2017-03-31

Photography Backup & Data Workflow Tips

It’s #WorldBackupDay today, 31st March 2017, so we thought it was the perfect opportunity to give you a few tips and tricks to enhance and optimise your photographic workflow, particularly around how you should preserve your image files, backup your images, and organise your files.

The G-Tech G-Dock Thunderbolt RAID Two Bay Drive System
The G-Tech G-Dock Thunderbolt RAID Two Bay Drive System



There are many schools of thought about photographic workflows for image editing and other aspects, so for the purposes of this guide, we’re staying well away from all that and focusing solely on data, files, backups, naming, and organisation.

Your photographic data backup workflow starts immediately after you’ve taken the shot. You should be aiming to make your first backup as soon after you’ve finished shooting as possible (or during shooting – I’ll cover that later).

I don’t remember who it was who said it, but there’s a quote that’s always stuck with me and remains a golden rule for image editing and data storage and backup:

“A digital photo doesn’t exist unless there are at least 3 copies of it”

The First Backup


When you’ve finished your shoot, you should be making one or two copies of those images as soon as possible. The most secure way to do this is to copy the images from your memory card to a laptop while on the shoot. At the same time, you should be making a secondary backup to an external hard drive while still on the shoot.


Western Digital My Passport for Mac Portable USB Hard Drive
A portable hard drive is perfect for backing-up on the go

If you don’t have the feasibility to do this, you should be doing this as soon as you get home or have access to a computer.

As with most cases, currently the most secure way to backup your data is to an SSD (Solid State Drive), but in most cases a Hard Drive will do just as well.


Keep All Your Original RAW Files


Image editing using Apple MacBook Pro and Wacom Graphics Tablet
Do you edit on layers or directly on the original photo?


One of the golden rules of photo editing, whether it’s in Photoshop or any other program, is that you should always work non-destructively. This means you’re always working on a copy of the original image (or in the case of in Photoshop, you’re always working on a copy or Layer, never the original base image).

When backing up your files after your shoot, one copy should be sent to a hard drive that just contains organised folders of all your RAW images – nothing else.

Similarly, you should have a hard drive that just contains your editing work, and a portable hard drive that contains your current work – files for current clients and anything that you need to take off-site for any reason.


Organise Your Files

Backup with the G-Technology 3TB G-Drive mobile USB 3.0 hard drive
Keeping your files organised on a range of hard drives is good practice


Your image files on your hard drive or SSD should be organised simply, be easy to find, and be logical. The best way to do this is to avoid using names such as ‘Baby Photos 1’ or ‘Sandra’s Wedding’ or ‘Recent Shoots’.

The generally accepted best practice naming conventions amongst many photographers is reverse-date naming.

This means your folders and individual files should be in the following format

Year/Month/Day/Shoot Name/Camera/Shot Number. 

So for example if you’re shooting Jack and Jill’s wedding on the 21st April 2017 with two Canon 5D Mark IV’s your 345th shot on your primary camera would be called:

20170421-Wedding-Jack-Jill-Canon1-0345.CR2

This may seem complex and a bit of overkill if you’re just getting started, but 5 years down the line on Jack and Jill’s 5th wedding anniversary when they ask for a framed print of that special shot (image number 345), you’ll quickly and easily be able to pinpoint the image.

Back Up Regularly


Backup using Apple's Time Machine
Apple's Time Machine will keep regular backups of your hard drive


If you’re a Windows user, you should be making use of the in-built program ‘Windows Backup & Restore’ or one of the many, many third-party programs available that will create regular clones of your computers’ hard drive and backup all your data to an external drive.

However, if you’re a Mac user, you’re blessed with the wonder that is Time Machine.

Time Machine for Mac is a built-in program that can be set to create hourly, or daily backups (clones) of your hard drive to one or two external hard drives until the drive is full.

As a general rule of thumb – your external hard drive should be at least double that of your computers’ hard drive.

By using programs like Time Machine or a Windows equivalent, you build an on-site redundancy into your system which means that if your computer dies, you’ve always got the most recent copies of your work.


Backup Off-Site


Cloud-based backup services are an affordable modern solution
Cloud-based backup services are an affordable modern solution


If you really value your images and the integrity of your data backup solution, then one of the biggest steps you can make is to create an off-site back up of all your data.

OK so you’ve backed up all your images three times and they’re all sitting on your desk next to each other, now imagine if your house burned down, or your studio flooded, or got hit by a meteorite… You’d lose everything.

It used to be the case that making an off-site backup of your hard drives required physically transporting a dedicated hard drive (usually the Time Machine drive that gets swapped out for a duplicate) to a secure off-site location (or your Mum’s house). It’s generally accepted that if you’re a full-time photographer you should be doing this every 7 days or so. That way, if the worst should happen, the most you’ll ever have to do is repeat 7 days worth of image editing.

However, in recent years with the advances made to Internet Broadband speeds, Fibre Optic broadband etc and with the advent of Cloud based computing and Cloud drives, you can now create ‘virtual’ backups of your data.

Services such as Dropbox, OneDrive, iCloud and many, many others now offer convenient, cheap and trustworthy options to backup all your data to their secure servers.

Nowadays this is a really viable option for business, self-employed photographers, and everyone else.


Redundancy Is Vital


G-Tech RAID Drives incorporate redundancy into their systems
G-Tech RAID Drives incorporate redundancy into their systems


No matter what your backup solution is, whatever programs you use, whether you use Hard Drives or an SSD, whether you use Cloud based backup services or not, the most important thing is that there is redundancy to your solution.

This means that you need at least two copies of your files as soon after creating them as possible (this applies to normal data files as well as images too – so remember to include your contracts, website backups, music etc in your plan). Creating a third copy of your files just improves your redundancy.

Remember that this applies to your edited images, your PSDs, your Adobe Lightroom Catalogs, videos, and all your other ‘live’ work as well.

Whatever your solution, it must work for you. It should also be scalable so as you grow your business you can grow your backup solution too.


You can find all your backup and data storage needs whether it’s an SSD drive, internal hard drive, desktop external hard drive or portable hard drive online & in store at Park Cameras.

2 comments:

Huw Wynne-Griffith said...

You can't have one too many back ups. But you can have one too few!
Excellent and timely article that needs to be repeated.

Huw Wynne-Griffith said...

You can't have one too many back ups - but you can have one too few!

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