What to do with all those digital photos? Part 3: Photo Storage

Assuming you’ve been taking digital photos for, well, more than a day you’ll no doubt realize that all those photos (and especially videos) can take up a good amount of space. Eventually, you’ll have to get them off your camera and store them somewhere safer and more expansive. Keep reading for multiple ideas on digital photo storage and how and where to store them regardless of your budget.

First, I believe that good digital photo storage and backup solutions are one and the same and go hand in hand so throughout this post I’ll be talking about them as one idea.

The first thing I want to mention is very important for a small, but present, segment of the digital camera owning population. Some digital camera owners have a tendency to use the SD card (or other media type) inserted in their camera as their primary means of digital photo storage.

They may have one or more years worth of photos on their card(s) and may even end up deleting selected older photos to make room for new ones.

Typically, these individuals are very casual shooters who may take their cameras to family events or shoot photos of their kids and occasionally bring the memory card to a kiosk to order prints.

If this describes you and your method of digital photo “storage”, STOP DOING IT RIGHT NOW!… but please keep reading. 🙂

Memory CardsUsing your memory cards as your primary means of digital photo storage is bad for several reasons but one very important one is that memory cards can, and do, fail.

Having had a few of my own SD cards fail in the past I know that it can be very frustrating to lose some of the photos you may have really liked.

With the cost of storage solutions being so low there really is no reason for you to not use one or more additional forms of file storage and backup for your digital photos.

Here are several options to make sure you don’t risk losing your valued digital photos.


The first thing you should do after taking your camera for an outing is to get those photos copied to your hard drive.

Everyone who owns a computer should at least have an internal hard drive and that is probably the first place you want to copy your photos to. For ideas on how to arrange your digital photos on your hard drive (or on any other backup storage device) check out part one of this post series, Image/Folder Naming.

Having your digital photos on your hard drive will allow you to edit them, share them or do anything else you might want with them but for long term filing and backup you will need to use other methods.


The easiest and most affordable way to back up your digital photos is going to be via CD or DVD optical media.

This is an option that should be available to just about everyone as your desktop or laptop most likely has a CD-R or DVD±R capable drive installed. You can pick up a 50-100 pack of blank DVD±R media just about anywhere for $15 – $35, depending on brand. With a capacity of 4.7GB each you can archive up to 470GB worth of photos with one 100 disc pack.

Being an optical media with no moving parts, once you’ve burned your discs you can store them in a cool, dry location away from direct light and be fairly confident that you won’t lose your data.

DVD±Rs are rated to have an estimated shelf life of anywhere from 25 – 250 years so they are pretty stable. However, you should certainly make copies (new backups) every 2-3 years, just in case.

I use DVD media to back up my photo library by burning one month’s worth of photos per disc then keeping them in a Case Logic CD/DVD binder. Its affordable, reliable and portable if you should want or need to transport your photos.


External HDAnother way to back up your images for long term photo storage, which I also use, is with an external hard drive.

In my case, I have a 1TB external hard drive that I primarily use to keep all of my digital photos accessible in one place.

I first copy photos to my laptop’s internal hard drive where they get sorted and renamed.

Then I will copy them to the external drive and finally to DVD±R once I’ve accumulated a month’s worth of photos.

I’ll eventually delete them from the laptop hard drive but they always remain on the external drive so I can view or edit them.

An external hard drive is a great way to keep a large library of photos readily available but I wouldn’t use it as my only archiving solution because of the potential to fail or crash.

Yes, I have had an external drive fail on me several years ago and while I only lost a couple days worth of shots that I hadn’t backed up, one of those was a very good photography day and I still kick myself for losing them.

The external hard drive solution is a pretty inexpensive one too. Depending on brand, you should be able to get a 500GB – 1TB external drive for $100 or less.

External hard drives can certainly be portable but keep in mind that unless you get a solid state (flash memory) hard drive, which can be much more expensive, the recording media is going to be a standard magnetic platter with read and write heads (moving parts) that can be damaged if jarred or dropped. If you’re curious about the parts of a hard drive check out this article on Webopedia.


Once you’ve got a handle on how to archive your photos using hard drives and/or optical media you should seriously consider multiple copies and off site digital photo storage as well.

The reason for multiple copies is pretty easy to grasp.

Since we know hard drives can fail and DVDs can become scratched or warped it is a good idea to maybe make a couple copies of that backup DVD, just in case.

Off site storage is another easy concept and the benefits are obvious.

Let’s say you have a very good archiving system at home and have two sets of DVD backups in addition to your internal and external hard drives. Should something catastrophic happen like a fire, flood or burglary you could still lose all of your precious photos.

That’s where off site storage comes in. By keeping copies of your photos in another location you minimize the likelihood of completely losing everything.

There are multiple ways to go about implementing an off site storage strategy.

In the simplest form you could just make additional backup copies of your DVDs or have multiple hard drives and ask a friend or family member to keep them in their home, possibly in a safe. You could also go a step farther and rent a safe deposit box at a bank and use their heightened security to protect your property.


Another very good (and very inexpensive) option is to use one of the many online, or remote, backup services.

You may already recognize some of them by name: Carbonite, DropBox, Mozy, SugarSync and BackBlaze to name a few.

Some of the current remote backup services offer a limited amount of free storage for your files but the better, more flexible services typically have a fee associated with them. If you’re curious, Wikipedia has a list of current services here.

Remote Backup Options

Using a remote backup service is actually pretty easy.

There will usually be a small application that you download to your PC or laptop which lets you configure your backup settings and schedules.

You can choose which drives and folders to back up, how frequently you want the backups to be sent and, depending on the service, there may be other security related options as well.

The process of restoring your files can be different depending on the service but the most common methods will allow you to download archives of multiple files, single files or purchase hard drives or pre-burned DVDs with your files on them directly from the service provider.

I still have not started to use one of these services but I did compare several of them a couple months ago and was leaning toward using BackBlaze or Carbonite. Once I decide I’ll be sure to do a review of how the service works for me.


As of June 2013 I am using Carbonite and will prepare a review post soon!

I hope you found the information in this article useful.

If you have any additional digital photo storage ideas to share or have questions, feel free to leave a comment below. Stay tuned for the fourth and final part of this post series, Image Editing, coming later this week.

As always, thanks for reading.


What to do with all those digital photos?

  1. Image/Folder Naming
  2. Image/Folder Organization
  3. File Storage
  4. Image Editing

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