Photo Backups

| 4 min read

Photo Backups

Losing important photos of kids and family, or even a wedding job, can be heartbreaking. We’ve all been there and that is why I made a point to backup all my important files externally and, if possible, off-site. In this article we will cover some backup essentials and the different options on how to backup your photos to an external drive or a network-attached storage (NAS), and to a remote backup site.

What to Backup?

As photographers we usually have capture and ingestion workflows, and that’s something that we get to talk more about. But what’s also important is your backup workflow. All that hard-work of taking the shot will come undone without a good backup workflow. What’s a good backup workflow? Preferably one that backs up all your photography artifacts, mainly:

  • Raw unedited photos.
  • Published photos (.TIFF, .JPG, etc…).
  • Sidecar files, if any.
  • Lightroom/Capture one Plugins and catalogs.

Raw unedited photos

Depending on your workflow, you can either backup all the RAW files you’ve taken or just the ones that you have picked or starred. It’s more costly and time-consuming to backup everything, but it’s also the easiest. Backing up just the ones you’ve picked or starred requires some discipline (e.g. deleting photos you didn’t pick or starred, moving them to a different folder), but they’re more cost-effective and less time-consuming.

Published photos

Depending on your workflow, you can bundle these files along with your Raw unedited photos when backing up. But if you have a separate folder for these, they’re usually worth backing up too, albeit on a separate backup schedule as your RAW files. These files are usually bigger and the backup schedule for these should match your editing workflow (i.e. back them up after a day or two the RAWs have been backed up).

Sidecar files

These files contain your adjustments (e.g. Lightroom adjustments if you’re using Lightroom). It’s important to have them enabled and backed-up so when you lose your files, you can easily recover them and in a state where you last left or edited them. If you store your adjustments in your catalog, then these may not be necessary.

Plugins and Catalogs

Lastly, it’s important that you also back your plugins alongside your catalog. Maintaining a catalog takes time and the last thing you want is to recreate all that work after you lose your hard drive.


Backing up is just one half of the process. A more essential item of your backup workflow is the Restore process. Backups are useless if you can’t restore from them so it’s important that this component works 100% all the time. A good backup software should be able to restore your files seamlessly. Some even allow you to cherry-pick which files or folders you want to restore. And the only way to be able to restore your photos (or your entire hard drive) is if you put your backups in a location outside of your PC or Mac. That means putting your backups in:

  • External Drive or a Network Attached Storage (NAS).
  • Off-site or using Cloud backup storages.

Compact Disks and Tape drives are a thing of the past so we won’t focus on them in this article.

Manual Backups

The most straightforward way to backup your photos, catalogs, etc.. is to manually copy these files from your local hard drive to an external drive, or upload them directly to your cloud storage device. Although this might be the easiest, it’s also more time-consuming and requires a certain discipline to do backups each and every time you go on a shoot.

Automated Backups

Automating your backups are by far the easiest in the long-term and more likely to produce consistent backups. They take a while to setup, and there might be an upfront cost, but once you’ve set it up, you can just ignore it and let it takeover your backup process.

There are a couple of ways to setup an automated backup process:

  • Windows’s File History backup
  • Third-party backup software

Windows Backup

Windows 8 allows for automated backups using Windows File History. This will backup your photos as long as they’re in your Library. It will also backup your Contacts, Favorites, and files on your Desktop. If you already have your photos in a Windows Library, this is the easiest way to have them backed up.

Another alternative, and to keep your backups consistent across multiple Windows versions, I suggest that you use one of the third-party backup softwares below.

Third-party Backups

Using third-party software to backup your photos is arguably the most reliable way to backup your photos. It’s also the most portable way of doing it, as your backup can transcend across multiple Windows or Mac versions, but also most of the time these vendors have off-site and cloud backup solutions as part of their offerings. Wikipedia has a comparison table of backup vendors you can use to compare the different offerings. Based on this table, Crashplan is the most useful. You can backup your photos automatically to an external drive for free, and an additional off-site (e.g. cloud) backup costs for as little as $3.96 USD/month.


Backing up your photos, and other photography artifacts (e.g. catalogs, plugins, etc..), ensures you won’t have to lose all those hard-work and those special moments with family and friends. Automated and scheduled backups using Crashplan, for example, to an external drive or off-site/cloud backup makes this process a whole lot easier for a price of one cup of coffee.