Essential Backup Habits photo of a disassembled hard drive
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Super Important Habits for Saving Photographs part 2

(Editor’s note: Photofocus author Tim Grey tackles the nine most important backup habits for photographers in this three-part, easy to digest series. Read part 1 here. The third and last installment publishes next Tuesday.)

4 – Offsite Storage

Going a step further beyond simply making sure that both your primary and backup storage are on separate hard drives as I discussed in the last installment, is to keep the backup hard drive at a separate physical location from the hard drive used for primary storage. This “offsite storage” approach can mean a variety of things, depending on what options are available to you.

Some photographers simply keep their primary and backup storage in separate parts of their house, figuring the risk is relatively low that both drives stored in separate parts of the house will be catastrophically damaged at the same time. If you have a photo studio you could keep one copy of your photos at the studio and another copy at home. You could even keep your backup storage at the home of a friend or family member. The idea is that you can help reduce the risk of data loss by keeping the backup copies of your photos in a separate physical location from the primary copies of your photos.

Another option for offsite backup storage is to use a “cloud” backup service, which enables you to have your photos stored on the servers of a cloud provider. That generally means your photos will be further backed up with redundant systems managed by the cloud storage provider.

Cloud backup
Backup data to the cloud. Photo: Adobe Stock

5 – Variability

I am often asked whether it is best to use a full backup solution where the backup is replaced each time you perform a backup or an incremental backup where only changes made since the last backup are copied. My answer is to use both of these approaches.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of backup, and so I encourage you to use more than one approach to help make up for the limits of each approach.

In general, my preference is to use a synchronization approach to backing up my photos. With this approach, each time you synchronize you are updating the backup copy of your photos to be an exact match of your primary photo storage. In this way, if your primary storage drive fails you can simply connect the backup drive in the place of the failed drive and continue working. Only photos or other data updated since the last synchronization would be missing at this point.

However, using a synchronization approach to backing up your data also means you will duplicate any mistakes you’ve made. So, for example, if you accidentally delete a folder full of images and then perform a synchronization backup, the deleted photos could be deleted from the backup drive (depending on your synchronization settings) and you may not be able to recover those photos.

An incremental backup solution helps to overcome the risk of the various mistakes that might be duplicated through synchronization. Using both a synchronization backup and an incremental backup also means you have more than one backup, which provides additional peace of mind. So, if you can’t decide between two options for backing up your photos, it might make sense to employ both options.

6 – Redundant Redundancy

To amplify the point that has been made already, having multiple backups can be tremendously helpful in terms of providing an extra layer of protection for your photos.

To begin with, the more backup copies you have of your photos the greater the chance you’ll be able to recover from even the most unexpected challenges. My preference is to rotate through two (or more) backup drives. So, let’s assume my primary storage location is called “Photos”, and the backup drives are called “Backup A” and “Backup B”. You can then alternate between the two (or more) backup drives. So, while “Backup A” is connected to your computer along with “Photos” in order to update your backup, “Backup B” is disconnected and possibly at a different location.

The key point is to anticipate the possible scenarios that might lead to data loss and to implement a backup workflow that mitigates as many of those risks as possible. Having multiple backup copies is a relatively easy way to avoid most of the more common causes of data loss.

Next installment I cover the last three habits: Copy instead of Move, Extended Retention & Consistency. See you then!

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