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Preserve digital photos and family memories

The advent of digital photo technology has revolutionized the way most people take photos. Although there are many advantages of digital photography, the potential for digital images to disappear in a moment makes preserving them of the utmost importance.

Digital photos start off as a file stored on the memory card of a camera. These files can then be moved to a computer or printed at a moment's notice. The ability to view the image on demand and then save or delete as necessary was one of the initial draws of digital photography.

Although digital photographs have permanence and convenience, they are also fragile. That's because the storage methods are not foolproof and it only takes one instance for the images to disappear forever unless properly protected.

Anyone who has experienced a computer crash in the middle of saving a file or has turned on a laptop only to discover that the hard drive is fried and inoperable knows how frustrating such experiences can be. The prospect of losing important files and other data that are likely not recoverable is one of the factors that detracts from electronic devices. When those important files are years' worth of photos, the loss can be doubly painful.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to backup images so, if disaster does strike, you'll still have all those precious photos at your disposal.

* Primary backup: Images on a memory card should be promptly downloaded to your computer's hard drive. This can help you sort through images that are keepers and those that can be discarded. It is helpful to separate photos into dated or specially catalogued folders so they are manageable and easily searchable. Some computer operating systems are equipped with built-in software that helps catalog images according to projects. Otherwise, create your own series of folders for organization.

* Secondary backup: Computers are durable pieces of machinery, but thanks to viruses and corrupt files, there is always the possibility that one day you may turn on your computer, only to discover that it is not working. Also, if the machine is stolen, your photos will go with it. Backup to DVDs, CDs or portable memory drives is another method of safeguarding the images. But even these devices aren't perfect. CDs can become scratched or corrupted during the saving process. They also may become damaged after exposure to sunlight. Also, pocket drives can be easily lost due to their small size.

* Tertiary backup: External hard drives are another method of backing up images, and they can be more durable than other options, even if they are more expensive. These drives are stored on the side of the computer and can be programmed to do routine back-ups of all the files on the hard drive. Although they can last for some time, an external hard drive -- although rare -- can also fail.

* Final backup: After you have backed up images, you may want to use an online storage site to keep the images stored remotely for added protection. Some photo sites provide free storage up to a certain limit. There are also pay-for-use sites that will offer you more storage capability.

Of course, an easy way to preserve images is to print them out and put them in albums. This way you'll always have a tangible photograph on hand and can scan it if necessary.