How I backup my digital photos

Like almost anything that you do, photography has many sides to it. One side is the joy of shooting the images, of editing and creating that final representation of your idea and vision. Then there is all the "necessary evils" that come with it. One such necessary evil is to think about (and act on) how to store your files, and how to keep them safe.

Over the years I have gone from not really bothering, to structuring the files, to losing files due to technical mishaps, to actively setting up a process where my files are reasonably safe.

In this text, I will explain how I store my files, and the tools that I use to keep them safe. Let's start by looking at how my files move around during their life. This is centered around my photography workflow, but can really be applied to any files you happen to have:

  1. From my camera (or rather, memory card) the files get imported to my laptop, stored on its hard drive.
  2. They stay there for about a month or so, during which time they are sorted and (at least to some extent) edited.
  3. After about a month (usually after a shift of calendar months), they are moved to a NAS (Network-Attached Storage). This is where they will stay long-term.

I currently do my image editing in Adobe Lightroom, and the Lightroom catalog file (or files: I keep one catalog per year), is of course also located on my laptop hard drive.

That said, I have a few principles that will affect my working processes.

  • My laptop is not a storage device
  • Data stored in only one location is not safe
  • Data that is stored only in my house is not safe

Apart from these three storage-related principles, I have a fourth one: I don't want to manually do stuff to keep things going.

That fourth principle has a simple answer: automation. Well, there are two elements to that, really: automation and a NAS. The NAS I have is not super fancy, it's pretty old (I think I bought it in 2012), but it does the job.

My laptop is not a storage device

As I mentioned, after shooting my images get imported to my laptop and are stored on its internal hard drive. That is not safe. Hard drives can crash, and that happens without warning. This means that my prio one is to get a copy of these files off to a location outside my laptop. That location is of course my NAS. Also, I want this done without my manual intervention.

In order to achieve this I have a scheduled task in my laptop (running Windows) which, every now and then, will copy important files from my laptop to a specific backup file location in my NAS. That means that the files are in two locations, and the likelihood for both those drives to crash is far smaller than just one of them crashing.

This takes care of the first principle, the laptop not being a storage device.

Data stored in only one location

For the first month or so, while the files are still in my laptop, they are stored in two locations. But once I move the files off my laptop for long-term storage in the NAS, they are in only one location: in the NAS. Also, while they are still in my laptop (and, as we have seen, also in the NAS), the files are still only in my house. What if the house burns down?

Data stored only in my house

Obviously I need to have one more storage location, one that is physically separated from my house. That place is called the cloud.

Over the years I have tried a few different backup solutions, but right now I am storing the files in AWS S3 Glacier. I am a software development professional so that works for me even if it's not the most simple system to use. But there are a number of services out there that uses cloud storage and that are much simpler to get started with (such as Backblaze, for instance).

My NAS has a backup software in it that will update the cloud backup on a regular interval, both the files in the "temporary backup file area" described above, to which the important files on my laptop are copied, and also the file area in the NAS where photos are stored more long-term.

So, with this setup, I just need to keep my laptop running and connected to my network at home every now and then for all backups to be where they should be. That all happens in the background, and all I do is to just check that stuff has run as expected occasionally.

© 2021 - Fredrik Mörk