Trails for everyone, forever

Home Go Outside Trail Smarts How To How to Protect Your Photos

How to Protect Your Photos

Digital photography allows us to take lots of photos. However, finding a beloved photo becomes an exercise in frustration without a meaningful method of storage and organization.

By Doug Diekema

Digital photography allows us to take lots of photos. However, finding a beloved photo becomes an exercise in frustration without a meaningful method of storage and organization. Even worse, if your computer crashes or you  lose your phone, those images could be gone forever. Developing a regular workflow with two elements—safe storage of original files and organized copies for viewing and editing—protects your photos and makes them easier to find. 

This photo of Maple Pass is one of the author's favorites. A workflow that includes safe storage and good organization will make it easier to find favorite photos. Photo by Doug Diekema.

Safe storage

Following these guidelines for safe storage will reduce the risk of losing your precious images.


Back up your photos after every outing. Download photos to your computer. Then save copies of the full-resolution, unedited files to a separate hard drive.


Store redundantly. In addition to downloading photos to your computer (your “working” drive) and a dedicated hard drive, consider adding either a second hard drive that resides at a different location or uploading to a cloud-based storage service.


Organize stored photos. A hard drive filled with thousands of photos identified only by their original file name makes finding anything a nightmare. I would recommend keeping files in folders using the same naming system you develop for organizing the photos on your computer.

Photo organization

A good organizational system makes it quick and easy to find the photos you want to view, even years from now. Photo viewing and editing software (like iPhoto, Lightroom, ON1 Photo RAW or Luminar) provide nice platforms, but the user still needs to decide how to organize photos within those applications. I use a topical system, organizing my photos by the name of the trip followed by year or subject matter. For example, photos from a trip to Pinnacle Peak in Mount Rainier National Park are in a folder labeled “Pinnacle Peak June 2017.” As photos accumulate, I could place that folder within a “Mount Rainier National Park” folder. Some people use a chronological system, identifying photos by when they were taken. But once you have years of photos, it becomes difficult to remember exactly when a trip occurred.

Finally, edit relentlessly. With your originals safely backed up, keep only the best of your photos on your computer, tablet or phone. This reduces the number of photos on your computer and makes it easier to find what you’re looking for later.

Another author favorite is this sunset shot atop Goat Peak Lookout.

storage options

Here’s a brief rundown on the pros and cons of two storage options.

  • Cloud-based storage: Cloud-based services (like Dropbox, iCloud and Google Drive) offer convenient systems for backing up photos. The advantage of cloud-based storage is that it saves a copy of photos outside of your home and offers access to your photos anywhere you have internet access. The downside: While most services offer a small amount of storage for free, more space requires a monthly fee.
  • Hard drives: Physical hard drives are a convenient way to store images and allow easy access to files. A hard drive costing less than $100 will meet the storage needs of most people. The biggest drawback is the possibility of drive failure, which is why you want to use two backup methods (or a second hard drive).