How I backup my digital photos

Like almost anything that you do, photography has many sides to it. One side is the joy of shooting the images, of editing and creating that final representation of your idea and vision. Then there is all the "necessary evils" that come with it. One such necessary evil is to think about (and act on) how to store your files, and how to keep them safe.

Over the years I have gone from not really bothering, to structuring the files, to losing files due to technical mishaps, to actively setting up a process where my files are reasonably safe.

  • In this text, I will explain how I store my files, and the tools that I use to keep them safe. Let's start by looking at how my files move around during their life. This is centered around my photography workflow, but can really be applied to any files you happen to have:

    1. From my camera (or rather, memory card) the files get imported to my laptop, stored on its hard drive.
    2. They stay there for about a month or so, during which time they are sorted and (at least to some extent) edited.
    3. After about a month (usually after a shift of calendar months), they are moved to a NAS (Network-Attached Storage). This is where they will stay long-term.

    I currently do my image editing in Adobe Lightroom, and the Lightroom catalog file (or files: I keep one catalog per year), is of course also located on my laptop hard drive.

    That said, I have a few principles that will affect my working processes.

    • My laptop is not a storage device
    • Data stored in only one location is not safe
    • Data that is stored only in my house is not safe

    Apart from these three storage-related principles, I have a fourth one: I don't want to manually do stuff to keep things going.

    That fourth principle has a simple answer: automation. Well, there are two elements to that, really: automation and a NAS. The NAS I have is not super fancy, it's pretty old (I have had it for soon six years when writing this in early 2018), but it does the job.

    My laptop is not a storage device

  • As I mentioned, after shooting my images get imported to my laptop and are stored on its internal hard drive. That is not safe. Hard drives can crash, and that happens without warning. This means that my prio one is to get a copy of these files off to a location outside my laptop. That location is of course my NAS. Also, I want this done without my manual intervention. So what I have done is this:

    • In my NAS, I have enabled the built-in RSYNC service.
    • In my laptop, I have an RSYNC client ( DeltaCopy to be precise).

    The RSYNC client is run regularly by a scheduled task that will trigger once every two hours, and immediately if a trigger time has been missed while the laptop was switched off. This means that if I am at home and have the laptop running, the files that are important to me will be copied from the laptop to the NAS. Now the files are in two locations, and the likelihood for both those drives to crash is far smaller than just one of them crashing.

    This takes care of the first principle, the laptop not being a storage device.

    Data stored in only one location

  • For the first month or so, while the files are still in my laptop, they are stored in two locations. But once I move the files off my laptop for long-term storage in the NAS, they are in only one location: in the NAS. Also, while they are still in my laptop (and, as we have seen, also in the NAS), the files are still only in my house. What if the house burns down?

    Data stored only in my house

    Obviously I need to have one more storage location, one that is physically separated from my house. That place is called the cloud.

    I have spent a long time researching online backup solutions that will not cost a fortune, and that will run without effort in my NAS. Unfortunately, all of them have fallen short one way or another. In the end, I have settled for a sort of a compromise, but one that have worked out way better than I expected it to. First, I have signed up for a B2 storage account with Backblaze. There were a few reasons I chose them, mostly a bunch of people praising them in a photography group on Facebook that I take part in. They will charge you $5/TB/month at the time of writing this. There is also a fee for downloading files, but that will typically not happen.

    While there are backup solutions that can run in my NAS against Backblaze B2, they didn't perform as well as I would want them. So in the end I have settled for running Arq backup, using Backblaze B2 for storing the backup. That has worked out way better than I expected.

    So, with this setup, I just need to keep my laptop running and connected to my network at home every now and then for all backups to be where they should be. That all happens in the background, and all I do is to just check that stuff has run as expected occasionally.

    Links

    Here are the links used in the text above:

    • RSYNC - Wikipedia article describing the RSYNC protocol.
    • NAS - Wikipedia article describing Network-Attached Storage.
    • Backblaze - The cloud storage provider that I use. More specifically, I use their B2 Cloud Storage service.
    • Arq backup - The backup software that I run on my laptop to created backups stored in Backblaze B2.
    • DeltaCopy - The RSYNC client that I run on my laptop to copy files to the NAS, during the time when they are primarily stored locally on the laptop. Yes, the page looks like a blast from the past, but the software works like a charm.