Protecting Your Originals

31 May 2020 3:21 PM by Michael S. White

I’ve mentioned to people in the past that I have a method that I follow to protect the original photographs I have taken. They’ve asked for specifics which are listed below.

What Prompted This

Before I, really, started getting into digital photography, the cameras that were available did not take the highest resolution photos. They were great at taking photos of cars or houses like what you used to find in the classifieds section of newspapers. Definitely not able to be used to print large canvases like you can today.

In those early days, I didn’t have - or know about - tools that would allow for editing the images without destroying them. Using a .jpeg format was great to use to look at an image on a website or your computer. However, if I ever had to edit a photo, it would be re-saved as a .jpeg. Given that .jpeg is a lossy format, each save compresses the previously compressed bits representing the colors of the image. As a result, it would make a photo that would resemble old-school memes that were photo copies of photo copies of photo copies, etc. Each subsequent photo copy (.jpeg save) would degrade the image eventually making it a poor representation of the original.

Fortunately, I learned about this before I got my first good camera and have used this method ever since.

First Step

The first step I use is to create a folder on my computer where the folder name is the date when the photos were taken. I use the YYYYMMDD format to represent the date for a couple of reasons. My primary reason for it is it allows for consistent sorting in the file browser. You could use some other method, but they key is consistency.

Once the folder is created, all the photograph files that were shot on that day are copied from the SD card to that folder. There is a verification of the number of files as well as the file sizes.

Second Step

After all the files are in the folder, I create a .zip of the folder. I don’t do this to save space, but rather, to avoid accidentally doing anything with the contents of the folder. Because, at some later date, if I need to work with the files, I would need to unzip the folder. This step is one of the parts of preserving the photograph files.

Third Step

The .zip file is then copied to an external drive. Personally, I use Drobo for much of my external storage. Other options are available but the key is to get the .zip file off the computer. I maintain a consistent folder structure for my photographs. Master_Versions->Year->Month. So, if a set of photos were taken on 23 October 2019, the folder path would be:


Fourth Step

Once the .zip file is safely on an external drive, I import the photos into Lightroom. Within Lightroom, the files are saved in a similar folder structure as what the .zip file is saved. However, it is not saved to the same location as where the .zip file was saved. Once the import is complete, I verify the number of files imported and do a quick visual check to see if they are ok.

Within Lightroom, if there are any edits that I make to the photos, the original photo is preserved.


This is the process that I have used for over a decade to preserve the original photographs I have taken. Computers have come and gone. Drobos have come and gone. Rigid adherence to this simple process has allowed for that flexibility.

  1. Create a folder named YYYYMMDD for the date the photos were taken and copy the photos from the SD card into this folder.
  2. Create a .zip file of the folder.
  3. Move the .zip file to an external hard drive.
  4. Import the photographs into Lightroom.


There are additional steps that I am also now taking that further protects the originals. I’ll be adding that in a subsequent article.