Photography Words

How I backup my photos

I could go into some of the horror stories about photos I’ve lost or about how a disk crashed just before I copied the files off, but we’ve all been in that situation where we’ve lost important stuff when a disk decided to go belly up.
This might not be of much use to you if you don’t use Linux but bare with me. Some of the ideas might help keep your photos safe.

I use two Iomega 1TB external drives. They’re USB 2.0 drives so not the fastest things in the world but they do. The RAW files from the Canon 40D are noticeably slower loading obviously but not excessively so. Ironically, I bought a laptop because my desktop machine was so noisy, but the fans in those external drives are almost as noisy as my old computer!

Two external drives, earlier today.

Drive one is where I archive my photos for long term storage. Brand new, hot out of the camera photos are copied to the internal disk on my laptop but that only has 60GB free so I move photos manually every few months to Drive one. This drive is also where I store any other files, my music collection, videos I shoot. Anything really.

Drive two is my backup drive. I use Backuppc to do incremental backups every day. It backs up:

  1. All my websites through ssh.
  2. My home directory on my laptop with brand new photos, Thunderbird mail directory, Firefox and everything else.
  3. I used to backup my Macbook but that took too long over the local WiFi connection so I don’t keep anything irreplaceable on that.

What about backing up my photo archive on Drive one? Instead of Backuppc I use rsync to copy the first drive to the second one every night. This command, placed in /etc/cron.daily/backup (and made executable with chmod a+x backup) will do the trick. It copies any new or modified files from disk one to my backup disk.

rsync -a /media/one/ /media/backup/

I use rsync because it’s simpler than Backuppc and I don’t need incremental backups of the data there. Any photos that are modified are copied to new files anyway, rendering increments useless. Rsync is also available on Mac OS X, and there’s also Unison that runs on Linux, Mac OS X and Windows and does the same job.

Backuppc can be installed from rpm or on Debian based systems using apt-get or aptitude. It’s a Unix based backup solution but can backup systems running many other operating systems such as Windows and Mac OS X. It has a simple to use web gui for administering backups. The only downside is configuration which can be daunting as it requires editing of config files and setting up remote hosts if necessary. On the up side, there’s plenty of documenation and it’s well worth trying if you want an automated system you can trust.

Disk capacity is another issue, but as I store all my files in dated folders my photo archive only grows in one area: the folder for the current year. If I run out of disk space I’ll buy another disk or replace an existing drive with a larger one. I could go down the RAID or LVM route but I don’t want to complicate things. If my current drives last that long, I’ll replace both after 2 years. Disks always break sooner or later.

So how do you backup your photos? If you’ve blogged about it, please leave a link to the post. I’m always trying to improve my own system!

Aperture ƒ/5.6
Camera Canon EOS 40D
Focal length 72mm
ISO 400
Shutter speed 1/60s

By Donncha

Donncha Ó Caoimh is a software developer at Automattic and WordPress plugin developer. He posts photos at In Photos and can also be found on Twitter.

8 replies on “How I backup my photos”

Ahhhh! Everyone is talking about needing to back up your photos. I know, I know!

I’m hoping to get a Drobo with my tax return in January. Then, I’ll hopefully have a sweet setup with some built-in redundancy.

Currently, I have one USB 2.0 harddrive that stores my entire photo library and my iTunes library. There’s no backup, just that one. Horrible, I know.

When I get the Drobo, my plan is to move the contents of my current USB 2.0 drive to it. Then, I’ll use the current drive as a back up of all my processed photos. At least then I’ll have a true back up. But with the Drobo’s built-in capabilities, I shouldn’t need to depend on the second drive.

Well I finally splurged a month or two ago and got two 500GB drives which are exact copies of my photos at a point in time. I must figure out some method of synching so might look into that.

Writing this from my shiny new laptop 🙂 I’ll have to figure out how I’m going to back up photos using this baby.

I have a similar setup. Recent raw files live on my Macbook’s HD. Backups are on two 1gb external drives (WD MyBooks). One is hooked up to the Macbook; half of it is for Time Machine, the other half for archiving photos, large files and other things I don’t need on the main HD. The other drive is hooked up to my BSD box, and mirrors the archive drive nightly with rsync.

I like this setup because the two drives are isolated – different OS, different disk formats (FAT32 on the mirror drive), different physical parts of the local network. If a major failure on one machine erases or damages one disk it’s highly unlikely it would affect the other disk too. And if I need to recover something from the mirror drive, it’ll work on just about any machine.

Lightroom 2 works pretty well with an off-line archive too.

I use FolderClone to backup all my photos. I set up my schedule for backup once and have it backup late at night every week. It’s great! So easy for someone like me who is not so computer sma


I’ve added an Amazon S3 account to the mix! I now have a basic weekly sync I setup in Automator. It syncs my processed photos folder, on my Drobo, with a bucket on my S3 account. The Automator sync uses Transmit (best FTP on OSX), and it’s all done whilst I sleep.

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