How to backup your photos

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Storing your photos is one of the most important parts of your photography, you’ve worked hard to capture them So you’ll need to look after them

Things happen, hard drives fail, camera cards fail, you might accidentally delete a picture that you thought you’d backed up, or that you thought didn’t need! So having a good backup plan and multiple copies of your images, securely stored, is very important

 As a professional wedding photographer, I’m trusted to look after my clients’ images from the point of capture, through to delivery and beyond.

I recently had a client come back to me 7 years after their wedding saying they had lost their photos and were concerned. So it was with great pleasure for them to find out that I still had copies of their photos and was able to reunite them with their images, within a couple of hours.

Whether you’re a professional photographer, an amateur, or just looking to take care of pictures of your family – knowing how to backup your photos correctly is hugely important.

 In this guide, I’m going to go through a few ways to ensure your photos are backed up safely and the pros and cons of each method – along with how I do it as a professional photographer.

If you don’t have time to read the entire guide: 

For most people, cloud storage is the way to go and I’d recommend Backblaze or iDrive – or if you’re on a budget, Google Photos. If you’re more advanced or even a professional – you’re going to be producing a lot more data, so you may need offline storage – such as external hard drives or network-attached storage.

Dual Cards

The first thing to consider comes at the point of taking the images and it’s always best to use a camera that has dual card slots and to shoot to both simultaneously. 

That way if a card fails you’ll have a second copy immediately.

We like to shoot RAW files to both cards, as we need the flexibility RAW provides – but If you’re not a profession, it’s ok to shoot RAW files to one card and JPEG files to the second card. This way, the second card can hold more images, and you can even leave it in the camera indefinitely keeping a backup of all your shots. By shooting JPEG to it, you reduce the need to change or clear the card all that frequently, almost automating some of your backup needs. 

The only consideration with this ‘lazy’ approach is that if your camera is lost or stolen – both of your ‘backups’ are gone.

When considering shooting to 2 cards it’s always important to have the very best SD cards you can have and we always recommend SanDisk. We use the SanDisk extreme pros for all of our professional wedding work, and have friends who swear by the Lexar ones.

Card Readers

Once you get home, you’ll need to make sure you can get the images off the card safely and quickly. A lot of computers have an SD card reader built into them – but if you’re shooting with a different camera card, such as a compact flash card, then you may need a different card reader.

We love to use the ones from Kingston – we also have some Lexar and some SanDisk card readers so long as you stick to good reliable brands, you should be ok. 

We’ve had some really bad experiences with cheap Chinese brands or counterfeit card readers, and anytime we’ve had issues with cards reading it’s always been due to teh card reader – so always buy good brands, from a reputable dealer.

Backing up your photos

Our Professional method of backing up photos

1. Put the SD card into the card reader. Using good quality card reader & cards.

2. Create a folder on our computer. We like to use a ‘date structure’ starting with the year, then the month, then the day – followed by the name of the shoot. In our case, it’s the couples names. The reason we use [year][month][day] is so that we can organise weddings by date and keep everything organised chronologically.

3. Copy the files. At this point we’ll drag/copy all of our photos from our cards into the folder ( so at this point we now have at least two copies of your images, one on our computer and one on the card. We won’t clear the cards until we know our backup process is complete.)

4. Multiple Copies. When it comes to a backup, the idea is that if you only have one copy of something, you don’t have a backup. You need a minimum of two copies, in separate locations, to consider your files safe. The more copies, in more locations you can have, the safer they are.

5. External Drives. After we’ve created our ‘chronological folders’ and imported our images, we will then duplicate the chronological folder onto External drives, or to a network-attached storage drive. We use these because we generate thousands of terabytes of data every single year and they give us the best value per terabyte. But, if we were shooting a smaller quantity of data we would use external hard drives or cloud storage.

6. Network Backup. We have a special set up with network-attached storage, that automatically backs up the contents of the drives every week to another network-attached storage at a separate physical location. So if anything were to happen to the first one, we know the second one has our back.

7. Cloud Storage. Next we have a Cloud Storage system with Backblaze, automatically duplicating our NAS drives to the cloud.

8. Final Images. Once we’ve edited our files, our final layer of backup is to store the High-resolution final images in JPEG format on our Network drives, our cloud storage and also in a Dropbox folder.

As you can see, nothing is left to chance and at every point of our process, we have 2-3 copies of our files, in 2-3 locations. Long term we also keep 3-4 copies of the final images in 3-4 locations.

If you’re not a professional photographer, that process above may be overkill, so you might want to check out our simple 3 step backup plan –

 Our simple 3-step way to backup

  1.  Download your cards (shoot to dual cards where possible!)
  2.  Put into a folder ( with a unique, easy to sort name)
  3.  Duplicate the folder onto two separate external drives, and keep a copy on cloud storage.

Storing your photos

Photo Storage Options

Once you’ve got the images off of your camera, you then need to think of the best way to store them long term. There are three options: cloud storage, external drives or network drives. Cloud storage is the simplest but has a monthly fee attached, external hard drives work out the cheapest when you look at the amount of data they can handle and network drives offer huge capacity, ease of upgrade and can fit into a professional environment, offering additional degrees of automation. 

Cloud storage

The cheapest method of backing up your photos would be to use Cloud storage such as BackblazeiDrive, Google Drive or Dropbox, and we go into more detail on the Best Cloud storage for photographers in another article.

For amateur photographers, or for people that just want to take good care of their precious photographs cloud storage is usually the best option.

Cloud storage also allows you to easily share are your photos across all your devices and with friends and family.

External Hard Drives

A slightly more expensive, but more useful method of storing your photos – especially if you have large quantities of them, or the file sizes are very large, or if you need to be able to access them very regularly – would be to have multiple external hard drives. As you’re in control of your backups and keep the hard drives in your possession, you can be sure they’re safe and you know where they are should you need to access them.

When talking about external hard drives, there are two types: there are mechanical hard drives which have a rotating disk inside and there are SSD or solid-state drives.  

Solid-state drives are much more robust, but the capacities are much lower than mechanical hard drives. Mechanical hard drives are less rugged and prone to failure but can hold a lot more data. 

When we’re on location, we love to use SSD drives like the SanDisk Extreme Portables or if we need a larger capacity, we’ll use a LaCie rugged drive.

The SanDisk SSD is blazingly fast and gives us the confidence to take them anywhere. The LaCie hard drives are mechanical drives, so whilst they are a little less robust, they make up for that in capacity – they also come with silicone padding to give us the confidence we need.

When we’re back at the office we have multiple high-capacity hard drives and network-attached storage drives

Network Attached Storage Drives (NAS)

A network-attached storage drive has multiple mechanical hard drives inside it and gives you many options on how to store your data. We primarily use network-attached storage drives in our studio as they give us the most capacity for the cheapest outlay; they also suit us because we need to access the files regularly across all of our machines. 

We’ve gone into more detail on network-attached drives in our article NAS for photographers. We love the ones made by Synology and recommend them to all our mentoring clients.

We use 2, 4 and 8 bay ones like these:

So there we have the three main ways to backup your photos, we hope this guide has helped show you that backing up your photos doesn’t need to be complicated and has given you some insight into how a professional photographer does it!

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