I have just lost an external drive and am looking for a more robust/ reliable way of backing up photos.

I don't think the cloud is ready for me because I topically shoot 100 keepers and at 20MB each image this would be impractical.

the best I can come up with is having two external drives but the labor would be cumbersome in having to back up a shoot to one and then the other drive.

is there a simpler solution that would allow me to keep images on two physical drives so that if one dies, I still have the duplicate drive keep me from losing anything.

how do pros make sure they don’t lose images and is it viable financially for a home user?

  • Appears to be a duplicate, see photo.stackexchange.com/questions/8595/… – user9817 Oct 10 '12 at 15:57
  • I don't want to do online backups. in home backup solutions please? – kacalapy Oct 10 '12 at 16:00
  • possible duplicate of What method is best to take backups of your digital photos? – John Cavan Oct 10 '12 at 18:57
  • Lots of good answers. Just recognize that you need both archive and backup! They are not the same thing. An archive is a backup with history so that you can go back and find previous versions of modified (or deleted) files. CrashPlan is good for this but make sure you have two different systems in case one goes bad or doesn't work as you expect. (backgroundexposure.com/blog/2007/01/backup-strategies) – Brian White Oct 10 '12 at 19:56
  • 1
    Why not online? I have been using Amazon s3, and I'm now transitioning to Glacier because it's even cheaper. I have 150 gig on S3 and 220 gig on Glacier. By the time I'm done transitioning, I'll have 400 gig on Glacier that costs me $4/month to maintain. The only cheaper, but less convenient, way that I know of is to store USB drives in a bank deposit box. I have several of those, too. :) – Eric Oct 10 '12 at 22:54

The best option, and one which I use myself, is two fold. I've done this for a couple years now, and while at times it is tedious, it is the only way I actually feel safe about my LARGE photography library (~40,000 RAW photos, averaging around 23mb each) as well as my growing library of edited photos, photos sized for web publishing, photos sized for various print sizes, etc. My total library, including Lightroom catalogs, is a little over 1 Tb.

Primary Backup

My primary backup source is a NetGear ReadyNAS NVX. This is a Network Attached Storage device, or NAS. It holds four hard drives (platters, not SSD), and currently I have all four slots filled with 2Tb drives (8Tb raw space, some of which is allocated to parity.) This device is extremely fast, 75mb/s transfer rate on average, with a burst around 100mb/s. It is a full RAID device, so if one of the drives fails, I can swap it out and replace it with another and the system will rebuild the data that would have otherwise been lost automatically. The ReadyNAS is also an X-RAID device, so you can automatically and dynamically expand your volume onto more drives or larger drives without taking it offline (which is simply amazing.)

Secondary Backup

My secondary backup is LTH-type BluRay discs. These are high quality discs designed to be written to once and stored for a LONG time. Lab tests indicate these puppies will have at least a 10 year shelf life, potentially much longer. I buy Verbatim discs, as they are a trusted brand with a good reputation. I use these to periodically burn a copy of my library for off-site storage (which in my case is generally my car. ;P)


From a strategy standpoint, I actually have three levels of backup. I use Acronis True Image as my initial "active" backup. All of my photography locations, my RAW import folders, my work folders with all my TIFFs, and my Lightroom catalog, are all watched by Acronis NonStop backup. This actively watches for changes, and backs up each and every one. I have a full moment by moment history of every save I ever make, going back for months.

A couple times a month, I'll copy my entire library, RAW import folders, work folders, and catalog, to my NAS. I keep two copies, the current and the last, and delete anything older than that. (I don't have a lot of choice, as two backup copies is already over 2Tb of space).

Every month or so, I will burn the most recent copy of my full backup on the NAS to LTH BD-R. This is the tedious, time consuming part, as I have to build each disc, burn it, label it, and store the discs off site. And somewhat costly...I need two stacks of 25Gb LTH dics which cost about $50, so I try to do this as infrequently as I feel safe doing it. But it IS the long-term backup, something I expect to last a good portion of my life, if not beyond.

Simple Solution

Anyway, this is the complex solution. If you wish to have a simple solution, I would recommend getting a NAS of some kind (ReadyNAS is VERY good, and X-RAID is the best RAID system there is), and simply schedule a small script to back up your library on a regular basis. Keep a short history, maybe two or three backup copies, and leave it at that. Having a RAID device, unless something actively fries or otherwise destroys the NAS device itself, your data is going to be far more reliable than even on a couple external drives.

  • Odd how one can find 75MB/s fast and another slow :) I've gone SSD and now 500MB/s+ (SATA III) is fast and my enclosures have both eSATA (250MB/s) and USB. – Itai Oct 10 '12 at 16:34
  • 1
    Verbatim and TDK disks are the way to go. It is critical to use high quality disks as poor ones degrade much faster. Mine are non-LTH-type though (they aren't supported by my burners). Non-LTH are at least equally durable. – Itai Oct 10 '12 at 16:37
  • @Itai: Sure, a 500mb/s SSD is fast, but they aren't generally supported in NAS devices that are priced within the realm of reach for even an upper middle class person. Plus, even if you DID get something that fast, you would need BETTER than gigabit ethernet to actually achieve a high transfer rate. It is unlikely you'll get more than 100MB/s on gigabit ethernet, and 75MB/s is REALLY GOOD for a sustained transfer rate over a wire. There are also still lifetime concerns regarding SSD drives as well. They may be fast, but they don't have the kind of longevity of an HDD. – jrista Oct 10 '12 at 16:40
  • Fair point about the HDD vs SSDs. HDDs will keep their data much longer but they are also much more fragile. Considering I refresh the data monthly, I rather something tougher than something that may last longer. – Itai Oct 10 '12 at 16:57
  • 1
    Use eSATA for external drives. It's much faster. On a raid there are cables which bundle 4 eSATA channels together and they cost less than a single full-frame DSLR :) – Itai Oct 10 '12 at 16:59

Never backup just at home. All backup solutions have some chance of failure including the loss, theft, fire, floods and natural disasters. There should be two copies in two different physical locations at all times. So, even if you make the backups at home, be prepared to take one elsewhere. Mine duplicates go in a safe at the bank.

For the highest volumes of data, you want hard-disk based solutions. If you can afford high-capacity SSDs, even better since they are much more reliable and sturdy. Keep in mind the cost difference is sometimes more than 10X, depending on the capacity.

The workflow is simple:

  1. Copy your images to your primary backup location. This should be a read-write location as you do your filtering there.
  2. Review and delete images not worth keeping.
  3. Copy to your secondary backup device using a synchronization tool which just copies new and changed files between two devices.

    On Linux: rsync -Sax source target

  4. Bring secondary backup device to secure off-site location.

  5. From off-site location, bring back the previous secondary backup.
  6. Repeat from step 1 as needed.

My workflow is slightly difference since I use optical disks (Presently DVDs but transitioning to Blu-Ray) at the offsite location which is safe at the bank. In this case, there is an intermediate step to fragment data into blocks of 4.5GB for DVDs or 22 GB for Blu-Ray.

More options and considerations are described in an article about backing up digital media which I wrote about 2 years ago.

  • 1
    I would not recommend using SSDs for backups. My experience mirrors many others that shows SSDs to be far less reliable than mechanical harddrives. We keep using them for workstations despite their poor reliability, because they are so fast. Using SSDs for backups is throwing money in the garbage, IMO. – whatsisname Oct 15 '12 at 15:26
  • That really depends on the SSD. Some are not reliable, I know but many are and if this is is a backup that gets overwritten monthly as I suggest, it should rarely be a problem. For long term backups I really favor optical media and I still refresh them every 5 years to avoid degradation. – Itai Oct 15 '12 at 15:38

In general, if you want to keep your data longer than the 4-5 year average life span of a hard drive, you need at least two copies on two different devices. Ideally, those devices should be in different physical locations.

The trick is mostly to have the backups run automatically, so you don't forget it.

I recommend Crashplan, it's the simplest and most flexible backup software I have tried.

Crashplan lets you choose whether to backup to an external disk, to another computer or to the Crashplan cloud service. It supports any number of computers, and can backup to a friend's computer so you have a copy in a different physical location as insurance against a "house burns down"-type catastrophe. (Although the "friend" option backs up over internet, so it's a form of cloud backup and too slow to be practical if you have multiple TB of data. There's no such restriction for local backups.) The free version does backup once a day, the paid version can do backups in more or less real time.

If you have lots of data (several TB), I would invest in a dedicated storage device like a NAS or home server.
(A NAS is a hard drive enclosure that connects to the local network, generally smaller and cheaper than a full-fledged computer. For NAS reviews see e.g. Smallnetbuilder.)

Myself, I have a laptop (Mac) and a desktop (Win 7), both backed up via Crashplan to a Mac mini that acts as a home server.

  • 3
    I'd also add that Crashplan has a seed service for you to get the initial backup online as fast as possible. I used it to get nearly 1 TB of my photos up to their servers which would have taken nearly 2 months using my WAN connection alone. – camflan Oct 10 '12 at 17:10
  • While online backup is slow, it is still useful as "last line of defence" when other backups are unavaible. – Sergey Matvienko Oct 10 '12 at 21:22
  • @Sergey Up to a point - the usefulness is somewhat reduced when it takes weeks to retrieve the backup :) But I use online backup for a few GB of the most important data. (50 GB is about 12 hours download over a 10 Mbit internet connection, that's acceptable for my use.) – j-g-faustus Oct 10 '12 at 22:04

One of the things I most love about digital photography over traditional film photography is how easy it is to have a backup. If my house burns down, my slides are gone forever but all of the digital photos are safe.

Because of how easy it is to have a backup, and how cheap it is, I have many backups.

  • Primary storage: roughly the most recent year is kept on the internal hard drive. To keep space free, I gradually migrate these to an external hard drive, where all the previous years are.

  • Newly imported photos are automatically backed up to a Netgear ReadyNAS (model Ultra 4 Plus, I think). Because new imports are backed up there, that means the ReadyNAS holds an entire backup of my photos. Just as jrista does, I have this set up as a RAID 5 device so any one drive can fail with no data loss. I can then just swap in a new drive, the array will rebuild, and I'll again have that safety net.

  • I also use Backblaze to backup photos to a cloud service. It's very slow and may even take days to completely upload, but it just happens quietly and reliably in the background so I have no problem with the slow speed. Cloud-based backup is a good choice if you can accept that speed isn't on your side.

  • Because I've got some space and could automate it, I also have the backups on the ReadyNAS copied to another local computer. Because why not?

  • On a roughly once-per-year schedule I copy all my photos to an external hard drive that I leave at my parent's house. Just in case my house burns down and Backblaze goes defunct overnight.

Something very important is that you need to be sure your backup methods actually work. You need to test them to be sure. I have simulated power and drive failures on the ReadyNAS and I know -- because I've done it -- that I can successfully rebuild the array and not lose data. I have restored photos from Backblaze so I am sure that the system works. If I want to get the Backblaze backups faster I can pay them to send me a hard drive with my backups. I know my tools work and if my local drives fail tomorrow I don't have the slightest worry about getting the data back, somehow. Unfortunately, if my house burns down and I lose the laptop, desktop, ReadyNAS, and Backblaze fails me, I may lose several months of photos because I have to go to the backups I keep at my parents... perhaps I should work at "plugging that hole."


If you don't mind a bit of expense you can get a RAID system(Redundant Array of Inexpensive (or, more commonly, independent) Disks). These work by taking two or more memory disks(usually HDD) and setting them up to be exact mirrors of each other. This means that if one fails, you simply replace it, the data is put onto that from the other one/s and you have lost no data.

Since you can get disks that are in the 4 and 8 TB relatively easily, space should not be a problem.

Since I haven't tried setting one up myself, I cannot tell you how simply it is, but I THINK it is too complicated.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.