The Secrets to Keeping Digital Wedding Photos Safe for a Lifetime

Follow these steps to prevent your photographs from being lost or damaged.

The Secrets to Keeping Digital Wedding Photos Safe for a Lifetime

Photo: Elizabeth Messina

As the only way to reminisce about your wedding and share memories with your children and grandchildren years after the big day, your photos are perhaps the most important part of the entire celebration. Losing or damaging wedding photographs is every couple's worst nightmare. And with digital formats and electronics changing so rapidly (or even becoming obsolete), it's easier than ever to accidentally lose or destroy your photos. But by planning ahead and remaining diligent, you can protect your photos and give yourself peace of mind. David Zimmerman, of data recovery specialist LC Technology, has offered an easy guide to safeguarding irreplacable wedding photos for Inside Weddings readers.

What can happen?
Photos and videos can become inaccessible due to a variety of factors, Zimmerman says, including:
- Improper use of the SD card inside the camera
- Accidental deletion of photos from the hard drive
- Liquid damage to electronics
- Accidental deletion of photos using the camera's internal deletion/editing function
- Damaging an electronic device by dropping it
- Losing stored files due to hard drive errors, corruption, or damage

If you don't have backup files of your photos saved, precious memories can be lost.

What to do before the wedding:
Hire a photographer who has a clear, succinct plan for preventing data loss. Ask any photographers you're considering hiring what their strategies are. "They should utilize multiple cameras to take a variety of shots; in case one device or memory card is corrupted, there will still be other shots that preserved the big day," Zimmerman says. "The photographer should be able to detail how they download and manage photos, including a description of any cloud services they use as well as physical hard drives. They should also know the best practices for managing digital cameras, especially how to properly utilize SD cards."

What to do on the wedding day:
On the wedding day, photographers should ensure their digital cameras and SD cards are working properly, and should have several backup cards on hand, advises Zimmerman. Photographers can also bring an SD card reader and computer with them to the venue to quickly transfer photos to the hard drive and cloud storage. "It’s vital [that] the photographer does not use the SD card within the camera as the main storage area," Zimmerman cautions. "These cards are fragile and are not suited for such purposes."

How to keep photos safe:
One word: backup. Zimmerman recommends starting with a trusted cloud storage service where you can place a large number of files for minimal cost. In addition, store photos on an external hard drive, which should be replaced every couple of years. "Consider using multiple hard drives and storing some of them at a friend or family member’s home, in case you have a flood or fire at your residence," Zimmerman says. For extra peace of mind, you can even do a "backup of the backup." 

Save print photos in a high-quality album with special paper that helps preserve photos, and store backup copies away from sunlight or moisture. Zimmerman suggests creating one album for viewing, and one for long-term archive. 

What to do if digital photos are lost or damaged:
There are a few common ways photos can be lost, according to Zimmerman:
- Using the camera's internal editing and deletion functions
- Using the camera at low battery – because cameras require battery power to "write" the image files, it's important to avoid using a camera that's nearly out of power
- Swapping the SD card between devices – each camera and device uses specific protocols to set up the SD card for saving files, and moving the SD card between devices can interrupt these protocols and cause files to be saved incorrectly

Damaged or lost files on an SD card can be recovered using a professional data recovery service. If the electronic device has gotten wet, Zimmerman advises turning off the device immediately and letting it thoroughly dry out. "This at least gives the water a chance to escape before it damages the delicate electronics." Salt water damage, however, requires a data recovery company.

The bottom line: Be prepared, stay vigilant, and always have a backup plan!

Opening photo by John Solano Photography