Back Up Your Photos Now! You (Probably) Already Have The Software You Need In Windows (And There’s A Free One For Mac Users As Well)

If your computer's hard disk fails, and you don't have any kind of backup, you will lose your entire digital photo collection for good. You might not enjoy thinking about it, but it's a fact that has to be faced. In my opinion you shouldn't put too much faith in recovery utilities and specialist data recovery companies. The success of these depends on the nature of the failure, and if it's hardware-based the prognosis isn't good--data recovery may be time-consuming, expensive, and incomplete, if it can even be achieved at all.

It's far simpler and cheaper to implement your own back-up system. Many people never get around to it, possibly because they believe it will be difficult and time-consuming. That's because they don't know about the Briefcase feature in Windows.

First you'll need something to back up your photos onto. An external hard disk is perfect, especially one like this portable $150 160GB LaCie drive, because it's easy to store it away from your computer and it's powered by the USB cable, cutting clutter.

Next, you need to create a "Briefcase folder" on this external disk drive. To do this, open it up in Windows Explorer, right-click on any blank area and choose New>Briefcase from the shortcut menu.

Now copy your photo folder(s) from your hard disk and into this new Briefcase folder (you can name the Briefcase folder in the same way as you name regular Windows folders).

This transfer of folders and files proceeds like a straightforward copying process, but the Briefcase folder is doing something else at the same time. It's creating a record of the location and the properties of the original files on your hard disk. At the end of the copying process, the Briefcase contains duplicates of all those files, but it also knows exactly where they came from and is able to check whether changes have been made.

To see how this works you can try modifying a photo on your hard disk, adding more photos or reorganizing them into different folders. Now, go back to the Briefcase folder on your external hard drive. You'll notice that the toolbar has a couple of extra buttons you don't see with regular folders. These are the "Update All" and "Update Selection" buttons.