Long Term Photo Storage Devices

Storage devices and back up for your digital files and photos

Long Term Photo Storage Devices

Long term photo storage devices and file archiving in general is becoming an issue for many photographers and videographers these days. As megapixel counts in cameras rise, long gone is the need for "corruptible" CD's, DVD's and Blu Ray disks. Most of us need a larger, more reliable solution that can stand the test of time.

Film archiving was great as negatives. If looked after well enough, they lasted a lifetime and longer. Digital media is somewhat different. As camera sensors and 4/6/8K video files become larger, the need for more and more space is greater than ever. I remember when I bought my first PC in 1999.

The guy that built it for me said I should never need more than 20GB for my internal hard drive...lol!

As I mentioned before, standard CD's and DVD's have a shelf life. This is mainly determined by the coating and handling of the discs. The materials used in them can decay over time and render them unreadable. As can minor scratches as often proved by the handling skills of my two young children. We are on our third copy of the "Cars" movie!

Long Term Photo Storage Devices: Hard Disks

So on to hard disks. Altogether a much safer set of long term photo storage devices but these still have their weaknesses. Technology changes fast. Even though USB 2.0/3.0 and future compatible readers/cables etc are set to be around for a while, who knows what is around the corner?

I think (as at 2022) we are not far away from solid state hard drives taking over completely for most people. Solid, no moving parts and silent! My other concern is that standard hard drives also have a shelf life determined by the amount of use they receive. Also by the way they are handled and stored.

Hard disks are high precision instruments spinning at high speeds. They can be susceptible to magnetic failure due to:

  • Power surges
  • Shock from knocking or dropping them
  • Simply having the file structure become corrupt for no apparent reason

All of which means the possibility of losing all your data.

Coupled with future obsolescence in playback and retrieval technologies, this can be quite worrying for anyone needing a long term storage solution (i.e. Wedding Photography files).

So what is the solution?

For me, multiple backups using a cross section of media. Continually (one every 2-3 years maybe) migrating your files to newer technology and long term photo storage devices whilst keeping the outdated ones safe. Kept for nostalgia as a "last resort" for long term storage!

Digital "space" is becoming so cheap now. There is no reason why you cannot afford to back up your precious files in multiple ways with quality photo storage devices. Time consuming maybe, but the peace of mind is worth it!

One thing that worries me is the huge hard disk drives (HDD) of multiple Terabyte capacity. Why? Well, think about this

  • The larger the HDD, the more it will hold
  • So, the more it can hold, the more you are likely to want to access that information
  • Finally, the more you access that information, the more likely the physical disk is to become corrupt due to overuse

Make sense?

I may be wrong but I can say with some certainly that two of my hard drives are starting to whirr more. It seems they are struggling under the "weight" of the files inside! One is full to the brim and another is only half full.


One solution I have personally come up with for wedding files is to buy a separate, single hard drive for each wedding. So, say you shoot 1,200 RAW photos at a wedding with each being 50mb in size, which equals around 21gb. Then each RAW file has to be edited and converted to a JPEG which could (for arguments sake) double that capacity required to 100gb.

Then you need to play with some images. Make montages of several hundred megabytes. Create some layered PSD files and possibly make up a wedding photo book or digital album. That's another few hundred megabytes. Plus you may throw in a slideshow or two and render it to any number of media formats (mpeg, .mov etc).

So, to be safe, a well made 160GB hard drive for around £20 should more than suffice if you are using a 30mp camera or less. You can pick these up from somewhere like Amazon for "peanuts" when you compare what the files are worth and what you are probably being paid by the customer. Especially for someone's wedding.

The obvious benefit of this is that you only need to access the files a few times over a short period of time and once the wedding is done and dusted, you can file that HDD away and therefore not wear it out too much…just a thought!

Data Recovery

What if something should go wrong?

Well, unfortunately, if it is an old DVD or CD, you may be in trouble. It can be very hard to retrieve data from a corrupt disk. These are so cheap you may as well make 2 or 3 copies at the time of storing to be safe. The better makes are generally, well, better!

For any type of media card, even if it has been formatted, you can recover those files. I once had a corrupt CF card with about 50 missing wedding photos and managed to get them all back.

Try Photo Saver Software who offer a 100% money back guarantee if you cannot get your files back. This is a great resource to have even if you haven't messed up a card yet. Cheap and handy to have around "just in case"! £16.95 well spent!

For hard disk drives

There is hope as these are easier to recover data from one way or another. There are professional companies that can help. Try these guys below, they have software for just about any type of hard disk recovery that you may need.

So, my advice would be to back up everything and then back that up! Media is cheap and getting cheaper. The value of your files (monetary or personal) is infinitely greater so don't skimp on this part of your workflow!

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