Protecting the irreplaceable – how Lifeworks Photography stores your image files

  • By Julie Ewing

This month, I am celebrating 25 years of capturing memories at Lifeworks Photography!  During these years a lot has changed in the photography business, including the switch from negatives to digital, and the way files are stored.

You’d think the switch to digital would have made life easier, but in terms of storage it made life more challenging!  Negatives would be stored in an archive box (simple) – now digital files (which are huge in size) are stored on expensive hard drives.

We have always taken the storage of our negatives and digital files very seriously and have invested well over $100,000 in digital storage systems to protect the irreplaceable.

Why the need for extra storage

Digital cameras are capable of capturing extremely high-resolution imagery.  Our cameras create huge files; retouching and multi-layered images increase the files sizes dramatically and every session adds a further 15 to 150 GB to our storage – so naturally a typical computer, or a single hard drive is not going to cut it.   Managing and editing large files also requires a performance level exceeding that provided by the hard drive of a standard computer.  As our photography archive grew bigger,  so did the need to handle and protect that data.

We had to roll up our sleeves and learn about the intracacies of storage and backup, and invest in a professional storage server.  The first one costing $20,000 in 2003, with many add-ons and replacements since then.

The Lifeworks RAID system

RAID refers to a way of configuring several hard drives together to act like one super hard drive.   At Lifeworks we use a Drobo server with a multi-disk redundancy—meaning one or more drives can fail and we don’t lose any data.  A Drobo is an enclosure for hard drives. It has a five drive capacity, and when you plug it into to your computer, it shows as one large hard drive. The software that manages the drobo spreads the data across all of the hard drives inside, which in turn protects against hard drive failures.

Size matters

To give you an idea of the size of our storage, we utilise 126 Terabytes of storage which includes the existing working files with daily onsite backup and weekly offsite copy backups (incase of fire or theft).  It’s a huge investment cost-wise to safely keep your memories.  In easy to understand terms, our storage is equivalent to almost 2,000 64GB iPhones!
Drive failures are common in any type of business or with any type of storage.  It’s not ‘if’, it’s ‘when’ a drive fails.  We’ve managed to keep client files safe over the years and haven’t charged for this cost.

How long we store images

We have negatives dating back over 25 years!  We have stored files forever, however there are no laws as to how long we have to.  Ethically under the AIPP agreement it is four years.   Naturally the more we store, the more it costs us, so at some point we will need to let some of the earlier files go.  We always try to contact the clients first – in many cases, the clients have moved on and are unable to be found.  In the past, some have purchased their negatives at a significantly reduced cost so they now have their memories permanently in their safe keeping

Beware the photographer who relies on his laptop

I’ve heard some horror stories about wedding photos or portrait sessions being lost due to sloppy storage processes.  Laptops can be lost and single hard drives can fail, we hear the stories often.  The time and money it takes to store images safely is significant, but in our view, worth it.


It’s unsustainable for a small business like ourselves to continue to store files forever. At some point we will need to delete older files to make room for new clients and special projects such as the charity books we undertake annually.

As part of our 25 year celebrations, we’re offering our clients the chance to obtain their memories at a special price. Don’t miss out on this opportunity!

Should you have any questions in regards to your files, please do not hesitate to email us at or telephone 03 9482 2006.

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