Photographers will often debate whether you need this type of camera or that kind of lens. “Do you really need the extra megapixels?” and “Can’t you make do with the lens you already own?” are valid questions that you should ask yourself whenever you consider buying new gear.
However, a backup and storage system strategy might be the most valuable investment any photographer can have.
It’s why I’ve never understood how a photographer could invest thousands of dollars in camera gear, only to have every photo stored in one location and on an inexpensive, budget-grade hard drive.
The truth is that there are a multitude of storage and backup solutions for photographers and videographers. While some do cost more than others, having a rock-solid backup strategy should be seen as an investment and, if anything, a requirement similar to how many states in the U.S. require drivers to carry car insurance. You pray that you never have to use it, but when you do, you’re thankful that you have it.
I know this from personal experience: Back in April 2002, I was in New York City. For me, it was a rather important time since it was just about the last chance I had to photograph the “Tribute in Light,” an on-site art installation commemorating the Twin Towers after the September 11 attacks. The memorial comprised two massive searchlight arrays that, when lit, gave the famous city skyline its Twin Towers back. After my shoot of the memorial, I returned home, connected the camera to my computer and began copying the files over. Halfway through the copy process, I noticed the progress window on my computer screen disappeared. Then, I saw the destination folder was empty. I soon realized that every photo on the memory card had been inexplicably wiped.
I had no words to describe the moment: I had lost every photo from this very special shoot. Granted, in 2002, having a photo backup strategy wasn’t on the top of every photographer’s list because digital was still so new. Yet it was that very experience that formed my need for having a solid backup strategy for my photos.
So, let’s dive into some of the products and services available for photographers to backup and store images and video.
Breaking Down An Effective Photo Backup And Storage Strategy
On-Site Backups: When determining your photo backup strategy, it’s important to group them into three primary types: on-site, off-site and cloud.
A solid backup strategy will have redundant iterations, or copies, of your photos. On-site backups indicate your copies are stored on-premises, almost always meaning your house. These are the easiest to manage as they usually involve mirroring your photos from one drive—typically your production volume—to a backup drive.
In order for this type of backup workflow to be effective, both drives should always be on and connected to your computer. If your primary computer is a laptop, I’d encourage you to keep it on and connected to your drives whenever you’re at home to ensure effective backups.
I’d wager that most photographers operate with an on-site backup strategy alone, if they have any at all. This solution is fine for most cases, but it fails to account for two things: First, a failure of the backup drive, and second, the destruction or inaccessibility of the backup drive.
Hard drives fail. Homes get burglarized and destroyed. In the event that your production volume and on-site backup drive, which may also be your only backup drive, are no longer accessible, you’re out of luck. So, you’ll also want to look at off-site backups.
Off-Site Backups: An off-site backup typically indicates that you have a backup drive stored somewhere outside your home. That can be your office or at a neighbor’s home. The key here is that there’s a redundant copy of your photos stored somewhere outside your home. This can be a lifesaver in the event that something catastrophic happens to your primary and on-site backup volumes.
The critical thing to consider with any off-site backup is the frequency with which you perform “incremental backups.” An incremental backup is when you back up any new files taken since your last backup occurred.
Fortunately, there are a number of powerful applications that make incremental backups very easy. I keep an external hard drive with a neighbor (and he does the same with me), and I have an alarm set for every two weeks to remind me to grab it and perform an incremental backup. By doing so, I ensure that, in the event of a catastrophe, I will only be out two weeks’ worth of new work. That’s a margin I’m willing to live with compared with the alternative of losing everything due to only having an on-site backup solution.
Cloud Backups: The third part of my backup strategy is, in a way, a derivative of the off-site, incremental backup. The key difference is that instead of leveraging a neighbor and managing a physical hard drive, the backups are managed and stored in the cloud.
Unlike managing an off-site backup hard drive, which tends to be quicker and less expensive, a cloud-based strategy can be costly and take a long time to complete the initial backup. Ultimately, it depends on how much data you want to back up and how fast your internet connection is. In my case, I have two complete cloud-based backups of every photo and video that I’ve ever taken: The first is stored within the Adobe Cloud, and the second is with a service called Backblaze.
Each initial backup took almost a month of uninterrupted connectivity. The benefit is that I can now access every photo, video and file from anywhere in the world and via any device I own. Admittedly, this solution may be the least viable for most photographers because of the recurring cost and the extremely long time it takes to perform that initial backup.
Still, there are ways to compromise with what photos, videos and files you ultimately backup. It doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” decision. I know many photographers who choose to backup a subset of their work to the cloud, and that works just fine for them.
Now that we have a better understanding of the different types of backup strategies available, let’s look at a few examples of hardware, software and services that make this entire process safe and reliable.
G-Technology G-SPEED Shuttle XL 24 TB: This is the hard drive I use at my home office. In fact, I’ve got two identical drives: one serves as my production volume, and the second one is my on-site backup volume. Every night, an incremental backup job kicks off, ensuring that both volumes have the exact same data. In case my production volume fails or becomes corrupted, I can migrate to the backup volume without missing a beat.
LaCie d2 Thunderbolt 3 Drive 6 TB: LaCie is an excellent solution for photographers looking for a reliable hard drive to serve as a production or backup volume without breaking the bank. And thanks to the onboard Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, copying files over is a breeze.
GNARBOX 2.0 256 GBs: For those looking to keep reliable backups of photos and videos while traveling, you should take a serious look at GNARBOX. This rugged, weather-proof SSD boasts storage up to 1 TB and has an onboard SD card slot, allowing for instant, intelligent and incremental backups. Plus, it has onboard WiFi, which means you can review, cull and edit those photos from your phone, tablet or laptop. I use this whenever I travel because I love not having to wait until I get home in order to have a backup of these new files.
ChronoSync for Mac: I’ve been using ChronoSync for years and absolutely love the level of control I have in determining which folders should be backed up. The scheduler and reporting features are also quite powerful. It’s an excellent app if you’re interested in diving deep with software backups.
Backblaze: This cloud service costs $60 a year for unlimited data. So for me, it’s a no-brainer to go with this kind of cloud-based backup service. I love knowing that I can access any photo or file from anywhere in the world, even via my smartphone. Just remember to factor in the lead time needed to complete your first full backup. The more data you have, the longer it’ll take to complete. But once it’s done, you’ll have total peace of mind.
Wrapping It Up
You don’t need to be a professional photographer to justify having a backup strategy. Whether you’re a rock-star wedding photographer or a casual hobbyist who enjoys photography on the weekends, you owe it to yourself to have a solid backup strategy. Fortunately, with the number of hard drives, software and services on the market, you can scale that strategy to be as lightweight or as robust as you feel necessary without breaking the bank.