Backup Strategies, Video Podcast

In Lightroom & Workflow, Video podcast, Web/Tech, Workflow & Technical Issues by David32 Comments

A quick 5-minute video to run you through my personal back-up system. Click the screen capture above to see the medium-sized Vimeo version.  If you’d like to download a tiny version for the iPod or iPhone, click HERE.

Well, nearly made it through a whole video without the cats interrupting. Not that I mind when they do but soon y’all are going to get your expectations up and start coming here just for the cats and that’s when they’ll go on strike. Keep an eye out at the end, the cats start doing a scene from Fight Club. They’ve been rehearsing.

Here’s an oversimplified cheatsheet.


When it all comes down to it what matters is not whether I use DVDs or not (I don’t) but whether the system you have works for you well enough that you’ll use it. If your computer blows up or is stolen tomorrow does it leave you high and dry? With the cost of harddrive space these days, there’s no reason not to have some kind of back-up plan, even if it’s not as paranoid as my own.

Got a plan? Share it with us. (And yes, I know I got the date wrong. I recorded this on March 23, a Monday. Sigh…)


  1. Fantastic, really like the video. I don’t ever save my raw images as a dng file so now I’m paranoid about that, too. 🙂

  2. I haven’t heard “screwed the pooch” that many times in the span of 5 minutes in, well… never.

    You rock.

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  4. Another great video. My main computer is a Macbook so my main library lives on a Drobo with a backup of that on external drives (Raid 1 onsite and USB enclosures offsite using SuperDuper).

    Early this year, based on a previous post of yours, I have migrated to organizing everything by year. It’s proving to be better then what I had been doing.

    Anything going to Lightroom is converted to DNG but I maintain a copy of all CR2s as well outside of Lightrooms management.

    Has anyone experimented with online backup? I have mixed feelings about the concept but it sounds like a good idea. It would be an added bonus to have access to your files from anywhere in the world.

  5. Author

    Stephen – I like the idea too but the thought of putting almost 2 TB onto servers – how long would that take? More appealing to me is something like Apple Remote Desktop. I believe this is what Vincent Laforet does – all files on X-serves and running Remote Desktop as well as something like Photoshelter or Digital Railroad (RIP).

  6. David – A very long time. I tried a demo a few weeks ago and I canceled it because it was so slow. I’m also not really sure I want all my files on some server somewhere in the world.

    That said and on a much smaller scale (2-5GB free), I have become a very big fan of Dropbox. It looks like a regular folder but syncs to a backup server. Install it on multiple computers and you can drag and share files between systems (or users) with revision history. This has become my backup for regular less important files and is an great way to share files between Windows and OSX. I’ll shamefully link to them with my referral:

  7. David,

    Great stuff, thanks for sharing. I use a Drobo and love it and am thinking about buying two more.

    What are the WD portable drives that you use for off site backup (capacity etc).

    I am increasingly running into storage issues having recently purchased a couple of 5d mkII bodies that crank out 20+MB files in RAW. It won’t take long to fill a TB with images – even from one year. Can’t wait for some larger capacity dries to hit the market.

    (BTW – for any of you out there thinking about Drobo as a backup solution – Dell has a special deal going on right now where you can get two Drobos with 4x1T drives for around $1550 with tax and shipping – use discount code LX8C0K06PDQ3DC).

    Thanks again for the digital backup tips.
    seeking to shine light on unseen places
    My latest work has been the Sacramento Portrait Project

  8. One more thought about online backup solutions – I recently started posting some images to Flickr (small file sizes) – but was wondering about the concept of posting a limited number (say 5* selects) there under the pro pricing plan. for $24.95 a year they claim you get:

    * Unlimited uploads and storage
    * Unlimited sets and collections
    * Access to your original files
    * Stats on your account
    * Ad-free browsing and sharing
    * HD playback for high-definition video uploads NEW

    Anyone have thoughts about this – my thinking was to make these private images (only you can see them) to prevent theft etc… Be interested to hear what the community thinks about this..


  9. Author

    John – Interesting ideas. My hosting plan is a unique one and I have pretty much unlimited storage if I want it, so never really thought about this being an issue. What about Gmail? Isn’t there a ludicrous amount of secure storage there? You could email zipped DNG files to a gmail account – not a bad solution when travelling, I think.

    You asked about the Western Digital drives – I use 500GB drives and paid, I think, about the equivalent of $140 each for them. They’re WD Passport Elites, I think. As for how long they last – no idea at this point but I think with capacity increasing the way it does I can safely assume I’ll need to be buying new drives and re-storing all my images every couple years. Just part of the cost of doing business, right?

  10. I would think Gmail is a better option then Flickr, but on the note of travel, I would think Dropbox (mentioned above) is even better for dropping gigabytes (up to 5 for free, $100/yr for 50GB) worth of images into a folder, that is backed up to an online server and then sync’d to your home computer all automatically.

    From my understanding, Flickr is jpg only and then to download them, you would need to do so one photo at a time. Flickr also has a history of deleting images without warning if they feel they break the TOS regardless if they are public or not.

  11. David,

    What’s the advantage to converting files to DNG, rather than leaving them in the native RAW format (NEF or CR2 or whatever) and importing straight into LR? That’s what I’ve been doing so far, but maybe I’m missing something. Thanks!

  12. Jordan – David may have more to add but for me, DNG eliminates the need for the XMP side card files and breaks out of the proprietary manufacture file format.

    DNG is a documented format that any software developer can support. NEF and CR2 are closed formats and are read-only.

    In theory, DNG should be supported longer then the specific RAW format coming from the camera which changes with each new model.

  13. Author

    Jordan – Stephen pretty much covered it. No XMP files, non-proprietary (ie, open source) format, and I’d add one more – smaller file sizes. For the kind of work I do I have yet to see a downside. I’m sure there are some, there always are, but for me it’s DNG all the way. I don’t even keep my CR2 files anymore (though I don’t ditch them until I’ve verified the DNGs and all is well.)

  14. Author

    Jordan – I do it in Adobe Lightroom on import. There’s a Convert To DNG option. You can also use their free Adobe DNG Convertor. Stephen – any other thoughts on converting to DNG?

    I chose not to include the original RAW file when I do my conversion, because it takes up too much space, but that’s option for the paranoid. 🙂

  15. Stephen, thanks for the Flickr comments – I guess uploading RAW files had slipped my mind there… I’m not sure 7GB or gmail or 50GB on DropBox is sufficient for my purposes, but thanks for the suggestions…

    David,Jordan, the new version of PhotoMechanic has DNG conversion built in – they just released it recently and I haven’t upgraded yet, but others tell me it is quite nice. So, yet another option for the PM users out there (I am a huge fan of using PM for first edit and then off to LR for the larger edit/development/export).

  16. David – I believe those are the only two options from Adobe. I also convert on Lightroom import. From my understanding, it’s exactly the same as the free converter. It just helps eliminate another step.

    If you are not a Lightroom user and use ACR instead, you would run all of your files as a batch through the converter first.

    One more advantage to DNG: If you own a new camera but have an older version of Photoshop, you can’t open the RAW files without upgrading. You can however use the free converter to DNG which all of the recent versions of Photoshop will support.

    *Every time a new camera is released, Adobe must reverse engineer the file formats and release an update. These updates are only free if you own the most current version.

  17. My plan is pretty simple though perhaps not quite as safe as your multiple redundancies. I have duplicate external hard drives one of each stored at home, the other off-site.

    In the field I carry a laptop, an external drive, and a big (80gb) ipod. All images (after initial edit) are stored on the laptop and on the external drive. Top images are also added to the ipod’s hard drive so I maintain three copies of all my best images. When I get home everything gets backed up on the duplicate drives. Simple.

    It’s my file organization once everything is backed up that is an utter disaster. I’d love to see another one of these on how you organize/keword your photos.

    -Dave Shaw

  18. Transferring many files to an online server would most likely be very time consuming. That’s why companies like Photoshelter let you actually ship an actual hard drive to them, and they upload the files for you. I can’t vouch for the efficiency of this option. I don’t use Photoshelter. I just know they offer that option.

  19. Author

    Well now, Claude, you’ve taught me something I did not know. I haven’t looked into the nitty gritty of online storage so had no idea Photoshelter would do this but suddenly the whole thing makes more sense to me. Still, I’d love to sit down with someone like Vincent Laforet and find out why and how he uses the system he does.

  20. David,

    Glad I could help. I should also add that they will keep your existing folder hierarchy intact while they transfer your archive from a hard drive. The cost is 100$ per drive.

  21. Author

    Ah, you noticed, eh? That’s good ol’ Canadian craftsmanship, that. We can bend aluminum like nobody! Here’s the link:

    I love it. And when traveling it slides over my laptop and protects the display lest some idiot put a heavy bag on top of mine. It’s made for heat dissipation but it’s nice for just giving a bit more angle to the thing.

  22. regarding online storage, one site I ran across was… unlimited storage for $5 per computer per month…

    pretty good deal

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  24. I just ran across this post on backups as I’ve been struggling with it myself for a while. Not sure about the cloud solutions, especially for photography libraries (my Aperture Library is almost 300GB now).

    I have a fairly convoluted system that’s working for me (explained it here

    I’ve been trying to find an easier, better, more automated way but haven’t really cracked it yet. The video gave me a few good ideas. Thanks!

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