These days nearly every wedding photographer will provide your photos via an online gallery where they can be downloaded as digital files. This is convenient for both parties as it’s a quick way to deliver your photos and in today’s digital world it makes it easy to share them to social media. However a stolen laptop or damaged hard drive could put all your wedding photos at risk if the right precautions aren’t put in place. Properly storing and backing up digital wedding photos is an important step that many couples overlook until it’s too late.
Once you’ve received all of your wedding photos from your photographer, the next thing you need to do is start safeguarding them. Too often this step is ignored but below I’ll guide you through the steps you need to take to keep your wedding photos safe and protected for life.
Why You should Protect your Wedding Photos
They’re once in a Lifetime Memories
The most obvious reason you should safeguard your wedding photos is because they’re important. Long after your wedding is over the flowers will be gone, the cake will have been ate, and decorations discarded – but your photos will remain long after, reminding you of that amazing day and how you felt. Or least they will if have you have proper backups in place.
Digital Storage Will Fail
Though computers and hard drives rarely fail or corrupt, it does happen; and if you wait long enough all devices will fail or corrupt your photos eventually. Most consumer laptops and storage devices only have a rated lifespan of 3-5 years. Without a proper backup system in place you run the risk of losing all your memories forever.
Your Photographer Can’t Store Them Forever
Safely securing large amounts of data for long periods of time is a huge challenge. A challenge that even billion dollar companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook struggle with. This is entirely due to physics, the laws of nature, and the finite lifespan that all digital storage media have.
Without getting too nerdy on you, all storage media will eventually fail either due to mechanical wear & tear in the case of spinning hard drives (HHDs) or due to thermodynamics and leaky electrons in the case of solid-state media (SSDs, thumb drives, magnetic tape, or optical devices). And as the amount of data you’re trying to store increases, the cost and challenge of maintaining that data rises exponentially.
So even though your photographer isn’t dealing with data storage to the extent of Google or Facebook, every few years they could be dealing with replacing dozens or even hundreds of terabytes of storage drives each YEAR. The time and cost associated with this can quickly become unmanageable for most small and medium sized businesses. Myself, and most photographers I know, never delete images. We do our best to store and maintain them as long as possible, but ultimately we are photography businesses, not data archival companies.
How to Protect and store Your Images
1. Download Your Photos from Your Photographer
The first thing you should do to protect your memories is download ALL of your photos as soon as possible. Every photographer is different when it comes to how much time they provide for downloading. But regardless of how long your gallery stays up, nearly all photographers make it clear that they are not responsible for safeguarding photos beyond a specified timeframe after making them available to you. For that reason it’s upon you to download them and keep them safe.
2. Copy them to Multiple Storage Devices
Once you have your photos downloaded onto your computer I recommend going out and purchasing two external storage devices. These could be traditional hard drives (HDDs) or even USB thumb drives, though I’d recommend a solid state drive (SSD) option as of 2022. Just be sure to select storage drives that are large enough to store all your images. Once you have your new drives you’ll copy all your images onto each drive separately. These drive will be solely for storing your wedding photos and nothing else.
Below are a couple drives I would recommend (as of 2022). Both of these drives have been around in one form or another for many years and are easy to find. They’re also very compact and don’t require an external power supply so they’re very easy to store.
Amazon: Samsung T7
Best Buy: WD My Passport
For a slightly cheaper option that should still be good quality and compact, consider the drive linked below. I’ve had good experiences with PNY branded SSD drives in the past.
Amazon: PNY EliteX Pro
Best Buy: PNY EliteX Pro
3. Store Your Drives in Separate Locations
The next thing you’ll want to do is store these two drives in two very different locations. First, put one drive in your upstairs closet or somewhere else in your home that’s safe, secure, and not prone to large temperature swings (e.g. don’t store it in a bin in your garage, attic, etc). This way if your computer, laptop, or whatever you originally downloaded your images to should fail, you’ll have your files stored on another drive nearby to recover them from.
Now take the second drive and store it at a close friend or family member’s house who preferably lives across town (or further) and not just a few blocks away. Why? Because in the event of a natural disaster, like a flood or fire, it’s very likely that the homes near yours will be damaged or destroyed as well. Separating these two drives will increase the likelihood of being able to recover your files from this second, distantly located drive.
4. Upload them to Cloud Storage
In addition to having your images stored on three local drives (your computer, an external drive in your home, and an external drive at your friend or family member’s house) you’ll also want to upload them to a cloud storage service. There’s plenty of free or affordable options that exist these days and make this process very simple. By having your images stored using a cloud service your images will now be stored on servers located hundreds or even thousands of miles away from where you live. If by some freak chance all your physical drives and your computer are destroyed, you should still be able to download them from your cloud storage service.
A few cloud storage options for wedding photos:
Dropbox ($10/mo for 2000GB)
Amazon Photos (included for Prime members, unlimited photos)
Apple iCloud+ ($0.99/mo for 50GB)
Google Drive ($12/mo for 2000GB)
Backblaze ($7/mo, unlimited storage)
If you do ever lose all your physical drives and computers and have to resort to downloading your photos from cloud storage, be sure to repeat steps 1-3 above to reset your backup system.
5.Replace your Drives Periodically
As we discussed earlier, all storage media has a finite lifespan and will eventually fail or corrupt some (or all) of your images. By using dedicated drives for storing your wedding photos and not for daily use, they should last longer with less chance of corruption. Still, about every 5 years purchase new storage drives and copy your photos onto these new devices. You can then use the older drives for general use or keep them as another layer of backup protection for your wedding photos.
6. Invest in Prints
Though we’re very much a digital first society these days, consider getting at least a few of your favorite images printed or made into an album. Unlike digital file formats, physical prints never go obsolete. Photos printed from high quality photo labs use special inks and papers that will easily hold up a lifetime and beyond if cared for properly. They can then be passed down as heirlooms to future generations of your family. Yes they’re still susceptible to water or heat damage, but like digital files, you can mitigate the risk by leaving copies with family or friends.
Other Archival media Options
The above process may seem tedious and you might be wondering if there is another way. Unfortunately all storage media is finite in lifespan. However some media does last longer than others. Archival quality Blu-ray disks (yes that Blu-ray) may be another option for you to consider. Archival Blu-rays have been shown to be able to last decades before needing to be replaced. However, most people these days don’t have blu-ray readers or burners to access or create archival quality discs. If you do pursue this path, the same rules apply with regards to multiple copies located in separate locations though.
I’m not a digital archival expert per se, but if you follow the above steps you will be much more protected against losing your photos. Remember that ultimately you’re responsible for protecting your wedding photos. Going to back to your wedding photographer should be considered a last resort. I encourage you to continue doing your own research to find a backup and archival solution that works best for you.