Friday, November 14, 2008

Are travel photos on your online photo site safe?

Are your travel photos on your online photo site safe? Maybe not.

They weren’t for members of Digital Railroad, who learned on Oct. 29th that the site was going out of business and their photos would be lost forever if they didn’t act immediately.

Anyone who logged in to the photo site was greeted with the following message: “We deeply regret to inform you that Digital Railroad (DRR) has shut down.” The company had sought new financing, but their efforts failed. It turned out that Digital Railroad was able to maintain access to photos through midnight of October 31st, but after that, the site was closed and transfer of the photos to other locations impossible.

The vast majority of traveler and amateur photographers now take digital photographs. Even countless professional photographers, especially ones involved in newspaper and magazine photography (except fashion photographers) have made the jump to digital photography. About four years ago, I completely moved from film to digital photography.

I have a substantial photo site hosted by Smugmug. I have about 1,300 photos online, and I’m about to upload another few hundred soon. For me, my Smugmug hosted site is essential to my photography business. Through the site’s display of my work, I’ve sold many photos to a variety of clients either directly from the site, or from my library of photos, when clients became interested in my photography via the sites.

On forums on TalkingTravelers, members have pointed me to their online sites containing countless wonderful photographs of their travels. Showing your travel photographs online to friends and family is one of the top uses of Internet photo websites. Many travelers use Internet photo sites as their main repository for their precious photos, and have no copies elsewhere. After a while, for the average amateur photographer, the aggregate file storage size of their photographs exceeds the available capacity of their computer’s hard drive.

So what can anyone do to ensure they don’t loose their precious photographs preserving wonderful memories of great sojourns around the world?

Don’t depend on photography websites as your primary storage for photographs. The sites are not under your control, so you can’t depend that your photographs will be there forever. There are steps you can take, even if your computer’s hard drive doesn’t have enough capacity to store all your photographs:
  1. You can print each photograph. The problem with this solution is that it doesn’t make it easy to make high quality duplicate prints, or computer displayed photographs later, if the original digital photographic files are lost or deleted.
  2. You can put all your photographs on a CD or DVD for long-term storage. Archival quality CD blanks are readily available. However, there are still questions about the longevity of archival DVDs. The real problem with this solution is that according to how many photographs you take, the number of CDs and DVDs in your photographic library may become unwieldy.
  3. You can put your photographs on external hard drives. Currently, this is the solution I follow. While I use my Internet photo site for display of some of my photographs, to show them off to clients, as well as friends, family, and fellow travelers, all my photographs are on external hard drives connected to my computer. I use Seagate FreeAgent Pro units, soon to be superseded by Seagate FreeAgent XTreme external hard drives which have a triple interface, including USB and Firewire connections. I connect these hard drives to my computer via Firewire due to its high transfer speed. I use duplicate external hard drives to have a backup of my photos, as I can’t afford to loose my work. (Seagate 750 GB FreeAgent Pro Triple Interface External Hard Drives can be purchased today for as little as $135.)
  4. Skip media that’s impractical. I don’t consider long term digital photograph storage on other media such as memory cards, or removable cartridge drives to be feasible, as they don’t have long term viability.
If you currently use Internet photographic sites as your primary digital photographic storage location, I strongly suggest you consider and take advantage of other alternatives.

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