Digital Photography Archiving

I suspect that fewer than 1 in 100 people taking digital photos today will be able to recover their files in 50 years time. In which case, although there has been an huge increase in the amount of photographs taken since the dawn of digital photography, there may have been a decrease in the longevity of those images.


Now that people don’t get 24 or 36 prints back, and stuff them in a shoebox, what is everyone doing for  digital photo storage ? What are their expectations ?

I wrote down my own …

What I’m doing :

  • Daily full onsite disk-to-disk backup of my Aperture Library ( automated at night )
  • Hourly incremental onsite disk-to-disk backup of my Aperture library and Aperture Masters ( automated by Time Machine )
  • Weekly full onsite disk-to-disk backup of my Aperture Masters ( automated at night )
  • Realtime offsite backup of my Aperture Masters to commercial network storage ( )

My expectations  :

  • I can recover from “accidents” – deletions, formatting the wrong drive, generally being me, very quickly and usually instantly.
  • I should have instant recovery from a main disk failure by booting from the nightly clone.
  • Slightly slower recovery of incremental intra-day data but it’s available onsite and on disk, with easy browsing of historical versions
  • Worst-case for a single failure or accident is that I might be up to one hour behind on my backups.
  • I can recover from total household loss ( fire / earthquake / flood – not as unlikely as one might hope ) very slowly as it requires a restore over the internet. I will lose my Aperture Database ( face-tagging, thumbnails, searchable EXIF ) but not my photos. I can recover these from anywhere in the world. The files are just whatever was on the memory card, sorted into folders. No Apple-specific data.  Readable by any OS.
  • Requires no effort on my part ! Most important. No shuffling media or remembering to take a backup after each data import.

As for longevity … I’m not really sure. I no longer use optical media. I used to archive to DVD-R but I was not religious about it, and probably missed some data from time to time. I also had some unreadable DVD-Rs years later. So I use disks, just normal consumer ones. So far no failures, but having multiple backup copies as above should keep me safe short term. When I fill up my internal disk, I tend to swap it out for a larger new one, and the backup disk too, so none of my disks is over 5 years old.

How long my offsite backup company stays in business I don’t know. They are backed by Citrix I think, and so far no issues. I think I may move to Amazon Web Services storage though when my contract with safecopybackup expires.

I expect AWS to be around for a while, because if they fail, quite a lot of the internet will go with it.



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