Two Copy Backup, Data Migration and Organization

‘Tis the shopping season and this is a friendly reminder to backup your photos (and buy backup hard drives if you don’t have them yet). 

Because people know that I shoot a lot of photos plus I am also a tech support guy, a lot of people ask me how to store their photos. Should they keep it on their laptop? Put it on DVD? Print them?

The answer is all of the above.

I would like to say that I have a crystal ball and know exactly what is going to happen in the next 100+ years, but I don’t. What I do know is that things change (many laptops no longer have optical drives), so don’t keep all your eggs in one basket which leads me to option #1.

#1 Two Copy Backup

Weather it be two hard drives or a hard drive and DVDs, always have two copies of anything important. Hard drives are not reliable long term storage. I have seen too many people lose all their photos because they only had the one copy on their laptop.

#2 Disaster proofing

It is also important to have the 2nd copy in a location different than the 1st copy. (In case there is a fire or natural disaster.) This can be at work or at a family member’s home, but make it easy* to do (not a safe deposit box) otherwise you won’t keep this up.

*Use portable hard drives when you can. External hard drives are cheaper, but still need a separate power supply which means it is more cumbersome and you are less likely to do the backups.

20151207 132319 IMG_9816 G15_DCE.jpg

#3 Migrate your data

I use to have all my files on Syquest disks. Remember them? Then I moved them to Zip disks, then to CD, then to DVD. As the storage format goes away so there are no more readers to be able to read those storage mediums, you must migrate the important data. Data migration is inevitable, and someday, we may need to convert them from JPEGs to some new format. JPEGs might be readable in the future (like reading an old document format), but it might also be lost.

I also migrate to new, larger portable hard drive every few years to keep the hardware fresh (and hopefully keep up reliability).

What else can I do?

I have heard many people say “Print any photos you want to keep” — that’s over-simplistic and too doomsday for me (but, I’m not all sunshine and rainbows, either.)

What you do need to do is not trust technology to solve everything…

20151127 121226 iphone5s_DCE

#4 Keep the clock on your camera accurate (or at least accurate to the day)*

*Fixing or not fixing for daylight savings isn’t going to ruin everything for most people.**

**I often shoot two or more cameras at once which does require accurate clocks so the files come together properly, but that is not common.

I have had too many instances of people coming to me with mixed up files and I can’t fix the stew created because they did not have the clock on their camera set so the EXIF date on all the photos is 1/1/1940.

But if they had their camera clocks set, I could have renamed the files to their logical time stamp to create unique (enough) names. My magic formula is:

YYYYMMDD HHMMSS OrigFileName ShortCameraModel.jpg

Which looks like: 20150401 142239 DSFC1244 XT1.jpg

  • No punctuation because this messes up title search in systems like Flickr.
  • The original file name is important if you shoot faster than 1 frame per second (since the time stamp stops at seconds and each photo gets a sequential default file name). I often shoot at 8fps.

You can do variations like:

  • Replace camera name with who took the picture (you or your wife)

To make these names, I use:

  • PIE (Picture Information Extractor)
  • But there are others like Digital Image Mover

None of them have perfect file naming setups or “easy to use” wizards so you need to educate yourselves and take control.

But “easy to use” programs like Picasa and websites like Flickr and Google Photos are no help. They just lump together the originals and make it your responsibility to not copy over files of the same name. This is simply an area where manufacturers have abandoned their users.


Organization can be a whole large post by itself. Some recommend products like Lightroom, but what happens when Lightroom goes away or someone who doesn’t have Lightroom inherits your photos? What will become of all the tags you added for hundreds of hours???

I’ve been a tech support guy long enough to watch several products come and go*, but old-fashioned, manual organization always works.

*And I’ve heard several pieces of bad advice like converting all your RAW files to DNG and deleting all the RAW files.

The organizing method that I am currently using is by topic.

  • Vacations, family reunions
  • Soccer, cross country, Girl Scouts, orchestra, summer camp
  • The Zoo, Church
  • Elementary school (events), middle School, high School
  • The house, the garden, school artwork and papers
  • Anything misc gets organized by Year (2015) then Month (2015-01)*

*Why duplicate the year in the month folder? “01” is too small a folder name to click and “01-January” is too much text in my opinion, but that is just me.

This seems the easiest way to organize since my family photography tends to be lumped into large categories.

Good luck and always remember TWO COPY BACKUP.


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