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Organizing Your Digital Media: 5. Exporting, Backing Up, and Archiving

How to organize and work with digital media files (images, videos, audios) on your Windows or Macintosh computer

Created by Health Science Librarians

Exporting, Backing up, and Archiving

5. Exporting, Backing Up, and Archiving

Exporting refers to creating derivative files from an original source file, usually with a different (often compressed) file format. For example, from with a photo editing program you could be working on a TIFF or Photoshop file, and export it as a jpeg. It is important to keep your derivative files separate from the source files. 

This section covers the following two topics:

Exporting digital media files

Exporting digital media files

A big advantage of a cataloging program such as Adobe Lightroom is the ability to work with uncompressed files without degrading quality. When it is time to produce output, you can export as many versions of the edited files as you would like. 

For example you could export a camera raw file for use on the Web, for use in a video, for a print brochure, and for other purposes, all without altering the original files in anyway. 

Exporting from Lightroom

To export image(s) from Lightroom, choose File > Export… or click the Export button at the bottom of the left panel in the Library module. The Export dialog box appears: 

Exporting from Lightroom

The export dialog box provides numerous options, including the export location, filenames, file type, compression, image size, watermarking, and metadata settings.  

Lightroom also includes Print, Web, and Slideshow modules that provide other ways and formats for exporting your work. 

Originals and derivatives

The original files (in photography, usually Raw files) are uncorrupted by the editing process, because the edits are not made to the files themselves, but are instructions that are part of the Lightroom (or other software) database. 

Derivative files are the files that you export from your cataloging program. These files should always be kept separate from your original files, and never imported into your catalog or database (except for unusual circumstances, such as if the original file is lost or corrupted).

What if I’m not using a Catalog program? 

With non-catalog type software, you need to be careful to keep backup copies of your original images, either by duplicating them or by using "Save As..." to save your file under a different name. 

Be very careful to preserve your original files as much as possible. Save copies to other formats if you need to, but don’t overwrite your original files unless you have a very good reason for doing so. 

If you are using a photo editing program that supports layers, such as Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, it is ususally a good idea to keep an original Photoshop file, often with many layers, as your primary working file for a project in which you may end up exporting multiple jpeg or png files for export to the Web. 

The following shows the layers pallette of the Photoshop file I used for most of the screen captures for this project: 

What If I'm Not Using a Catalog Program?

In this example there are many layers that don't currently appear in the layers palette, because I grouped many of them into folders, all of which are contained in the same Photoshop document. For example the folder "Export" includes multiple layers, which can be viewed by clicking on the triangle icon next to the folder icon. This helps keeps things organized when there are many layers. Another advantage to layers is that you can apply the same "layer style" (effects such as drop shadows) to multiple layers by copying and pasting them. 

Regardless of the programs you use, it is important to separate original files from derivatives, and to back up your work.

Backing up and archiving

Backing Up and Archiving

Everyone knows that backing up data files is a good thing to do. It is essential for anyone creating and working with media files. 

Tips for Backing Up

If you are using Lightroom or a similar catalog program, use only one catalog if at all possible. This makes it easier to manage your files. 

To keep your catalog in sync, it helps to keep your catalog file in the same folder as your image files.  If you are doing a video project, it is good to keep your video project file in the same folder with your video 

Keep your folders well organized. Using a “bucket” system (advocated by Peter Krogh), in which folders are organized sequentially by date, makes it easier to know what needs backing up (and when).  Even if you have many folders of images, keep all of your folders inside a single big folder.  Segregate your media files from other types of files. 

Create a plan for backing up. Decide when and how often you are going to back up your files, which files you need to backup, and develop a schedule and procedures for backing up consistently. 

Keep more than one backup, and consider using multiple locations and types of media. For example, consider keeping a backup at home in addition to backups at the office. Consider backing up online (for example, using Crashplan or to DVD or tape in addition to backing up to hard drives

Empty the trash on your computer prior to backing up. 

Decide which hard drive is your primary hard drive, and don’t backup files to your primary drive. 

Don’t save video source files to your computer’s internal hard drive. Especially with videos, it is important to save to an external hard drive. 

Use a power supply with portable drives. Even for drives that don’t require a power supply it is much safer to use an optional power supply if one is available. 

Use backup software! (see below)

Use backup software!

It is almost always best to use software designed for backing up rather than using your operating system to copy items from one location to another. There are several reasons for this. Among other things, backup software verifies that the source and destination copies are identical and performs checks to see that data hasn’t been corrupted during backup. Backup software also gives you options that give you more control over the backup process. 

There are several good software options for backing up. On the Macintosh, Chronosync ( and SuperDuper! ( are two highly regarded programs. 

To illustrate how a backup program works, let’s consider SuperDuper!.

SuperDuper! has a user interface that is elegant in its simplicity. When you start, you see a dialog box that allows you to the source and destination as well as the kind of backup you want to do. Each option is clearly explained. 

Use Backup Software

If you are doing an incremental backup (i.e., you have previously backed up from/to the same source and destination), SuperDuper!’s Smart Update option is great because it very quickly identifies which files are already backed up (and unchanged) and only backs up files that have changed or were not included in the previous backup. This feature alone is worth the purchase price of the software (which is less than $30).

Once you choose backup options, SuperDuper! displays a “what’s going to happen” message, giving you a chance to back out.

Use Backup Software 2
After you click “Copy Now,” the backup starts, and the program displays another box that keeps you informed of the status of your backup as it takes place.

Use Backup Software 3


When the process is finished, SuperDuper! lets you know: 

Use Backup Software 3


Archiving is similar to backing up of course, but serves a different purpose: backups are for your day-to-day work, and archiving is for the future. 

Most likely, you want to focus on archiving your best work. It is more important to do a good job archiving your best work than to archive everything haphazardly. 

For archival purposes, save the very best versions of files. So for example, export full-quality tiff files rather than jpegs. If you are a photographer, keep DNG files for archival purposes. 

Use media and file formats that are most likely to be in use in the future. Revisit this issue from time to time. If you archived something on a Jazz drive a decade ago, it may be hard to access it today!