I can’t think of a single more important post I could write other than this one: How to care for your wedding day digital files.
I have been a photographer for many years. Before I was a wedding photographer, I was simply a person who loved taking pictures. I was the kid in college awkwardly taking “artistic” pictures of my friends playing guitar moodily on the college lawn. I took photo after photo of every college theatre production. I spent long hours in the darkroom. I always had a camera, taking pictures of my friends, my family, my children, landmarks, anything, everything.
In those days, it was easy to take care of my “files.” Everything was on film! I’d shoot a roll of film, get it developed, and meticulously catalog and file away the negatives. I still have binder after binder of carefully preserved and archived negatives. It is incredibly simple to know where every negative is. All I have to do is open the closet, read the spines of the binders, look for the correct date, and I will have what I need.
When I got my first digital camera, I believed that keeping track of my digital files would be just as easy as filing away all of those folders of negatives. Even easier! I wouldn’t have to remember to buy binders, meticulously slide each strip of negatives into a plastic sheet, and affix each binder with carefully lettered labels. All I had to do was keep my digital files together on a hard drive. How hard could that be?
Do you know where all of the digital files of every single photograph that I took of my daughters in the year 2005 are? I don’t either **.
I could not believe how much more difficult it was to keep track of and maintain all of my digital files once the numbers started rising. A 20-image portrait session of my daughter gave way to 100 pictures on my phone of their first dance recital. Photographs of them on my professional equipment sat side-by-side on a hard drive with point-and-shoot camera photos and images from my first smartphone.
File after file started to pile up on my computer, and when I finally started offloading and archiving those files on external hard drives, an entire year of personal photos got missed. I don’t know how. I have always been meticulous about maintaining my client’s files but got sloppy with my own personal photos. When I think of all of those images from 2005, I actually know exactly where they are. They are on the empty space that is the hard drive of the second iMac I ever owned. That hard drive eventually stopped working and led to me upgrading that computer about a year later. When I bought my new computer, I wiped the old hard drive and gave the old, barely working computer to a friend.
Those images of my children are gone. I will never see them again. I have printed versions of almost all of those photographs, but it is all that I have of every image that I shot that year.
Obviously, I want to make sure that this never happens to any of the images that I capture for my clients! For this reason, I have written this article with the fervent hope that it will help you learn more about the long-term storage of digital files. I never want you to look back years from now and wish you had backed up your wedding or portrait files better!
After every wedding, I meticulously download and back up every single digital file that we have taken on the day. I have always, and will always be so precise about this. We also maintain constant backups throughout the entire post-production process.
We keep backups online, on multiple external hard drives in multiple different physical locations, and on our actual working main computer. As the years go by, we continue to maintain these backups on carefully stored external hard drives. Please rest assured that all of your digital files from your wedding and your portrait sessions are always cared for with extraordinary attention and respect!
Downloading your wedding day digital files
I often talk to potential wedding clients about the postproduction process, but the conversation usually ends with how your digital files will be delivered to you. We talk extensively about the online image gallery and the purpose of that gallery. The gallery is meant to be a way for you to view your images, order prints, share your images with family and friends, and download your high-resolution files.
Please download them. This is the best advice I have when it comes to how to care for your wedding day digital files. Without downloading them you don’t have a copy of them on your computer or backed up in any way – so please, please download them right away!
Backing up your wedding day digital files
What happens after you download your wedding day digital files is up to you. What clients usually do is one of the following things:
- Download the wedding day digital files to a desktop machine or laptop.
- Backup your wedding day digital files to some sort of cloud-based online service.
- Backup your wedding day digital files to an external hard drive or USB drive.
I highly recommend that you do at least two of these three options if not all three of them.
Downloading your wedding day digital files to your desktop or laptop is a great first start. However, you have to back them up in another way in case you ever had any sort of catastrophic hard drive failure on that desktop machine or laptop. The last thing I want to have happen to you is that you lose your wedding day digital files because of a hardware issue with your computer!
Once you have downloaded your files, I would recommend that you find somewhere online to store them. Whether you put them in a specific personal photo storage system or upload a folder to Dropbox, having your images in the cloud is just another way to keep them safe for years to come.
The last thing that I would recommend that you do is purchase a USB drive or a small external hard drive of some kind. You want to transfer your digital files onto that drive and put that drive away somewhere safe.
Why do I advocate so many different methods to store the digital files from your wedding day? There are two reasons. The first reason is that things simply get lost. If you backup your digital files to only one location, what happens if something disturbs that location? Your files will be gone.
We back up our client files in so many different locations and in so many different ways, and I would love to see our clients take the same responsibility towards the digital files once they are in their possession.
The second reason that I like having so many different methods of digital file backup is because digital storage changes over time.
I used to keep all of my backups on DVDs. I was able to read a DVD on all of my computers with ease. Do you know what none of my computers have any more? A DVD drive! The last time I had to access the digital files on an archival DVD, I had to actually go to the Apple Store and buy a DVD reader that I plugged into my laptop.
If I do not stay current on what backup methods are popular now, I might run the risk of having my only copy of a set of images on a backup method that is now obsolete!
The care, handling, and managing of our digital files and backups is an extensive process that we have perfected over the nearly two decades that Susan Stripling Photography has been in business. We take care of your files because we want to keep them safe for years to come. I hope that you are treating your digital files with the same care and respect, and I hope this article might illustrate to you just how to do that with ease!
I strive hard to create beautiful images for you, and want to make sure that the digital versions of these images stay safe and well-stored for generations to come!
** I would like to note that I have not ever, nor will ever lose a digital file for a client. This story was simply meant to illustrate that sometimes I don’t even take my own good advice when it comes to my own personal digital files!