As I've been thinking about this, it feels like the best archiving plan (for me) would be a tiered plan.
• At the base tier, keep everything, with an ordinary hard drive backup plus Cloud backup. Storage is cheap, and you never know what you might want or need in the future; your shooting is your working archive that you might continue to draw from as long as you're actively photographing.
• Segregate copies of the "good keepers" out to secondary folders, and keep additional backups of this much smaller archive. This would be, what, maybe 1/10th of all your shooting? 1/5th? Not a large percentage anyway. Go to extra lengths to keep these folders safe.
• For your very best shots, the irreplaceables—which might be 1/10th or 1/5th of your "good keepers," maybe?—do everything you can think of to preserve them. Multiple copies, prints, books, burn to archival disks, offsite storage, or all of the above. I probably have only a few hundred shots that fall into this category from when I started shooting digitally in 2003.
These two pictures of my son Zander, at ages 1 and 14, are among my "irreplaceables"—pictures it would really hurt me to lose. In a tiered archiving system, pictures like these would be worth extra efforts at redundancy.
A tiered system makes it much easier to go to extra measures for the pictures that are truly treasures to you...without creating onerous amounts of work.
Now...could I actually do this? That would remain to be seen. And as I say, a very good test of the efficacy of a backup plan is whether you actually do it. Just talking about it is not, by itself, enough.
P.S. The top picture was taken with my last film camera, an Olympus OM-4T, and the OM Zuiko 100mm ƒ/2 lens, on Tri-X. The bottom picture was taken with my first digital SLR (third digital camera), the Konica-Minolta 7D, and the Tamron-built Konica-Minolta 28–75mm ƒ/2.8 zoom lens. Originally an economy lens, the current Sony-branded version is quite expensive. But it's a lovely lens on reduced-sensor DSLRs (I haven't used it much on FF).
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Featured Comments from:
psu: "I do two tiers. Everything and the selects. The selects are a few hundred per year, which is more than is worth keeping but not enough more that it really matters. Many copies of the selects get copied to many devices in addition to the various backups both on site and off (backblaze is nice for off site, by the way).
"But, I don't make prints of anything (mostly). I'm just counting on there being so many copies of the selects that I'll have them in some form in general. Prints seem like a good idea to me in theory, but only in theory. In practice they seem like too much trouble and don't look as nice (in some ways) as high resolution screen images do (i.e. Retina iMac screens) I don't have a large archive of film pictures. Which makes this a bit easier. But I am still in the process of sending the film to scancafe.com to 'archive' it to digital files. I wonder what I will find."
Dean Silliman: "I've come to a similar conclusion about tiered archiving just in the last month. But I'll do just a second tier of selects.
"A huge bonus is that you can export the selects out to the Apple ecosystem and have them backed up and available everywhere for very little expense or hassle. So RAW pics are in Lightroom where they can be managed, then the optimized selects go out as full quality JPEGs into Apple Photos and therefore to iCloud where they then can be seen on the iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, etc., and easy online sharing is accomplished. The selects are also there begging to be made into easy books."
Eli Burakian: "The 28–75mm Tamron lens is the best deal out there. I use it every day for at least 50% of my work. It's light, and it's very sharp from about ƒ/3.5 onward and best of all, it's $499 retail but you can get a refurbished or used version for about half of that price. I had the Sony version before an accident, and there's no difference in quality. Most underrated, best-value lens out there."
[Eli is the Official Photographer at Dartmouth College and the author-illustrator of the book Moosilauke: Portrait of a Mountain. —Ed.]