Let’s Talk About Backing Up Those Photos

750 Gigabytes of Goodness750 Gigabytes of Goodness Hosted on Zooomr

A lot of readers have been asking me lately about my backup strategy. We simply cannot talk about the importance of photo back up enough.

At this point there is simply no reason not to have a strong backup strategy in place — and yet when I talk to some of the most talented photographers that I know I find that their work as often as not is not backed up. I’m not sure if it is because photographers are more creative types and would rather focus on fun things like actually taking pictures vs. dealing with icky boring things like back up, but it is simply imperative and terribly important.

All of my own photos are backed at present. I have over 5.5 terabytes of personal storage. This sounds like alot, but do you know how cheap personal storage has become? Right now at Amazon.com (sold out at B&H; Photo) you can get a Seagate 750 GB external hard drive (Seagate as photographed above) for $259. 3 years ago this would have been unthinkable. This is the best value per GB that I think I’ve ever seen.

Even with very large 20MB huge RAW files from a 5D, a 750GB drive like this will hold over 38,000 photos. Most people don’t have 38,000 photos so a drive like this is more than enough.

In fact, I’d recommend that you actually buy two of them — use one as a constant back up at home, and use the other for remote storage. This can be kept at your office, or at a friends house. In my case I keep a backup copy of all of my finished photographs on a hard drive at my parent’s house down in Los Angeles as well. Every time I visit I bring my current back up and swap it out for the old one. This way I’ve got three copies of all of my finished photos and one of them is remote.

Earlier this year my parent’s garage burned down. I’m glad their house didn’t burn down as well, but fires happen, which is why an offsite drive makes sense to duplicate your back up efforts.

I have three of these Seagate drives and love them. I highly recommend them (disclosure, Seagate does sponsor the Photowalking show that I do with Robert Scoble and gave me a free one once, but I’d already been a happy user of the two that I bought for myself).

I’ve tried many different hard drives, Maxtor, Cobra, Western Digital LaCie (LaCie’s are the worst) and Seagates have always performed the best for me.

The hard drive you have your photos on now *will* fail. Guaranteed. It’s not a matter of if it’s a matter of when. So do yourself a favor and if you’re work is not backed up, start backing it up.

Some have said, well why not just DVDs. I personally don’t like this strategy because it’s too much of a pain in the ass and because of that it doesn’t end up getting done as often as it should. With an external hard drive it’s portable and you can just drag and drop whenever you want to back things up. I organize my photos by day, so I can just drag over each day’s photos onto a back up drive.

Consider this blog post your public service announcement for the day. If you don’t have a back up drive, go buy one.


28 Replies to “Let’s Talk About Backing Up Those Photos”

  1. What a important and ironic post as lately I have been struggling with the exact same thing. With countless photos and music, I can’t afford to start over at zero. I think external drives are definitely my option over DVD backups. My question is on the software you use. I know external drives often come bundled with software for performing your backups. Do you find this to be satisfactory?

    Currently I have an external drive connected through my network (Vantec HD Enclosure). I have been trying our various free applications and wasn’t satisfied. I think I finally have found a good one called SyncBack (Their free version). What software programs are others using?

  2. backup backup backup.

    I presently have 20k photos sitting on a HD that does not spin. Some of my very very favorite photos in the world are sitting on that HD.

    Since then I back up to a NAS device from there to a portable HD that sits in a fireproof safe along with DVD backups. I really would like to put my stuff on the NAS device one a week, but it doesn’t work that way.

    I’d like to know what you are backing up. I presently back up the untouched RAW file and the edited .TIF file. I have not made the move to .DNG yet.

    So what are you backing up?

  3. I recently posted my photo plan and it seems to be going pretty well thus far.

    I’m not sure about having external hard-drives just yet: I’ve got a do-it-all Linux server that hosts my websites, e-mail, software development, and tonnes of other things, so I figure having a copy there and DVD back-ups will work fine for me.

    In my case, I’m using IDImager as my DAM tool for storing/burning. It keeps a thumbnail of all your images, lets you store images as ‘versions’ of others (handy for keeping edits separate, yet easily referenced from your original) and tonnes of other neat features.

    Keep in mind, IDI’s latest version is still in beta, so there’s some quirks. I recommend reading their forum and setting aside a weekend of time to exploring their feature set (and bug list) before investing in it – but it shows a lot of promise. And Hert (the lone developer, I think) is a helluva guy.

    Anyhow. That’s my two cents.


    Personal blog wif photos
    My Flickr
    My Zooomr

    Hope this helps someone. 😉

  4. I almost lost all my photos a week ago when the secondary 40 gig 5 year old seagate I was using to store my photos stopped spinning.

    Thankfully, I had a friend’s 80 gig external at home, and managed to get the 40 gig spinning enough to recover all the photos.

    Those aren’t just photos, they are memories: I have photos and videos of a happy aunt who passed away not a month ago. Losing those photos would’ve been a heart breaker. Those aren’t just photos, they’re memories.

    Traditional Online Backups are out of the question for most people because of the cost, and External Hard Drives cost money. Maybe, Zooomr could be used as a free photo backup service…[dev instincts start kicking in]

    Anyway, anybody out there who can send me a $259 Amazon Gift Certificate? 😀

  5. If it’s not network attached its not serious storage. Xsan etc. Gotta be network attached and must be in hot swap RAID….preferably fiberchannel I’m a snob I know…I know.

  6. Great post Thomas.

    I also wonder what software people are using to do their backups. Are you just manually copying them over, or using some automated solution?

  7. My strategy is to not just back up my data, but my entire hard drives. I make disk images of all of the hard drives on my main desk top PC and laptop using Acronis True Image. I do automated full backups of all HDs on the 1st of the month, and incremental backups weekly. The backup jobs run automatically in the middle of the night when Im not using the PCs. These backup drive images are stored on 500GB USB Hard drives similar to the ones Thomas uses. The drive images are then copied to an identical 500 GB USB HD which is kept off site. My daily backups are maintained by using Microsoft Sync Toy to mirror all important data files and photos between my laptop and desktop machines. So in effect I have 4 copies of all important data, on my desktop, laptop, and on two external USB HDs.

    There are several benefits of making drive images to perform backups.
    1) Drive images can be losslessly compressed so one large USB HD can be used to back up several smaller HDs.
    2) If the main drive in any of my PCs dies, I can install a replacement drive, boot the machine from the recovery CD that I created using Acronis, plug the USB drive in with the back up image on it, and burn an exact copy of the backed up HD onto the new replacement drive in a very short period of time.
    3) Recovery from a crashed hard drive does not require re-installing any software or reconfiguring your applications. Everything is put pack the way it was when a drive image is written to a new blank HD.
    4) If any of my HDs gets full and I want to replace it with a larger one, an image of the old drive can be written to a new larger drive with very little effort.
    5) Drive images can be mounted as drive letters and the backed up data in the compressed image can be accessed, copied and updated as if it were an actual hard drive. This is a quick way to get back a copy of an accidentally deleted file or to update an important file in a backup drive image without doing another full backup.

  8. I think this is the exact market where something like Windows Home Server will be great. While you can simulate what WHS is going to do it requires much more time, effort and maintence. Almost no one does backups and so something like WHS that sits in the background and backs up every computer on your network without any effort on your part is what helps prevent these types of issues.

    Granted, I’m not sure if there is a Mac client so that sorta takes some things out the window… though I believe you can still use it like a network share and then it can be set to do automatic mirroring.

    I know I’m going to be recommending one for all the various households I play tech support for.

  9. I also put a backup copy of all my photos on Amazon S3 (using JungleDisk). My backup process runs in the background, and provides a painless and cheap extra level of backup. It works great, plus I can access my photos from any PC on the Internet that I can run JungleDisk on.

  10. Yuvi… You’re taking a lot of risk keeping all of your photographs on a 5-year old drive. Five years is really pushing the expected life of a hard drive (even Seagates, which is one of the few drive manufacturers that warrenty their drives for five years).

    Paul asked about backup software. I’ve been using AllwaySync for the past two years, and I’m very happy with it. It does exactly what I want (incremental backups of the entire files, no proprietary database compression), it’s easy to use, and it’s very inexpensive.

    Andy Frazer

  11. Great post, Thomas.

    Since I realized just how much time I was spending taking photos and how tragic it would feel if it was all lost I’ve developed my own backup strategy.

    I keep a 170Gb external USB HDD for my backups (I’ve got <10,000 photos to worry about). I, like many cheapskates, am using nothing more than Picasa to organize, sort, and geotag my photos. Picasa fortunately has a good built-in backup utility. Each time I download a new batch of photos I like to run the backup utility in Picasa which only backs up changes since the previous version, so it doesn't take too long either.

  12. Actually this one of the class of situations that I think makes a compelling argument for the MS homer server stuff (though they need a mac and linux and other backup clients if they really want to own the garage but they have to much tunnel vision for that). The server allows you to dynamically add storage as needed IDE, SATA, usb firewire whatever, it takes it and lets you stick it into a giant pool. Then you can run back ups against your workstations in a relatively automated way (still needs work iMO) and also have a huge sea of shared space storage you can mount. I’m hopeful that the back end tools will get better to manage fast vs. slow storage and do structured privatization but so far doesn’t look like they are going that way. I’m not clear how they handle drive failure or removal right now but a lot of pretty good though seems to be going into the product. Thought on how to not make back end storage an annoying amount of work. It also shares media out pretty to the 360 and the like (surprised they didn’t through in MCE just to be safe :P)

  13. I’ve been using mozy.com for the past 4 months. It took about 3 to 4 weeks to get the initial 55GB backup over the internet. My typical 2GB photo dump takes about 10-12 hours to backup.

    It is definitely not instant, but it is offsite, handled by professionals (at least I hope they are) and is cheap. I pay $5/month and get unlimited capacity. I also like that it just monitors folders and will backup whatever is new. I decided on them after reading reviews at Walter Mossberg’s site and Storagemojo.com.

    Carbonite.com is another one that I looked into but liked Mozy better.

    I also backup to an external HDD everynight just for instant recovery of mistakenly deleted files. I use Cobain Backup (open source) for backing up overnight.

    As far as external HDDs, I like Firewire (IEEE1394) connected drives more than USB. I have two, one 300GB Maxtor and one 200GB home brew kit. The 200GB just got a new drive in it. It used to be a 300GB drive, but I found out the hard way not to knock the thing off of the top of the computer when you are moving the compter….especailly when it’s spinning.

  14. I can second the comment about Mozy. I’ve been using them for over 6 months now and it’s a great service for the price. Once it’s set up, you don’t even need to think about it. It’s very comforting to know that I have an offsite backup of all of my important files, and with unlimited space I don’t have to worry about disks filling up. I’ve contacted support a couple of times and they are always quick to respond.

    They currently only support Windows, but there is a Mac client in beta testing so hopefully that will be publicly available soon.

  15. sorry for the weird comment, but what happens to the tens of terabytes of photos after their owner dies? 🙁

  16. Yeah, I also recommend wholeheartedly the MOZY.COM solution. Unlimited, cheap, reliable, set it and forget it.

    Thumbs WAY up.

  17. Multiple online and local backups are crucial! I use a NAS as my backup at home, so I can access my pics across my home network. And for remote storage, I’ve got both Carbonite and flickr (Pro). Carbonite is automtated and works great. Flickr is more manual (and their uploading tools aren’t all that great), but it allows me to access all of my pics from anywhere.

  18. once i’ve started backups with cds and found out this doesn’t work, cause you can’t read the cds anymore if they are laying around a few years. so i switched over to a single hdd backupdrive.
    since i’ve lost a harddrive once a few years ago, i decided mod a old computer to run it with a raid1 softwareraid of 2 80gig seagates.
    its just easy with linux and don’t cost you too much.

    i won’t trust a 3rd party service cause you never know what happen to them and to your data.

    i don’t store everything, just the stuff i really like and think its important. i’m deleting a lot of my shots to keep just the ones i really like. its wasting space and time to save every shot you’ve ever done.
    so there is about 40gig left on my 80gig raid.

  19. Great post, and thanks for the advice. But what is wrong with LaCie drives in particular? Reliability or $/GB? Our sysadmin at work recommended it and wouldn’t if he knew it wasn’t reliable enough; it’s obviously in his best interest to create solutions, not problems. It’s a 1 TB Big Disk, and I’m using the FW800 interface (also has fw400 and usb2)

  20. BTW, same sysadmin suggested using rsync to clone entire harddrives (sort of a manual, software RAID, not trusing consumer-priced hardware raids). Or, for Mac users, SuperDuper.

  21. I backup on Flickr and DVD. But if computer harddrives *will* fail, then so should an external harddrive. Whatever you do back up twice. I know someone who burns just dvd’s. He uses two different brands so that even if one batch is faulty and that is only discovered later het still has a copy on another brand

  22. I use 2 Seagate drives and Synctoy (I am actually backing up right now).

    One of the Seagate does not start very well. I have to unplug and replug the power lead. Not so good. The other one lost some data I think because I switched off the drive while spinning by accident. I am rebuilding this one as my backup drive.

    I am definitely going to look at offsite backup. I am not too sure about these Seagate drives.

    See Photographic backup strategy

  23. mumbleyjoe & any picasa users: if anyone knows how to make picasa backup to another (external) drive I’d love to know how! At the moment all I can make it do is go to dvd/cds, which is a pain in the ass. And my most recent dvd burn was faulty/disc was faulty, and i’ve lost a few 100 🙁

  24. Has anyone heard of Wolverine Data’s digital photo backup solutions? You have to back up your memory cards first. Leaving files or pictures in those memory cards is inviting for trouble. I heard the Wolverine units are really cool, any comments?

  25. I am using to backup my software a pretty easy and free software calledhttp://www.dmailer.com/dmailer-backup.html . They offer their software and also up to 3gb of free online sotrage on their servers . And sincerely 3gb is more than enough for my photos.
    Of course if you want to save a lot of photos you will need a larger pack of storage , and they provide it at a good price .
    So as a photographer i am saying that this software did a lot of job for me.

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