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How I Make Sure My Photos Are Backed Up and Safe From Harm

I had a hard drive fail on me once. It was a total nightmare. I lost two years of digital photos and all of my music that i’d digitized. Never again.

Thankfully this happened to me before I was a professional photographer and it was just my own images. Not a wedding client’s. If you charge people for your photography, you need to be professional and have a proper bomb-proof backup strategy.

There is a famous saying that ‘data doesn’t exist unless it’s in three different places and two different locations’. Read that again. It’s very important to get that into your head.

So sometime last year, I took a good hard look at my back up strategy and decided that I wanted to improve it and ‘futureproof’ my workflow. I asked a load of people, I read articles, I did a lot of homework on this subject. Now I’m going to share with you how I back up. It may be overkill, but I’m pretty certain that I’m covered against most things that could go wrong.

So lets start at the beginning:


To put this simply without too much technical jargon, this is an external hard drive with a difference. It’s the mother of all external hard drives. It’s basically a big black box, which is the housing, that can hold a number of hard drives.

The data in a Drobo is stored across all the hard drives in the housing (in a RAID system) — my Drobo houses five of them. If one hard drive in there fails, the Drobo will move the data across the remaining four.

This allows me to replace the failed one and when the new hard drive is placed in there, the data gets written back across all five again. This is a great backup strategy as the data is safer than if it were in a standalone hard drive (which if that fails, it’s gone).

The other good thing is that as I need more storage space, I can swap out the hard drives in there for bigger ones. I think I have five X 2TB drives in there at the moment. But in a few years I may need to change them for 4TB drives, and I can easily do this.

The only downside of a Drobo is the expense, as you need to pay for the Drobo itself and also the hard drives separately. You are also limited to using Drobos in the future as I believe that it uses its own mojo (I’m not that geeky) that isn’t compatible with other types of storage drives.

But I didn’t mind these two downsides, as 1. I earn a living through photography and need to be covered and 2. I liked the Drobo system and it’s used by a lot of photographers, so I hope it’s (hopefully) going to be the market leader for a long time.

External Hard Drives

I also have separate external hard drives, which house backups of the finished images, my documents, etc.

The main two that I use I’ve named HD3 and HD4 (when these get full, I’ll get two more and call them HD5 and HD6). They both have duplicate backups of all my important information.

These are failsafes as my info is in three places in my office.

Time Machine

This is my Mac’s backup utility and is included with my Mac’s OS. Time Machine makes incremental backups of files that can be restored at a later date. It allows me to restore the whole system or specific files.

To be honest, I don’t totally understand Time Machine, but I know that it copies my Mac’s hard drive, and if I need something that I’ve been working on there I can go back to where I store my Time Machine backups and retrieve something.

I use my HD3 to store the Time Machine backups and this backs up every so often and writes over old backups. It just does this in the background without me having to worry.


So now we go into the off-site/online storage. What happens if (knock on wood) my house burns down and the Drobo and all my other external hard drives are lost in the fire?

I need some kind of off-site/online storage solution and, after asking quite a few professional photographers, I settled on BackBlaze.

Backblaze is an online backup tool that allows Windows and Mac OS X users to backup their data to an offsite data center. The service is designed for end-users, providing unlimited storage space and supporting unlimited file sizes. It allows the user to backup data continuously, manually, when the computer is idle, or on an hourly schedule.

How cool is that. A total off-site/online storage solution that only costs around $ 5 a month. This works in the background as well and I don’t really notice it.

There was only one time in the last six months that I’ve needed to retrieve a file, and I ended up going to BackBlaze. It was easy to get back. This service just gives me peace of mind.

My Online Client Gallery

For my wedding clients, I use an online gallery service called Zenfolio. Others are available, but this is the one I use. I upload all the high-res images to the gallery, for clients to view and print should they need to.

This also gives me a belt and braces option, as I can always download the images from there myself, and I take comfort knowing that my final files are stored in two places off-site/online.

My Contracts

To cover myself even further, in my contacts it states that: it is the clients responsibility for ensuring that the high-resolution digital files are safely stored upon delivery and that I’m under no obligation to store them. I also recommend that the client stores them in at least two different places.

That may be a bit harsh, but I’m covered for all eventualities. I will always try to keep copies of clients files, but you never know what may happen.

So thats about it in regards to different storage solutions. It may seem like a lot of hassle and work, but as a professional photographer it’s just part of the job. I think this is what clients are paying me for and it’s what sets me apart from the weekender/hobbyist photographer who charges next to nothing for their work. Making sure your files are safe is all part of the job.


I suppose that I should talk though workflow really, so that you get how all this goes together.

So, let’s say I’ve done my shoot. My camera has two card slots, one for the Compact Flash card and one for a Secure Digital card. I use the Compact Flash card to write the RAW files in camera and the Secure Digital card to write high quality back up JPEG files. (I love that I’m already backing up in camera as I shoot.)

So when I upload the RAW files from the cards to Lightroom, they go straight to a folder on my Drobo and I check the box to make a second copy of the RAWs to my external hard drive HD4 (when I have the finished images, I’ll delete the second copy of the RAWs on HD4 when I remember).

This way the RAW files are in two places in my office and still on the Compact Flash cards. Sometimes I won’t erase the cards until I’ve worked on the final images. Sometimes I have a shoot the next day and I have to use the cards, but at least I know that I have two copies of the RAW files at this point.

Once I’ve finished editing and have exported the final JPEGs to the final folder on my Drobo, I’ll make a copy of them to HD3 and HD4. BackBlaze is also working its magic in the background, and in the case of wedding photography, I’ll upload the images to my online gallery. (As well as burning a disc for the client.)

So the final images are stored in three places in my office. One of them on the Drobo that will write the data across different hard drives should one fail. They are also stored in two different off site/online places as well. So that’s five different places and two different locations.

Can you say that your data is that safe?

About the author: Adam Bronkhorst is a photographer based in Brighton, UK. Visit his website here. This article originally appeared here.

Image credit: Imminent Failure by Justin Marty

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