Original: Friday 6 June 2008    Update: Friday 3 June 2011

I hear stories of people losing their photographs. I also hear people asking about the best methods to backup their data. I thought people might get value from reading my backup methods, not because I think mine are the best, but simply to provide ideas for some possible methods.

Working environment

I will first describe my working environment as this is the source for my backup. My main computer is a MacBook Pro. Being a laptop, it is somewhat limited with regards internal storage solutions. I have an internal 500GB drive which provides more than enough space to store a few months worth of images and is great for travelling.

Due to the limitations of the MacBook Pro, I have an external 1TB (RAID 1) drive connected via Firewire800. The drive is partitioned into a 840GB Mac OS Extended partition (Images) as my working volume for images and a 161GB NTFS partition which is used as an on-line backup for other files. Images has all my image files including raw, JPEG and any other working files such as TIFF. It is the volume from where all my images are imported into Lightroom and it also has any XMP sidecars that Lightroom creates and or uses.

First level backup

I like to start my backup from the moment I copy the files off the camera's memory card to the hard disks. I use Nikon Transfer to copy the images from the memory card to the Images and also to the internal drive on the MacBook Pro. In both cases, the files are put into subfolders for the camera, year and month under a top folders of "alTables". The meaning of "alTables" is not important and it is something I cooked up over 15 years ago and I'm still using it. So D300 images taken in April 2011 would go to alTables/NikonD300/201104, on both Images and in the user folder on the internal drive.. This means that I could have a single HDD crash and still not lose the newly copied files from the camera.

The files copied to Images I use as my working copy and are imported into Lightroom. The files on the internal drive are just a backup and will be further backed up later.

Second level backup

I have a Linux box under the house which is running Samba. Samba lets me do Windows based Net Use connections. While this isn't an off-site backup, as such, it does allow me to connect, copy files and disconnect so the files are somewhat protected from the effects of viruses or accidental erasure. Periodically (every few days or so), I connect to the Linux box with the MacBook Pro and use Data Backup 3 from Prosoft Engineering Inc to copy all new/changed files to the Linux share. Data Backup 3 lets you define backups so you just need to select the backup and click Start.

Third level backup

Up until this point I have backed up just the images (raw and/or jpg) from the camera and they are still on-site. My third level of backup allows me to back up the working data as well as take the data off-site. For this I use one of two 750GB drives in external cases which I connect to the MacBook Pro via USB 2.0. I use predefined backups in Data Backup 3 to backup all the image files as well as the Lightroom catalog. I also backup other non-image data from my internal drive to one of two 100GB drives in external cases.

Once a week I take one of each set of drives off-site and bring the other one home. This way I have the majority of my files backed up off-site.

Fourth level backup

My final level of backup is to DVD+R discs. This duplicates the second level backup, except it is to DVDs rather than a hard disk. Once a month, I copy the previous month's photographs from the internal drive to DVD and I make 2 copies. One stays on-site (in the basement) and the other goes off-site. The backup also uses a Data Backup 3 and I backup to Verbatim or TD 16X DVD+R discs. I then use CDCheck to compare the data on the discs to the data on the Linux box using a different computer. This pretty much verifies both the DVD and Linux copies in one go.

While travelling

I also ensure I backup while I'm travelling. On a trip (usually a dive trip), I take the MacBook Pro but leave the 1TB at home. I have another 750GB drive in an external case with a Firewire800 interface as my working drive. It is also called Images and if I copy all the data from the other Images Lightroom is none the wiser.

My first level backup will be the same as it is at home: all files copied from the memory card will get copied to both internal drive and Images. I also take a small USB connectable drive (around 500GB in size) and use that to backup all images and other created files.

When I get home, I backup the internal drive image files to the Linux box, as normal, and synchronise the portable Images with Images on the 1TB drive at home. I also make DVD copies of all the images from the trip.

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