Be safe - tips for backing up your photos

How often do you backup your photos? Daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly? Here are some questions to get you actively thinking: If your hard disk broke one day, would you have any backups of your photos to restore? If you were taking regular backups, what are the missing photos that you have taken since your last backup? How much work would you lose if that was to occur, and would you be able to recover your catalogues and libraries to their current state the quickest?

The question is not if your computer crashes. The question is when your computer crashes; do you have a continuity plan implemented in your workflow with the less damage incurred. Instead of losing all your photo collections, do you have an implemented backup approach to your workflow  so that you lose none? 

Where should you backup (local or cloud), what medium (DVD or hard disks) and in how many copies?

Above, my simple 3 steps approach: 1) backup negatives DNGs during import, 2) weekly backup on two external HDD, and 3) switch and place one copy remotely every one month.

Here are some guidelines to help you put a backup approach that works for you… 

Centralized folder structure: Months are stored into Years ... 

Centralized folder structure: Months are stored into Years ... 

  1. Import your photos into one location and centralize your library. I use the following folder structure breakdown where all is under a centralized folder which is the default PC "My Pictures" folder on my computer. Why centralize? Well because if will be difficult to manage and backup from different locations on your computer.
  2. Use external media. There is no point in backing up to the same physical location because in case something went wrong (like your PC was stolen or destroyed in a fire) you can always get back to your other hard drive that is stored somewhere in a safe environment. It makes no sense also to store your external backup drive in your computer back all the time. 
  3. Consider a cloud storage solution. In addition to backing up my photos on an external hard disk that is physically stored in a safe, I have invested in uploading my processed photos to Dropbox, 500px, and Flicker knowing that at least my final processed images (la creme de la creme) are backed up and I can access them anywhere and from any machine or device.
  4. Use backup software and don't copy/paste. You can simply copy all your photos to a separate disk drive, but that’s not an effective approach because it could take hours or you might delete something by error. You should use a backup software like Apple's Time Machine or Windows 7 Backup on the PC, or if you want to spend some buck for the same outcome you can buy a third party software. The advantages of using backup software are 1) once completed, the backup job is verified for successful completion, 2) backup can be scheduled, and 3) after the initial full backup is done, future backups intelligently only copy changed files, so it is much quicker.
  5. Backup your catalogs as well. Can you imagine the time you spent organizing and editing your photos is lost with your damaged computer. I use Adobe Lightroom for that purpose and I cannot even imagine that all my adjustments, labeling, presents, and post processing edits are gone. Luckily, Lightroom comes equipped with a safeguard routine to backup all your entire needed catalog and editing changes since those are part of its Catalog database. This can be done via Lightroom's General preferences. To back up the library, follow the below steps:
  • Go to File, and then go to Catalog Settings.
  • In the Catalog Settings, go the General Tab, and click on the Backup panel.
  • Select how often you want the backup to happen and save the settings.

Did you know that Lightroom can make a second copy of the files as they are imported from a card? The first copy goes to the designated Lightroom folder and gets cataloged, then the second copy goes to a destination of your choice - typically an external hard disk. In the video below Julieanne Kost from Adobe discusses advanced backup strategies. 

I am a backup freak and you should be too. I have three external USB hard drives that I am using. The first one is copying all my negative DNG during import into Lightroom, the second stays in my camera back, and the third in my safe. I use the utility that came with my Transcend HDD called Transcend Elite Data Management

How much are you willing to lose is a question you only can answer. So what was the last time you backed up your photos?