I’m not a computer geek. I know what I know the hard way which is by making mistakes and completely stupid errors. The info I impart here is from personal lessons of mine and remember that there are professionals that know more about this subject than I do. They are there to expand on this. This here is a poor mans guide to avoid losing valuable data on your computers, especially photographs, and my intention is to help people and allow them to not go through what I went through.
Like many people I take a lot of pictures. I have easily accumulated over 5000 pictures of Vacations, Family, kids, Grandkids, special occasions and even a few of myself. Now, with the advent of phones and Facebook, Instagram, and so many others, the amount of pictures we take has become extraordinary. Everyone takes pictures for one reason or another, because pictures serve as a memory file for happy times, and we all like to have them around to enjoy now and to save for future generations to enjoy. It’s a custom as old as the camera itself.
These days most of us keep them on our computers. This is where things are different than before. In the old days, you would keep physical copies of pictures. As anyone has to imagine, a lifetime of physical photographs can mean a lot of boxes. There are closets, attics and basements full of boxes with photographs. We have the endless amount of Photo Albums, where thousands of pictures get faded or damaged by plastic covers and the elements. Enter the digital age and we have a solution.
Or do we?
While it is more comfortable to keep pictures on your computers hard drive, we have to remember that they are mechanical machines. Machines break. When machines break, bad things happen. In the case of the computer those bad things mean lost files. And no one wants to lose all those memories. I made the mistake that so many make. I put all of my pictures of the last 20 or 30 years on my hard drive. I even transferred old pictures digitally to my hard drive. But is leaving all those pictures on one hard drive the wise thing to do? Here comes lesson number one.
Always have at least 2 backups.
Notice I didn’t say 1 backup. Why? Here’s an excellent example. I purchased an external drive with 320GB. I have had it for about 5 years. One day I decided I had too many pictures on my computers hard drive and so I decided I should transfer them all to my external drive. I said to myself; “Self, I’m afraid my computer will crash and I will lose all those important files especially the pictures.” Famous last words. Thinking that one external hard drive was good enough, I went ahead and deleted everything off the Computers hard drive after I transferred the pictures. Imagine my horror when the external drive conked out 2 hours later.
Lesson number two;
External drives for the most part are ALSO mechanical.
They have a disc with an arm that moves when booted up. That’s how it reads the files. They are usually pretty good, however, anything can happen. After all it is still mechanical. So why take the risk on treasured pictures? Just like anything else mechanical it can just break from one second to another leaving you completely wiped out of all your precious photographs. And by the way, another important lesson, if you want to be able to at least try save the info on that external drive, don’t keep booting it up to listen to the noise it makes, you’re just making the mechanical parts destroy more files. So, what to do? Lesson number three.
Get a back up drive, or several flash drives or even better a DVD.
First, lets remember something; that external drive is also mechanical, so don’t have it on all the time. Plug it in to save your files and when you’re done, make sure you unplug it, disconnect it, whatever. It’ll last longer. That said it’s a good idea to find various places to transfer your files to. Get a second external drive, use a few Flash drives, and if you have a lot of pictures? DVD’s have a high capacity AND it is NOT mechanical. Just make sure you keep those DVD’s clean and stored correctly. Organize and label your drives and DVD’s so you can find anything you want later. Bottom line; make several copies of all your files. One drive can fail, not all of them, and not all at the same time.
Ok so let’s say you were a complete dummy and you did what I did and saved nothing anywhere, now what? Well, in comes Lesson Number Three.
If you want to recover any file you deleted from you computers hard drive, keep in mind that the more time that passes the less likely you can get those files back. The more information that gets tacked on to your hard drive and replaces those deleted files, the quicker they erase, and the less likely you can get them back after they are deleted. Which brings the question; can you actually get deleted files back? Well, yes and no. Documents are a lot easier to retrieve than images and videos. They have less info and are smaller files. Hence, when law enforcement picks up a computer in an investigation, they can still retrieve documents months and years after they were deleted. Keep in mind they have endless funds, we don’t. Also, pictures and videos are not that easy to retrieve. They are big files, and use up a lot of data. Once they are deleted they pretty much begin to decompose so to speak. There are ways to get the files back, which brings us to the next Lesson.
Be careful where you purchase so called “Un-Delete” software. Most of them are loaded with other software that loads down your system with junk, and as it was in my case some of them even rip you off and you never get the software. When you do get software that supposedly retrieves deleted files, what you get to retrieve is not much. Remember, the more time that passes the less likely you get any file that’s any good other than a documents file. I was able to get all my documents back in tact, but of the pictures I was only able to get maybe 50% of them back. That was after three days that I had deleted them from the computers hard drive.
And keep this in mind, professional services for retrieving any files of any hard drive is NOT cheap. It is very expensive. I inquired about retrieving files from the Seagate external drive that had failed from a reputable company and the quote was 900 dollars. Yes; that is a 9 with 2 zeros behind it. They recommended opening the case and hooking up the external drive directly to the computer. Not something I know how to do.
As for the deleted files I did retrieve; and this is where these so called “Un-delete” software programs fool you; Oh sure you can get all the “Files” back as they claim. But most of them are corrupted and cannot be opened. Then you have to look for yet another software that supposedly repairs the photo files. It becomes this mad cycle of downloading questionable software that endangers your computer system. Which has the potential of causing you a lot of headaches as it was in my case.
So, what to do? Well, make several copies of the same files whatever they may be on various drives of various types, label them, and keep them safe and clean and most importantly updated. Every so often transfer a few more to a couple of safe places. It’s a good idea to label them so that you don’t repeat the same files wasting space and causing confusion.
In my case I was finally able to get most of my pictures back. Some from those cheap programs I downloaded, (which I later had to get rid of because they completely made my computer a mess), and to my surprise I had several drives and another computer that I didn’t realize I had saved the same pictures to. So all in all, I was able to retrieve 95% of the pictures I had originally lost.
Do yourself a big favor; save your documents and treasured photos in more than one drive. That goes for all you professional who work in music and film. Save your material in more than one drive. It will keep you from losing all that valuable data and from losing your mind.