How to Protect Your Photos

Darth Sidious, Zam Wessel & Aurra Sing
Chicks Dig Me - © Copyright 2012 by William Beem
Protecting your photos should be a priority for any photographer. You likely spent thousands of dollars on camera gear, computers, software and travel to get those photos. Does it make sense to leave them unprotected when sinister forces threaten their very existence?

Determining a Storage Strategy

Do you put all of your assets on one drive, or do you spread them about like a squirrel hiding nuts for the winter? Here’s something to keep in mind: drives fail. All of them. At some point, you’re going to need to replace the physical media that stores your digital assets. Some folks will use that as proof that you shouldn’t keep your photos on one drive. Of course, spreading your digital inventory over multiple drives can be rather tedious and slow down your workflow. What we need is a compromise between reliability and convenience.

A Three-Pronged Approach

Knowing that drives will fail, it’s not enough just to scatter photos around. You need to have multiple versions of your digital assets.

  • WORKING SPACE – this is where you import and store your digital assets.
  • ONLINE BACKUP – this is where you make a copy of your entire library of digital assets. If the working space fails, you haven’t lost anything that exists on this backup.
  • OFFLINE BACKUP – For the worst case scenario, this backup protects your investment in digital assets in the event of a disaster, such as a fire or flood. You may never need this backup. Indeed, you hope that you won’t. If the worst should occur, it’s good insurance to protect your history of digital assets.

How to Setup Your Working Space

Your working space is the drive where you store and edit your photos. When you want to access a photo, you reach into your working space. Let’s look at three options for your working space.


This is where most people start, storing their photos on the same internal drive where they keep their operating system, applications and other data. It has the advantage of being relatively fast and convenient. The disadvantages are that space may be limited, and a failure of this drive will eliminate everything you haven’t backed-up yet (assuming you’re even making backups).


Mirrored disks reduce the risk of failure through redundancy. Writing data to two disks gives you some protection, since it’s less likely both disks will fail at exactly the same time.


RAID is just an acronym for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks. RAID 5 writes your data over multiple disks, and also includes information to help you rebuild your data if one of those drives fail. It’s still a good idea to keep a backup, but this system gives you an extra measure of protection using disk redundancy and its ability to rebuild your data.

There are other levels of RAID configurations, but you can start getting into complicated trade-off of performance and redundancy. I use a RAID 5 array because I place a higher value on reliability and protection of data than sheer speed.

Online Backup

The next phase of your environment is to set up an online backup. Essentially, that just means you have another disk large enough to backup your photos from your working space. It’s called “online” because it’s connected to your computer and available for use when you need it.

Even if you have a redundant working space using mirrored disks or RAID 5, don’t underestimate the value of having a current backup. It can protect you in other ways. Imagine you delete the wrong files and don’t realize it for a few days. That data is gone, unless you have another copy stored on a backup disk.

Offline Backup

If online backups are connected to your computer, then you probably know that offline backups are disconnected. Offline backups are protection against a worst-case scenario. If something should cause damage to your work location (e.g., fire, flood, power surge), then your data remains safe at another location that isn’t impacted by the disaster. Insurance can replace your camera and computers, but nothing can replace your data.


The simplest strategy for creating an offline backup is to have a number of drives for use as your online backup, and swap them out each week. At the end of the week, take the drive to another location and start using another drive for your online backup. You can keep rotating these drives until it’s time to replace one of them due to signs of failure. Data centers have been doing this for decades, and there are even businesses like Iron Mountain that exist to support offline backup storage. You may keep the offline backup at a relative’s home or in a safety deposit box at your bank. You just want to have it someplace else in case the worst should happen, yet convenient enough that you don’t forget to keep it updated. An offline backup is only as useful as it is current.


There are businesses available now that will let you store your data on remote servers for a fee. The great part about this is convenience and protection. These services will offer better protection than using a single drive. On the other hand, you’re limited by your Internet bandwidth.

Uploading your initial deposit could take weeks for some large collections. Some of these Internet storage vendors offer a service to
create an initial seed of your data by shipping you an external drive. You create your backup on that drive and ship it back to them. After they load that data on their servers, you only need to make incremental updates to your files on the servers. In the event that you suffer a massive loss, they will send you a disk with all of your data for restoration.

Need more information? Professional Photography Workflow with Aperture shows you how to protect and organize your photos. Please visit Suburbia Press to see our ebooks and videos for photographers.


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  1. […] why I posted a short article here on How to Protect Your Photos.   Why spend thousands of dollars on camera and computer equipment and leave the final product so […]

  2. Great article! I’ve also covered this topic a while ago, but on a more general basis (not only related to photos) at

    Since then I’ve replaced Carbonite with CrashPlan+ which offers more speed and back of external drives as well (where is store most of my archives).

      1. It’s mostly faster than Carbonite was (which is limited to 2mbits/sec according to one of their support guys) but not always as fast as my 10mbit/sec upstream. On average I guess I’m getting 4mbits/sec which is OK. I’m still waiting to finish my initial 1.6TB upload before I can better comment on the performance of updating my Aperture lib after a new import.

  3. […] why I posted a short article here on How to Protect Your Photos.   Why spend thousands of dollars on camera and computer equipment and leave the final product so […]