Capital Photography Center | Photography Classes in Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia

8 Tips for Backing Up Your Photos

January 17, 2013 by Marie Joabar

Hard driveBy now you’ve probably heard the saying that it’s not a matter of if your hard drives will fail but when. It’s a certainty that drives will fail and computers will crash, yet many people still don’t have an effective backup plan in place.

If you’ve ever heard a story from someone who’s lost a hard drive you know how heart wrenching it can be. When every photo of your friend’s child’s first year is lost due to a hard drive crash, there’s not much you can do but feel sorry that they didn’t take steps to backup such an irreplaceable treasure.

If you think it won’t happen to you, think again. Let’s look at the ways you can lose files.

(The following list is from*
• Device failure: Any digital storage device can fail. Hard drives fail all the time, and even a multi-drive device can fall off a table and be destroyed. In order to provide real backup, a backup copy of the data needs to be on a separate device, such as an external drive or different media like optical disc.

• Viruses: Viruses can propagate silently from one storage device to another, and then strike to destroy data. All rewritable data is potentially vulnerable to viruses (even on Macintosh), so any hard drive data is at risk. Write-once storage, like Optical disc provides the best protection against virus.

• Malicious damage: Your archive can be exposed to other malicious damage, either from anonymous hackers or perhaps from people targeting you personally.

• Lightning strike/Voltage surge: Excess voltage from a lightning strike or a blown power company transformer can fry your computer in a heartbeat. A surge protector might protect your computer from damage but provides no real guarantee. The best protection is provided by the use of off-site, or at least off-line backups.

• Theft: …Since our pictures are now stored on expensive devices, they are now at risk. Protection against theft includes security measures such as an alarms or a safe, but is best accomplished with offsite storage.

• Fire or water damage: Like film archives, digital images can be destroyed by fire or water damage. But unlike a film archive, it’s possible to make a complete offsite duplicate of your digital archive for very little money, and thus to be fully protected.

• Human error: One of the most common causes of data loss is simple human error. You can accidentally throw away or unintentionally modify files in some undesirable way (such as down sampling).

Any of the above can happen at any time so plan to backup now before your files become victim. Consider these tips when planning your backup strategy.

1. Get Organized - Having your collection of photos well organized will save you much frustration in locating and tracking files, and will make backing up easier.

2. It’s best to backup to two different mediums. Decide what combination you’ll use - external hard drives, a Raid system, cloud storage or optical media.

3. For the best protection follow the 3-2-1 rule from
• Keep 3 copies of any important file (the original and two backups)
• Have the files on 2 different media types (such as hard drive and optical media) to protect against different types of hazards.
• 1 copy should be stored offsite (or at least offline).

4. Determine how much space you’ll need in order to backup. What is the size of your collection now and what amount of storage space will carry you into the near future. At a minimum, whatever the size of your collection double that as the starting point of what the size of each of the backup devices should provide.

5. Choose the software to manage your backup process. There are several different types of tasks that backup software can perform. Some programs can do nearly all types of backup, and some types only do one or two. Here are the categories:
• The most basic backup is a mirror which creates a duplicate copy of the original.
• Some programs will make a compressed mirror in which the files are copied and then compressed to one large file.
• Other programs offer mirror plus incremental backup - a duplicate copy is made and then any changes to the original file are added. 
• A bootable clone is a mirror backup containing all the information needed for the computer to boot up from the copy.

6. Make backing up routine. It should be a part of your normally scheduled tasks and can be automated. How often or at what frequency should be based on how often your data changes.

7. Plan offsite storage for one copy of your backed-up files. As mentioned above, protect yourself against a fire, theft or other disasters.  Offsite can be at your work office, a family member’s house, an online backup service or the cloud.

8. As important as backing up, is testing the backup. To ensure it’s protecting you, periodically test the backup by attempting to restore them to an alternate location. This will bring out any flaws or corrupt data before it is too late.

These are all important considerations that can take you in different directions and strategies. There is no one hard and fast formula as each person’s needs may be different. If you don’t already have a plan in place, get started now. 

For help planning your backup strategy, join Instructor Ed Palaszynski at our Backup Strategies for Today’s Digital Photographer class on Feb 8, 2015.
• Starting with the basics, Ed will explain the terminology used for backing up your files
• If you don’t already have a solid organization system for photos in place, this class will help you determine how to get them organized so you know what to backup.
• The different types of backup systems will be covered including large capacity hard drives, cloud-based systems and RAID systems.
• Various software applications will be discussed explaining different features to help you determine which is best for your purposes.
• Each participant will receive a Personal Backup Strategy Worksheet to be completed at the class which will provide them an individual plan that can later be implemented at home.

*Visit the website.  Refer to it for more information about backing up or for any matter regarding digital photography as you’ll find this is one of the most comprehensive resources anywhere.
* - American Society of Media Photographers Digital photography best practices and workflow. An ASMP initiative funded by the Library of Congress.