The most dreaded sentence to hear for anyone already having disk problems. As if this sentence would add insult to injury. And in a way, it does. It tells us that we have been even more careless than we should have been. Happily snapping away at the world, sharing a few of the best shots and reaping the likes, +1s and whatnot. Yet, one day, those pictures will be gone. Forever. Simply because digital data is perishable. Perishable as a frozen head of lettuce.

As long as the cold persists, the lettuce keeps its form, yet introduce just one degree above freezing and the lettuce is unrecognisable.

But I hear you say: “I have backups on DVDs and CDs!”, ehm… CDs? Do they still exist? They were sold to you as being “archival” and would last for at least a few decades. They were pricey too. Do you remember those? Well, there is a surprise for you. Those CDs rot, just as much as that lettuce, albeit a little slower.

The rot can be in the reflective layer itself, if you bought those cheap CDs in the “100 discs on a spindle” type. Heaven knows I bought them by the dozen, back in the day. Today, I don’t even touch them anymore. They contain data that I haven’t used for decades, but also pictures that I had thought I had lost forever. Going through them allowed me to add them into my Lightroom. At least now they are safe.

So you tell me your CDs don’t rot? Ok, but every time you handle them, there is a chance, if you can call it that, that you will ruin the disc forever.

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Just a tiny little scratch like on this disc can ruin the whole disc. You can see the scratch? it’s barely a 16th of an inch, yet capable of rendering the whole disc unreadable. The above disc was a blank one that didn’t want to record, closer inspection showed this as a cause. The tiny scratch with its multitude of internal reflections, ruining a whole CD.

So we should use real disks. Hard drives, that keep their magnetism, but for how long? Remember floppy disks? Those 5.25” or 3.5” disks? Nobody even has a reader for those anymore, except perhaps the geek of the neighborhood who has no life other than his obsolete machines. Hard disks? They are a better alternative, but drop them and they’ll probably be DOA. Hold a magnet to them and they’re gone (Breaking Bad, anyone?).

Drop-proof are the external SSD drives, but then again, if only one cell of that memory is failing, everything may be gone as well. Some of you will have had memory cards failing in a spectacular way. Yet a way that could hardly be appreciated, right?

So where will you back up your images or life’s work? It’s a difficult question. We still have paper prints of pictures taken 150 years ago, we have glass plates from WWI that still survive today. But digital information? Not so sure that it will still be usable in a few decades or even tomorrow. Data can be gone in less than a second. Just take a look at the interfaces we have had over the last few decades. From ST-506 to IDE to SCSI, SATA to Firewire and more. Yet the old interfaces are no longer usable or even supported in our computers. And yes, I remember working with ST-506 drives Annoyed.

The only way to have your pictures stay alive is to backup on today’s best format, and copy the old formats onto the new ones. Check your old CDs and DVDs, copy them onto an external drive of your choice and redo this in a few years onto a better drive. Nobody knows what the future brings, but we do know that the past in the computer world is quickly discarded. Don’t let your pictures be part of that. Print the best of them, hang them on a wall and enjoy them.

So what is the best way to make a backup? Make two or three of them, double or triple your chances of having a good copy of your work in the future. Once you need that backup, you are already in trouble, so why add the aggravation of losing your memories on top of that?

When was the last time YOU made a full backup of your images?

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Henk
6 days 16 hours

Well, I was told so by a "pro" that later recanted... :-) I removed the name, so at least it is now correct.

josie brendle
7 days 19 hours

nice blog but sorry the horses are not Clydesdales. Those are a little bigger. :)

Henk
8 days 8 hours

Test comment here

Henk Von Pickartz
8 days 12 hours

This is a comment. I will see if this works or if this will be taken over by spammers. If so, then I will take it down again.