How we back up our photos

It’s a photographer’s worst nightmare. You are just rolling along editing a zillion photos and all of a sudden your hard drive dies. AHHHH! Are you backed up? Do you know how to actually access your backed up files?

Every photographer will have his/her own system of backing up work and you really do have to find what works for you. But, I know it can be tough even deciding where to start and knowing what someone else does for their own system can be helpful in figuring out your own.

Here’s how I backup my photographs using a desktop computer and multiple external hard drives….

I find the task of backing up and archiving my work completely overwhelming. I’ve done a ton of research and although I know there are probably easier methods out there, the system I use is affordable and keeps me really confident that in case of disaster I’ll always have what I need. I’ve considered going to a RAID5 system many times, but the costs just seems too steep given that I have a capable system in place that is a fraction of the price.

I do all of my major editing and keep all of my important files on my desktop iMac. Although I do have a laptop, I use it mostly for editing on the go and blogging and so I don’t keep any important files on it.

My backup system uses a variety of external hard drives that I can easily attach and un-attach to my computer.

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I’ve done up a quick diagram below of the system and then also explained it in detail.

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Ok, I know this looks like a lot (and it is), but once it’s all set up it actually works really efficiently and results in me having multiple safe guards.

1 - I import all of my images onto my iMac desktop computer through Lightroom.

2 - I have 2 external hard drives that I use for only one year. RAW A and RAW B. These are exact duplicates of each other and simply hold every RAW file from the particular year. (Yellow and blue in the diagram and photo.) You could keep these more than 1 year, but I import a large volume of images so I’d rather keep smaller drives and just buy new ones each year rather than keep larger EHDs longer.

3 - During import I manually check the ‘make a second copy to’ and make a duplicate copy of the RAW files to RAW A.

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4 - I keep RAW B off site so that if my house were to burn down, then I have a copy of all RAW files. I’m lucky that I have a family member who I see regularly and lives really close, so she keeps a few of my EHDs and I just grab them when I need them. If you don’t have this, you could always keep your EHDs in your car, a fireproof safe box, your work, etc.

5 - Every couple of weeks I attach RAW B to my iMac (with RAW A still attached) and make an exact replica of RAW A to RAW B. I use Super Duper to do all my copying and it automatically makes a duplicate copy once I attach the hard drive to my computer. Now I have 2 EHDs with ALL of the RAW files. At the end of the year, I archive these EHDs, keeping one in my own fireproof box in my house and one offsite. This are simply in case of disaster and I don’t access them any other time than if I need to recover files. They are the very last safeguard.

6 - I always have an EHD attached to my iMac that uses time machine (Apple only program, but if you have a PC you could use Super Duper to do the same) to back up my entire iMac. This happens automatically on the hour without me doing anything. This means all of my files, my LR catalogues (as I keep them on my iMac) and anything else that is on my desktop is backed up to an EHD every single hour. Time Machine is an exact replica of my computer, so if my iMac were to crash, I could simply buy a new computer, plug in the EHD containing Time Machine and it would make the new computer look exactly like my old computer. It’s basically a fool proof system. BUT, you have to remember that Time Machine is only backing up what’s on your desktop computer. So, as soon as you move any files off of your computer, they aren’t backed up via time machine and you’ll need to make sure you have your own backup copies of those files somewhere else.

7 - I keep another EHD drive offsite that I bring home every few weeks and I use Time Machine to make an exact replica again on another hard drive. So now, for all files on my iMac I have the 2 exact replicas - one on site and one off-site (again, in case my house floods or burns down, I can just grab the offsite time machine and plug it into a new computer and have everything).

8 - My iMac is only a 1 TB hard drive so it fills up fast. Once it’s getting close to full, I move images OFF of the internal iMac hard drive to an EHD 6TB drive. I move the images through LR so that the Lightroom catalogue knows where they have gone. If you move the files manually through Finder, then your catalogue will be all messed up and you’ll have to manually direct Lightroom to where the files moved.

9 - The 6TB drive is always connected to my computer and so when I look through my Lightroom Library it is sometimes drawing images from my iMac and sometimes it’s pulling them from the 6TB drive.

10 - For all client sessions, I upload their high res gallery to Shoot Proof. Once their Shoot Proof gallery expires, I pay to archive the images through Shoot Proof. This is really affordable and it allows me to reactivate the gallery at any time and to download the high res, edited JPEGs.

So, although my system operates with a lot of external hard drives, the only really expensive EHD I have is the 6TB one. The other ones are less than $100 each and I generally just buy whatever decent brand is on sale at the time (Seagate, Western Digital, LaCie). If everything were to crash I feel safe that I have copies of everything off site, and worse case scenario (let’s say my house burns down and I lose my 6TB drive) I’d have all of my RAW files, my Time Machine copy (with my LR catalogue) and I’d have to redirect the LR catalogue to the files and perhaps re-edit some personal images if I can’t re-direct that catalogue. All client images would be safe as they’re backed up on ShootProof. If I ever leave ShootProof then I’d need to make another copy of those images.

I hope that’s helpful! If you have any questions about it please shoot me a comment below. Jenny will be back to share her backup system early in the new year.