Photo Backup: How to create an automated system with cloud storage to protect your photographs

How many photos do you have stored on your hard drive?  A thousand?  Ten thousand?  A hundred thousand?  Maybe a Million?  Or, are you like me with 13tb of digital files stored on hard drives?

Do you have backups?  That’s correct, backups, plural… meaning more than one. If you don’t have a backup and a backup of the backup you are simply begging for disaster to happen.

You may have noticed the cover photo for this video labels it as a marketing video.  If you are going to start taking on clients as a photographer and charging money,  you better have a foolproof, bulletproof, nature-proof system to archive your images in the event that a client needs copies of them in a few years.

Please don’t kid yourself into thinking that if you don’t take photographs professionally that you don’t need a backup system. Do you really want to risk losing all of the photographs you have of your children, your vacations, family events? Of course not.

So before I go any further, full disclosure:  I am not an IT professional. I just play one when my wife hands me her laptop and says it won’t do something. I am a photographer. The information I am sharing with you in this video is based on my experience with digital files collected over the last 20 years.  If you are an IT person, before you leave a comment describing in tech terms how your way is much better than mine… remember – I am speaking to photographers, not computer engineers. So if you can’t describe how your system is better in the computers for dummies language,  please spare us the bragging, okay?

For the rest of you, there is going to be some tech speech in this video, so I will do my best to keep it simple.

For many years, IT pros have recommended what is called a 3 – 2 – 1 strategy for backups.  Three backups of your files on two different hard drives with one copy offsite.  This way in your office you would have two backups so that in the event of your original file or hard drive becoming unusable, there would be two additional copies of the file readily available, and in the extreme event of a fire and all three of the versions that are located in your office are destroyed, you will still have one copy off site in another location.

I won’t argue – that’s a sound plan. However, for the needs and budget of most photographers a 1 – 1 strategy will work very well as long as you automate the process. That means one backup onsite and one backup offsite.

My Workflow and On-site Backups

If I am shooting tethered, my files are saved to my laptop’s hard drive and using Capture One Pro, a copy is immediately saved to an external 1tb drive.  This backup feature is also available in Adobe’s Lightroom.

After the shoot, I transfer the images from the 1tb external drive to my 27” 4k iMac with 32gb of Ram and a 3tb built-in hard drive.

The only images that are stored on my iMac’s hard drive are files that are current.  Meaning recent shoots that I am still working on.

If I shoot direct to SD or CF cards, the images are immediately downloaded onto my iMac hard drive right after my shoot.

I have a program installed on my iMac called Carbon Copy Cloner. This piece of software that costs less than $40.00 will monitor my hard drive for new files and automatically copy them to a backup hard drive. Carbon Copy Cloner is a Mac-only piece of software. You can also use a program like GoodSync which is available for both Mac and PC at a cost of just under $30.00.

Carbon Copy Cloner checks my iMac hard drive every hour and automatically copies new files to my primary backup hard drive.

Ok, so I have done a shoot and downloaded the files to my iMac. Carbon Copy Cloner has found the new files and created the first backup automatically. Now I can also use the copy of the files that was left on my laptop’s hard drive or reformat the memory cards that I used for the shoot.

Currently my primary backup drives are two 8tb G-Technology G-RAID Thunderbolt Drives. These are Raid 0 drives. That is tech speak for only holding one copy of each file. Raid drives can be configured to hold two copies of each file for redundancy. For my needs, having two copies of the same file in the same hard drive unit doesn’t provide me any benefit. If you want to learn more about RAID Drives, just Google it.

These two Raid Drives are really my primary storage.  Remember my iMac is only a 3tb hard drive so the only backup on the RAID drives is the images that are actively being worked on from the iMac.  All of the rest of the 13tbs of files that I have are primary storage for my entire image catalog.

Also in my office are two Drobo Drives, attached to a second iMac. The Drobo drives have been my units of choice for many years until the thunderbolt technology became readily available and pre-configured raid drives became affordable. Then I switched to the G-RAID drives and the Drobos became my secondary backup in house.

The Carbon Copy Cloner software also monitors my G-RAID Drives and once a day copies any new files over to the Drobo Drives. This process maintains the backup of my entire image catalog.

f you are new to backup technology, the Drobos were a great solution, because they were totally plug and play at a time when RAID drives required a little computer experience. The problem with Drobo drives is that they create a proprietary file format so if your Drobo unit fails, you can’t remove the drives and put them in a Raid Unit or simply attach them to a computer. You have to put them in another Drobo drive to retrieve your files.

Offsite Backup

Now I have my computer’s hard drive backed up on my primary storage drives.  I have my entire image catalog backed up in-house on my Drobo drives, but I need to create my offsite backup.

In the early days of digital technology, photographers would burn CDs and DVDs and take them to the bank and store them in safe deposit boxes in order to have an offsite backup. It goes without saying that plan was awful on so many levels, but there were few other good options. Fortunately, internet access is much faster, hard drives are much cheaper, and there are now companies offering cloud backups at extremely affordable rates.

The company that I use is called Backblaze. Backblaze provides you with unlimited cloud storage for just $5.00 per month. That’s right – for $5 per month you can back up every single digital file that you have with no limits. A lot of you spend that much every day at Starbucks!

The way it works is incredibly simple. You download a small program that runs in the background on your Mac or PC. This program monitors your computer’s hard drives or any hard drives attached to your computer and anytime if finds a new file it will copy it to the cloud.

Full disclosure: Backblaze is not sponsoring this video and has not paid or provided free services for me to talk about them. I am a paying customer. If you sign up for their service using this link here, I will get a free month, but that’s it. I am recommending them because I use the service. I’ve needed to have images restored and it works. I’ve tried the competitors and found Backblaze to be more efficient, and less expensive.

Now to be clear, that’s $5.00 per month for one computer with as many hard drives as you want to attach to it, plus you get unlimited cloud backup storage. You can pay by the year or even two years and save more money.

Now this is not like Dropbox or Google Drive where you are using the cloud storage to synchronize files on multiple computers. This is strictly backup. I am still a user of Dropbox and Google Drive for quick transfer of files and to store files that I need available on all of my devices.

When you delete a file from your computer you can still retrieve a copy of it from Backblaze for up to 30 days before it is removed from the cloud.

I should warn you: if you have a lot of files and you are setting this up for the very first time, it will take a while to get all of your files uploaded. When I first started with Backblaze I had just over 8tbs of data and it took almost a month to get it all uploaded. That’s going to be the same if not longer with any company that you use.

How do you get your files?

To retrieve a lost file, you simply log in to Backblaze via a web browser and it will show you all of your files. You then select the ones that you need restored and it will create a download for you.  You can also do this via their app which is available for iOs and Android.

If you have a hard drive fail and need to download a large amount of files, they make this very easy as well. You can have them copy your files onto a thumb drive or external usb drive and then ship it to you. So let’s say you have a 3tb drive fail and you don’t want to take the time involved to download 3tbs worth of files. Backblaze will charge you the cost of the hard drive and then copy your files and ship it to you. Once you receive it you have two options. You can just keep the hard drive and they keep your money or you can copy the files off the hard drive onto another drive that you already own and then ship it back. When they receive the drive, they will credit you back for the cost of the drive.  All you pay is the shipping.

I have been using Backblaze for about 4 years now and it couldn’t be simpler. The program runs in the background and requires NO interaction from me.

I tried two other companies that offer this service before deciding on Backblaze, Crashplan and Carbonite. Crashplan is affordable but their software caps automatic uploading at 4gb. Anything over that has to be uploaded manually. I also ran into a problem getting answers from their customer service team when I first tried the service. Carbonite was just simply expensive. They advertise a lot on television and you know that somebody has to pay for those ads. There are a few other companies but they offer less storage capacity yet charge the same prices.

So now you know. You need to backup your files. It’s not as hard or as expensive as you thought – so don’t get caught without a backup for your backup. In the big picture of money spent on photography gear and software, backing up your precious photographs is a very small expense, yet potentially the most important thing you will spend money on.

That’s all for now. I appreciate your watching my videos, but remember that you can’t become a better photographer unless you pick up that camera and practice because your BEST shot, it’s your next shot!  So keep learning, keep thinking and keep shooting, Adios!

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