Essential Backup Habits photo of a disassembled hard drive
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Super Important Habits for Saving Photographs part 3

(Editor’s note: Photofocus author Tim Grey finishes his discussion of the nine most important backup habits for photographers in this final installment of this easy to digest series. Read part 1 here. Read part 2 here.)

Multiple Hard drives
Remember, all hard drives die sooner or later. Backups are important.

7 – Copy Instead of Move

The concept of protecting your photos and other data goes beyond what might normally be considered part of a backup workflow, also including other habits that can help make sure you are helping avoid data loss. One of those habits involves copying your photos when in theory you actually want to move them.

For example, when I download images from a digital media card, my true intent is to move the photos from the card to my hard drive, so the card will then be empty and ready to use for capturing new photos. However, if something goes wrong during the process of moving my photos, I might lose photos. To minimize risk, I copy photos from my media card (and make a second copy at the same time as part of this process) rather than moving those photos. When I’m confident that my photos have been safely copied to two storage locations separate of the media card, I feel comfortable formatting that card in my camera so new images can be captured.

Similarly, when I return home from a trip and want to move photos from the hard drive I was using while traveling to the larger hard drive I use as the master storage location for my photos, I don’t actually move those photos. Instead, I copy the photos from the traveling hard drive to the primary hard drive.

The idea here is to preserve additional backup copies of your photos for as long as you reasonably can, in order to ensure as many options for recovering photos in the event you experience a hardware failure or other issue leading to data loss.

8 – Extended Retention

As noted above, I make a point of copying photos when I might otherwise intend to move them, so that I am essentially creating a backup in the process. When I have images that in theory I might otherwise delete, instead I move them into a backup folder or rename the folder to indicate that it is now a backup rather than “original” data.

Taking that process a step further, I also retain those “extra” backup copies for an extended period. In fact, I don’t have a specific schedule for deleting the extra backup copies. Even after I’ve copied photos from a temporary location to my permanent master storage location, and have made one or two backup copies of that master storage, I still retain the “extra” backup copies as an additional precaution.

The only time I actually delete the “extra” backup copies is when I need to free up hard drive storage space. In the meantime, the extra backup copies of my photos provide a bit more confidence that I have backup copies of all of my important photos and data.

9 – Consistency

Perhaps the most important habit when it comes to a workflow for backing up your photos and other data is consistency. I have seen far too many photographers lose precious photos even though they had defined an excellent approach to backing up their photos. A backup plan is meaningless if you don’t actually follow that plan.

If you define a backup workflow that meets your needs, and then use that workflow consistently, you’ll have the confidence that there is very little risk of losing any of your photographic images.

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