A Simple Way to Think of Photo Back Ups

It's been a while since I have had a go at you all about backing up your photos, but since we have only just started a new year, I thought it would be a great time to remind you again just how important it is to create back ups of your digital files!  Remember, hard drives will ALWAYS fail at some point, it is simply a matter of when, so make 2016 the year you do something about it. Please, please, please don't rely on having one copy sitting on your computer, as when that fails (and that's a when, not if) you have lost EVERY SINGLE IMAGE you have taken. Imagine losing all that memories - devastating. 

If you are a beginner to world of photography, or just to the world of backing up, then I know it must seem incredibly confusing to read and hear about all the different "strategies" you can have for backing up - particularly if you are a hobbyist. So I wanted to write a post that will hopefully simplify the whole concept and allow you to create a foolproof strategy that suits YOU.  

I find the easiest way to think about back ups is to think of the 3 - 2 - 1 strategy.   (I didn't come up with this - it's a well-known concept in the IT world for backing up data).  It's incredibly simple, as all it means is that you want to have: 




As an example, you could have one copy of your photos living on your hard drive, a second copy on a external hard drive, and a third copy stored online on a cloud based storage.  That gives you your three copies, on two different media, and one of them is off-site.  Simple, huh?

Of course, there are different ways to achieve a 3 - 2 - 1 strategy, so here are some things to think about:

1. Which medium you want to use to store your first copy

You could store these on your computer hard drive, but RAW files in particular are staggeringly huge, and after a couple of years, your computer may slow down. I'd strongly recommend considering an EHD that you keep plugged into your computer and use these only for your photos, and buy a pretty large size so that you can store a few years worth on there. Whichever you choose, remember that your first copy should be easy accessible as that's your main copy.  

2) Which Medium you want to use to store your second copy.

Now you need to be able to make a second copy, and you want to keep that local so that you have easy access to your images should your first hard drive fail, or you move computers and so on.  Although you could in theory store these on DVD files, I would suggest that a second EHD is a more reliable and easier method.  

3) Decide where to store your off-site copy

The reason you want a third copy far, far away from your house is in case of catastrophic problems, such as a fire, or flood at your home. (As both of your above files are kept locally, in such a scenario, your main copy and your back up would be gone)  You could have a third hard drive, and store that away from your home, taking it back only to update each week, and then moving it out again. For me, this sounds like a complete pain in the nether regions, so I would recommend backing up to an online storage site, which means you can update your off-site back up from the comfort of your computer desk. (As an aside, it also has the added benefit that your cloud storage suppliers will also back up THEIR systems in the event of hard drive failure) Either way is fine, just make sure it's not close by :) 

I actually also create a printed copy (I know - how old fashioned!) but my reasoning here is sound - firstly, it is so these can be enjoyed in the here and now, but also because the world of IT moves at such a staggeringly fast speed that what is easily accessible now, might be more difficult to read in the future (think film reels, video tapes, and even to a certain degree, CD's) Prints are timeless and can survive a lot if stored correctly! In essence, this is my fourth copy. 

4) Decide How to Create the Back Up's 

The final step is simply to decide HOW to want to create these back ups. You can either:

a)  Manually Create Your Copies

Although probably not ideal, this is mainly what I do.  With this, you are simply selecting the files you want to copy, and manually copying them over to your second drive, and to the cloud (or whatever your solutions may be) 

6) Automatically Create Copies

You could get a RAID 1 system, where you have two drives in one unit, with one "mirroring" the other so that your second drive is always the same as your first drive.   (As a side note, although that sounds great, but remember if you accidentally delete a file from your first drive, then it is deleted on your mirrored drive. Same for file corruption, so don't have that as your only long term back up)  You could get a automated cloud back up system like Backblaze, that basically mirrors your drives but this time stores them online, and you can get also get software that you install onto your computer that automatically backs it up to two separate drives without you having to remember (some EHD drives, like this one, come with software included).  There are lots of options in the world of automation, and I don't want to scare you with all of them, but they can be useful to look into, as it removes the need for you to physically remember to back up, and human error. 

Either way, you'll need to consider how you are going to create the copies needed for both your on-site and off-site solutions.

Once you have decided on all these points, you have yourself a back-up strategy! 

If you are a hobbyist who is just starting out, and are totally confused by all the automation options (which is where I think it gets complicated) then simply get yourself two external hard drives,  save your first copy on one, your second copy on the other, and upload a third option to an offsite storage such as Dropbox, Smugmug, Flickr, Amazon Cloud and so on. (If you are an Amazon Prime member like me, remember you also get unlimited photo storage with it) Get into the habit of doing this manually each time you upload and edit a set of images, and don't delete them from your memory card until you have done so. It's not bullet proof, since you have to remember to do it, but it' very simple to create, and usually enough for a hobbyist.  

If you have a business, or just want a more robust system, you'll probably want to spend a bit more time on your solution, and get something that mirrors your files every single step of the way, and is automatic, and could even include something that allows you to present files to download to your clients, such as SmugMug. 

For anyone who cares, this is what I do:

Upload to EHD for main copy

Apple Time Machine Back Up, mirroring computer and drives automatically.

SmugMug for second(and off-site copy), transferred immediately after editing

Delete memory card once photos are on SmugMug

EHD for second copy, transferred manually monthly.

Printed copy (in photo book) as fourth copy, made once per year. 

Is mine the most perfect back up solution ever created? No.  There are much more sophisticated ways to back up your photos than what I do here (and I'm looking into a RAID 1 system to make the system more automated) however it works for me..  I'm pretty happy that I wouldn't lose all my photos in the case of hard drive failure, and that's the main thing I am looking for in a back up solution. 

Either way, I do hope this post has made the whole concept of backing up a little clearer, and therefore easier to implement. If you don't currently back up, get yourself over to Amazon, and snag a hard drive today and make a start!