Digital images should be treated like any other important computer files: they should be archived and kept in a safe place. Most computers have built-in optical drives for burning compact discs and DVDs, both of which are reasonable archiving media. If you use optical discs for archiving, consider making two sets of backups—one for your home, and another to be kept in a remote location—just in case one set gets damaged.
Another archiving approach, and one that is easier to manage than using optical media, is to save your pictures to external hard drives. The advantages of external drives over optical media are that they have greater capacity (250 GB and upward), have faster read/write times, and are easier to catalog.
If you really want to cover all the bases, back up your images onto two external hard drives and store them in different locations—one at home and another at the office. That way, not only are you protected if one drive fails, as hard drives sometimes do, but you also don’t have to worry about losing your pictures if there is fire or water damage at one of the locations.
Some photographers like to use external hard drives for backing up at home, then save their most valuable images to optical media for storage at a remote location. This hybrid system strikes a good balance between convenience and reliability. And for the super fastidious (this is my category), think about a system that uses two sets of external hard drives in separate locations, plus one set of optical media in a third place. Does it sound a little over the top? Well, how important are your pictures to you?
Regardless of which media you use, when preparing to back up your photos, take a few minutes to figure out how you want to organize the files before you copy them to your backup media. Since digital cameras usually assign names such as IMG_3298.JPG to your pictures, you won’t be able to go back and find those Paris shots by reading the filenames. Yet, you’re probably not going to want to rename each picture individually, either.
Instead, give a descriptive name to the folder that contains images of a like kind, such as Paris Trip 2002. You can always browse the contents of the folder with an image browser once you’re in the general vicinity.
No matter which method you embrace, the important thing is to have an orderly system and a regular backup routine. You already know how frustrating it is to look for an old picture buried in a shoebox deep within your closet. Consider digital photography your second chance in life, and take advantage of your computer’s ability to store and retrieve information.