Still life of lock on photo album

How to Protect Your Images

It all starts with a gasp. A tightening of the chest, prickly skin, perhaps even a cold sweat.

No!

What happened to my images?

If you are like me, your smart phone is never far from hand and you take pictures daily. Sometimes it’s just a shot of a pretty flower or interesting shadow. Other times it’s of something you don’t want to miss, a reunion with friends, a child’s first step. Whatever the images on your phone, they are important, precious. What if your phone suddenly died? What if you no longer could view your images? It’s almost incomprehensible. Not to worry, there are simple ways to protect your images from loss.

The most important thing when it comes to your images is to make sure they are backed up to some device other than your phone. Phones get stolen, they get lost, and yes, they get dropped into toilets.

I have been a photographer since I was 15. I have taken many, many photos. You would think that I had my process down pat and that I was a paragon of virtue when it comes to backing up my images. Nope. I also get distracted by life and I put off the simple tasks well, because I would rather be out shooting. If you have been procrastinating about your photos, you may find this article useful.

If you are ready to move forward, as the diagram below shows, it starts with getting your images onto your computer and the cloud. 

Graphic showing how to back up images

1.Make sure the images on your phone are backed up to either the cloud or your computer. 

If you are uncertain what the cloud is, check out this article.

2.Collect all your digital images from SD cards, hard drives and old computers and put them on a primary reliable computer.

3. Scan all prints and slides from the era before digital and add the files to your primary computer.

4. Back up all your digital images to your cloud account.

5. Save a copy of all your digital files to one or two external hard drives. Regularly update these hard drives. Store a hard drive off site, either a bank vault or a friends place.

Get this done and all your photos will be protected. Whew!

But before you pull a Flaming Elmo or run away, keep in mind that the extent of your photo management process depends on how you take pictures.

I like to think that there are three different types of photographers. I call them the Socialite, the Adventurer, and the Pro.

The Socialite

The Socialite likes to record her social activities and share them on social media but she doesn’t use any other type of camera. She may have photo albums from the distant past when she used a film or digital camera.

For the Socialite, making sure her images are backed up to the cloud and keeping a copy on her computer is a good start. Scanning her historic images is something she can do over time.

The Adventurer

The Adventurer takes pictures with her phone but she also has a digital camera and she travels with both. Sometimes she has hundreds if not thousands of images to deal with after her vacation. If she was organized in the past, she has many scrapbooks to show for her travels. 

She needs to gather all of her images onto her computer. She needs to copy her SD cards and scan her historical images into digital format. Once all her images are in the same place she can rename and organize them. From there she should save a copy to the cloud as well as an external hard drive.

There are many types of Adventurers and that will determine what software they use to manage their photos and how many places they back up their files.

The Pro

The Pro already knows what to do and isn’t reading this article. They are the Adventurer x10 and because they shoot for clients, there are legal and security protocols built into their process for managing photos.

Whatever type of photographer you are, the fundamentals don’t change when it comes to protecting your images. We all need to back up our photos to one or more places other than our phones to make sure they are safe.

Sky and Clouds

How Safe is the Cloud?

Recently, when I have encouraged my friends to back up their smart phone images to the cloud I have met resistance. They are suspicious of this “cloud” thing. They don’t think their images will be secure. This resistance to the cloud could be the result of two things. News coverage of celebrities having their accounts hacked and a lack of understanding of what the cloud is and how it works.

First let’s address this ridiculous word “cloud”.  A friend recently admitted that she couldn’t wrap her mind around this esoteric concept of her images floating around in space. The word doesn’t sell the concept very well. Even the origins of the use of the word are a bit vague. Essentially, the use of the word is the result of computer technicians trying to visually express what the “internet” would look like.

It has been used as a symbol in the Information Technology industry since the 60s but it didn’t really cloud computing illustrationgain mainstream use until the late 90s with the advent of Salesforce and Amazon Web Services.(1)

So the “cloud” means the internet. But where are your images actually stored?

Simply put, when you save your images to the cloud, you use the internet to upload your images to a large room full of computers or servers. Those servers could be located near your home or anywhere a cloud services company such as Google, Amazon, or Apple has server farms or buildings on your continent. These servers hold thousands of terabytes of data from many companies and individuals around the world. They have incredibly sophisticated encryption and back up systems. They are many times more secure than your computer at home. Meaning, having your images stored on an offsite server would mean they would be very secure.

But what if those servers get hacked?

The famous story from 2014 where Apple was “hacked” and Jennifer Lawrence’s personal images were splashed around social media is still prominent in people’s minds. But the industry is addressing this issue.

Apple has stated that they were not hacked but that the accounts were accessed through a process called phishing whereby people are tricked into giving up their passwords via an email scam. In other words, a lack of understanding by the user is what allowed their security to be breached. Which brings us to the essential point.

Nothing in this world is 100% secure. You could save all your photos on your computer hard drive. But your computer could get a virus or have a hard drive failure, or your house could be broken into and your computer stolen. You could save your images to an external hard drive as well. If you keep that hard drive in your house it too could be subject to the same hazards – theft, fire, flooding. You could keep a second hard drive in a bank vault. A good idea but still, that bank is subject to the same risks as your house. Bottom line is there are risks to every place you physically store your precious items.

So when it comes to protecting your images, the cloud is just one of a few solutions. As they say, best not to store all your apples in one basket. We go into this in more detail in this article.

As for the cloud and anything else on the internet, the user must take some responsibility for the security of their data. Understanding the protocols of the cloud services company you use is essential. Yes, once your data is uploaded it is encrypted. But every company uses different standards for how that data is then stored and who has access to it. And simply put, what is free has the least security protocols.

Google and Apple both allow you to personalize your security settings. Amazon Web Services probably has the most customizable services but they will cost a bit more. Most importantly, almost every service now has two-factor authentication and I strongly urge you to set this up on your online accounts like Apple and Google. Two-factor authentication means you sign in with a strong password (not your birthday or your dog’s name) and then you enter a time sensitive number that is sent to your cell phone. It sounds a bit cumbersome but it guarantees that if someone steals your password, they still can’t access your account. And don’t trust any “official looking” emails asking for your passwords!

Insurance companies exist because of fear; fear of the worst case scenario. The question comes down to, how important are your photos to you? When given evacuation notices, one of the things people grab first are their photos. Everything can be replaced except memories.

I’m a photographer. My work is in my photos. But so is my life. I would hate to lose my images. So, I back up my smart phone and camera to my computer. I then make a duplicate of those images to a separate hard drive. That hard drive is held off site. Finally, I save my images to the cloud. It may seem excessive to some but it is peace of mind to me.

Your choice of provider depends on whether you want to view and share your images or just store them off-site. I created this document, Photo Sharing Overview where you can compare their services. 

Further Reading

iCloud Security

Google Drive Security