Guide to Protect Your Digital Camera Photos with Automated Backups

A few weeks ago a friend contacted me to share the misfortune of his house being robbed. They took several electronic items including his digital camera. My friend, and I suspect many other people, had a habit of leaving month’s worth of pictures on the memory card in his camera without downloading them to his computer. He basically had a very large memory card and didn’t see the need to download until his card neared being full. Needless to say, the memory card and photos on it, was the most valuable item taken from his house that day.

Little did I know that shortly after the conversation I had with my friend, I too would become the victim of my digital camera being stolen. Luckily I am pretty pro-active about downloading pictures from my camera to my computer so I didn’t lose many pictures. But I still did lose a few since I had gone about 2 weeks without downloading.

So I basically went about researching some possible methods of trying to recover the camera such as contacting pawn shops, searching eBay, and even looking at postings on craigslist. Basically these are all long-shots and were more just defense mechanisms for me to postpone dealing with the reality that it was gone. Well, I never recovered it and acceptance finally set in.

It was amazing how many listings I saw on craigslist in their lost & found area were people were in many cases pleading to have their camera returned because of the photos they no longer have. Between those messages, and a survey of several friends, I saw a recurring theme. People in general don’t download their images for large periods of time. For many future victims of loss or theft, this will become a painful lesson to learn when it happens to them.

Backing up in general as it relates to data is something that most personal computer users have a concept of, yet most don’t have a plan in place. There are many, many methods for protecting data and although this guide was created based around digital cameras, it relates to any content where the original master is stored on an external portable media. This includes memory cards that can be on any portable electronic device which includes cameras, cell phones, mp3 players, USB drives, PDAs, etc…

There 3 main principals that I recommend when it comes to protecting your photos:

1. Download the photos from your camera / memory card to your computer often
Backup the photos to another storage device in a timely fashion
3. Create off-site backups of your photos

Although step 1 is pretty clear and straightforward, there are many different approaches and ways to accomplish steps 2 & 3. I will go over several of them here with the primary goal being methods that automate the process. This means that you set it up once and it runs on its own.

The other point of this guide is to provide the simplest and most straightforward options to accomplishing these 3 tasks. I will touch on some of the other methods, but I want to provide a guide to allow for an easy and quick implementation.

Step 1 – Download the photos from your camera / memory card to your computer often

This is the simplest step with the most straightforward approach. I recommend just having a very pro-active mindset of downloading pictures to your computer after any daily session of taking them.

The actual method for transferring will involve either:

Connecting the camera itself via data cable to your computer Or Removing the memory card and inserting it into a card reader connected to the computer

I recommend purchasing the card reader for several reasons. The first is that you can purchase a multi-card reader. Multi-card readers are devices that plug into your USB port and can read different types of memory card formats that are on the market. They handle all the standard ones including Compact Flash, Memory Stick, Secure Digital, etc…

Since memory cards are used in many portable devices it makes sense to invest in a device that is flexible to handle multiple formats for two reasons. One is so that you can have a single loading point for multiple devices; the other is so that you can accommodate friends & family with the ability to download their photos or other data to your computer.

Another good reason for the external card reader as opposed to connecting the camera directly to the computer is speed. Many cameras still transmit utilizing the USB 1.1 standard which is much slower than USB 2.0. Check the interface used by your camera. This is a compelling reason because of the drastic speed difference between the two.

Step 2 – Backup the photos to another storage device in a timely fashion

As stated earlier this step can be handled using many different approaches, each with their own set of unique circumstances. Even though there are various methods, the concept is to identify the secondary hardware device to be used, and then selecting the software to do the automated backup process. We will concentrate on local methods since the next step deals with off-site.

We will also limit our options to storage devices that are large enough to allow for an automated process that doesn’t require human intervention. This eliminates devices such as CD, DVD, Zip drives etc…The reason is that we want an automated transparent process that doesn’t require human intervention. The minute you introduce a human component you risk bypassing the process. For example, the computer prompts you that it’s time to do a backup and requires you to insert a blank CD in your CD burner. It’s easy to say “oh I don’t have time, I’ll do that tomorrow.” You know what happens next. Are we in agreement? I thought so.

Here is a list of various storage device options:

  • Additional internal hard drive installed on computer storing photos
  • External USB hard drive connected to computer storing photos
  • Secondary computer on local network (possibly notebook)
  • File server on local network

You may already have one of these options available to you. If so, that’s great but if not then there are various reasons to choose any them. I won’t go into those reasons but probably the simplest and most versatile would be the external USB hard drive.

Once you have chosen the storage device you will be using it’s time to determine the automated backup process. The solution I recommend for this would be to select software that suits your needs. Now there are many, many programs out there to accomplish this. In fact if you purchase an external USB hard drive, there is a good chance it will include one. If that’s the case, by all means use it.

Below I have listed several programs that I have researched and recommend:

Product Price
SyncBack Free (or $25 for SE Version)
Second Copy $29.95
Picobackup $29.95

Lifehacker posted a guide for using Syncback which you can see here

Step 3 – Create off-site backups of your photos

For those that are curious as to why we need this step, the answer is to secure against damage or theft. So if your house burns down or other natural disaster occurs or perhaps you suffer a burglary, you can still be protected.

Just like the previous step, this one can be done in various ways as well. In fact many people use one of the many photo hosting sites available such as flickr, snapfish, etc. You could also burn copies of your photos and store them in a safety deposit box or other off-site location.

But remember that just like in the previous step, the criteria for this process to be successful it needs to be automated. Photo services require you to manually upload your photos to their site, and it isn’t feasible to burn copies of photos and go to your box after every session. So we will be focused on finding off-site data storage companies that provide an automated backup process.

If you are more of a tech savvy user and already have access to storage on an off-site server via FTP, then I should point out that you can use the FTP feature built in to one of the backup programs we chose in the previous step above to schedule your off-site backups. But for a simpler more turn-key approach you can go with a company that is dedicated to providing this service.

Below I have listed several services that provide scheduled online backup storage:

Product Price
Mozy Free for 2Gb – 5gb for 19.95 per year
iBackup 5Gb $9.95 per month
XDrive 5Gb $9.95 per month
Data Protector 4Gb $17.95 per month

So now you have the information and tools necessary to protect your digital photos. So I’ll remind you once again. For a pretty quick and free setup start a backup solution by downloading Syncback and creating an account with Mozy for online backups. Just be sure to implement a solution now because what have you got to lose? Oh yea…priceless data. Now that you’re read this and made it to this point, you don’t want to have to deal with the consequences of a loss that you could have prevented.

Be Careful and good luck!

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