Why you need to back up your photos — and how to do it…
Disaster never seems likely — until it strikes. Over the past few years, I’ve had multiple hard drives fail me. My computer crashed, too, at one point. Plenty of opportunity to lose all of my photographs, years of work, and the foundation I built a business around.
But you protect the things you love, right? Your photos, even if you don’t build a business around them, are probably some of your most prized possessions. They are the memories of some of the best times in your life. Unfortunately, the internet — and my memory — is littered with horror stories from other photographers who have lost years of photographs forever.
Protect. Your. Work. I cannot overemphasize this point enough. In this blog post, I’ll tell you how.
I did not lose all my work even in those potentially catastrophic instances when my hard drives failed because I strictly follow the 3-2-1 backup strategy.
It’s actually pretty simple.
You want to make sure that your photographs and relevant files are always saved in three separate places. Two of them should be “on site” — in your office, home office, living room, wherever you set up your editing work station. That way, if one of the hard drives crashes, you have easy access to the files safely sitting on the other hard drive.
And then ultimately, one backup place should be “off site” — meaning not in your home or office. That way, even in the case of disaster, such as a fire, water damage or whatever else we both hope will never happen, your body of work is protected.
How I back up my photos and files
So much for the theory. Let me walk you through how I set this up for myself. As I do, please keep in mind that this is a setup configured for the volume of images and files that I produce and work with. You can scale this down to your needs and get smaller/cheaper drives. As you consider your hard drive solutions, please, please, please do invest in quality, though. You’ll thank yourself in the long run.
My primary operating hard drive where I ingest all my files once I pull them off my memory cards is my G-Technology 6 TB G-DRIVE External Hard Drive with Thunderbolt 3 connection. G-Technology drives are trusted by many professionals in the field, and their drives truly are the industry standard. But: As high quality as these drives are, I’ve had one of them fail me a couple of years ago, too. It. Just. Happens. Be prepared. That 6 TB external hard drive is pretty much constantly connected to my laptop. It is the first backup place.
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My second backup place in-house is my Synology Disk Station DS918+ 4-Bay NAS Enclosure. NAS stands for “Network Attached Storage.” This system is connected to my computer via wireless internet. What makes this system great for me is that it has a built-in recovery capability called RAID, which stands for “redundant array of independent disks”. Basically, I have two drives in my Synology station (with space for two more), but I only copy my files to one of them. The RAID backup system is then set up in a way that the second drive mirrors the contents of the first automatically. So if one of the drives failed, I’d have the files right there on the second drive in the machine and could just switch out the other one without any interruption to my workflow. It’s just an extra step of security.
BUT: A RAID system should never be considered two backup places. If you accidentally delete a file from one drive in the NAS system, it will be gone from the second drive as well. You still need a second backup place in your home/office. That’s also true from a practical perspective, since working off the NAS as your primary drive from your computer is not feasible because it is not connected to your work station by a wired connection and therefore connectivity is much slower (opening a Photoshop file on my computer directly from the NAS is a nightmare, even with a high speed wireless connection).
Let me point out here again that for many of you, a NAS system is likely overkill. Instead, you will probably just want to purchase a second copy of your primary hard drive and regularly (as in, every few days, at the very least!) back up your files from your primary drive there.
Lastly, for my off-site backup solution, I use the cloud-based service Backblaze. For a small monthly fee (I believe it’s $6 at the time of this writing), they will store your data on their servers via the cloud. You can choose which drives to back up, and Backblaze will automatically do so every time you make changes to a file on one of those drives. It just runs in the background and backs up via your internet connection. Keep in mind that for large amounts of data — say a RAW file photo dump on your hard drive after a week-long photo trip — it can take days until all the files are backed up in the cloud as well, depending on your internet connection and how much strain you place on it otherwise throughout the day. If your hard drive fails and you need to access files from the Backblaze cloud, you can either log into your web-based account and download individual files, or they will send you a hard drive with all your files safely on them.
Just start with this…
So… By now I hope you understand just how important properly backing up your photos really is. Failure of any one hard drive is not a question of If but of When.
I know my backup setup may sound intimidating to some of you who are just starting out. That’s okay. You don’t need quite this sophisticated a system yet. Just keep it simple, but strict: Always have your files on three separate hard drives. Two of them in your home or office, and one off-site (that place can be the cloud). That way, you can sleep soundly knowing that your prized photographs that you put so much work into creating are always secure.