Backup Strategy For Photographers – A Multi-tiered Approach

Photographer’s Search For A Backup Strategy/Solution

Lets face it folks, we can’t afford to worry about whether our computers are backed up or not.  We need to have a strategy (and implemented solution) in place that handles this for us day in and day out so that we can focus on the other aspects of our business.  No one wants to worry about the “what ifs” that could happen.  You know what I am talking about.  I am sure these scenarios have run through your mind at some point in your day to day thoughts as a photographer.  We are in the business of capturing memories and the last thing you want to do is explain to a client that you had a computer/hard drive failure and are unable to give them their images.

The Problem

To determine the best strategy for ensuring you have adequately backed up client image files.  I wanted to find a solution that provided enough redundancy but also didn’t break the bank.  I would rather spend enough money to put a proper backup solution in place than to have to shell out a ton of money to try to recover files from a drive that failed.

The Solution

As with anything computer related, there are multiple ways to achieve the same desired result.  Backup solutions are no different.  There is no one size fits all, magic bullet solution.  I have spent a lot of time researching and pulling from my own experience to arrive at the solution we are using today.  Will this work for you?  Is this the best solution for your situation?  That is up to you to decide.   One thing to keep in mind is that no matter what, nothing is full proof.  Things can happen, but if you take the proper steps and precautions, you can keep those situations to a minimum.  Through out the rest of this article, I will be talking about a Mac specific implementation.  A similar setup could be achieved on a Windows or Linux environment.

Three Tiered Approach

Having read a number of articles from other folks in the photography industry and IT world, I decided to adopt a three tiered backup approach.

Tier 0: (time machine)

Not included in the 3 tiers but it provides a “4th” level of protection.  It will backup your current working directory as well as all the other software, files, etc to give you another level of comfort.

Tier 1:

Local fast hard drive – this would be the one inside the computer.  This is where you would download all the cards to when you get home from a wedding, shoot, etc.  This is your “first” backup of your cards, ie, they image files are now in two places.  Time Machine (discussed later) will pick up these changes fairly quickly and create an additional backup of your work.

Tier 2:

External storage with very dependable hard drives.  Redundant via RAID.  This is where Chronosync will make backups of your tier 1 work area.  It will mirror the data and keep track of any changes (you can setup how many, I keep up to 5 copies).  This way if you delete something and want it back, it will have it.  In simple terms, each time you make a change to the files in this location, the next time Chronosync runs, it will compare the file set from the previous backup.  It will apply all the changes but it will also capture those changes and put them in an archive folder that mirrors the name of the folder your backing up.  This way, if you delete some files, Chronosync runs, it removes those files from its backup but it also makes a copy of them under the archive folder (labeled something like “folder_name-1”).  If you really didn’t want to delete those files, you can go there and copy them out.  The number of “snapshots” in time is configurable.  The thing to keep in mind is it stores the deltas and this can add up quickly if there are a lot of changes.

Another use for this tier of storage is to copy files here that I will work on eventually but that do not need to be on my main working drive taking up space (but that I still want access to).  Here are some examples of external storage devices for this tier.

USB 3.0/firewire version $239

Thunderbolt Version $399

You will need four drives to put in it so that we can setup the raid properly.  I put in (4) 3TB Western Digital Red drives.  You must use the Red drives.  With (4) 3TB drives setup in raid (for redundancy), you will have 9TB of usable space.  If one drive dies, everything is fine and just replace that one drive.

(1) 3TB Western Digital Red drive is $109 (5400 rpm, $194 7200 rpm)

Tier 3:

Long term storage location.  This could be anything from a Drobo to another setup similar to Tier 2.  For now, to save cost, I am doing this with an external enclosure and 2 drives.  They are 3TB each.  I move the photo session (wedding, engagement, etc) off to this once they have been delivered to the client.  When these get full, I pull them out (and put them in our safe) and replace with two new drives.  I have Chronosync setup to replicated drive A to drive B each night.  We call this our repository (example: 2016_repo and 2016_repo_backup).

External RAW Archive

After each wedding is downloaded to the main computer, I then plug in a 4TB G Technology GRaid drive and copy the files from the cards again directly to that drive (in a folder labeled for each event).  I then eject that drive and unplug it from power.  That way, I have a backup of the raws that is not plugged into power and is safe from lightning strikes, etc.

Cost is approximately $449 – Reason being is it has redundant drives inside of it to keep your data safe even if one drive fails.


Backup Software


Cost is $49.99 and its worth every penny.  This is where we will setup all the backup jobs to occur.  There is an app for iPhone or Android for a few dollars that will allow you to have Chronosync send you alerts when its finished with each backup.  I like this so that: One – I know the backups ran, and Two – I know if an error occurred during backup so I can address it as soon as possible.  When it comes to backups, I don’t subscribe to the philosophy “no news is good news”.

Time Machine

Time machine adds another level of protection.  Its one of those set it up and forget about it solutions.  You always want to utilize a drive for time machine that is two to three times larger than the drive(s) you are backing up.  For my solution, I went with a G Technologies 4TB External USB 3.0 solution. The main drive I wanted to backup with time machine was 1TB, so the 4TB would give me plenty of historical backups to go back to in the event it would be needed.  By using Time machine in this manner, it will give you the piece of mind that if the computer itself dies, you can buy a new one and restore this backup and be up and running right where you left off (all software installed, etc) in a few hours.  It also acts as an additional backup of the stuff your currently working on (assuming your work area is located on the internal 1TB drive).

Final Thoughts

I hope the above was helpful in providing you insight into a possible backup solution for your situation.  Keep in mind that nothing is full proof and the more backups you can have the better.  There obviously comes a point where there is diminishing returns, so you should only take it to the level you feel provides an adequate backup for your needs.


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