Backup Strategy: Rule of Three

And poof; all of your work is gone. You didn’t mean for it to happen. You thought you’d get around to putting a backup strategy together. It was on your list of things to do. In the meantime, nothing would happen, right?

Backup Strategies for the Win

We’ve all said this a million times. We have our work and we’ve been productive, but we would backup our work immediately. Unfortunately, we had better things to do at the time and our hard rives and computers were working just fine, so what was the problem? This is new technology. This is a new hard drive. You utter those famous last words. “It will be fine.”

The simplest thing that could happen, did happen. Your hard drive broke. Maybe it was old. Maybe something spilled on it. There are a million things that would happen to it. I once spilled a glass of port on my laptop that absolutely killed it. I’ve also had hard drives just die on me for no apparent reason. It happens.

It could also be something more catastrophic. Your house caught on fire. You had a flood. You had a robbery and someone stole all of your stuff.

And finally, it will typically happen at the worst time. It will be during a project. Typically right before a deadline. With Murphy’s Law the way that it goes, it will happen just as you are hitting the “export” button.

Don’t let this happen to you. (I apologize, but the infomercial type line seemed necessary.)

What to Backup

Back up everything. If you think that you will need it in the future, back it up. As a photographer, make sure that you are backing up two import items:

  • Photos
  • Catalog File

This is important. Your edits are going to be in the catalog file. Your organization strategy will be there too. Make sure that you get both.

Why Three Backups

It is important in your backup strategy to have three copies of everything. When I say three copies, I mean the original and two backups. The reason is simple:

  • The odds of one hard drive going down are high.
  • The odds of two hard drives going down at the same time is pretty small
  • The odds of three going hard drives dying at the same time are pretty non-existent. (I say “pretty non-existent” because the odds are not zero. Plan accordingly.)

Backup Strategies

I recommend two backups, one local and one remote. The local can be an external hard drive. The remote can be an online backup service. In my case, I use an external hard drive for my local backups and I use an online backup service for my remote backup. That way even if my house catches on fire (which it has), I still have access to my remote backup.

Offsite Backup

There are two strategies to backup your data remotely. The easiest method is to use an online backup service like the ones below. There are several pros and cons to each including cost and backup method. Also, please remember that depending on the size of your data, it can take over a week to backup data online. Your milage may vary.

Some great options for online backup are:

The other method is to regularly backup to an external hard drive and physically store that drive offsite in an office, safety deposit box, or similar. The biggest downside to this is that it require manual labor.

Automate Your Backups

I can’t stress this enough: automate your backups. There’s nothing worse than having a wonderful backup strategy in place, but its a manual process that you haven’t done in two weeks. Most modern browsers have a built in backup system like Time Machine. Set these up and use them.

Restore Backups

Don’t forget to learn how to restore your backups. Learn about the tools that you employ and figure out how to restore the backups using those tools. You don’t want to be working on a project, have a loss, and then can’t continue with the project because you don’t know how to restore the files. Also know that most online backup services will send you a physical copy of your data if its big enough.


No one thinks that they will need backups. No one wants to spend the time thinking about backups and certainly, no one wants to pay for them. That being said, having lost data will probably be the most expensive thing that ever happens to you. Employ a backup strategy. It will save you time, money, and your sanity.

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