Backup for Photographers

  • Why backup
    • Hard disks will fail
    • System files can become corrupted
    • Working files can be deleted or corrupted
    • Viruses can hit (worst case: Ransomware)
  • What to backup
    • Create boot disk (or USB)
    • Create system image
    • Three levels of backup
      • Local backup
      • Backup to Disk
      • Remote backup
  • How to backup
    • Create boot disk
    • Create system image
    • Create local backups
    • Create remote backups to disk or Cloud
    • Backup while travelling


Analogue backup: Warehouses in Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan, during the Otaru Lantern Festival (and in heavy snow)


Why Backup

Often people only become convinced of the necessity for backup when they lose their hard drive and their computer stops working.  They may have lost all their data.  All hard drives fail.  Some may last for a long time, some may not.

Apart from the hard disk dying, system files may become corrupted so your PC doesn’t work any more and images or working files can become corrupted or be accidentally deleted.

Your computer might get a virus that could render it inoperable.  A good anti-virus program safeguards against that but it won’t catch everything.  In the worst case it might be a ransomware Trojan that encrypts all your files and demands money to recover them which then may still not happen.  Potentially, this could include connected backup files and other computers on your home network.

Macs are less susceptible to viruses than Windows PCs but can still get them so anti-virus software may be appropriate there too.


What to Backup

If you have not already done so, you should create a boot disk for your computer on a CD, DVD or USB stick.  Then if your operating system dies, you can most probably still start your computer by booting up from the boot disk.

You should save a system image for your PC.   This includes all the programs on your computer and all the hidden system files.  Then if you get a virus, your operating system becomes corrupt or you need a new C Drive, you can restore everything the way it was.

  • One partial alternative is to turn on System Restore.  This lets you undo recent changes to your computer’s image.  It saves to your C Drive and you have to restrict the disk space it uses. This means you may not be able to go back far enough to correct a problem.
  • Another partial alternative is to Reset your PC.  This reinstalls Windows but keeps your files (provided they are in standard Windows locations).  However,You have to reinstall all your software.  This is also a possible option if your computer performance slows right down

Of course, you should also backup your data files.  For a photographer that will include all your images, RAW, TIFF, PSD or jpeg.  In fact you should have three backup copies of your files because the hard disks you backup on may fail too.

  • Your first level backup might be directly attached to your computer as a hard disk or as a bunch of disks in a box that operate together (called a DAS or a NAS depending on direct or network access).
  • Your second level backup might be to hard drives not usually connected to your computer.
  • Your third level backup might be to hard drives stored at work or at a friend or relation’s house, or it might be to the cloud. If your house burns down you still have your images.

Some computers use a RAID which is a group of disks that operate together for greater speed, data duplication or both.  Note that a RAID is only one level of backup because the RAID can fail.


How to Backup

  • How to create a boot disk (or recovery drive):
  • How to save a system image
    • For Windows
    • For Mac
    • Note: At least for Windows, you can’t restore the system image to upgrade your system to different hardware (i.e. to a different kind of hard disk or from a hard disk to an SSD).  For that you need Acronis or another backup utility with this capability.
    • Another option is to clone your system disk to a spare one. Then, if you get a virus, you swap the spare disk in.  You can do it on the fly with Acronis; with other programs you would need to start your computer off a boot disk first.
    • Partial alternatives:
  • How to create local backups
    • Confusingly, Windows has two options for file backup
    • There are free backup programs that are likely to be better than the ones Windows provides.
    • If you are using a Norton antivirus product such as Norton 360 or Norton Security Premium, that will include a backup utility that is better than the one that comes with Windows.
    • Acronis provides a full-featured backup option with many other useful tools. The stand-alone version is likely to be better value than the subscription.  It is the market leader but there are also many other alternatives.
    • For Mac


How to create remote backups

  • You can create local backups to disk as above and take the disk to another location. The problem with this is that your backups are likely to be out of date.
  • Backing up to the cloud has become affordable and viable. Since photographers have lots of images, a cloud backup that allows unlimited backup is best.  You also need an ISP such as iiNet that allows unlimited uploads and downloads.  Initial upload is slow (months if you have many terabytes of data) but after that it works unnoticed.  Downloads are faster but may still take considerable time for large amounts of data.  So you still need local backups due to speed of recovery and because no backup is 100% secure.  There are three main options:
    • BackBlaze for about $A70 per year
      • Carbonite costs more, is slow and I don’t see any reason to prefer it to BackBlaze.
    • CrashPlan for Business for  about $A160 per year.
      • BackBlaze only stores deleted files and previous versions of files for 30 days whereas CrashPlan stores them indefinitely.
    • IDrive offers 2TB storage for about $A90 per year or 5TB storage for about $A130 per year (Discounts for first year including one from a hidden link).
      • Limited storage but multiple computers and devices for a household rather than just one computer as for BackBlaze and CrashPlan, so may be an option for families. Stores previous file versions for 30 days only.
    • For more information see the Blog article Cloud Backup for Photographers.


Backup while travelling

You should really have three copies of your images while travelling.  At least one should be stored separately, in a coat pocket for example, just in case.

  • A laptop and portable hard drives are an obvious option. Samsung T3 SSDs are very small, pocketable portable hard drives.  If using a tablet, it will need to have sufficient USB ports for importing and saving or backing up images.
  • A more compact option is a portable storage device. The Sanho Hyperdrive UDMA3, for example, allows you to synch with another hard drive for additional backup.
    • Another cheaper option is the RAVPower FileHub Plus where you can use your phone to backup an SD card to a portable hard drive.
    • A more recent option that looks very useful is the Gnarbox 2.
  • If you are going for an extended walk in the wilderness where there is no electricity, you may have no alternative but to take multiple CF or SD cards for storage and backup. However, if you’re not travelling too light there may be additional options such as Anker solar panels and batteries.

2 comments on “Backup for Photographers

  1. […] This post gives detailed information on the options for backing up to the cloud. For an overview of the various options of backup and the reasons for using them, see my summary post Backup for Photographers. […]


  2. […] More on backing up for photographers in an article in this blog here. […]


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