First, we’ll talk about the photo. What you’re seeing below is a two-by-two stake (so 1.5 inches square, or 4 cm) that was probably used to anchor a crab trap or something similar. It had fallen into shallow salt water in Florida’s Indian River Lagoon near Melbourne, and everything that is not wood colored in this image is alive. The largest things are barnacles, which grow surprisingly fast in these waters, but all of the pale green striped blobs you see are anemones – this is what they look like when they retract protectively. If you want to see both of them in feeding mode, check out my Tank Gallery photos. A couple of tiny little crabs are plainly visible, roughly the size of deer ticks, and a larger one, dark grey, hides among the barnacles at lower left. This minuscule slice of life from what appeared to be a boring sandy tidal shallow gives a good indication of how ecosystems can be teeming with activity.
Now here’s the frustration part. This is one of many images where I can no longer access the original. During a computer upgrade a few years ago, I was juggling images between maxed-out hard drives and had just cleared the old one, right before burning backups to CDs, when the one hard drive containing a lot of digital images from Florida failed to boot. It has never booted since, and while I still have it, it’s entirely possible that it’s toast. A lot of my best images had already been backed up, but a selection of them, this one included, had not, and are probably gone forever.
So how am I showing you this one? Because I had resized some samples to e-mail to people, and that’s what you’re seeing here, only marginally smaller for this blog than the only copy I now have. And that size is way too small to market to publishers, and too small to get any more detail from.
This is why you perform routine, and multiple, backups of digital images, and why you don’t do what I did and spend any amount of time, even the brief juggling I was in the middle of (which would have lasted no more than a few days) with only one copy. Media fails, and in my history, all media fails, sometimes much quicker than it should. The CDs I made of my first film scans are mostly unreadable now, even though they saw very little usage and were always stored in jewel cases. The slides that I’d actually scanned are still in good shape, and can be scanned again as needed, but eventually they’ll decay.
Everything that exists does so only for a period of time, and nothing is permanent. When you spend a lot of time in the creation or obtainment of something, you don’t want them disappearing, especially if they’re an investment and stand the potential of bringing in money, but even if they’re simply something you’re proud of. Yet they will vanish, erode, decay, or be damaged eventually, and there is no foolproof way of preventing this. I try to be mellow about it, and remember that any image I’ve captured (or missed, for that matter) can be taken again – in theory, at least. And since then, I’ve taken many other images I’m proud of, thousands in fact. But it’s still frustrating, and I hate losing them.
Think about your hard drive right now – if it fails, what are you going to lose forever? If the thought of that is anything more than mildly annoying, back up your crucial files now, and multiple backups aren’t a bad idea. Part of that money that you thought you saved from not using film needs to be spent keeping those electrons in order.