Photo Backup: Strategy

the chess and the rooks
photo credit: regolare

I've really been dragging this series out — so far we've talked about all the major types of hardware, and the last article talked about software. Now it's time to put it all together and set a strategy. It's important to make a plan of attack when it comes to backing up photos, and this includes things like hardware choices, software choices, amount of redundancy, storage locations, schedule, and more.


And what do we have after this article? Well, maybe just the recap of the whole series! I'll try to get everything wrapped into a single PDF for your reference.

photo credit: estherase


The first step in creating your backup strategy is deciding on the amount of redundancy you're comfortable with. More redundancy means more protection, but it also means more effort and expense. Less redundancy is easier to deal with, but you may be putting yourself at risk.

I would suggest a minimum of two complete and independent backups.

No matter what type of hardware you decide to use, you will greatly reduce the risk of data loss when you have 2 independent backups. The chances of losing the originals and two additional backups is very slim. Going beyond the minimum of 2 will give you less risk, but with a diminishing return.

I have two backups myself: an external hard drive and DVDs.

world on a table (#153)
photo credit: j / f / photos


The next thing you need to think about is where your backups will be stored. Obviously, the easiest place to store them is in your home. This is fine, but it doesn't entirely protect against things like natural disasters or robbery. Storing your backups in multiple locations will also greatly reduce your risk of losing your photos.

I would suggest storing at least one of your two backups off-site.

Storing off-site can be done in a variety of methods. You could keep a backup at the home of a friend or relative. You could store a backup at your office. Or you could get a safe deposit box at your bank. For the backup you store at home, you can also guard yourself by keeping it in a fireproof safe — this will further reduce the risk of loss via fire or theft.

I keep my primary backup in a fireproof safe at my home and my secondary backup at my office.

photo credit: nickwheeleroz


You have all kinds of choices for backup hardware: internal hard drives, external hard drives, RAID towers, DVDs, and online services. Each has its pros and cons, so go back and familiarize yourself with them if necessary. What you choose will largely be a factor of personal preference, cost, and ease of use.

I would suggest using the best hardware you can afford.

Skimping on your backup hardware will only lead to problems and possible disaster. It's silly to spend hundreds of dollars on a new lens, but fret over a few bucks on that external hard drive.

My primary backup is an external hard drive and my secondary backup is a book of DVDs (which are kept off-site).

photo credit: dorotea…


Once you have your hardware picked out, you'll need some software to accommodate it. Most backup software will get you by, but some features and options will be exclusive to certain software packages. In the end, you have to be comfortable with the software because you'll be the one using it on a regular basis.

I use Norton Ghost as my backup software.


Now that you've got all the hardware and software picked out, it's time to decide on a backup schedule. Some people prefer to have real-time backups, while others are fine with daily, weekly, or monthly backups. It all depends on your volume of work and your comfort level with your backup status. If you decide to only backup once per month, you're at risk most of the time. Then again, if you backup on a daily basis, you may be spending more time dealing with backups than the actual photos.

I would suggest at least a weekly backup for your primary hardware.

You can also set different schedules for each of your backups. Your primary should be more accessible than your secondary, so you may consider updating that one more often. In the end, you have to balance time and effort with data security.

My primary is backed-up once per week and my secondary is backed-up once per month.


In addition to the points above, you'll have to sort out a few other things on your own. You need to decide on a budget, for both money and time. Some options cost more than others, and some require more time and effort. You'll also need to think about the long-term stability of your backups. Hardware doesn't last forever, and no matter which options you choose you'll have to replace them at some point in time.

But regardless of how you decide to backup your photos, you should definitely back them up. Don't leave your photos open for disaster.