So you have a lot of photos. And that’s not surprising, given all the cameras, phones, and even sunglasses that take pictures these days. These photos – whether professional images or phone snapshots – are important to us. But just because you’ve downloaded them to your computer doesn’t mean they’re safe.

1. Have multiple copies

I know I’m dating myself here, but back in the days of film, storing photos was pretty straightforward: you put your negatives in a shoebox (or maybe a fire-proof safe) and crossed your fingers. With digital images, though, making copies is trivial, and there’s no good reason to rely on luck.

What happens if your hard drive fails? Or your laptop is stolen? Having a simple backup copy of your photos mitigates those threats. And making a backup can be as simple as burning photos to a disk (or two).

2. Multiple formats: make sure to diversify

CDs and DVDs are good because they’re permanent in that the photos can’t accidentally be deleted or overwritten. But disks can deteriorate over time making them unreadable, so they simply aren’t a good solution for long-term storage. Besides, our technology is constantly evolving, and what seems ubiquitous now may be hard to find later. Remember floppy disks? Try to find a computer now that can read one.

Storage devices: floppy disks, DVD, and flash drive

Future-proof yourself by having copies on different formats: Disks, external hard drives, and thumb/flash drives, are all good solutions, and online storage is becoming increasingly popular. Check out dropbox.com, Amazon’s Cloud Drive, and Apple’s iCloud, which all have free storage plans.

3. Store in multiple places: don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Great – now you have two (or even three) copies of your photos, just in case. Good job. But what if your house burns down? I don’t want to start sounding like a downer here, but given the value we place on personal photos, considering worst case scenarios isn’t a bad idea. Having all your copies in a single location just doesn’t make much sense.

If you’re using online storage, of course, you’re covered. But if you’re not, consider dropping off an external hard drive at mom’s house or a safe-deposit box.

And — most importantly — don’t forget to actually back them up! Get in the habit of doing this once a week or month or on whatever schedule makes sense for you. Having a backup plan is good, but not actually doing it doesn’t get you anywhere.

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