Don’t Lose Your Photographs! Strategies for Backing Up your Work


I am sure many off us have suffered that sinking feeling of finding precious images missing from a hardrive or even the complete failure of a hardrive. With increasing amounts of images being taken, these days a good back up strategy is vital. Your own strategy is very dependent on how important your images are. If you make a living from photography, a multi layered approach would be best, if you are an enthusiast on a budget, then you may consider a less intensive back up regime.

Backing Up On a Shoot

If you are on a location shoot or have hired models or props, it is worth backing up during shooting. There are a couple of options here. Frstly there are number of manufacturers that produce portable back up devices, basically an external hardrive with a built in card reader and in most cases a preview screen. These are excellent if you will be shooting a lot of images and will be away from home for a while. If you use one of these in combination with plenty of memory cards, you can keep images on both, ensuring a double safety net on location.

The other main option is to take a laptop, with or without spare external drives. This will give you the option of editing on location and creating double backups but, conversely will add weight to your kit.

A portable media storage drive – photo by Yi Shiang on Flickr

Backing Up At Home

Whether backing up a single shoot or an entire collection, it is important to have a good strategy in place at home.

Your main image catalogue should be on a fast internal or external drive connected to your main desktop computer, if using one. Make sure that the drive you are using has plenty of spare capacity for your collection to grow into. For external drives look for Firewire 800, USB 3 or Thunderbolt drives for the fastest speed possible. Your primary back up drive should be a mirror of your main image catalogue and should be backed up either daily, or whenever you add a shoot or manipulate images. This drive does not have to be as fast, as once the bulk of the catalogue is copied, you will only be writing additions and manipulations to it.

Using image management software such as Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture is highly recommended as they both have powerful back up facilities whilst other options include using specialist back up software, that allows you to either specify which folders to backup and at what time, or to clone entire drives.

As a failsafe it is worth having a secondary home based hardrive that you back up on a weekly or fortnightly basis and kept away from your main computer. For ultimate peace of mind, you can keep a third hard drive off site, in an alternate location, giving you protection from theft or fire.

WD MyBook 320GB Pro
A fast firewire hardrive – Photo by Declan TM on Flickr

Options Other Than Hard Drives

As well as internal and external hard drives, you can back up to DVD or Bluray. If you choose this option, make sure you choose archival quality disks and make sure they are stored in acid free archival quality cases or pouches. Storage should be in a cool and dark and damp free location. The best quality DVD’s are designed to keep data safe for up to 30 years, which is considerably longer than the expected lifespan of a hard drive.

Another growing option is storage in the Cloud. The prices of Cloud storage have dropped considerably in the last few years and this is worth considering as a secondary back up, although not a primary one. Things to consider here are upload and download speeds, how long will it take to back up your entire catalogue, ease of use and most importantly the reputation of the company. There is no point in uploading thousands of image only to find the company has gone bust after three months.

Photo by Jan Huber on Unsplash

With the relatively inexpensive price of all storage these days, it is worth making multiple backups of your work, both onsite and if possible off site, via external hard drives or the Cloud. Another thing to consider is that, whilst backing up your images is important, it could be rendered useless if you do not back up your computer system drive as well. Failure of your computer’s drive could lead to the loss of all your imaging software making it impossible to access your image catalogue despite being backed up several times.

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

Great article but what software do you recommend (free or relatively low in price) on a mac which will automate the backup of drives to guarantee I have exact copies on each rather than manually copying each file. Thanks

Sorry for the very late reply on this one but in answer to your question, as a Mac user you already have the best back up software available, Time Machine. Simply get a nice big external drive and set your Time Machine to back up to it. Its a seamless solution

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *