We all know the importance of backing up your photos in one fashion or another: external hard drives, online services, RAID towers, DVD, etc. It’s good to use as many of these backup methods as is practical, but usually we’re restricted by things like cost. There’s one method that gives reasonable security at a fairly low cost: DVD backup.

Pile of DVDs

Most newer computers have a DVD recorder, and blank discs are relatively cheap. Buy a stack of discs, backup your photos, and put them in a fireproof safe or safety deposit box. Backup the new ones every couple of months (or more depending on your shooting frequency). Don’t forget to write down which pictures are on the disc and the date they were backed up. You might think about recopying the discs every 5 years or so, because they don’t last forever.

I bring this up because I recently backed up my photos on DVD right before we moved, and I feel so much better knowing that my DVDs will likely survive in the event that my hard drives got damaged during transit. Now I just need to keep up with it…

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Photo storage one of my favourite topics.

Good point with the DVDs, but I would like to suggest the following depending on how important your images are.

DVDs do not have a long retention life span. I have not been able to get any definitive answer as there are many factors that impact the longevity of DVD from temperature cycles, humidity, sunlight, flexing and making process. But there are some views that they only last a couple of years for some brands

There are 2 methods I use for DVDs, first, is a year later I make a copy of the DVDs, I still have another backup just in case, Then every 3 years I check the DVDs for playback quality. If there are problems with the first I make a copy of the 2nd and continue with the process.

For the photos that are printed and sold I use archival quality DVDs and still use the dual method. These are all kept in a safety despot box in case of house damage. . I use Archival Gold form Delkin. You can get them from Amazon. They are a bit pricy, but I bet when you loose some data you would at that time almost pay anything to get it back.

On the PC front I have a dual C drive (RAID card installed). If one dies I just replace and continue running, no need to re-install all programs. I also use Norton Ghost to backup system to external drive before I load new programs and then if this software causes problems I can get back to original state. This is also another layer of backup.

For photos there are 2 external 500GB drives that contain an archive of all photos. I use free software for this, Robocop from Microsoft and Robocop GUI as I am not a big fan of DOS type string commands.

I hope this helps

These days both DVDs and hard disks are cheap and should not rely on one level of backup.

Niels Henriksen

July 26, 2007 7:12 am

You may also want to mention that not all DVD’s are the same and you may want to use Archival Quality DVD’s as they last longer and are less prone to failure.

July 26, 2007 9:14 am

Great tip! I’ve often thought of doing this myself as my single hard drive setup scares me. However, Some of my shoots are larger than 4.7gb, which can be a terror for organizing the dvds. How do you deal with this?

July 26, 2007 3:34 pm

Thanks for the in-depth description of your backup methods — it sounds like you’re on top of things. I’d say you’re probably more cautious than most of us. That’s a good point about making duplicates of the DVDs every year or so and keeping the duplicates. I have ambitions of doing that (which is why I date the backup discs), but I have yet to make it happen.

July 26, 2007 7:24 am

This is true. If you use lower quality discs, you may need to backup more often than with archival quality materials.

July 26, 2007 9:25 am

You could either break up the shoot across multiple discs, or just back up the keepers. The next option would be to upgrade to the dual layer burner — it’s more expensive, but things should fit a little better.

July 26, 2007 4:30 pm

I already backup all my photos to an external USB hd, would you recommend *also* backing up to DVD? I don’t think I’m really at the stage where I need that many methods.

Also, after years of watching DVD’s and CD’s I’ve written become unreadable and useless, I trust hard drives more.

People claim they’re less reliable, but I’ve had far better luck with HD’s than optical discs

July 26, 2007 5:33 pm

It is important to have more than 1 level of backup. I recommend 3 for important material and one of those off-site. The archival DVDs mentioned above have a storage life of 100 years.

If you are having hard drive connected to your computer then remember that a high voltage spike like from lightning will damage all the equipment. That is why my external drives are only connected when I either need to store data or retrieve.

I hope this helps

Niels Henriksen


July 26, 2007 10:36 pm

Niels: I’m aware of the need for multiple backup levels for pros. However, as someone still in their “hobbyist/learning” chrysalis period, I’m still not sure that a multi-level backup is necessary for me.

Thanks for the tip on voltage spikes! My backup drive is always off unless I’m actively reading/writing data, but I never thought to completely disconnect it.

Man, where were you when I lived in Ottawa :P

July 27, 2007 2:27 pm

Everybody does it differently, and there’s no right way to do it. It seems like the more photos I rack up, the more I get nervous about losing them. I’ve gone from absolutely no backup, then adding external hard drives, then duplicating on DVDs, and now I’ve also added online backup. The DVDs are just another layer of protection.

Andrew, if you don’t want to backup all your photos on DVD, you might at least consider the ones you’ve put work into. Think about all the hours you’ve probably put into post processing your favorite shots. Now think about how you would feel if you lost all of them — probably like you were robbed.

The other reason I backup so much is because most of my photos are actually of my kids. Those photos are irreplaceable. I can’t go back and get another shot of my kids growing up, so I’ll do everything in my power to keep my photos safe.

July 28, 2007 12:37 am

This is a great article with some very good tips. I totally believe in saving my photos to any extreme. How would I ever replace a picture of holding my first grandson, 25 years ago. They become more valuable as time go’s by. Besides, I don’t think I could ever hold the big guy again.

July 28, 2007 9:06 am

Well, you could try holding me… but I’m pretty sure I weigh more than you.

July 28, 2007 7:28 pm

I have a couple of questions -
Wouldn’t you lose some quality of your jpg files with multiple copying process?
Does that mean only RAW or TIF files make good backup candidates?

Secondly, should really consider one level of backup (DVD media would be easier) to an off-site location for added safety.

At this point, my biggest issue is to come up with a good mechanism of naming my folders, so I can keep track of what has been backed up, etc…… Maybe someone can share them backup scheme. :)

August 16, 2007 4:43 pm

You shouldn’t be losing any image quality by just copying the file to a disc. All the 1′s and 0′s should still be in order. You lose quality when you save a JPEG multiple times from photo editing software. So JPEGs should be fine backup candidates.

And yes, an offsite backup is a good idea. Some people use safety deposit boxes, but you don’t always have to go that far. I usually just send a copy of my latest backup to my Dad. He lives pretty far away, so the chances of disaster striking both of us at the same time are pretty slim. I do the same with my digital videos.

For my backup scheme, I have a folder for each year and subfolders for each photo shoot that are named by YYMMDD. When I backup on disc, I just put the subfolders in there. Then I write the start folder and end folder on the outside of the disc. Since the folders store themselves chronologically, I know that I have everything in between the two dates.

August 16, 2007 11:31 pm

As for me, I tested numerous variants with many backup utilities like Acronis Yrue Image or GBM, and decided to backup to dvd with my own hands, hehe :)
What about disasters, has anybody ACTUALLY tried those online backup services that backup software manufacturers offer?

August 27, 2007 3:52 am

Actually I’m a little bit paranoid and I backup all my files on DVD and in two hosting accounts specially paid for this.

December 4, 2007 9:00 am

I actually prefer CD to DVD. This is because i have times when burning photos to dvd resulting in the dvds getting damaged only after a few months.

That’s really strange because i expected them to last. So far, i had several experiences with easily damaged dvd. But, i did not have the same problems with CD.

January 29, 2008 9:15 am

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