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by Bart Arondson

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What method do you recommend to take secure backups of your photos?

I have used Carbonite.com for my family photos and videos - it is an online backup - just select folders to backup and the software takes care of the rest.

For my other photos (more than 2 terabytes) I use 4 external hard disks that I connect with USB once in a while and then store them at my parents' house.

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This should be a community wiki. –  rfusca Jan 21 '11 at 2:52
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This is a dupe of... a lot of things... photo.stackexchange.com/search?q=backup –  mattdm Jan 21 '11 at 4:22
    
Not so sure, I did a search like that too and nothing covers media as much as this question. I admit there is some overlap but I would not close this one. Too bad we don't have a 'Merge Q&A' function. –  Itai Jan 21 '11 at 14:06
    
@Itai Question can be merged when appropriate, if they're first closed - i.e. the answers get moved to the "master" question –  Rowland Shaw Jan 21 '11 at 18:21
    
Backing up images to floppy discs? That would mean one standard jpg file per disc, wouldn't it? –  AskQuestionsLater Jan 26 '11 at 23:10

16 Answers 16

up vote 25 down vote accepted

Photo backups are like backing up any other data, and so the same principles from computing apply:

  • You want to have one active copy. This would be your memory card and/or computer hard drive when you're editing/organizing.
  • You want to have one easy-to-access backup. This is so that you can get the safe copy in the event that you have a minor crash or corrupted file. (This includes corruption by overzealous editing). An external hard drive works well; you can also get a home server, NAS, etc. Burnt DVDs or archival memory cards work too.
  • You want to have one offsite backup. This is to guard against catastrophic losses (ie: your house burns down) which take your easy-to-access backup with it. It also guards against coincidental failure of your active + first backup copy; this is common since you often don't check your first backup for errors until your active copy fails. Online backup services are great for this, but burnt DVDs or memory cards in a safety deposit box work too.

General rule: the more copies you have, the better.

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More or less identical to my workflow -- only tweak I have is to use memory cards in rotation, and keep files on there until the card comes around to being reused (so, with 3x4Gb cards, you have the "current" card, and the last 8Gb ready to re-download if required) This backup plan worked for me when my laptop suffered a disk failure last year, as I could restore everything to a new machine with no files lost. –  Rowland Shaw Jul 16 '10 at 11:43
    
Yes, rotation is very important! Thanks for mentioning that. –  Craig Walker Jul 16 '10 at 14:47
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Dropbox is a pretty good way to backup photos and keep them in sync with your "active" copy. I also have an external drive that is regularly sync'd with my active copy using SyncBack (Free version). –  FistOfFury Feb 26 at 17:56

I personally find remote, online storage to be the most "comforting". No chance of a fire, theft or power spike wiping out everything.

For total security it seems impossible to beat Amazon's S3 storage since they write each chunk of data to multiple geographically separate data stores, read it back and do it again if they don't agree (then it rolls through and rechecks all the data regularly to be sure!). And they will send you the lot on a brand new disk if you are in a hurry and can't wait to download a backup (and are willing to pay but it's quite reasonable).

You need a bit of friendly backup software to put the data into S3 and take it out again. I recommend Jungle Disk since I've used it for years, but there are others that use S3 that might be worth a looking (Cloudberry for instance).

However, even at a mere 15 cents (USD) per gig, per month the price can mount up. So you might like to look at an "all you can eat" plan such as provided by someone like BackBlaze (great data-centre - but only one data centre - depends on your level of paranoia whether that's okay with you).

Or even a mixture of both; S3 for "critical" images and another "all you can eat" provider for bulk backup of things you'd hate to lose - but not quite as much...

There are some "reviews" here which seem reasonably impartial but certainly serve as a good starting point for looking at online backup software:

http://www.onlinebackupsreview.com/

And I spent quite some time evaluating a couple of them myself, and blogged it here:

http://drw.me.uk/RedYeti/2010/03/20/would-you-mind-if-you-lost-all-the-pictures-from-your-travels/

Edit Sep 2014: I've since moved to a Mac and would highly recommend Arq using Amazon Glacier as a backing store. I have my whole /Users folder backed up this way. Works very nicely and is very cheap!

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+1 for remote (in the Cloud) Amazon S3 storage. Having backups did not help one bit when one family member had all her computer kit stolen. –  labnut Mar 30 '11 at 17:57
    
Nasty! That's exactly the kind of thing people don't consider much of the time when thinking about backups... –  RedYeti Mar 30 '11 at 22:04

I use 2 external HDDs. One I keep at home. The other I keep at work as my sort-of offsite home backup strategy. I sync these 2 disks every few days.
I also host some personal websites with Dreamhost. As part of their hosting package, they provide up to 50GB of free backup space, so I also backup there as well. If I didn't have that option, I'd probably go for the JungleDisk option as another poster suggested.
As another poster said, CD/DVDs are too clunky once you start getting more than a few GB of images.

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+1 My model is basically the same, though I have copies on four drives rather than three. I agree with you, DVDs are just unwieldy for any sort of volume. Last year, alone, would put me in the 500 disc range and that's just a little psychotic. :) –  John Cavan Jan 21 '11 at 3:25
    
+1 spot on, I reckon. I used to use JungleDisk, but I've moved to carbonite recently. –  AJ Finch Jan 21 '11 at 11:51
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Dreamhost also offers unlimited storage for "web content" on your plan. I have a simple (password protected) web gallery using zen photo which lets you browse through the folders of photos. Lets me have all the photos as web content, so they aren't limited in space. –  Jon.Griffen Jan 27 '11 at 18:37
    
@Jon.Griffen: I like it. Sounds like you're meeting their TOS by ensuring your photos can still be considered content for your website, rather than just a backup. I don't really have that option for my original photos, since I shoot raw. –  Conor Boyd Jan 27 '11 at 23:13

I have a 2 tiered systems. I back up all of my RAW files on an external HD periodically. I also back up my favorite systems to an online backup system (Smugmug, in case anyone's interested). I can only back up the JPEGs there, but I don't really mind that. In my view, it's alright to back up JPEGs, so long as I've done the best processing first.

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Smugmug is great for this since it does not delete / destroy the original, uploaded JPEG. I have used this as a poor man's way to transfer files when email attachments fail. Well worth the money for this feature alone. –  AngerClown Jan 21 '11 at 4:20

I recently had a hard drive failure, and lost a lot of content, but thankfully none of my original raw files. As you can imagine, my heart nearly stopped when it happened. I've taken the most effective approach I can think of to resolve the problem.

I purchased a ReadyNas NVX, a network attached storage device. The ReadyNAS NVX is a very nice, compact 4-bay raid device that hooks directly into your home network. It can hold a considerable amount of space (currently holds 4 2Tb drives for a total of 8Gb, with about 2Gb used for redundancy and protection), and is very, very fast. I was able to transfer a couple Tb of data to this puppy in about 3 hours at a rate of 60mb/s. Reading from the drive is amazingly fast, peaking at around 85mb/s, and rarely dropping below 75mb/s.

The beauty of a device like the ReadyNAX NVX is that it supports dynamically expanding your storage. If you start out with just one 2Tb hard drive, you can easily expand that to 4Tb by adding another drive while the device is running. If you have 8Tb with 4 2Tb drives, you can pull one drive out and replace it with a 4Tb drive, and the system will automatically expand your space.

It should be noted that a NAS/Raid device like this is not sufficient as a sole, permanent backup. In addition to the NVX, I also regularly burn my photography work to BluRay discs. I tend to keep the discs in my car, just in case something happens to my home.

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Interesting; i'm looking at a NAS solution myself. Amazing how quickly photos eat up storage. You do mean "4 2Tb drives for a total of 8Tb," right? Also, in most climates, the temperature fluctuations inside a car can't be good for the lifespan of your backups (even optical discs like BR). How do you protect against that? –  bill weaver Mar 30 '11 at 15:58
    
I actually no longer keep the discs in my car, I store them in a fireproof safe now. Back when I wrote this, the temperatures were moderately warm and pretty consistent, so it wasn't a concern. As winter came on, I did get worried about the cold ruining the discs. –  jrista Mar 30 '11 at 18:04
    
ah, thanks for the clarification. Well, actually, after i commented, i saw your comment on a related question. The temps where i'm at seem to vary more dramatically, so the car-safe idea raised my eyebrows a bit. =) –  bill weaver Mar 31 '11 at 19:35

I do all my editing on my laptop (with an extra screen attached). The products of the editing are synchronized to my netbook - even though I won't be doing any editing there, it's a "live" copy of the files, and a layer of redundancy.

The next redundancy is an external hard drive. I push backups to the drive on a regular schedule.

My third backup layer is Amazon S3, via JungleDisk. Set it and forget it! Costs a few dollars a month for the used space, as well as any additions.

I used to do backups on CD/DVD, but that was a clunky process, and the common wisdom is that such media can degrade over time, and may not be the most trustworthy. Hard drives are better in longevity, as well as capacity.

Floppy discs - hah! I doubt I could fit more than a couple of photos on one of those! Seriously, don't even bother. They are small and error prone, and most computers these days don't have floppy drives.

Flash drives are compact and inexpensive, true, and may be suitable if you do not have a particularly large volume of files to back up. But, again, for large capacities, hard drives are the way to go.

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I was just wondering what you guys do, I know about backups and such (Network administrator...) I just don't have the money to set up a proper RAID or anything right now. So, I think I'm going to do the DVD thing. The floppy disc bit was more of a joke ;) –  Ava Gailliot Jan 21 '11 at 2:42
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HDD are known to have longevity but they are also dead in a flash, or fall, or flud. Nearly anything can kill and entire HDD. On the other hand an optical disk can be abused until it stops completely, it can fall, be soaked, etc without any problems. Also if thieves break-in, they usually take the portable HDDs with them, a pile of burned DVDs... no so often. –  Itai Jan 21 '11 at 2:59
    
@Itai fair point, but that can probably be said the other way around too, so I'm willing to call it a tie for longevity :) –  Grant Palin Jan 21 '11 at 3:11

I have recently purchased a ReadyNas Duo which I use to store my photos (and other files). It attaches to my home network as a stand-alone device and takes 2 hard disks, which are mirrored using RAID, meaning that a copy of the photos are on each disk. The disks are hot-swappable, meaning that I can easily remove one disk to keep a backup of the files on it somewhere safe. This seems to be the best approach I have found so far for the number of photos I have (around 7500).

An off-site backup would possibly be better, but uploading 9GB of photos to an online backup becomes painful really quickly.

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Only 9Gb? that's not so bad - I've well over 50Gb to worry about... –  Rowland Shaw Jul 16 '10 at 11:39

My workflow is as follows:

  • copy files off the camera into a YYYY/MM/ directory tree, with whatever subdirectories are needed to make sense
  • I have a "permanent" external drive that is sync'ed hourly (this guards against HD failure)
  • I have a portable external drive that I sync to manually, usually every couple of days. I copy this to an external drive at a relatives house (this happens every couple of weeks) (this guards against the "house burns down" scenario)

I haven't set up automatic backup to the offsite HDD, but it probably wouldn't be that hard to do.

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I have a WD NAS on my desk, to which I backup all valuable files on my computer, my photos included. I also use JungleDisk nightly to have an offsite backup of all my files.

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DVDs currently. Will move to Blu-Ray when it is impossible to buy a machine without a Blu-Ray drive.

Optical disks are best because they are virtually indestructible, can be replicated and distributed easily and cheaply, have little value.

Read this if you want to learn more about backup photographs.

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You should periodically check your backups. Commercial optical systems are virtually indestructable, but the burnable DVDs/CDs do in fact go bad. Just a tip, so... –  PearsonArtPhoto Jan 21 '11 at 2:41
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Good point. It is extremely important to buy high-quality media. Some are rated to 100 years but I doubt I will need one tenth of that because optical media gets refreshed by necessity. I copied all my CDs to DVDs about 5 years ago and I suspect I will do the same from DVD to Blu-Ray soon. There are 3 copies of everything as well. My paranoid self makes sure that the 3 copies use at least 2 brands of disks too. –  Itai Jan 21 '11 at 2:56
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Optical disks may be indestructible, but as I understand it, don't actually last that long. They degrade pretty quickly, e.g. maybe 5-10 years. This may or may not be a problem for you, dependent on your backup strategy. –  Conor Boyd Jan 21 '11 at 3:14

I use my Windows laptop with a 500GB drive as the master. So far, 7200 RPM drives are increasing in size faster than I am filling them up with photos :)

I have several external USB drives at work (offsite backup) with at least one 3.5" business class drive holding everything. The other retired old laptop drives hold either RAW images or the JPEGs depending on size.

At home, I have a ReadyNAS duo with dual 1TB disks (RAID mirror) that is a copy of the laptop drive, minus the OS partition.

I use robocopy to synch the laptop to the external drives. For the ReadyNAS, I use rsync (via Cygwin) because I had issues with Samba on the ReadyNAS and file timestamps. About once every six months, I also run integrit on everything to protect against bit rot.

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Hm. Integrit I've never heard of it before. It looks interesting, is it similar to making an md5 sum? –  Ava Gailliot Jan 21 '11 at 3:47
    
I think integrit uses SHA-1, but yes. It reads every byte of every file and creates a checksum for each file. All the checksum data is stored for reference. Then you rerun it later and it compares the checksums to see if any files changed. Obviously this takes a long time ;) –  AngerClown Jan 21 '11 at 4:17
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Very similar, although it uses a different hash function (RIPEMD-160). (MD5 and SHA1 are both considered "broken" for cryptography, although are still fine for bitrot protection.) And, it isn't just a checksum program — it also is meant to manage running against a set of files and alerting on changes. (So, in some ways, more similar to something like tripwire.) –  mattdm Jan 21 '11 at 4:18

All images are backed up on an external HDD. Many are duplicated on the desktop and laptop computers.

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I use Mozy for automatic cloud storage. One feature I love is that on Windows you can ALSO configure and external hard drive so that Mozy will automatically backup to its servers AND to a local external hard drive.

While I want my backups to be automatic (like Mozy), I also like to manually check to make sure everything seems OK. I can easily do this by doing a folder compare of the Mozy generated external hard drive (since only files that were sucessfully backed up to the server appear there). For this, I use a wonderful piece of software called "Beyond Compare". I go into more details about this on my website, happydigitalphotos.com

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I use 3 external harddrives and an USB/ESATA harddisk dockingstation.

First harddisk:
Stored near by and the only one used to read from again (Ideally)

Second harddisk:
Stored near by in a fire-resistant box and is only written to.

Third harddisk:
Not updated at often and is a copy of the second harddisk.
Stored in a different location (In this case my brother)

Regards
Sigersted

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If you use Lightroom/Aperture/other photo management programs, don't forget to backup your image catalog too!

For me, I have Lightroom set up to make a duplicate copy of all imported images to a RAID5 NFS, and backup the Lightroom catalog to the same folder.

Then as the second level, I have a script that rsyncing the entire folder to my Dreamhost account. I have Gallery2 + dcraw (a RAW plugin) set up, so it's technically not a violation of their TOS. (To the word, at least.)

Looking at getting backblaze to backup my desktop, in which case I'll have a third level of backup.

Deficencies in this are mainly:

  1. Lightroom dumps all images into one folder. When I import them I have them separated by date on my desktop. But on the NFS, they just get lumped into one big folder. Problem if I ever want to find a photo in my backup on a specific date without knowing the filename.
  2. The xmp files associated with the RAW images never see the NFS, because they're created on the local drive.

The solution to 1 and 2 would be to have rsync run on my desktop to transfer everything to the NFS and not have Lightroom do the backup. But... I have yet to get around to doing that, whereas the Lightoom backup was a "Find folder in a directory tree". Good interim solution, bad long term.

And, 3. I have no offline backup of anything. I'm planning on creating a DVD of my "best" photos sometime this year though...

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My back up routine is as follows:

  1. Copy all images from card to Lightroom (converting to DNG on the way). Copy means that if there is a computer/Lightroom problem I have a copy of the files until I next use that card.
  2. Select the option to copy images to a second location, I used a NAS for this, this is my archive copy.
  3. I have set Lightroom up so that it prompts me to check, optimize and backup the catalogue each time I exit, this back up goes to my NAS.
  4. I never delete any images on the Archive drive, but I process and clear down working images on my Mac, but this is continually backed up by Time Machine to a Time Capsule.
  5. After every big upload (or on Wednesdays) I sync my Archive to one of two external drives and use a separate back up application to back up my home folder to this drive. At least one of these drives are stored off site in case of fire/burglary etc. (I used to use Mozy for this, but my image library was getting too big for this to be feasible anymore.)
  6. All of my important images (anything taken for a client or rated 3* or above in Lightroom) are exported to my website (Photoshelter) as a full resolution jpeg.

Overkill? Possibly, but I really don't like losing files!

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