Do You Backup your Photos?

Posted by Dave Seeram – Editor and Publisher of the PhotographyBB Magazine and Website

Secure Hard Drive ImageAfter reading an article about a photographer who had the misfortune of a system crash wipe out his entire hard drive, I got to thinking about my own backup strategy for my files and beloved photographs. System crashes and hard drive failures do occur, and although the occurrences are rare, they do happen from time to time. It could be due to a virus, and sometimes it can happen just randomly (perhaps it’s all that cosmic radiation eh?), but if it does happen do you, are you prepared?

If you think about it, we buy insurance for everything these days – Our cars, our homes, even our health! Extended warranties are pushed everytime we purchase one of our favourite toys, and when we buy them we do so for peace of mind. Certainly we aren’t expecting the worst, but at least we know that we are prepared should the worst happen. Yet when it comes to our memories preserved digitally, we sometimes look the other way. Perhaps it is because we got used to traditional photography, where we keep our photos in nice albums, and hang onto the negatives as our backup… Perhaps some of us are in denial and think that it will never happen to us… Or perhaps we are just being complacent and lazy when it comes to a solid backup strategy for that which is most important to us?

Many professionals make backups of their photoshoots onto DVD’s, but even a DVD doesn’t last forever (and can fail just as easily too). The archival life of a recordable DVD can be anywhere between 5 to 100 years; depending on the brand of the disc, AND the brand/quality of the burner which is was burned on. How many years worth of pro work do you have stored on your system or backed up onto DVD?

But professional photographers are not the only ones who need a solid backup strategy. Think about all of the family photos and personal memories you have stored on your hard drive. Knock on wood, but what would you do if your computer were damaged beyond repair, or even stolen? All of these questions got me thinking about my own backup strategy, which leads me to today’s discussion: Do you backup, and why(not)?

I would like to see as many participants in this discussion as possible, so join us and put in your two cents on the issue. I am currently in the process of revamping my backup strategy which I will be sharing with you as I set it up over the next few days. In the meantime, I’ll cross my fingers and hope for a healthy hard drive!

12 Responses

  1. Leopard (Mac OSX 10.5) has TimeMachine on board, giving me an almost invisible way of backing up all my stuff, including pictures. Next to this way of working, I have a weekly rsync based backup to another hard drive. Go and get a mac with Leopard installed !!!

  2. The only way to sleep better? RAID or similar… obviously if something happens to where you leave the entire archive, you don’t have any B plan, but with two HD, ubuntu or another linux-powered machine and no more hardware you could be safe. I use also an external HD to save a small collection of “best of”, just in case :) .

  3. I back all my photos and three different drive exterior drives. Ranging from 200 to 500 gigs. I have over 35,000 photos and now that I’m shooting in raw, it demands more gigs.

  4. My solution is to be paranoid about failure. In the home office, my daily backup routine sends all document and photo backups to two encrypted 1TB external hard drives, each on a separate surge protector. In the [probably futile] quest for privacy, I use no online backup service except Zenfolio to display my “keepers”.

    Backups are also sent to a 1 TB WD portable hard drive, encrypted, that I carry with me everywhere (in case of catastrophic loss like fire or theft). Additionally, all backups go to my laptop as well.

    So what gets backed up? My Documents, Outlook folder (all emails and settings), all browser bookmarks, all genealogy files, all usernames and passwords to every website, and all registration keys for all software I have purchased. Every video, music and .pdf file. All settings, plug-ins, preference files and catalogs from PsCS3, Lightroom 3, Photo Mechanic 4.6.5, ACDSee Pro 3, etc.; all programs (every zip, .exe or .msi file ever downloaded and categorized alphabetically by function such as multimedia, utility, etc.).

    I sincerely wish paranoia for you, as it may save you years of work, memories, information and productivity.

    If a hard drive failure, or fire or theft took out your computer, what could you restore?

  5. TaiTam

    I have a multi-pronged approach:
    1. All my files (incl. my photos) are backed up to a external 2 TB RAID drive using Time Machine on an IMac
    2. All my photos are also backed up to an external 1TB drive using the Apple backup program
    3. All my photos are backed up to an external Maxtor 500MB drive using the Apple backup program
    4. All my photos are backed up to an external LaCie 500MB drive using the Apple backup program
    5. All my photos are backed up to MobileMe
    6. My Lightroom catalog files are backed up to an external LaCie 500MB drive
    7. All my photos are copied to a MacBook Pro using Dropbox

    Overkill? Yeah, but I sleep well.

  6. I have two 1TB EHD’s on two different computers and one 500GB that I carry around with me. I put all on the portable and then once every two weeks I take the time to copy all the files to both of the 1TB EHD’s. I’ve heard great things about the online backup solutions but I live in the country and only have satellite for internet and they are very restrictive as to the upload/download bandwidth they allow. I’m hoping and praying that if anything happens it wont be to both EHD’s at the same time.

  7. Blair

    I am currently testing online backup storage via They offer a free 2Gig account and I can say that it is quite easy. The great thing about them is that unlimited backup is only $4.99 per month and I don’t have to carry around an external hard drive.

  8. Harry

    I learned the hard way never to rely exclusively on a backup program if it uses a compression technique (most do) to conserve on space. When I ran into an issue with my WD/EMC program, tech support just told me to reconfigure everything again. The only problem was that I had NO access to anything I had backed up to that point.

    So, while I may still use a backup program to grab an image and save it to my NAS drive, I also do straight copies to both the NAS drive and a USB drive that’s only attached when I do backups (not on network in case of voltage spike, etc). An external cloud site is also good.

    If you can do this, have your main drive hold only your OS and programs — no data. That way, you can grab an image of this drive and not worry about stale data should you need to restore the image. Your data drive gets backed up separately (as described above). For those who don’t know, an “image” is an exact snapshot of your drive, so a restore will put everything back the way it was when you grabbed the image. I prefer Acronis over Norton Ghost (I have both).

  9. Burt

    @Blair – caution with Mozy. I tried it for a year and they lost all my data 3 times, forcing a complete re-upload each time. They also throttle your upload so it takes forever to send any volume of photos. NOT a good way to work…

    I have all my photos on a Drobo. Gives me instant RAID redundancy with zero effort. In fact I have had 2 disk drives fail since getting the Drobos (I have 3 of them) and each time, I just popped in a new drive and was none the worse for wear.

    The primary Drobo is then backed up to a 2TB using Time Machine. Again, instant and painless.

    That only provides local protection against disk failure though. To protect against theft or fire, I use CrashPlan. check it out!

    CrashPlan allows me to provide my own disk drive (I use another 4 TB Drobo). I can seed the backup by hooking that drive to my local system, so my 1.5 TB of photos backed up in 3 days. I then carried that backup disk to my sisters house 50 miles away and told CrashPlan to connect my system to it again.

    Viola! I now have hourly incremental backups of all my data to a system 50 miles away. Should I ever need it, I can go retrieve the disk and restore quickly with a local disk. No cloud storage can do that for you.

    so… Drobo + CrashPlan gives easy and fast protection. Add Time Machine if you like both belt and suspenders. :)

    For the record, I have no relation to any of these companies. This is simply a backup strategy I have evolved to over a couple decades of always looking for A Better Way. I am finally happy with my backup system…

  10. I am a geologist and I have a lot of rock photos staf, so its very important to me and ensure that I am not going to loss them. Basically there are two (2) back up sets minimum we require which your hard drive in your computer is not included.

    FIRST SET – External Hard drive (1 TB, or 500 GB), this set is direct copy from your PC after we upload our photo file to computer. All raw file and modification file should stored in this set.

    SECOND SET – It could be DVD, CD (remember you will need a lot of CD to keep your raw file). I would to store all raw file or JPG original file in this media since we may use them from scretch work, just for emergency happen.

    NOTE & TIP
    Above, its basic explanation and minimum back up workflow. Its great if we have additional media such as “backed up of backs up”, online storage or other things as SECOND SET. How to back up file set transfer or “convertion” method from your original photo file to your back up media is totally depend on person itself and what operating system you run.

    Happy back up,
    Sad Agus

  11. Berluscani

    I work with an iMac 27″ 3,2 GHz under Mac OS X Snow Leopard.
    I save all my photos on a 2TB external USB main hardrive. Then I backup my photos’ folder with ChronoSync on two different 2TB USB backup hardrives, every time I add photos on the main hardrive. These three 2TB hardrives are always connected when I work, so that this basal backup is completely automatized and very easy to complete. Once a month I do an extra backup on a fourth 2TB USB backup hardrive, that I usually keep switched off.
    With this method I never lost a photo (I’ve an archive of about 80.000 shots, that I manage with Lightroom 3.3).
    As photographic equipment, I use four Nikon cameras (D90, D7000, D300, D700) with eighteen Nikkor lenses, plus a Sigma 180mm apo macro lens.

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