After last week’s meditation on using external hard drives instead of DVDs to back up photos, Loyal Reader Mike Van Horn responded with the following e-mail:
My advice to you is, “Purge!”
I look at my own backups of photos, and what I see is lots of garbage (at 1 to 2 meg each). Many duplicates of the same photo. Gobs of photos of people or things I never need to view again. Photos of all the notes I’ve ever taken, including notes from people who have sold their businesses—or died.
If I would go through my photos and select only those that I could conceivably want to view again during my lifetime (or that my posthumous biographers would draw on!), I would reduce my photo storage by 90%.
It does take some time to do this. But if you don’t, you’re backing up haystacks just because they may contain a needle. And in that case, the needle is already essentially lost.
Mike makes a very good point. I went through my old printed photos a few years ago, and was appalled to find out how many prints I’d saved that were out of focus, overexposed, grainy, badly composed, or whatever. In fact, there was no real reason for me to have held onto any of the shots that weren’t good enough to make it into the photo albums in the first place, apart from reflexive pack-rat-ism. And I had two copies of a lot of them, from the days when many discount film developers offered free double prints. Twice the trash! Out they went.
If you mess up a photo and you know it, you should delete it right away, before it even gets to your computer. Make room on your card for a better one. There’s certainly no point preserving junk in quadruplicate.
And with the end of the year coming up, it’s a good time to go through all your files anyway, to see what you need to keep and what you can pitch. Cheap storage shouldn’t lead you into sloppy habits.
In some cases, though, “Just throw it away” isn’t an option. Even small companies may be bound by data retention laws, depending on the kind of business you’re in. In that case, the best you can do is move the data off your computer into your archives, and practice what’s known as deduplication. The larger your company, the more space deduplication will save you, particularly when it comes to things like e-mail attachments that get sent to all 10,000 of your employees. You don’t need 10,000 copies of that file, only one.
Enterprise backup and archive systems all handle deduplication automatically. Some of the SOHO backup services are starting to offer it as well, the better to keep within your cloud storage limits. In most cases, however, the best judge of whether two files are identical (in spite of having different names or dates) is going to be you.
And no matter what system you use for storing photos—or anything else—make sure you organize and label them to better help you find what you’re looking for a few years from now when you’ve forgotten everything you think you’re going to remember about them.