Photographers are losing the images they capture and other irreplaceable data because they fail to adequately back up their memory cards, computers, tablets and smartphones, according to new research.

Over a quarter of the 1 800 photographers who took part in the international survey by Verbatim, distributed in South Africa by Drive Control Corporation (DCC), and the Royal Photographic Society have experienced data loss on their home computer or smartphone. The results of the survey coincided with World Backup Day on 31 March.

One in five photographers choose not to backup data frequently on their computers because they admit they are too lazy or it takes too long. A third of the photographers never backup their mobile phones or tablets despite nearly one in ten confessing they had accidentally dropped these devices into the bath or down the toilet.

Understandably, photographers are most worried about losing pictures, followed by personal documents, videos and music. With the average respondent estimating they store around 220 000 photos on computers, smartphones, tablets and data storage devices, nearly 400 million images are in danger of being lost by the survey’s participants unless they take precautions.

“One would naturally assume that photographers would be more careful than most to safeguard against data loss. However, the results of this survey reveal that backups are not being done routinely and that data loss is more prevalent that one might expect, even among professional photographers,” notes Dr Michael Pritchard, Director-General, the Royal Photographic Society.

He adds: “It’s worth remembering to back up your data on 31 March although I would suggest people should treat every day as if it were World Backup Day.”

Rüdiger Theobald of Verbatim comments: “While it is crucial to remember to do regular backups, it is also vital to follow the accepted best practice of data loss prevention: the ‘3-2-1 rule’. This rule can be summarised as making at least three copies on two different types of media with one of those devices kept in a different location to the others. Each of those measures is meant to ensure that at least one backup of your data will survive if calamity strikes your computer, tablet or smartphone.”

Dozens of respondents in the survey have reported losing pictures, including wedding photos, and important emails and documents. One mentioned a maddening loss of over six years of photographic work while another had lost precious family photographs. Over 10 per cent admit they never backed up the contents of their mobile or laptop in the past year, leaving them without purchased software and music.

Photographers experienced data loss on their PC because of hardware failure (52%), software corruption (13%), accidental damage (7%), a computer virus (3%) and theft (1%).

Computer data recovery is a tricky business. Where physical failure has occurred, and the hard drive needs to be worked on in a cleanroom, typical costs can be in excess of R10 000 and there’s no guarantee all the data will be recovered.

Online backup services have flourished in recent years. However, a third of photographers participating in the survey say they have suffered problems of access to cloud-based data files while five per cent have experienced data loss when using cloud storage solutions.

Christelle Fensham, business development manager at Verbatim, adds: “It’s not wise to rely solely on online storage providers because there’s no guarantee that you won’t lose your data. Online backup services are a great addition to local backups, not a substitute for them.”