Untangling the backup mess

 In Gear, Photography Tips

One of the biggest struggles I’ve found any new photographer has isn’t related to shooting, post-processing or even marketing.

It’s how to backup and take care of their digital photos over time.

This was a struggle for me. Two years into my semi-professional photography career, my only backup was a single external hard drive that was quickly running out of space. I backed up maybe once a month, which was a tedious process.

But after talking to a lot of photographers, and doing some research of my own, I know I’m in a much better place now than where I started.


Start off by getting a Drobo, or other RAID storage system

This is a device that lets you plugin multiple hard drives (in my case, four), and it keeps redundant backups on each hard drive. This way, if one drive fails, you simply have to take it out, and add another drive.

My Drobo is my “home” for my photos. All of the drives in it sync with each other on-the-fly. It’s got a USB 3 connection, so it’s fast for using with my Lightroom catalog. And it works flawlessly.

One thing to note, though — unless you have a super high speed internet connection, I’d stay away from network-connected Drobo or RAID devices. Your workflow will just be made a lot slower if you go this route.

Regardless, with any Drobo or RAID drive, you’re going to run out of space eventually. And for me, instead of going out and buying more internal hard drives for my Drobo, I switch over to an external system.

Keep backing up to an external hard drive

Just because you have a fancy Drobo device now, doesn’t mean that you should stop backing up manually to an external hard drive.

Because of my file sizes, and the limitations of hard drive sizes, I know I won’t be able to keep every file known to man on the drives I have in my Drobo for years to come.

What I’ve done to combat this is simply copy over photos at the end of each year, to a separate external hard drive. This means that when the time comes to need more space in my Drobo, I can remove that entire year from my Drobo, working backwards.

It’s 2016 now. Next year, I might need more space on my Drobo. So, for example, I would move the 2013 folder over to its own external hard drive. And then I would get rid of that year’s folder on my Drobo.

How often do I access photos from 2013? Very rarely. I keep this external drive in a drawer in my office.

But you might think, what if this external hard drive fails down the road? If it’s not on my Drobo, how can I get these files back?

That’s where an online backup service comes in.


Choose a reliable, automated online backup service

This was a bit trickier for me, as there are a boatload of options out there.

I started off with Amazon’s cloud service, which I signed up for through an Amazon Prime promotion. It worked reasonably well, but it was slow, had a too-simple interface and it failed a third of the way through my initial backup. I had to find out the exact photo it failed on, and restart the backup process from there. It was time consuming, and I knew it wasn’t the right product for my situation.

I knew that no online service would give me tons of speed, but figured there’d be an option that was at least slightly faster. Dealing with a Nikon D800, which outputs 36 megapixel files, you’re going to have massive storage needs compared to the rest of the world, and thus obviously files will take a while to upload.

I tried out a few other services, but the one I was impressed with the most was CrashPlan.

The service was rated highly, and wasn’t super expensive. I pay $59.99 a year for unlimited online storage. It works completely in the background, meaning it doesn’t get in the way of me performing other tasks…and it doesn’t slow down my machine.

Setup was easy. I told it which folders to backup (in my case, my entire Drobo drive, and my external hard drives), and it went to work. That’s it.

If I add new photos to my Drobo, it automatically backs those up without asking. It can automatically run on a schedule that you choose, and you can also invite your friends to back up to your account.

It’s actually a new system for me (hence the days remaining), but I’m super impressed already with it. It just works.

Needless to say, with these three options, I finally feel like I have my backup life under control. And while three backup systems might be overload for some people, I’d rather not have that peace of mind knowing that everything is backed up in multiple places.

Comment below if you have any questions, and let me know what you use for your backup system.

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Showing 3 comments
  • Allen

    Bryan, great article! I keep my image files on three separate external drives, but had never heard of CrashPlan. Will absolutely check it out!

  • Natalie Weber

    I switched to BackBlaze after HAVING Crashing which crashed! And there is absolutely no customer service with them. i upgraded my mac and crashplan crashed when i did that. backblaze only has online/email customer service but they have always responded immediately to my questions. i would be careful with crashplan. try calling their service number they will give you the run around and you will never receive help.

    • Bryan Esler

      Bummer! I haven’t had those issues, however I know that Backblaze is another great option too, and that they’ve made a lot of refinements as of late to make for a better experience. Good luck!

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