I have decided to store my photos on DVD/CDs as one form of back-up. I am struggling with what to back up though.

The following are the stages my photos go through:
1. Save the unedited photos, i.e. those taken directly from the camera.
2. Delete off the bad/repetitive photos
3. Edit - Adjust the contrast, brightness, highlights etc.
4. Watermark the edited photos.

At what stage should I store the photos?

According to me:
I don't see the point of storing watermarked images - as I can re-create watermarked images without investing too much time.

I am more confused between saving edited or un-edited photos.
Saving only edited photos - would mean that I can't edit them in a different manner later.
Saving raw photos, would mean that I have to invest a lot of time later to edit the photos for re-use.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Your question is relevant because you want to back-up on DVD/CD where storage space is limited. Don't know if this is still a common practice or not. I would think a lot of people backup to external hard drives where storage space is not such a big factor and just backup everything. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rene
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 10:17
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Careful with your CD-R backups, they will likely go bad after just a few years. See superuser.com/questions/625720/… for alternative storage media. \$\endgroup\$
    – Calimo
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 10:31
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It all depends on your needs. Did it take you an hour total to get a collection of images from stage 1 to stage 4? Did it take you weeks? The answer to this will help you decide what makes sense. You already concluded that step 4 is minimal effort, but if step 3 took you a significant amount of time or you would have difficulty recreating the edit, then of course back it up. It all depends on your situation and no answer is right for everyone. \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 0:57

7 Answers 7


I would suggest backing up three things:

  1. The original RAW files.
  2. Your RAW software's database of adjustments — usually, this is kept as lossless storage of what changes you made.
  3. High-quality (100%-quality JPEG or TIFF, depending on subject matter / detail) of developed images you've put a lot of work into.

#1 keeps the originals. #2 lets you recreate your changes, as long as the software is available. And #3 preserves your work in the event the software isn't available at some point far in the future.

Because almost all RAW files can be read and processed by open source software, the concern with #3 isn't that they'll be unreadable, but that you won't be able to apply identical edits. Twenty years from now, your preferred RAW processor may no longer run, and even if newer software reads the edit instructions, the algorithms used may change, leading to different results.

Of course, some of this is personal. Some people might not bother with #3, because they're not too worried about that. Others might take the borderline-heretical approach of keeping only the converted images — treating them as final artifacts from a point in time, and not planning to go back.

For the issue of whether DVD/CD is a good idea in general, I'll point to What method is best to take backups of your digital photos? — these days, I think a combination of external magnetic media + cloud storage is probably the best, but the above really applies in any case.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm confident that PSD will remain plenty well persevered enough for the foreseeable, same for the raw file formats. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 11:54
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @RomeoNinov A Rosetta stone of digital photography? \$\endgroup\$
    – user
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 13:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Careful, a complex format like PSD may evolve over time. Even when 10 years from now, they're still called PSD and is still actively used, it'll be like viewing an HTML page from a decade ago in modern browser; while most will work, some features might not or might be implemented differently. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lie Ryan
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 11:57
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisH Beware of saying "indefinitely" to anyone who thinks like an archivist: like "forever", it's a really long time. And if there are large-scale changes to the software, functionality may be dropped because it is not deemed worth the effort to transition it to the new situation. PCX images were once fairly common, but if there is major rework to for example GIMP for some reason, will the contributors feel that PCX support is important enough to spend time on? How often do you encounter PCX images in the wild these days? I know I very rarely do. \$\endgroup\$
    – user
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 13:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ For what it's worth, I myself largely fall in the heretical camp. I barely have time to keep up with sorting, post-processing, editing, and managing my current output. Going back to redevelop old work? Ain't nobody got time for that! \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 13:56

Things that are deliberately not covered in this answer: How to do a back up and discussion of proper disaster recovery procedures such as physical security and keeping multiple copies in multiple locations. Archival as it is the subject of the preservation of tools and platforms not specific files or formats.

Optical media of any type (Bluray, DVD or whatever) is not suitable for backup of any significant volume of data. Instead my recommendation is to store everything and store it on harddisks or via an off-site (cloud) service available from a few USD/month.

My full backup set (which does include some other similar content) is presently in the order of 3Tb and is not what I'd consider large were I shooting in any kind of volume so I'll use it to illustrate.

At those volumes, the cost of media is around 2.4p/Gb for Blu-Ray, 2.7p/Gb for harddisk and 3.9p/Gb for DVD. But that isn't the whole story - now price up your loss of earnings / time for these two workflows.

Optical media workflow

Set up a disc (decide what files to include etc), label, burn and store it (without scratching or getting any mucky fingerprints on). Your files won't exactly fill each disc and there is an overhead for the file system, on my setup I'd put that at something like 120 BD discs.

The first problem is that it's going to take a while. Lets get a rough estimate that a 25gb BD-R disc needs about 20 minutes to burn. It needs a further 20 minutes to verify the data is correctly written and that drive-time is the only overhead if the operator can organise the next disc to start burning immediately after the current one finishes. That gives you 12 discs produced per 8 hour working day and you need 120 discs. That's 10 working days to produce a backup, minimum.

While you could use multiple burners each one needs a big slice of the available bandwidth of wherever the source data is stored, making it difficult for other work to continue with that store and it is hard to interrupt or slow down to get some work done during that time.

On top of that you are tying up a person who must be paid to nurse a BD-writer for those 10 days (or loss of earnings whichever you prefer). And that's if all the discs pass validation... which is unlikely.

In the event of a major failure you then have to do all that in reverse - even with the best optical media case copying them off means that you're going to need a reader going at full-chat for something like 5 working days.

But writing and restoring the backup to optical media is only half the job since it is unreliable in practice. You also can't be sure that a disc hasn't failed since it was last verified which means the whole set needs to be checked fairly frequently in the hope that hope that there have not been dye-rot issues and (as I've seen) the burner has not produced discs that could only be read back from the burner they were created on rendering the backup useless.

To do it on DVD single-layer would put you in a position that hi-def video source files may not even fit on a single DVD, but you also jump from 120 to around 700 discs to process.

Harddisk workflow

For almost the same cost as the write-once media you can get a bare harddisk of the right size (around 2.7p/Gb for a 3Tb model) and a drop-in reader for SATA devices.

To set it up you need about 10 minutes at most to set the backup running and then you can forget about it while it gets on with it.

Verifying is just as easy and any data loss in the case of a harddisk will be significantly less than removable media (in my experience).

Since the costs are about the same there's no need to reuse the harddisks if you don't want to - although it will save cash if you decide to reuse a disk.

The additional costs are something that can be borne, it can run unattended (overnight for example) and they're a lot more convenient to store in multiple locations (they even come in a nice polystyrene padded box if you want to ship it offsite.)

TL;DR Backing up an reasonable volume of data to optical media is a Sisyphean undertaking which is not remotely cost-effective.

note: prices sourced December 2014 from eBuyer.com and are for comparison only.


My suggestions are to keep:

  1. RAW images, untouched. Its always wise to have the original so you can start working again on it.
  2. RAW adjustments. For example Lightroom keep them in xmp files so you will not loose your work on the image.
  3. And eventually high quality end product, but only in case you do some destructive changes, compared to the RAW
  4. I personally keep also PSD files (if Photoshop or any similar software is involved) just to have one more source to work with

I know this is a lot of space but currently price of harddisks is so low

  • \$\begingroup\$ OP explicitly said storing the backup on DVD/CD, not HDD. \$\endgroup\$
    – user
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 13:31

A hard disk backup should really be disconnected from your power and network/USB when not in use if there's even the tiniest chance of lightning strikes. There are also plenty of surges that will overwhelm many surge protectors giving you another reason why you should disconnect. On the other hand you then have to remember to plug in the drive, back up and then disconnect.

Off-site storage protects against power problems as well as major burglaries/house fires etc. This could be at the day job, a friend's house or google's server farm.

DVDs are an easy way to incrementally back up for off-site storage but aren't a complete solution in their own right - an on-site hard drive is good for many common situations from primary-HDD failure to deleting the wrong file, while being more robust. DVDs (or blu ray etc.) have a major advantage - they're readonly (assuming you choose to make them so) but a disadvantage - they rot.

Cloud storage in bulk is an ongoing cost but also has its own problems: Do you trust the company (including against erroneous copyright takedowns)? Do you trust the software (e.g. if you delete a file locally is the deletion synced)?

In summary no single backup is a real backup for all failure modes. An online external drive on your LAN or USB, behind a surge protector for all cables including data, is a good start.

You could consider off-site DVDs on a per-project basis. This deals with labelling and choosing what to put on each disk.

Alternatively a cloud server which has no common single point of failure with your external HDD could be good (i.e. your primary drive backs up to both using separate software, ideally one at least should be nominally read only).

A final suggestion: 2 HDDs - one on-site, one off-site, and either swap them or add to the off-site storage by anything from FTP to taking a laptop full of files to the drive.

(This was going to be a comment 90% supporting @JamesSnell's answer, but it grew some new points which made it too long.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the hat-tip. I left the 'how to do backups' part out since it's covered extensively elsewhere like superuser. The main thing I was trying to get across was not how to do backups to a harddisk, but that doing backups to optical media is a Really Bad Idea(tm). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 17:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JamesSnell, storing backup on optical media is not bad idea. But have some disadvantages (from my point of view): burn/read speed usually is slower than harddisk, DVD/BR disks have not so huge size (4.7/25 GB) so you should keep bigger number of disks. RAW+JPG~25+10MB=35MB which mean you can keep less than 700 photos on BR. OK this is one day of shooting, but you should catalogue them... Because the question is not only to backup the info but also to have convenient access to this information \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 18:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RomeoNinov - Clearly you didn't read my answer. To back up any reasonable volume of data to optical media so that it is reliably stored and retrievable is a Sisyphean task even if the other issues like dye-rot & scratches didn't make the idea of optical media unreliable. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 21:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JamesSnell - that's a good point about "howto" - and where much of the extra after I ran out of comment came in. I did want to make a couple of points about how optical media can still be useful as part of a solution though, especially as that's what the OP had in mind (maybe for other reasons). \$\endgroup\$
    – Chris H
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 10:22

I use a removable hard drive that I only plug in to the computer and power source when I am using it. I keep only the final edited files for client photos,(Portraits) and for nature and landscape I keep unedited raw files and final edited jpeg files, so that if I chose to change things or go a different root in style I can do it at that time. I do not save watermarked images, I have a watermark "action" that I made in Adobe where I can watermark 100's of photos in just a few minutes. If I was to use CDs/DVDs I would need to build a room and set up a filing system to know what was on each disk and were it was located so I could get to it when I needed it. I would not recommend CDs/DVDs as a storage way unless you do very few images and shoots.


I keep my raw files and my project files (which allow for recreation of final outputs) on a large RAID 5 array for local redundancy and my finished output files on a web server for off-site backup and sharing.

It leaves me a slight chance of losing my raws in a fire or such, but I'll still have the final outputs stored safely offsite.

For me, this was an ideal balance of affordability and safety. It was too expensive to offsite my multiple terabytes of raw images and not secure enough for me to have no off-site backup should the worst happen.


If you get an external hard drive (or two, remember that having only one backup is the same as having none), you can also get apropiated software and not only save at all those points, but you can also save snapshots of your pictures (no pun intended).

For example, this Seagate solution allows you to save the file everytime the file is changed.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I published the article A Cheap Mirror in the 90's for WinNT. The OS started offering filesystem change notifications so another program can efficiently monitor it. One backup is better than none, and is especially handy to guard against human error. Files from the camera go to two different volumes immediately. \$\endgroup\$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 21:46

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