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:


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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

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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

TimeMachine copy

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.


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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

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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

  • Rick Bronks

    Adam – Almost the same workflow/backup as me.. I use a thunderbolt raid as my main drive.. nothing stored on the mac itself. The thunderbolt is backed up to my drobo (too slow for me to work off directly) and also my mac and thunderbolt raid is backed up to Backblaze. I use carbon Copy to run backups every hour from my mac and thunderbolt raid.
    i love how Backblaze can back up an external drive. I also use Zenfolio as a store for my clients work. I thikn I’ve got about 2Tb up there now.

  • ISO640

    I could have used this article a week ago. As a hobbyist, I recently had an external drive start eating my files. It prompted me to purchase a Qnap NAS, with a TB in each drive. I also have 3 1TB external drives that I keep data on. Having almost lost my photos, even as a hobbyist, I’m making certain that it won’t happen again.

    I also saw the Art of Photography podcast the other day where he talks about using Amazon Glacier for cold storage and he has a second Flickr pro account (that he keeps private) that he uses to upload hi-res JPGs to reference his cold storage.

  • Aamir Bilal

    Isn’t flickr a good source to have photos backed up? Even on a pro account?

  • Caca Milis

    Yes but initial uploading may take hours or days (200Gb+ and that’s not even that much)

  • Bob Heathcote

    Because i am not a Mac user I am not sure how to backup your time machine backup but you should figure it out, to meet the three-places requirement. In the windows world I make “Reflect” drive image backups of my computers to multiple hard drives as I would my photos.

  • CrackerJacker

    I just got a Synology NAS and am finally able to sleep at night ;)

    Seriously, I’ve had two external drives fail on me and while the data was able to be recovered, it was NOT cheap. I’m now RAIDed up and, like Rick also working off a “fast” drive, so I’m in triplicate.

  • harumph

    I never erase my cards. They’re cheap enough now that I just like to pretend that they’re negatives. Do a lot of people do this, or is it just overkill?

  • Roger

    Having once upon a time worked as a computer systems engineer for a company that built and sold corporate data backup products, I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about failed disk drives (back in the day when 2G and 4G drives were cutting edge). So I have my digital files on 2 different computers; I burn them to two optical disks (one goes to a deposit box), and also copy them to an external USB disk drive.
    RAID is good, but do realize that it’s still a single point of failure in case of theft, fire, or proverbial asteroid. Off-site storage is important.

  • Jonathan Bloom

    I have a similar philosophy to the above. I never got comfortable with Drobo but I’ve been using blue ray disks (25gig) to back up weddings. It takes almost no space. I also back up to zenfolio (great site) and pictage. I keep three copies. One on my desktop one on an eternal that is local and one external at a different site where I also keep a copy of the blue ray disks. My biggest concern is maintaining the back up.

  • A.K.

    I started out with Drobo but a test I did made me get rid of it very very quickly. I simulated a drive failure on a system with 4x 2TB and only about 1TB of data. Pulling out a drive and putting anew one in I expected the system to be back up and running in a few hours. I gave up after the system was only 15% done after 3 days (no kidding!). at the same time input/output speed was so slow that copying data off the Drobo to a new drive was virtually impossible while rebuild was ongoing.
    Drobo is fine as a storage unit, but in my view it is very bad at what it is supposed to do: recover from drive failures.
    I am now using Synology NAS’ and they are performing a lot better I find.

    If you have a better experience with recovery using Drobo, great. If you haven’t experienced a failure maybe simulate one to see how it fairs. It looks great but it made me nervous.

  • Tomas Ramoska

    Also you have to buy tank to protect your hard drives from burglars

  • Peter Drier

    Backblaze sucks, they couldn’t handle the Aperture database structure (too many files, constantly scanning for changes kept my computer physically warm, CTO very limited in technical ability) Crashplan is much much better and has no trouble with my 4+ TB backup.

  • Halfrack

    The only thing missing is a ‘data rated safe’. Safes are a beautiful thing, but any normal safe is rated to keep the contents below 400 degrees. Sentry makes a line of safes that are data rated, so the interior doesn’t go above 120 degrees for a stated time (30 minutes), so things like external drives have a happy place to chill when not in use. It also has a usb2 pass-thru that allows you to use a laptop drive that’s inside the safe.

    Optical isn’t really an option as large cf cards at 64/128gb are larger than blu-ray disks (50gb). Tape or Amazon Glacier are options when you have lots of data that you want an extra copy of, that you’ll rarely if ever need.

  • Jonathon Watkins

    Overkill. I would get through two 32Gb cards (SD & CF) and a 16Gb CF card for every wedding I shot. ;-)

  • Roy Sealey

    There is no longevity of image currently for images recorded on digital media.
    For an image to last a lifetime so that others may see them u have to make a hard copy – in other words print them

  • Richard Uchytil

    That’s true, but for $30/yr it’s a fantastic price! And you can upload the full sized version. All of the photos I really want to keep go to Flickr to share with everyone. I use BackBlaze on my wife’s computer (she works from home) and it’s great. I wish G+ would offer something similar to Flickr.

  • timo musgrove

    computer got hacked and i lost all my photos (think it was something like 4000 images) ever since then ive shot mostly film, and when i use digital i have 3 hdds that i store them on (both jpeg and raw). if your looking for a great solution western digital has a network hdd, but i wouldnt trust dvds

  • DafOwen

    Would have been better to state NAS/RAID generally rather than Drobo specifically.
    They can be expensive.
    Also have heard of people having issues (inc some famous photographers) – especially when using their proprietary formatting.

  • DafOwen
  • DafOwen

    Also a warning about services that offer “unlimited” storage space – they often have an “Acceptable or Fair use” policy which may not always be clear. And some also have the danger that they can terminate your account without warning if you cross this unkown line! Sounds like BackBlaze is one of these. Ok for a tertiary backup – but not something to rely on.
    In a business situation – I’d much rather know how much space I’m getting and be sure it’s safe.
    Fair Use
    Backblaze reserves the right to terminate or suspend accounts of users who violate these Terms of Service or who Backblaze deems, in its sole discretion, to be “abusers.” Such users may be notified prior to suspension or termination of their accounts; however, Backblaze is not required to provide prior notice. Any failure by Backblaze to enforce this policy will not preclude us from enforcing it at anytime in the future, whether for past or current violations.

  • Kerry

    I had a Drobo and somehow my entire image library got corrupted. Drobo support said there was nothing I could do besides wipe it clean and start over (60,000 images). Fortunately I also was backed up with Time Machine, which had saved all of my images. I have no faith in Drobo and if you Google “Drobo Problems” there are lots.

  • Anthony Burokas

    I’m surprised I haven’t seen this mentioned yet, but in terms of using a single drive, I use an eSATA ioSafe SoloPro. This 3TB drive is fire and water proof.
    The computer then syncs this with my NAS.
    I have not yet established a cloud backup, but it’s in the works.

    Fire? Covered.
    Drive failure? Covered.
    Theft? Sort of covered- my NAS is far away from my studio.

    I plan on updating my NAS in the near future to a newer, faster model, and I may end up getting a second SoloPRO.

  • Andrew

    Having just recovered twice in recent weeks with hard disk failure I would agree with a good backup policy but having had three Drobo FS units and many disks installing in the Drobo fail I would say that the Drobo option is a non starter. Very disappointed with the product. I now use crash plan for online backup and time machine for local backup

  • Ken Elliott

    Drobo is fine, but you should treat it as if it was a single disk. Why? The Drobo (any server, actually) is a single point-of-failure. If it fails, all the drives on board MAY be useless. Drobo (and all RAIDs, pretty much) write in a proprietary format and you can’t simply put that drive in a computer and read it.

    I prefer a Unix box that clones it’s files to a like server at my brother’s house. It is out-of-state and zero cost. You can do the same with software – check out BitTorrent Sync. Put it on your laptop, PC and a remote PC or server. Keeps specified folders in sync across all devices. Pretty cool, and free.