Backup - Peace of Mind

You’ve put a lot of work into all the images that you have on your computers.  If you really stop to think about it, all your images represent thousands of hours of work.  Don’t let that work go to waste.

If you evaluate the threats facing your digital assets, they can be broken down into three categories…

Protect your precious images - backup your files on a regular basis.

  • Personal Error – This is where you do something to the file that ruins the image.  When you process images in an editor like Adobe Lightroom you minimize this possibility.
  • Physical Equipment Failure – This is the classic disk crash scenario.  As reliable as computer equipment has become over the years, it is still not a matter of “if” your computer breaks down, but “when”.  
  • Fire & Theft – Even if your equipment and backup routines are bullet proof, fire and theft can ruin you.  These are catastrophic events and if it happens to you, you don’t want to worry about your photographs too.


First, there is no one good way to do this.  And, the available tools to help you backup vary depending upon your computer and operating system.  This blog post outlines the way I’ve chosen to back up my system. Tailor your backup system to your own needs. 

Another thing to consider is that many programs offer some type of cloud storage or backup. But this is usually just for files created by that program. What we’re concerned about here is a system wide backup. Again, this can done with some type of online storage but as you build larger and larger libraries of images, your backup requirements may outweigh the capabilities and cost of an online solution.

Both Tony and I use Apple computers. On the Mac, we use a product called Time Machine.  It is part of the operating system and provides a backup of your entire system - or you can tailor it to limit the backup to certain folders.  With Time Machine, Incremental backups are made every hour.  It saves the hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month and weekly backups for everything older than a month. These backups all to to dedicated external backup drives. 

I current’y use a Mac Pro with three external 8TB drives. One drive is for my active files and normal processing, one is for online backup and the third is stored off-site for added protection.  

Because of this I don’t us the “make a duplicate” backup feature when I import images using Lightroom.  Within an hour they will be backed up by Time Machine. But this brings up another issue. My Lightroom catalog is quite large - almost 4GB. It appears to the system as a single file. If there is any change at all to the catalog, then Time Machine will try to back up the entire 4GB. And, it will do this every hour. 

To keep Time Machine from beating itself up, I omit the Lightroom catalog. I then have Lightroom set up to back itself up on a schedule that I’m comfortable with.   
For Fire and Theft, you must make backups to external drives that are then secured and stored off-site.  

In an earlier update to Apple’s operating system they added the capability of Time Machine to handle two profiles at one time. What this means is that I can also make a duplicate of my backup. This copy is stored at an off-site location. 

How often you make these off-site system wide backups all depends upon the type of work that you do.  If you shoot weddings I’d recommend some type of off-site solution every day.  I find that once every month or so is adequate.  “Adequate” is simply when you feel comfortable.