Data Backup for Photographers 101

September 26th, 2012 by Robert Rodriguez Jr.


We all know how important back up is, don’t we? You certainly don’t need me to tell you how critical it is to make regular backups of your data, to multiple locations, on and off site, and to test your backups on a regular basis. If you are not doing this, then you are taking a huge risk that can easily be mitigated with today’s advanced backup technologies.

I’ve used many different backup strategies over the years, and tried different scenarios in order to keep my personal and professional data safe. As they say, it is only a matter of time, not if, but when. And I have lost data in the past, either because my backup strategy wasn’t robust enough, or because it was too complicated and difficult to do regularly. I’ve simplified things drastically recently, so I wanted to share my current system and why it works for me.

Backup Types

There are two basic backup types that can and should be used for the best security from data loss. Clone backups and incremental backups .

Clone backups are best for when you need to have an exact duplicate of an existing drive – usually the drive where you keep your operating system. This ensures that if it crashes, you can get your computer back up and running very quickly by starting up from the clone drive. There is minimal downtime (aside from physically replacing the drives) and no need to restore from a backup.

Incremental backups keep your files safe over time. This means that if you accidentally delete or change a file, you can recover a previous version days, weeks, or months into the future. This is very different from cloning above which only backs up existing files, and does not protect against changes and modifications of your files.

Backup Requirements

I think any backup strategy for digital media needs to be able to provide at least the following features and benefits.

  1. Data is stored both on site and off-site or on cloud storage. This redundancy protects against anything happening to the location where your main archive is stored.
  2. Provide both clone and archival backup types.
  3. It needs to be easy to do, preferably totally automated, so that you can rest easy knowing your data is safe and not worry that you forgot to make a backup after that long editing session or photo shoot.

Backup Components: Software

For software, I use a combination of Carbon Copy Cloner and CrashPlan Plus. Carbon Copy Cloner has been around forever and works great. I use it on all of my system drives so that if it ever crashes, I can get my computer back up and running with minimal downtime. No need to reinstall software, settings, preferences, etc. I also make a clone of my main image archive for the same reasons.

CrashPlan provides free software that allows you to make backups to the cloud and also to local hard drives and network drives. (You can backup to local drives even if you decide not to use the cloud storage.) The software is available for Mac/Windows, and runs in the background detecting changes to your files and data. You can customize all of the backup options extensively, or just set it to default and let it do the hard work. Every week it emails you a backup report detailing what has been backed up that week – very reassuring.

Because you can choose multiple destinations for your backups, this simplifies the whole process, and lets you focus on creative work instead of worrying about whether your data is safe.

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Backup Components: Hardware

On the hardware side, I backup each of my data drives (RAW files, video files) to separate external drives incrementally. I use a Drobo FS dedicated to backing up all of my data on a regular basis. This is all handled by Crashplan and because it’s always running, I know it is constantly backing up changes throughout the day and night. As mentioned earlier, I have Carbon Copy Cloner make a clone of my system drive and image archive to external drives weekly.

For online backup (which should be the off-site storage component of your strategy), Crashplan offers unlimited storage for up to 10 computers for $6 per month (if you pay 4 years in advance). I think this is an incredible deal that is well worth the piece of mind and insurance against data loss. It may take some time to backup your images, but once it’s done you have great security system in place. My RAW files took over 6 months to backup, but again I don’t worry about it as much as I used to.


I hope this gives you a basic foundation for establishing your own backup strategy. Of course I’m not saying this is the absolute best or only way of creating a backup strategy, but it works for me and has saved my #$@ several times. Do you have any recommendations or suggestions to share? Questions? Please let me know in the comments below!



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