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Want One of the Best Ways to Back Up Your Photos? Print ’Em

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Once upon a time, the best way to back up your photos was to print them. Twice. Photo labs offered a duplicate service that would print two copies of every picture—one as the original and the other as backup. (Saving negatives was for the hardcore.) 

This antiquated era wasn’t all that long ago, though: Digital cameras weren’t widely adopted until 2002, and smartphone images started to become ubiquitous only in 2008. So it’s funny that today, when we think of the best way to back up photos, printed images don’t usually come to mind.

Backups Fail

You may have been told that an external hard drive or a cloud service is the best way to back up photos. That’s true, in the sense that everyone should make regular backups of their digital files—think of it as basic tech hygiene. (Here’s a beginner’s guide to digital backups.) But those practices aren’t the only best way to save photos. Nor should they be your only form of backup.

“All backups can fail or be lost,” says Avery Swartz, a tech consultant based in Toronto. Mechanical error, human error, physical corruption, damage to a remote server location—any of these occurrences can destroy your files. 

Not that the blame always lies with a third party. Anyone who’s ever been the “human” part of “human error” might think of the cloud as the best way to store digital photos long-term, as it appears to eliminate the chance that you’ll mess it up. Hold up for a sec, butterfingers: “There tends to be a potentially dangerous misconception with the cloud—people think of it like, ‘Oh, it’s being taken care of professionally,’” Avery says. “Well, the cloud might be off-site in the sense that it’s not in your home—but the cloud is still a computer somewhere, and computers can fail. If you’re leaning on somebody else to do the backing up for you, you’re vulnerable.”

There’s also the much likelier scenario that you’ve decided on a certain service as the best way to save your photos—and then you forget your login or password and are unable to retrieve it despite your best efforts. (Where are your pictures from 2009? Thought so.)

What doesn’t fail or slip through the cracks of information overload: physical, tangible photos. “Short of discoloration, water damage, a house fire, or you just literally losing them, it’s arguably more dependable than a digital photo,” Avery says. The best way to store digital photos long-term is whatever way allows you to enjoy them long-term. When you have printed photos and photo books in your surroundings, you can actively enjoy your pictures as a part of your family’s memory-making.

Remember: You’re in the Driver’s Seat

There’s a reason people don’t tend to think of printed photos as backups to digital files. We tend to think of digital problems as needing digital solutions. Think of how when you’re locked out of one digital account (like your email), the tech company behind that service usually verifies your identity through another digital account (like a text message). Just as Gmail won’t send a carrier pigeon to check up on you, digital photo accounts reinforce the idea that the best way to back up photos is another digital source.

“I hear people saying that they’re frustrated with their technology, and when I ask them why they don’t try using it differently, they’ll say, ‘This is the way I thought it had to work,’” Avery says. “Let’s flip the tables. You live the life you want to live, and then you find the technology that supports that life. You want technology to work for you; you don’t want to work for technology.”

Most smartphones come with a cloud service that automatically saves images, reinforcing the idea that that’s the best way to back up photos. In truth, it’s just one way. The best way to store digital photos long-term is the way that makes sense to you. And for people who want to enjoy their photos more actively—i.e., all of us—printing makes sense. As Avery says, “It comes down to who’s in control.” 

It’s More Simple Than You Think

Along with overestimating time and difficulty, people overestimate the cost of making photo books. They’re not free (what is?), but Chatbooks photo books start at $10. If that’s too steep for your budget, the monthly mini service is just $7 USD. Between the minimal time commitment and the reasonable cost—plus the ability to truly enjoy your photos—photo printing just might be even more of a no-brainer than the cloud.

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