There are a few certainties in life. Our taxes will go up, we will get old, we will die at some time, and we will lose photos. The last certainty is avoidable, at least if you follow some simple steps. First you need to make a back up plan. There are numerous ways to back up data such as CD-R, DVD-R, thumb drive, external hard drive, and cloud storage. With the costs of external hard drive storage getting cheaper and cheaper it is an attractive alternative to using CD-R and DVD-R storage but there are a few drawbacks.
1. All hard drives will fail at some point.
2. If your external storage is located with your computer you risk losing everything in a natural disaster, fire, or theft.
3. A hard drive can be accidentally erased.
One suggestion to mitigate some of the above mentioned issues is to keep an off-site copy on a separate hard drive. I have a primary external hard drive at home that I keep all of my photos on and a backup hard drive that is an exact copy but that I keep at my office. I bring the off-site hard drive home once a month and make an exact copy of the primary.
This still leave a hole in the backup strategy. My off-site hard drive is always out of date by up to a month as I add photos almost everyday and there is a short period of time each month when my primary and backup hard drives are in the same location and I risk losing everything. To mitigate these issues I use cloud storage.
Cloud storage is keeping data on a server that belongs to someone else. You can set up your own cloud by renting a server or use a service. Flickr, Picasa, and Shutterbug are some of the services available that are dedicated to photography as well as generic services such as Ubuntu One, Carbonite, Dropbox, and soon iCloud.
As with any other form of storage, cloud storage has pitfalls. You are trusting someone else to take care of your data. Some of the services mentioned above have a limited free version but cost money to get more storage space. The service can be hacked, go out of business, be managed poorly, etc. I personally use a Flickr Pro account to backup all of my photos, 30,000 as of today but I still maintain my primary hard drive and off-site hard drives. Cloud storage has the added benefit of being accessible from anywhere. I can access my Flickr account from any computer, my iPhone, and iPad and I can also give my family access to my account so should anything happen to me my family can still access all of our photos.
So every picture that I have now has three homes, primary hard drive at home, off-site backup hard drive at the office, and in the cloud. With this strategy I should never lose anther photo again.