In “Backup Your Photos Online & Preserve Memories Forever,” Amit Agarwal succinctly lays out the options for backing up your photos with a focus on online services. He concludes that “For most users, the best option for preserving digital photographs is often "online backup" because it doesn’t require you to burn DVDs (which are unreliable anyway), you don’t have to invest in any new hardware and your photos are likely to last forever as long as you pay the yearly bills.”
I agree in part and disagree in part.
I agree about the value of online services in general. I view backup services and photo sharing sites to be complementary rather than alternatives.
I use Mozy—Carbonite is another good alternative—to backup all my data files, including my digital photos. Both have a fixed annual fee of about $60 with no bandwidth charges.
I also have a Flickr Pro membership. I don’t really consider Flickr a backup mechanism though. I can only upload processed JPEG images. And, although I could theoretically upload every frame I shoot, in practice that would get in the way of using Flickr as a photo sharing site. (SmugMug has a service called SmugVault that you can use for RAW images and other types of files but then you’re getting into Amazon S3 bandwidth and storage charges which can get pricey for large volumes.)
Yes, at the end of the day Flickr provides me with a totally independent backup of reasonable fidelity copies of the majority of my most valued photos. But this is a side effect that I certainly hope I will never have to depend on as opposed to a systematic backup.
I don't consider an online backup to be sufficient though. I also recommend keeping a local backup. I like to keep an uncompressed file-by-file backup. In my case, a program called SyncBack synchronizes a network drive to my user directory every night. A USB drive will also work as would image backups. I do things the way I do for a couple of reasons: 1.) Data files in the backup are readily available to other computers on my network and 2.) In the event of a problem with my main computer, I don’t need to restore backups and so forth; the data files are right there ready to be accessed by another system.
In general, my philosophy is that I want to make backups using two different mechanisms and I want one of those mechanisms to give me an offsite backup. Backing up to both a local drive and an online service--using different software--is a good way to accomplish this objective.
One final suggestion for the less technically savvy who shoot a more modest quantity of photos than I do. (This is what I have my dad doing.) If you’re not going to have a good backup process, consider just leaving the photos on the memory card given that a 2GB card costing maybe $10 can store 400 or so JPEGs. Note that even if you do have rigorous backup, you shouldn’t erase any important pictures until your processes have had a chance to actually make a backup.