How Many Backups of Your Images Do You Need?

One of the worst things that can happen to you as a photographer is to lose your images due to a corrupt hard drive or memory card. Here is an excellent plan to put in place to protect against hard drive failure.

Have you ever had a memory card corrupt? I have, and it will happen to you too eventually. Somewhere along the way, I became too confident in technology. I had a headshot session for a local company, and for some reason, I decided I could get by on a single card. And sure enough, the card corrupted, and I lost part of the session. It was embarrassing enough to call the client and tell them I had to reschedule some of their employees. What’s worse is that it could have easily been an irreplaceable session, like a wedding. That was the last time I would put all my eggs in the single basket of one memory card.

In the video above, Spyros Heniadis lays out his workflow for protecting himself from image loss. The method Heniadis uses might be more complicated than what you are looking for, but the basis of having three copies of your images, one of which is offsite, is sound advice for any photographer. An important note that I want to add is that with backups, timing is everything. I believe it’s imperative to back up your images as soon as your session is over to prevent the possibility of losing a card or shooting over it. This also leads into a point about how fast you are delivering your images. If you have long turnaround times, there is a greater liability for something to go wrong. Backups are everything for a photography business, and having a proper plan is essential.

What about you? Let me know in the comments below what method you’ve developed for backing up your photos.

Lead image by Pixabay user StockSnap, used under Creative Commons.

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16 Comments

I normally shoot untethered, so my first action after a session (or even during the session if I take many photos) is to copy everything to a laptop-mounted harddisk. If I have an internet connection (either through the mobile network or through a local WiFi connection), I back these images up to a server abroad (at a friend's house). If I have no connection, which is rare as I live in Europe, I wait with this step until I return home.

The data on the server is automatically mirrored from my server at my friend's house to his server, and then to another server at my brother's house. When I get home after a session, I back the harddisk up to my home server for local storage and for editing.

My brother has a Synology Network Attached Storage device (NAS), which can be set up to automatically back up to other Synology devices, which he uses to have multiple backups within the family. My backup data are stored on his Synology device, so I may in fact end up having quite a few extra versions I am unaware of within his backup circle.

The actual number of copies I retain is four (home server, my server at friend's house abroad, the copy to my friend's server and the copy at brother's NAS), which hopefully should provide enough, even for a major disaster.

All the servers and my laptop run Linux where it is fairly simple (everything is relative, you know) to set up automated backup schemes. I do not rely on any commercial software for my jobs.

If you have a Synology NAS, try to find some friends also with a Synology NAS, to create an automated backup between the devices. If you do not have a friend with a Synology NAS, you could try to convince one to buy it.

I love the idea of a private backup network!

David Pavlich's picture

Any important shots are saved to my processing hard drive, an external hard drive and all of my data is saved to BackBlaze. If all three fail, it's probably because an EMP was set off. :-)

Time for that EMP/Faraday cage HDD enclosure! 😊

I have an offsite cloud storage site for all my photos but I recently found out that Amazon Prime member have unlimited backup of images (JPG and RAW). So I have a second copy of all my photos that I uploaded to my Prime cloud storage at no additional cost to me.

I have Prime and have been considering adding that as another layer to create a cloud redundancy in my backup.

I mean it can't hurt, right? I didn't even bother installing the backup app. I just dragged folders into my browser when I go to bed. Over a few weeks I'll have everything backed up in another location.

Motti Bembaron's picture

1.I shoot on double cards.
2. When done I then transfer the RAW files to LR catalog (my working catalog is on my SSD C drive). My C drive has an automatic backup to another SSD drive.
3. After batch changing the file names in LR to reflect the job, I backup the RAW images on a cloud (sync.com).
4. At the same time, the LR catalog is also backed up on the cloud automatically as I work on the photos.

So the images and the catalogs reside on the C drive, are backed up on one local drive and on the cloud.

The thing to remember is data loss is most likely from 5 things
1: User error
2: hardware failure and physical accidents (fire and flood)
3: Software failure
4: External malicious influence e.g. virus etc
5: Internal malicious influence e.g. pissed off staff... etc

so having all of you backups connected at the same time, 1,3,4 and 5 could all bite you... having a cloud backup or a nas backup with all your passwords saved on your computer will not save you from 4 and 5...

a little trick I do is put a annual backup on an old external hard drive each year and shove it in storage, so if all my other approaches fail I don't lose a lifetime of photos :-)

I have "cooked" my own system and use the open source program rsync for my backups. I have configured it so (like Time Machine for Apple) I create a new subdirectory for each new backup. In this subdirectory, files identical (at bit level) to previous versions are linked in instead of copied (basically the same physical file appears in two or more directories at the same time), which saves space as identical files are stored once only and prevents corruption from spreading into my backups because a corrupted file will not overwrite an existing version of the same file. This approach is not possible if backing up to a Windows machine, I think, as Windows does not support so-called hard links. I may be wrong here, though, as I am not a Windows user.

your approach wont save you from 3,4 or 5 your backups are likely to accessible to the system and could be wiped/over written. Shove an old drive in and make a copy of everything and do it once a year :-)

That is exactly the point here and the beauty of it, they are NOT directly accessible as a local harddisk but much more like a cloud backup (actually, it is, technically speaking, a private cloud). To get access to all the backups, a hacker would have to penetrate at least four systems in three locations in two countries.

If you are interested in the setup, I have another post in this thread with more information.

That said, the old harddisk backup also works, but is susceptible to corrupted files and ransomware when it is connected to your PC. I do use external harddisks too, just not as part of my main strategy.

Really excellent point on backing up the card as soon as possible. That's something I could have included in the video.

Dennis Bater's picture

I have a simple backup system in place. I shoot in my studio which is a few miles from my house where I edit the images. I shoot tethered so the images are on my studio iMac which is backed up to the cloud as I shoot. Once I have completed my shoot I transfer them from my studio iMac to a portable drive that I then take home with me. Once home I plug the drive in and transfer them to an external drive which backs itself up to another external drive. As I edit the images they are automatically backed up to the cloud, the main photo drive and the second backup drive in my house. So at any given time, I have four copies. I know, I am anal but storage and cloud space is cheap and I never have to worry even if I accidentally​ delete a finished image from my editing computer, I have a copy of it in several places.

I come from IT so any data not in at least two physical locations makes my nerves itch but the two slot fetish escapes me, roughly 200K images over the last decade and two card failures in that time. I've made more DSLRs that decided to stop working. All the articles about avoiding counterfeit cards, who is buying a 5K+ camera rig and worrying about saving five bucks on an sd card?