We have all heard the horror stories about photographers who have lost volumes of work and possibly their entire collection to some disaster. It could have been a fire, a flood or a computer-related disaster of some kind. The moral of these stories is always make frequent and complete backups of your stuff. And this is always sage advice.

There are a number of different schemes to create a backup but before we go any further, it would be wise to again state the difference between an archive and a backup. An archive is designed for the long term preservation of important material. A backup is designed to hold work for a period of time for disaster recovery or to restore lost or corrupted data. An archive is a put-in-only system while a backup is a put-and-take system.

But these systems do not exist in a vacuum or in isolation from each other - the longer backups stay around the more archival they become and occasionally an archive is "raided" for a copy of a particular photograph.

The backup system that seems to make the most sense is the 3-2-1 system.

In this system you have three copies of the photograph. The "first" copy is the active copy (the copy you are working on/using). The "second" and "third" copies are the backups. One of the backup copies is stored locally on a removable USB (or similar) drive or on a network attached storage drive. The second backup copy is stored somewhere else.

Usually the first backup copy is not a real problem. Given the relatively large storage capacity and relatively low cost of USB (or similar) drives, one that can store an entire collection can be had fairly easily. There are a number of file syncing applications available that you can use to assure the backup drive is complete and up to date. Plug the drive in, run the sync program and, when it is finished, unplug the drive. With a network attached storage device you don't even have to plug the drive in as it's accessed through your network's router. And most cable or DSL modems have a four-port router built in.

The real problem comes with the off site storage. Granted you could rent a bank safe deposit box. Or you could keep it at your office. Or you could ask your sister-in-law to store it at her house. But none of these solutions allow you to backup on an as-needed basis, which would certainly defeat the needed immediacy. Whenever you want to perform a backup, you would have to go get the drive from wherever it is, do your backup and then return it. 

The answer to this issue is simple - backup online. 

There are as many recommended online storage services as there are sites recommending them so you will have to shop around for the one that meets your needs. There are six areas you need to evaluate when looking for an online backup service:

  • Space: the service should have enough storage to keep all of your photos in one place over the years.

  • Ease of use: You need to be able to upload photos to the service easily.

  • Upload system: some services have a separate application to sync your backups and handle uploads while other user your web browser. Some service applications monitor specific folders and handle backup automatically while others do not.

  • Search features: Finding photos by date, tags or other criteria should be easy to do.

  • Restrictions: some services restrict file type, file size, etc. 

  • And finally, you should evaluate the cost of the service. Note that some services will offer a free version but these are often limited in storage size or number of uploads per month.

When designing a backup plan, you should look at several services, read the reviews and compare terms of service. There are a couple of truly free services out there but again they come with a host of CC&R's. If you don't mind the restrictions put on by using a particular service, go for it!

But don't look for the perfect online storage system. It simply does not exist. select the best one for your needs.

In operation, backing up your photos should be a simple and regular part of your working process and should not require an inordinate amount of time. There is really no excuse for becoming that photographer who lost everything!