How Do I Back Up My Photos?

If you're one of the many people who have hundreds of photos stored on a camera's memory card, it's time to come up with a backup plan. We recommend backing up to an online backup service, a large-capacity external hard drive, flash drives, or optical media. Each type of backup has its advantages.

Backing Up to an Online Service

Online backup services such as iDrive or Microsoft's Windows Live SkyDrive can back up your entire hard drive or just your photo folders. Costs are reasonable for home users: iDrive is $5 per month, and SkyDrive offers 25GB of free online storage. Since the data resides away from your home or office, your photos are safe if disaster strikes these physical locations.

Another online backup service, Mozy, provides local backup as well as online backup. Called Mozy 2X, the newest version of the service will download to an external drive at your location at the same time it conducts its regularly scheduled scans of your computer, for $5 per month.

The online backup services all work basically the same way. Once you sign up, a setup process asks you to select the hard-drive folders to back up, when you want the backups to run, and how often. The service then runs an initial backup of your PC, and subsequently scans your computer automatically on your predetermined schedule to back up new data. Aside from the initial setup, you need do nothing else, as backups run in the background.

Below is the user interface for iDrive. While the software for other online services may differ in appearance, all have the same functionality, giving you the ability to select folders, schedule backups at a convenient time, modify which folders will be backed up in the future, and, of course, restore.

iDrive backup interface

Backing Up to a Hard Drive

Backing up photos to an external hard drive gives you convenient local access to your backup. An external drive reserved just for photographs is the best way to go for simplicity and security. Check our Top External Hard Drives chart for the latest models. You can find 1TB external hard drives for under $100. On a Windows PC, you plug the external drive into the USB port; most drives require extra power, though, so you'll probably need to plug it into the wall as well. Once you power everything up, Windows will automatically recognize the new drive, and you can simply drag and drop files to the drive.

Many external drives come bundled with backup software. Though each drive manufacturer's software package is different, they all work pretty much the same. Once you've installed the backup software per the hard drive's user manual, you'll go through a setup process identical to that of the online services described above. Again, you schedule when you want the backup to run so that the process doesn't interfere with your work flow.

Backing Up to Portable Media

You can also back up files to portable media, such as CDs, DVDs, or USB thumb drives. It's easy to burn files to optical media using drag and drop in Windows, and with smaller amounts of files scattered across different media, you don't risk losing everything in case a piece of your storage media gets corrupted. On the other hand, you'll need to catalog your growing collection of discs and drives if you expect to find anything later. When backing up to a large external hard drive, as described above, you can set your backup at night and forget about it until the next day. Not so if you are running a large backup to separate discs--this process is time consuming, and you need to be available to swap out discs.

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