Digital photos can be backed up in a variety of ways. To protect and preserve your photos, we recommend the following two-part approach:
- For your most valuable and irreplaceable photos: Make or order high quality prints or photo albums, and use recommended photo storage conditions to ensure that they will survive time and technology advances.
- For your entire photo collection:
While you may not immediately think of printing as a way to backup your photos,
you should definitely do this for your most valuable ones. The biggest advantage
of printing is that you can enjoy your photos even if you don’t have a computer,
and if your other backup methods fail.
Making your prints at home:
- With the wide range of printers and printing materials to choose from, and with
varying levels of longevity, be sure to choose carefully.
- Stick to well-known brands and manufacturers: Follow your printer manufacturer’s
recommendation for the paper and ink combination with the best longevity.
Making your prints at a retail store from your CD or DVD or camera card:
- Services for printing your digital photos are now widely available at retail locations
where you’ve had your film processed, including supermarkets, drug stores, department
stores and photo-specialty shops. Many are also equipped with self-service kiosks
where you can select, edit and print your photos directly from your camera card
or CD. Ask a sales person for help if you’re not sure how to use these devices.
- Some retailers will also let you order calendars, photo albums and the like. Make
sure that your albums are printed on acid-free buffered paper for best longevity.
Ordering your prints from an online photo website such as Creative Memories’ Photo Center,
Fujifilm's YourPix.com, Kodak EasyShare Gallery, Shutterfly, or Snapfish:
- Visit the website and follow the instructions. In most cases you need to first upload
your photos, and then you select the ones you want to have printed and you place
your order using a credit card.
- See if the photo site also allows you to create and order photo albums or calendars.
Make sure that your albums are printed on acid-free buffered paper for the best
Storing your prints:
- Keep your prints “comfortable.” They like to live where you live, and are best kept
at a moderate temperature and relative humidity. For maximum print life, keep them
in the dark.
- High quality albums with pages or sleeves designed for long-term storage will best
preserve your prints.
- For prints on display, avoid bright light, and ideally display prints under UV protective
glass or a Plexi-Glass TM type of material.
- Label the print with the file name so you can find the file and make a reprint,
or use the photo for a calendar or memory book at a future date.
- To access additional information on standards and the assessment of print permanence,
visit the section titled "Fading" in the Learn area.
- Make sure that you store your prints in accordance with the recommendations in this section.
External Hard Drives
An external hard drive may serve as a relatively safe and easy to use backup device
on both PCs and MACs. Be aware, however, the limited lifetime of these drives. Learn more here
. Expect five years of service, but some drives
fail earlier, especially if they’re jolted while in operation. Some drives last
longer. External hard drives generally have a large capacity (300 GB are common
as of 2006) and can store tens of thousands of photos for average consumers. They
offer a convenient way to backup your entire computer hard drive and, when needed,
to migrate to a new computer.
When purchasing a hard drive:
- Look for a well-respected manufacturer that provides a good warranty.
- Don’t buy the latest and highest-capacity drive: It’s best to allow the technology
to evolve to the point where it’s more reliable.
- Most drives have USB to connect to your computer. Some drives have FireWire (or
iLink or IEEE3894) connectors that are much faster than USB. It’s best to stick
to USB, which is much more common on computers, unless you know your computer already
has FireWire. Back-up speed is not so critical — you can always let the backup run
Copying your photos to your external hard drive:
- Use Windows Explorer (or FileManager) on your computer to transfer the photos to
the hard drive. If you keep all your photos within a specific folder and its sub-folders,
you can easily copy them to your external hard drive in one step using the "drag
and drop" technique.
- Many photo management programs and external hard drives come with backup software
that can make the backup process easier. With such software, make sure that other
programs such as Windows Explorer can read the files copied to your external hard
Note: Some proprietary backup software will store your photos in a special
format that can be retrieved only by that software. If you need to restore some
photos several years down the road, you could be out of luck if that software is
no longer available.
- Don't forget to label your external hard drive with its contents and date of backup.
Storing your external hard drive:
- Store your hard drive at room temperature away from heat sources.
- Treat your hard drives very gently: They are susceptible to shock.
- Keep your backup drive disconnected and away from your computer, and maybe even
in a different location altogether. Be aware that computer viruses can still get
onto your hard drive when connected. If you suspect that your computer has a virus,
ask a knowledgeable person to help you before you reconnect your backup drive to
the computer. Learn more here
- Do not plug or unplug external drives from your computer while they’re transferring
photos or other data.
- If you keep photos on an external hard drive that’s not connected to a computer,
make sure you connect it to a computer and power it up every couple of months to
make sure it’s working properly.
- Any time you make a backup on a hard drive, write the date of the backup and what
set of photos you actually backed up onto the drive with a stick-on label. Trust
us, you’ll be very glad you labeled your backups should you ever need them in future.
CDs and DVDs
CDs and DVDs are optical discs that rely on lasers to record and read digital data.
They’re used extensively in the marketplace for pre-recorded music and movies.
Consequently, these formats have a far greater chance of surviving the test of time
than magnetic tapes or disks used for limited applications within the computer industry.
Pre-recorded CDs and DVDs use a different technology to store data, and may have very
different lifetimes from discs designed for home recording — even though the same
mechanism may be used to read the discs.
These discs provide a good and inexpensive way to backup your photos, but you need to
be aware of the varying longevity of these storage media. A major advantage of CDs or
DVDs is that you can purchase discs that can be written to only once - a great way of
keeping your photos from being deleted accidentally or by viruses.
When purchasing CDs or DVDs:
- Look for well-respected brands, yet be aware that some companies sell discs made
by manufacturers that may have lower quality standards.
- Use high-quality archival or photo grade CDs or DVDs if you decide to make use of
these media as your primary backup copies. Because of the materials used to make them,
these CDs or DVDs generally cost significantly more.
- Avoid the lowest-cost CDs and DVDs, which may compromise both materials and manufacturing
quality due to the fact that these manufacturers shift production of the discs to facilities
designed for low cost over high quality.
- Use media such as CD-R, DVD-R, and DVD+R that are not rewritable. These discs use a permanent
dye change that is more stable than the reversible phase change used for rewritable media such
as CD-RW, DVD-RW, DVD+RW and DVD-RAM. Discs that are not rewritable also prevent files from being
accidentally deleted and eliminate the virus threat.
- There’s no easy way for a consumer to determine which CDs or DVDs are best for long-term backup.
To get the best quality discs, check with your retailer or online store for:
If you get a DVD, make sure you buy the right type for your CD/DVD drive. Examples include
DVD+, DVD-, DVD-RAM, Blu-Ray and HD-DVD.
In general, you’re better off sticking to more established technologies for your
backup needs: CD, DVD+, and DVD-. As usual, it takes newer technologies some time to get established.
High-quality CD-Rs last longer than high-quality DVDs, so for particularly valuable photos,
you might select CDs. Even though these CD Rs have better inherent stability than DVDs, they’re
more vulnerable to physical damage than DVDs, so take care when handling these discs.
- Write-once CD-Rs with a phthalocyanine dye layer and an inert gold metallic layer.
They appear greenish-yellow and are available from various suppliers including MAM-A with
their Gold CDR 74, Delkin with their eFilm Archival Gold, Apogee with their CD-R Gold, and
Kodak with their Gold Preservation Disc.
Note: Accelerated aging tests at the National Institute of Standards and Technology
and at the Canadian Conservation Institute confirm that these CD Rs are more stable to light,
heat and humidity and significantly less vulnerable to data loss than other CD-Rs.
- Write-once DVDs of archival quality.
- If you’re unable to identify the type of CD-R that you’re using, be sure to contact
the supplier for information.
Copying your photos to your CDs or DVDs:
- Use Windows Explorer on your computer to transfer the photos to the CD/DVD. If you keep
all your photos within a specific folder and its sub-folders, you can easily copy them to a
CD/DVD drive in one step using the “drag and drop” technique. For DVDs, you may have to use
an additional program that is usually shipped with your computer or DVD drive to copy your
photos or “burn” them to the DVD. Some software programs for recording CDs and DVDs will provide
additional information on disc quality that will help ensure that your discs last as long
- Many photo management programs and external hard drives come with backup software that can
make the backup process easier. With such software, make sure you can read the files on your
CD or DVD by other programs such as Windows Explorer. Some proprietary backup software may
store photos in a special format that can be retrieved only by that software. If you need to
restore some photos several years down the road, you could be out of luck if that software
is no longer available.
- If you have insufficient space on the disc to store your folder, break up the folder into
smaller sub-folders and store each of them on its own disc. Be aware that a DVD labeled with
4.7 GB capacity may actually hold only about 4.2 GB of photos, so you’ll need to limit your
sub-folder sizes to 4.2 GB. Other disc types may have similar capacity limitations because
administrative data take up space on these discs. You can check the size of your sub-folder
by right clicking on the folder name in Windows Explorer, and then clicking on “Properties.”
- If possible, avoid using the full disc capacity. Studies at the National Institute of
Standards and Technology show that files are vulnerable to an edge effect that begins to
appear at 10 percent from the end of the disc, and becomes significant around five percent
from the end of the disc. Some CD recorders can even exceed stated disk capacity, compounding
the problem even more.
- After “burning” your CD or DVD, check the recording by using the ”verify” function of your
software or another software package such as CDCheck, which is available at no cost for personal
use at http://www.kvipu.com/CDCheck/. Verification
does not ensure that the discs will be readable in a wide variety of players so you may want to
test different drives to ensure compatibility.
- Don’t forget to label your CDs or DVDs with their contents and date of backup. Use a special
marker specifically designed to label CDs and DVDs. Solvent-based pens, ballpoint pens or other
sharp writing instruments and adhesive labels may damage CDs. The best location to label a disc
is near the reinforced hub where there’s no stored data. You’ll be very glad you labeled your
backups should you ever need them in future.
- Unrecorded CDs and DVDs have a limited shelf life and should be used within five years.
Storing your CDs or DVDs:
- Store your CDs or DVDs at room temperature away from heat sources.
- Store your CD or DVDs in an upright position, and not stacked horizontally.
- Use translucent CD or DVD cases which don’t have a plastic insert to hold
the disc. Some of the colored plastic inserts for standard jewel cases contain
plasticizers or other materials that may reduce disc lifetime.
- Avoid storing acidic paper inserts with your CDs or DVDs.
- For more details on handling CDs and DVDs, the National Institute
of Standards and Technology guide is available at http://www.itl.nist.gov/div895/carefordisc/disccare.html.
- Check that you’ve transferred the correct number of photos. With Windows, right click
on the folder name, then click on “Properties” to get the total number of photos in the folder.
- Check the combined file sizes of all the photos in the folder where the photos came from
as well as on the CD or DVD you copied them to. Make sure that you store the same amount of
data in both places. With Windows, right click on the folder name, and then click on
“Properties” to get the size of all photo files combined.
- Use photo software to check if you can view the photos on the CD or DVD.
Online Storage Services
Online photo services such as Kodak Gallery, Shutterfly, Snapfish, Fujifilm.net, Sprint Picture
Mail Service, and Creative Memories Photo Center can provide a useful backup capability for your photo collection.
These services also provide a variety of handy features such as sharing photos with your
friends and family through email or ordering prints, printed albums, CDs and DVDs. In
addition, you might like to keep an eye out for online backup services that are emerging,
and that will store any files from your computer including photo and video.
Selecting an online site to store your photos:
- Read the terms and conditions to make sure that the site will work for you. For
more information, visit the Learn section.
- Check with friends and relatives to see what sites they might recommend.
- Select a site run by a reputable company – you don’t want a site to go out of business
when you most need the backup.
- Check to see if the site can upload your full resolution photos.
- Check to see how you can get your photo files back from the site through download
or by ordering CDs or DVDs. Some companies charge fees. In some cases, you can download
individual photos to your computer, but it might be very tedious to download thousands
Copying your photos to a photo site or backup service:
- Follow the instructions on the website for uploading your photos. Often, there’ll
be a small program that you can download from the site that will make it easier
to make the upload.
- Even with a high-speed Internet connection, it can take many hours to upload your
photo collection to the site. Let the backup run overnight so that no one is using
the computer during the backup.
- Break up your collection into smaller chunks and upload only a few sub-folders at
a time so that you have fewer problems if the Internet connection fails.
- Share your important photos with friends and relatives as an informal way of backing
up your photos.
- Make sure that you understand the terms and conditions of a photo website regarding
payments, minimum orders required to maintain your account, and appropriateness
of the photos.
- Use the online photo site to order prints of your most valuable photos.
Other Backup Methods:
Keep an eye out for new backup technologies. Some promising technologies include:
- Networked hard drives for centralized home storage. These systems, while still expensive,
are becoming more available, and can be advantageous for large collections kept
on multiple computers in a household.
- Digital photo to film: Digital photos printed onto traditional film. Since film
can last a very long time with good storage, this is a method that may become more
available to consumers in the future.
Backup methods not recommended for long-term backup:
- Tape: not easily available to consumers
- Regular camera cards
- USB or thumb or flash drives
- Old computer media such as floppy disks