Approaches to Backup for Photographers

Telling a photographer the best way to backup their photos is tough.. everyone has a different workflow and a different way of doing things.. One thing is constant.. you DESPERATELY need a backup, a solution that once its setup is automatic and reliable. In this post, i'll outline a few different approaches. It all depends on your workflow which is best for you. 

Lets start with the basics.. What is a backup? and what is redundancy?.. and as a photographer do you need both?

A backup is basically another copy of your important information, this backup copy is stored on a different drive, in case your data is damaged, or stolen. 

For example: (true story)
- I create a folder called "Images" on an external drive. Without thinking, i drag that "Images" folder onto my desktop computer where there is already an "Images" folder that contains every image i've ever created. Without reading (or thinking) i quickly click on the pop-up warning "Do you want to overwrite the current "images" folder? In that instant i just erased everything in the images folder on my desktop, and replaced it with the new images folder from the external drive. With a good backup system in place, a few mouse clicks, and a few hours, all your images will be restored, and business as usual. 

In a perfect world this backup copy is "versioned." Versioning allows a user to restore a certain file or group of files from a certain date. This is important when you accidently delete, over write, or modify a file you didnt intend to. 

For Example: 

- On Monday, September 25, 2016 I am working in photoshop and save over an original image instead of giving the new edit a different name. Weeks go by before I realize what i had done. With a versioned backup, i can go into the backup software and basically select "I want to restore DSC0001.PSD from Sept 24, 2016." (the day before i saved over the file) Most backup software these days allows this. The downside to versioning feature is, it takes significantly more space to store the multiple versions of files. 

The basics, no matter what solution you choose, are the same. The industry standard for backup is called the "3-2-1 approach." 
This 3-2-1 approach means:
To really have an effective back up you need 3 copies of your data, 2 copies on-site and one offsite. I would also add to be an effective backup it needs to automatic once its set up. If its something that requires a user/photographer any kind of user interaction, they probably wont do it. 

- you need 1 working copy (Primary Copy)
- you need a onsite backup (a duplicate copy with versioning if possible)
- 1 off-site backup (a duplicate copy stored somewhere else)

This doesnt have to be expensive, or complicated. If done correctly, it should be very simple and should need almost no interaction from the user once its going. 

Because everyone works differently, and has different needs, i cant give you a perfect solution. There are a lot of factors involved in a good backup solution.. here are a few you have to consider:

Your budget: $100.00? or $1000.00? 

    I know money is tight.. and no one likes to spend money on boring things like backup systems and harddrives.. Photographers want to spend money on new cameras, lenses and plane tickets to cool places.. but you have to ask yourself "How much can I afford to lose? What are my photos worth?" A hobbiest wouldnt want or need to spend 1000.00 on a backup system.. but a professional wedding photographer shooting 30 weddings a year, spending 1000.00 - 1500.00 for a robust easy to use backup system that will last 3-5 yrs isnt out of the question. 

- do you primarily work off a desktop or a laptop? 

    Backup systems for a photographer that works primarily off a desktop system is fairly simple. Photographers that primarily work off a laptop its a little more complicated but managable. 

- how much data are you storing? 

    How much do you shoot? How much space does your current photo library take? You want to buy a system that is big enough to last you a few years.. or can expand/grow over time. 

These arent the only solutions.. but these will work. Any suggestions or alternatives would be greatly appreciated. 

I'm going to arrange these solutions by the amount of storage you are currently using. The amount of storage space you are using really determines the best solution for you. 

Solution 1: 1tb of data or less & Desktop computer:


1tb of data or less & Desktop computer:

1tb of data or less & Desktop computer:

Primary Storage - Internal Desktop Computer Drive  
Onsite Backup- cheap external drive -  w/time Machine(~50.00)
Offsite - Dropbox/Google Drive

Solution 2: 1tb to 3tb and a Desktop computer:


1tb to 3tb and a Desktop computer

1tb to 3tb and a Desktop computer

Primary Storage - external drive (~300.00) - preferably with RAID (explained below)
Onsite Backup- External drive -  w/time Machine($200.00)
Offsite - -  (50.00 a year)

Solution 3: 4-8tb and a Desktop computer: (this is where things start to get a little more complicated.. and more expensive)


4-8tb and a Desktop computer:

4-8tb and a Desktop computer:

external RAID drive for primary drive, external RAID for backup (x2 the size of primary drive), external for offsite
Primary Storage - External Drive with RAID (perferably RAID 5, 3 drives or more)
Onsite Backup- External drive -  at least as big as your primary storage
Offsite - External drive -  at least as big as your primary storage