a lot of digital media being created every day.
A lot of it isn’t getting backed up.
Let’s remember the goal: never have only a single copy of your photographs.
If there’s only a single copy, it’s not backed up.
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Back up photos on your digital camera
As soon as you take a picture or video with a digital camera, you have exactly one copy1 of that photograph – the original in the camera. It’s typically impractical to back it up after every shot, so we do have to accept some amount of time where there’s no backup at all. During that time, if you lose the camera, you lose all the photographs on it.
The best approach to minimize that window of vulnerability is to copy those photos to something else as soon as is convenient.
When I went on an overseas trip some years ago, I realized that the photographs I took would be the only thing truly irreplaceable should we run into troubles. So I developed this technique to backup photos:
- I took photographs throughout each day.
- At the end of the day, I copied those photographs to my laptop computer. Again, this is a copy, not a move. After this step, the photos existed in two places: they were still in the camera, and also on my laptop: a minimal backup for something so important.
- The laptop itself was also backed up each night to a portable external hard disk.2 That resulted in three copies of the photos: the camera, the laptop, and the backup of the laptop. Only then would I even consider removing the pictures from the camera’s memory card.
Given the importance of these photographs, I took an extra step. Rather than removing them from the camera’s memory card, I physically mailed the memory card home when it filled up, and inserted a new, blank memory card I’d brought along with me. Those memory cards were all waiting for me when I got home.
That last step might be overkill for day-to-day use, but something worth considering for those once-in-a-lifetime travel adventures, which this was.
The fundamental concept is very, very simple: as soon as is practical, make a second or third copy of the photographs stored on your camera on some other device, like your computer.
Back up photos and videos on your smartphone
Everything I’ve just outlined for your digital camera applies equally to your smartphone. As soon as is practical, make a copy of the photographs and videos you’ve taken with it. In fact, if you don’t have internet connectivity, it’s exactly what you must do.
Smartphones typically have the added convenience of being connected to the internet in some way. We can leverage that to make the copy process not just easier, but possibly completely automatic.
First, as you’ve probably already done on occasion, sharing a photograph or video from your smartphone effectively makes a copy. As soon as you email that photograph to someone, they have a copy, in addition to the copy on your phone. You can leverage that: simply email your photographs to yourself, using an email account you can then access online or at your computer.
While still somewhat cumbersome, this gets us closer to being able to back up those photographs closer to the time that we take them.
Better still: do it automatically.
Of late, many of the cloud storage utilities available for smart phones from services like DropBox, Microsoft’s OneDrive, and others will automatically upload photos and videos as you take them, if you give them permission to do so.3
This is exactly what I do on my Android-based phones. As soon as I take any photo with my phone, it’s automatically uploaded to my OneDrive account. That’s one copy. Then the photograph is also automatically download onto every computer on which I have OneDrive running. That’s an additional three or four copies without having to lift a finger.
I strongly recommend this approach. Make sure you have enough storage in your online account, and make sure the application on your phone has permission to upload your photos. If there are limitations on when it’s allowed to upload them, consider being permissive in favor of getting those images backed up quickly and without condition. If there are size restrictions on what will be uploaded, consider lifting them. If there are network restrictions (“WiFi only”, for example) consider lifting those as well, so you know your photos will be backed up as soon as you take them, no matter what they are and where you are.
If you must leave those restrictions in place, take steps to ensure that items not backed up automatically get backed up manually as soon as possible.
Back up photos in your cloud
Many times, a photograph or video – particularly with mobile apps like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, and others – is posted directly online, where it’s the only copy of that image. Of course, you know what that means: it’s not backed up. If you lose access to your account with that service, you lose the images you’ve stored there.
This is a tad more problematic, but it’s important:
- Understand how the app you’re using works. Does it leave a copy of the photo on your phone? If so, great: you can back it up using the techniques I’ve outlined above.
- If the app only uploads your image or video to their service, you need to back it up yourself . That means as soon as it’s convenient, make a copy. Typically that means downloading the image or video to your PC, or using embedded sharing functionality to share it with a different service or email.
Cloud services – particularly video- and photo-specific services – can be extremely helpful as places to share or back up your images; they often serve both functions. But you must be aware of what’s happening to your data, and take the appropriate steps to ensure you’re not left with only one copy that you might then lose forever.
Now that they’re on your PC, back that up too
The techniques above ultimately result in your photos and videos making their way to your PC – either manually, as you copy images from your camera or online account, or automatically, as a cloud sync service does it for you.
That’s still not quite enough.
Naturally, you should be backing up your computer, and for more reasons than just your pictures. If you’ve got a properly configured periodic backup that includes the folders in which you store your photos and videos, you’re pretty close to being done. In fact, in most cases, you can probably stop here.
But I want you to consider one more option: backing up your photos and videos to the cloud.
The problem is that for many people, these photos and videos are precious memories that can never be replaced if lost. If anything warrants an additional layer of protection, it seems that these would qualify. By backing up to an online service, you’re protected from anything that might take out your home computer(s) and backup(s), like a fire or a burglary.
I’d consider either of two approaches:
- Use a photo-sharing service, like Flickr, Picasa, or others, and upload everything. You may not need to make everything publicly visible – in fact, you probably don’t want to – but you’ll have backup copies of everything in one place, optimized for review (and, if you choose, sharing as well).
- Use an online backup service. Images and videos are just files on your computer, and all of the online backup services are tailored to back up whatever data you might choose to include. Using an online service might be preferable if you’re already using one to back up your computer, or you realize that there are a few more things that fall into the “too precious to lose” category besides images.
In all cases, I strongly encourage you to, at a minimum, save the original, highest resolution, un-edited versions of your files. You can always re-create the edited versions if you elect not to save them as well, but you can’t go back to the original from a modified, cropped, tweaked, or resized file.
A note about those “sensitive” photos
As I was writing the original version of this article, news broke of a hacker gaining access to a number of celebrity nude photos by hacking into their iCloud accounts.
First: think carefully before even taking what I’ll refer to as “sensitive” photos (this isn’t limited to just naked selfies). In general, the safest thing to do is simply not to take photos or videos that would embarrass or otherwise harm you if posted publicly.
Now, I realize that’s not always possible. Sometimes taking a photo of something sensitive is exactly the right thing to do, for any number of reasons.
If you find yourself in this situation, you owe it to yourself to take extra care to avoid accidental disclosure.
- Think twice about sharing. Remember that when you share that photo or video with a friend you lose all control over it. Some day, when they are no longer your friend, they can do whatever they like with it, including posting it publicly.
- Remove it from the cloud. Yes, I still strongly recommend using cloud-based services to back up your photos and images for devices that support such. But in the case of sensitive information, I also strongly recommend moving that back-up copy off any online services to local storage over which you have much more control. Remember also that a single copy is not a backup; you want to make sure you have at least two copies in one form or another.
- Encrypt it if online. If you do use online services for backup, make sure those backups are encrypted in some form. Yes, this means you can’t necessarily use them as an easy source for sharing your photos directly, but that’s exactly what you want when it comes to “those” photos.
- Backup offline. As I said, you want to move your sensitive images from online storage to your own offline storage as soon as possible, to minimize the window of opportunity for someone to hack your account and gain access.
- Remove it from the camera. Many people’s sensitive photographs are compromised by nothing more complicated that losing their smartphone or camera. Even if only for a short time before it’s recovered, the information on the device can be quickly copied or forwarded. Once again, copy it to local storage you have control over, and/or encrypted online storage.
Ultimately, much of this discussion applies to any sensitive information, including emails and documents you might have stored in an online account. Photographs and videos, however, seem to be a particularly ripe spot for hacker activity.
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