Having a solid photography backup strategy is an essential part of any photographer’s workflow. I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the most important things you can do.
You don’t want to lose those precious photos, right? It doesn’t matter if they’re family photos or fine art images that you make a living from. You sleep better knowing that they are safely stored.
Ask yourself this: what happens if my hard drive fails? Will you lose all the images? Or are they safe somewhere else too?
If a hard drive failure means the photos are gone forever, then you need to keep reading this article as I’ll take you through my exact step-by-step workflow to back up my photography.
Before Backup: Use a Good Memory Card
Before we even begin the backup process, I want to stress the importance of having a good memory card. It doesn’t matter if you have a rock-solid backup strategy if your memory card fails before getting a chance to import the photos.
Now, I know that accidents happen. We can’t prepare for every single scenario. Some things are simply out of our control. That doesn’t mean we can’t take certain precautions to minimize the risk of something happening.
The first step is to use high-quality memory cards. This is not an accessory where you want to opt for the cheapest options.
Personally, I’ve got great experience with memory cards from SanDisk, Kingston and Lexar. These are what I’ve used for the past decade and, knock on wood, I’ve yet to have any issues with them.
Note: I’ve used those brands for a decade but have purchased new memory cards every few years.
I’m currently using a Lexar Professional CFexpress 256GB and have for the last two years. There haven’t been any issues with it, even in extreme winter conditions here in the Arctic.
Step #1: Import Images From Camera to External Hard Drive
It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that the first step is to import the images from your camera to your computer. However, I strongly suggest that you import to an external rather than internal hard drive.
Personally, I always travel and work with an external hard drive that contains my latest images. I call this my work drive. Depending on how much I photograph, it typically takes 1 to 2 years to fill up.
When the hard drive is full, it’s ‘retired’ and I purchase a new one to bring with me and use as the main work drive. This repeats every couple of years.
Each of my external hard drives has a main folder called ‘Photography’. Within this folder, I’ve got several subfolders that build my storage organization, which is also reflected in my Lightroom Library.
There are many ways to import images from the camera and I wouldn’t say that there’s one better than another. This simply comes down to preference. Personally, I import images through Adobe Lightroom and find it convenient to do it all in one place.
I’m currently using a LaCie Rugged Mini 4TB HDD and am very pleased with it. Being shock, dust, and water-resistant makes this a great option for travelers. I’ve also used Western Digital Elements drives for the past 5 years without having any problems.
Step #2: Don’t Delete Images From the Memory Card When Traveling
The second step in my backup workflow is one I only follow when away from home.
Accidents happen. That’s just a fact. Even though the LaCie hard drive is shock resistant and I use a Case Logic Portable Hard Drive Case to protect it when traveling, there’s never a guarantee that something bad won’t happen.
That’s why I don’t delete images off the memory card until I’m back home and have backed up the work drive (more on this in step #3)
This might mean that you need an extra memory card when going on longer trips (make sure to store them in a memory card holder case) Arguably, it’s a good idea to have a spare memory card even if it’s just as a worst-case solution if something happens to the main card.
Anyhow, waiting with deleting images of the memory card until you return home ensures that you don’t lose your precious photographs if something were to happen to your hard drive.
Step #3: Copy Hard Drive to a Synology NAS
The third step is one you should pay close attention to. It’s one that’s extremely important: copy your external hard drive to a NAS server.
This allows you to back up your external hard drives and when they’re ‘retired’, you can still access everything stored on them by logging onto the server.
For this, I use the Synology Diskstation DS1817+. It’s by far the most important addition to my backup strategy. This is an 8-bay NAS (Network-Attached Storage) that can be scaled up to 18 drives.
I’ve configured my Diskstation to automatically import all new files in the ‘Photography’ folder when an external hard drive is connected to it. This means that if anything happens to my external hard drive, I still have the files and don’t need to panic.
Having 8 bays/drives means that I have 8 slots where I can place hard drives. I currently have 2x Seagate 4TB IronWolf Pro hard drives installed which give me a total of 8TB storage. I’ll be adding another 6- or 8TB hard drive in the near future and keep expanding when the drives start filling up.
This is the most important part of my backup strategy and I highly recommend that you look into using a NAS server as well.
Step #4: Move Retired Hard Drives to Another Location
The final step to how I back up my photography is storing the retired hard drives at another location.
Keeping both the backup and original hard drive in the same place is quite contradictory; yes, you’ll still have the files if one drive fails but if there’s a fire or a robbery, you’ll probably lose them both.
I choose to store my hard drives away from home to prevent this from happening (this could be at a family member’s house, your office, storage facility, safety deposit box, etc.)
Should I be unfortunate and experience a robbery, fire, or another catastrophe that damages my home, I’ve still got a hard copy at another location so I won’t lose my work.
Before I started using the Synology DS1817+, the downside to a separate location was that when a client requested a file stored on a retired drive I didn’t always have it easily accessible and it was time-consuming to get a hold of.
With the Diskstation, now all I have to do is log in to the server, find the file and download it to my computer. Easy! (And I still have those original drives squirreled away just in case…)
Having a good backup system in place is essential for any photographer. Hopefully, you’ll never need it but you’ll be happy that you have one if you do.
I’ve used cloud services such as Juttacloud and Dropbox to back up images in the past but I found that it took too long to upload all the files (I once had files uploading for 2 weeks straight and it still hadn’t reached 50%)
Being able to sync files between my NAS server and computer using Synology’s CloudStation is a whole lot easier. It takes a fraction of the time and I sleep well at night knowing that my images are safe.
The strategy that I’ve outlined above is one that works well for me (and has for many years) but that doesn’t mean it’s the only, or best, approach. A quick Google search will show you hundreds of other ways to do it as well.
Finding what makes sense for you is a big part of building your backup strategy. Photographers who travel and photograph a lot might make small adjustments compared to those who only go out every now and then.
Hopefully, my method above gives you an idea of what the possibilities are.
I’d love to hear how what your backup strategy looks like. Do you use cloud services, a NAS server, external hard drives, or something else? Let me know in a comment!
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