3 Steps to Creating an Easy Photography Backup Workflow

By Kyle Wilson

A secure photography backup workflow is essential for every photographer. Narrative’s Head of Industry Insight & Education, Kyle Wilson, gives his best tips for a simple and foolproof system.

What if someone robs you and takes your equipment, including your laptop and external hard drive? What if there's a fire, and your computer is destroyed? Would you lose a lifetime of images?

If you take the time to set up a secure photography backup workflow, you won't have to worry about your worst nightmare coming true. You can be confident that you can access all your images and your clients' precious memories are protected no matter what. 

Whether you currently have a system in place or have been thinking about where to start, here are valuable tips I have gained through my experience that will mean you never have to worry about losing your photos.

3 steps to an effective photo backup system

There are many approaches to backing up your system, and it's crucial to identify the best strategy for your business. This is the method I have been using for years for a simple and foolproof photography backup. While not the only solution, you may find helpful tips from my experience. 

There are three essential components to a photography backup workflow:

  1. Off-line storage
  2. Continuous cloud storage
  3. Online catalogue storage

When I finish a shoot, I load my photos onto my laptop and transfer them to an external hard drive. The external hard drive backs up continuously to cloud storage via Backblaze. My Lightroom catalogue backs up to DropBox (my preferred choice for online storage). 

Let's look deeper at each step and the options available.

Off-line direct storage

The first step is to have an external hard drive directly connected to your computer. RAID storage systems protect your digital work and are available in 6 levels. With a RAID 5 storage drive, if one drive fails, your data is saved (this is what I use). A RAID 6 drive maintains your data if two drives fail simultaneously, but it comes at a higher cost. 

Brands like Synology, Promise, Drobo, QNAP, and Seagate lead the market in reliable RAID systems. There is a handy guide here that can help you figure out which RAID system suits your needs.

Continuous cloud storage

Set your Raid 5 external hard drive to back up to the cloud automatically. Cloud storage is an ideal place to back up your entire system as it is off-site and accessible from anywhere with an internet connection. It protects all RAW images from physical damage like fire or a failed hard drive. 

There are many options out there; most cost $5-$10 a month. I like to use Backblaze because it can handle thousands of images every week, plus all the other content on my computer.

CrashPlan, Carbonite, pCloud, and IDrive are other continuous cloud storage options. They vary in upload and download speed, recovery options, and whether or not you can use multiple devices. Some are designed for a 'set and forget' mentality, while others have more advanced features. The level of encryption varies as well. Check out Narrative's guide to find the best cloud storage for photographers and do your research to determine which is best suited for your photography business.

Online catalogue storage

The third component of your photography backup workflow is to back up your catalogue to an online storage system like Dropbox. Once you have culled and edited your images with software like Narrative Select, you can store backup edited images and smart previews. Now you have a copy of your photo catalogue in case your hard drive fails, is corrupted, or your computer is stolen. It's also an easy means of sharing finished photos with clients. 

Most online storage systems have a free version but that usually won't provide enough space to maintain your photo library, so you'll incur subscription charges for whatever program you choose.

Here’s a tip that I find extremely helpful. At the end of the wedding season, I permanently delete all undelivered RAWs from the past year. I export the delivered RAWs and smart previews to a new catalogue, then move that catalog to a Raid 1 hard drive for archive storage. This keeps my operating catalogue organised and with smaller smart previews. The benefit is that I can easily access edited photos via Dropbox to quickly show my work or create social media posts - essentially an on-the-go storage solution.

Keep it simple 

There are many ways to backup your system, so find the right approach for your workflow. It needs to be a system that you will actually use so you can have peace of mind that your important photos are protected no matter what. Whatever your strategy, it is vital to include the following:

  • Regular backups: Ensure you set reminders or automate backups. Consistency is key.
  • Diversified storage locations: Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Spread out backups across multiple platforms and physical sites.
  • Staying updated: With the ever-evolving tech landscape, newer, more efficient storage solutions are continually emerging. Keep yourself informed and ready to adapt.

A necessary investment for professionals

Your photography backup workflow is an essential investment for your business. It ensures that you can easily retrieve photos for clients if someone passes away or loses their copies. You can also see how your style has changed over the years. How much you spend and which programs and equipment you use depend on the needs of your business.

As your business grows, you will have more and more photos to store and organise. It pays to get a good system going before you have a disorganised mess.

To sum up:

  • Use external hard drives for long-term physical and movable storage that you can take on the go.
  • Use a cloud storage system to back up your entire system.
  • Maintain a backup of your active catalogue with an online storage system like DropBox.

The most important thing is to have a system that works for you, your business, and your budget.