Backup Your Photos: Don’t Wait Till It’s Too Late

The reason why you’re here is because you cherish your photos, be it personal family shots or those from your professional portfolio. The last thing you would want to be doing is to only read this essential step in your workflow after your hard-drive has failed. You might have some luck in retrieving some files through recovery services, but that would probably cost a bomb. Here’s how you can ensure that your photos are here to stay.

Your workflow may differ from mine from the way you transfer your photos from your memory card to your computer, but here’s the question that you should keep asking yourself in creating a personalised foolproof backup plan for yourself.


You know you’ve developed a concrete backup plan when you can confidently say:
If this fails, I have that to back it up.

1) From your memory card to your computer

When you empty the photos from your memory card to your computer, you’re most probably going to format that memory card for your next shoot. That leaves you with just one copy of your precious photos on one location. The only way we can avoid losing all our photos is to be as pessimistic as possible. There’s something wrong with this step if you simply transfer the files to your computer because, if you still didn’t realise, your computers might crash as well and you can lose everything you’ve painstakingly photographed for a paid assignment.

The way around this is to backup immediately to an external hard-drive when you first transfer photos to your computer. Depending on the image software of your choice, there’s an easy option on Adobe Lightroom to choose to “Make a Second Copy To: …“, and point that to an organised folder on your external hard-drive. Let’s call this External Hard-Disk B.

If in the midst of processing your photos and your computer unfortunately crashes, you’ll still have all your photos on your external hard-drive, just because you added this simple step to your workflow. Got the gist? Let’s move on.

2) External Hard-Disk A

Now that we have better and higher quality images from our cameras, and especially if you’re shooting RAW, large file sizes can be a problem for those of us who are working on a laptop with limited capacity. You wouldn’t want to be faced with a situation where you have to delete your photos to make way for other files. In my workflow, the photos that I’m working on stays on my laptop, and everything else goes into External Hard-Disk A as soon as I am done processing and exporting them to my website.

This removes the clutter on my laptop and Lightroom library, and it’s amazing to work in an organised environment.

So now we have photos that we’re working on in our computer, photos that we’re not working on anymore on External Hard-Disk A, and a second-copy of our imported images in External Hard-Disk B.

3) External Hard-Disk B

If you’ve remembered to consistently ask yourself that important question of “What happens if this fails?”, you’ll realise that up till what I’ve mentioned so far, we have yet to do any proper backup at all, except that you are sure of the second copy in your External Hard-Disk B. While this might seem like a backup of your files already, I found that it was not as easy to get back to work if you were to use them to fix a corrupted Lightroom library.

The way Lightroom creates the “Make a Second Copy To: …” is by creating folders by date imported, which isn’t very similar to how you would have categorised your photos in the software.

Lightroom Import Backup

This is therefore only a temporary backup, in case your computer crashes after you’ve completed your import, and when you’ve yet to do the next crucial step of backup. Why? Because the next step requires you to clone folders onto your External Hard-Drive B and this wouldn’t take place if you didn’t schedule for the backup process or if you don’t have it plugged into your computer.

Your External Hard-Drive B should therefore be much larger than the capacity of your computer and External Hard-Drive A combined. E.g. My laptop has a 512GB Flash Memory, my External Hard-Drive A has a 2-TB Memory, and my External Hard-Drive B has a 4-TB Memory. 

The best way to backup and have a smooth recovery process if anything happens is to have a cloned Lightroom library.

To do this, the best method is to use a software that allows you to clone your Lightroom library on both your computer and your External Hard-Drive A, such as Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper!, or any other software that will also depend on your Operating System. The best thing about these softwares is the ability to create scheduled backup processes depending on your own preference.

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4) Ask yourself that question again

What happens if this fails?

If my computer crashes after my import, my External Hard-Disk B will still have my import backups.
If my External Hard-Disk A crashes, I’ll still have a workable backup on my External Hard-Disk B.
If my External Hard-Disk B crashes, I’ll have everything on my computer and External Hard-Disk A where I’ll be able to make a new External Hard-Disk B easily.

What happens if all my devices fail?

Through my research on a backup plan for my photography, I’ve concluded that the best way to deal with such a situation, albeit rather unlikely, is to store your files in the cloud. Some would recommend that you have a hard drive where you’ll bring back home to do backups once in a while and store it elsewhere in case of a fire that would cook everything we’ve talked about so far.

I would recommend storing in the cloud for two main reasons. Firstly, it is usually stored in a large secured server that also has their own form of backup to be doubly-doubly sure. Secondly, I’ve found that it’s really useful for me to access photos that I do not have on my computer, easily from anywhere as long as I have internet connection.

5) Some Tips and Tricks

  • Calculate a checksum for every compared file
    This significantly increases your backup process time so you might want to schedule it once a week or once a month. This will rid of any corrupted files and ensure that your backup is actually doing its job properly. Better to be safe than sorry, and while you have to leave your computer switched on, you can probably be on Facebook while this takes place. I highly recommend this.
  • Formatting your Hard-Drives for your Operating System
    Depending on your OS, format your Hard-Drive to suit it. E.g. Mac OS Extended (Journaled) for Apple users. This will help ensure that your drive has better compatibility with your computer. I’ve learnt this the hard way before so you might want to heed my advice on this.
  • Make it a habit to plug in your External Hard-Disk B before importing photos from your Memory Card
    It might seem like an easy task but as with all things, you’ll have to develop a good habit for it or you’ll regret not following through this backup formula diligently. If you do not have your External Hard-Disk B plugged in, Lightroom will simply say that a second-copy is not made. You will then have to go through the trouble of doing the backup manually, so save yourself the hassle.
  • Check your backup every once in a while
    Technology is one of the best things that has enabled us to do so many things… but it’s not perfect. I wouldn’t completely trust a software to help me settle my backup formula. You got to put in effort to make sure that your photos are all well-kept, so go and check on your backup files once in a while to ensure that the software is doing its job properly.
  • Bring the same strategy to your photography when you travel
    Find a way to backup your memory card while you’re taking photos during an overseas trip, either through backing up to a second-slot on your camera, to your iPad at the end of the day, to your computer, or to dedicated devices like a Sanho HyperDrive.

Take time and effort to do this once and well, and you can focus on your photography while being absolutely sure that there is no chance that you’re going to lose any of your great photographs.



Kenji Kwok is a photojournalist and documentary photographer from Singapore, whose work is driven by his belief to give others a channel to voice out their grievances, as well as to document the need for change regarding social issues around the world.

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