Digital photography has many advantages over traditional film, but unfortunately, security isn’t really one of them. Unlike prints or negatives, digital images can be lost forever in a catastrophic hard drive failure, or even accidentally deleted with a few clicks of the mouse. Here are a few ways for Apple users to make sure those digital memories don’t vanish before their eyes.
1. Store Photos Across Multiple Libraries
The best offense for any potential disaster is a good defense: The latest versions of Apple’s Aperture ($79.99, Mac App Store) or iPhoto (free, Mac App Store) not only share the same library format now, they also allow users to access multiple libraries — even those spread across different storage media. This process is easier with Aperture since the feature is baked into the software, but with a keyboard shortcut or third-party application like iPhoto Library Manager ($29.95, fatcatsoftware.com), the same trick works in iPhoto as well.
The concept is simple: Move older, unused, and duplicate images to a separate library stored on an external drive, preferably one that doesn’t see daily use. By launching Aperture or iPhoto with the Option key held down, you can easily switch between libraries at will; with the application open, File > Switch to Library does the same. This tip works best when libraries are stored on some kind of redundant storage like a Drobo or network-attached storage (NAS), or in conjunction with the advice offered in our next method, which also has the benefit of freeing up precious internal space on modern flash storage drives.
2. Archive Photos in the Cloud
If you happen to be a person who isn’t very proactive about keeping a good backup of digital photos, syncing them to the cloud is a great way to “set it and forget it.” There are an endless variety of services with Mac desktop clients, and many of them offer generous amounts of free or cheap storage as well. Some of the more popular options include Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, MediaFire, and Bitcasa, and many offer mobile apps that can be configured to automatically back up the Camera Roll of iOS devices.
The same services also work with libraries from desktop applications like iPhoto, Aperture, or Adobe Lightroom, although you’ll want to make sure to save these files in a folder on internal or external storage that’s set up to sync from desktop to cloud for faster local access, rather than a network-based drive dependent upon internet access; Bitcasa offers such an option, and other cloud services can do the same using software like ExpanDrive ($49.95, expandrive.com).
3. Use Cloud Photo Services as a Backup
Speaking of the cloud, mobile shutterbugs are increasingly embracing the convenience of carrying entire photo collections in their pocket. Services like Picturelife, Adobe Creative Cloud, and ThisLife make it easy to back up photos from iOS or Android devices as well as Mac or PC, providing an additional layer of security plus the tools necessary to organize and edit photos from anywhere, no matter which device or web browser you happen to be on at the time.
However, consumers should be wary of putting all their eggs in one basket. As the demise of startup Everpix in late 2013 taught us, nothing is forever. Remember Kodak Gallery? (They wound up being bailed out by Shutterfly, the online print service that now owns ThisLife.) While Revel is backed by longtime software giant Adobe, companies launch, promote, and eventually fold products all the time. It’s a good idea to find one you like and stick with it, but also use apps like Amazon Photos (which offers free photo storage for Prime members) or otherwise import backup copies on the desktop for redundancy.
4. Print Them Out (Just in Case)
Unless your hobby is scrapbooking or you grew up in the Fotomat generation (kids, ask your parents), printing out thousands of digital photos might seem like a waste of money, time, and trees. Just because we’re so enamored with paperless photos now, the time may come where having a closet full of prints might be preferred or even come in handy. At the very least, they’re a decent hard copy that can be used to scan back into the computer, should the worst-case scenario transpire and your digital memories get wiped out.
Thankfully, prints are reasonably inexpensive these days. Services like Shutterfly offer unlimited photo storage from desktop or mobile devices (and that counts as another backup, score!), and are quite aggressive with weekly deals to make prints, custom books, and other photo-based products on the cheap. And don’t forget your local drugstore — Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS, and others offer similar services with the convenience of being able to pick them up in store and save a bundle on shipping.
5. Backup, Rinse, Repeat
Last but not least, we can’t stress enough the importance of backing up your digital photos (and while we’re at it, videos, too). Many consumers don’t even bother printing their photos anymore since they can easily carry entire collections on a smartphone or tablet. These files are effectively your “negatives,” and should be treated as such — even if that means offloading a copy onto some form of storage media and shoving it in a shoebox, similar to what generations past did with the real thing.
Of course, keeping two copies of your digital photos in the same location isn’t necessarily a good idea, either. A fire, flood, or other natural disaster could wipe out everything you own in a heartbeat, which is where offline storage comes into play. Services like CrashPlan ($5.99 per month, crashplan.com), Carbonite ($59.99 per year, carbonite.com), or LiveDrive ($6 per month, livedrive.com) can securely back up entire desktop systems (including the digital photos stored there) for pennies per day without user interaction.
Now would also be a great time to invest in a new high-capacity USB 3.0 external hard drive (they’re quite cheap these days), and flip on Time Machine, the built-in backup software that comes standard with OS X. Many inexpensive NAS devices also support Time Machine, and products from Synology, ASUSTOR, and others can even access files remotely via mobile apps. Just be sure to make a backup of your backup every few years in case the original drive decides to meet its maker!