A Photographer’s Guide to Backup

I have an e-book on backup strategies for the photographer—its called “Quick Before They’re Gone” and you can find it on Amazon or buy directly from me. I thought I’d give you all a little preview of the book here in the blog – the following is from the introductory chapter and should give you an idea of the detailed contents of the book. You can also find another post on the general subject here. Below you’ll find the introductory chapter covering the main concepts of archiving and backup covered in detail in the book:


Important Concepts

Before I dive into setting up an organizational system, there are a number of ideas pertaining to asset management we need to explore first.

  • A “backup” is for day-to-day recovery from disasters
  • An “archive” is for long-term storage of assets
  • Maintain at least 3 copies of anything important
  • Have at least one insurance copy off-site
  • Cloud storage is the future of archiving




Most people are familiar with the idea of backing up your computer. We have been admonished to maintain a copy of the files on our computer for as long as there have been computers. This goes hand in hand with the idea of saving your work: save frequently as you go along in case the computer crashes, so you won’t lose too much of you work. The same thing applies on a general hardware level: you need to maintain copies in case your computer or hard drive dies, not just momentarily crashes! For our purposes, a backup is the copy of your day-to-day work that allows you to recover instantly from a serious hardware failure. A good backup happens every day before you shut down your computer. Ideally, your backup should reside on a separate disk that you can re-boot from to get back to work. This means that the backup should include the necessary system resources to run your computer. The backup needs to maintain the most current state of your computer, and working files. It essentially mirrors everything on your computer, and changes to reflect the ongoing changes in your system.


An archive is different from your backup. This is an insurance copy of important documents or other assets that you wish to store long term. Typically, you only add to an archive, never take away. The archive maintains copies of your assets that you might need to retrieve at some unspecified date in the future, and, in many cases, there can be multiple versions of files that you keep in the archive. The archive does not need to store everything on your computer, only documents that need to be secured. Applications and system resources can be ignored if you maintain a regular backup. The assets in an archive can be easily moved from one system to another if need be.

Three Copies-

Any good archive or backup should maintain at least three copies of everything: one working copy, and two backups. Ideally, one of the backups should live off-site for extra insurance against unusual catastrophic disaster, like a meteor striking your house (or a fire or a busted water pipe), that could take out your working copy and immediate backup copy. The three copies principle should be applied throughout the system, so that you have three copies of anything important at any given time. For instance, when ingesting captured images from a camera card, you’ll want to make an immediate backup in the field, so that the files reside on two hard drives and the card, until you get back home and you can make more permanent copies…

Off-Site Copy-

I’ve already mentioned the need for an off-site copy, but it bears repeating. Full protection against disaster is only possible if you keep a copy in a secure location off-site. Some photographers use a safety deposit box! Recycle one of your copies off-site at least once a week. I keep my extra copies in a fireproof box in my garage. It may not be the best solution, but at least it is separated from my main archive. The ideal solution may involve…

Cloud Storage-

The ultimate off-site solution will eventually be cloud storage: your image files uploaded to a remote server accessible over the internet. At the moment, internet speeds being what they are, the upload process is prohibitively slow for large image archives. Nevertheless, several services have become available for backup, and archive through the internet. I have been experimenting with a couple of services by storing hero shots and portfolio images online as extra insurance. As technology improves, this service will get faster and less expensive, and I have no doubt that this will become a dominant strategy for image archiving one day.

Step One

Get Organized

The first step to asset security is to get organized. Unfortunately almost no photographer organizes before they have way too many images strewn willy nilly across their hard drive. So the problem becomes: how does one organize a number of images that have been stored without any organization? I realize that there isn’t just one way to organize  a group of images and you may have begun a process of organization already. I am going to suggest a strategy that may or may not seem good to you, depending on the exact nature of your work: I do know that this works for me and I’ve used many different methods in the past before settling on this one…

Any organizational system has to meet at least 3 requirements:

  • It must be scaleable
  • It must be portable
  • It must be consistent

Scaleable means that you can start small, and grow easily. No system can work if you need to redo it every time your archive grows beyond a certain size. Your system must be able to scale to whatever size media you have available, and be expandable when larger capacity becomes available (as it inevitably will).

Portable means that your whole system can be easily copied from one computer to the next, and from one storage media type to another, without having to reformat or otherwise change your organizational system. It also implies that the overall system can be segmented into smaller parts and re-assembled if need be. Flexibility is key to making a system work over an extended time frame.

Consistent means that your system uses the same organizational criteria for every asset that you archive. It has to be based on something that can apply to any and all images or other documents that you may want to associate with your images, and it has to be repeatable without variation.

Beyond these 3 requirements your organizational system should be simple. A simple system will be easier to implement, and more importantly, easier to maintain and stick to. I use a system that I believe offers all of these things. Whether this approach works for you is something that only you can decide, but I suggest you give it a try unless you are already married to another approach.


The book goes on to examine all the necessary components of  an image asset management system and provides detailed information about:

  • Organization
    • Files
    • Folders
    • Drives
  • Hardware
    • Hard drives
    • RAID
    • Optical disks
    • Cloud services
  • Software
    • Backup software
    • Image Ingestion
    • Cataloging Software
  • Putting it all together
    • KISS system day-to-day
    • Emergencies – recovery from disaster
    • Moving forward

Get a copy of my e-book: Quick Before They’re Gone —here!