Backing Up Your Photos

Hard Drive Docking Station

Are you backing up your image files?

If the only place you keep your image files is on your computer, you will eventually lose something. Every hard drive fails at some point in time. Every computer crashes sooner or later. It’s a fact of life.  It’s a good idea to have a backup plan in effect before it happens.

Every month I make it a point to back up my images to hard drives. Now that a new year has begun, it’s time to order a couple more hard disks and make sure my backups are up to date.

I use a fairly inexpensive and reliable method to back up all of my photographs.

Hard Drive docking stations.

In my case, I’ve been using the Wavlink USB 3.0 drive dock. I have another brand on the shelf that I haven’t played with much as a backup to my backup equipment. The Wavlink Dual Bay HD Docking Station is fairly inexpensive and there are other brands out there. It allows for up to two internal SATA drives to be inserted. There’s a one button clone operation, which is very handy for backing up the main boot drive in the PC.

My normal backup drive is a 2TB HDD, which is the maximum size that can be connected easily to a Windows 10 pc via a USB 3.0 connection.

This particular unit will handle two drives, which when connected to the computer show up as normal hard drives in File Explorer.

The faster the hard drive, the faster the read/write times of course, so when I buy a new backup drive, it’s usually a 7200 rpm, 6 gigabyte/sec, 3.5″ drive. You can purchase drives like this for under $50 now, so it’s quite economical.

I keep my photographs on the computer in folders based on the year. A couple of inexpensive 2TB hard drives can backup just about every photo I take in a year with room to spare. When the drive gets full, it goes into the fire safe and I put a new empty drive in the docking station.

I use a sharpie to write a master number on the outside of the backup drive. I also maintain a master list of the image directories on each drive.  As of now, I have over 10 hard drives filled, some of which were repurposed from upgrades to my desktop computer. If I need to recover from a hard drive crash on the desktop, all I have to do is dig out the backup drive and copy the files to the new HDD in the computer.

I’ve also found it works great with my laptop PC as well.

It’s also a good idea to buy plastic HDD storage boxes for protecting the backup drives.

It may be worthwhile to store your backups in a second location. That way a catastrophe in the home won’t destroy your life’s work.  The best part is you can obtain a solid backup method for under $100.



Reality Bytes

Recently back from a week long jaunt in Northern Colorado, I was anxious to begin editing new photos and updating stock agencies. Little did I know that my photography world would take a 90 degree turn.

First, let me say, if you are using a computer and don’t have a backup strategy for your image files, you are going to pay the price sooner or later. I have a backup strategy. A series of 1-3 terabyte external USB drives. I’m religious about backing up my business files at least weekly. I thought I was being religious about backing up my image files too.

For the majority of today’s photographers relying on computers is a must. I’ve gone through 4 different computers in my studio over the past 15 years or so. My current configuration in the studio is a PC that I built from scratch. I have roughly 19 Terabytes of hard drive storage attached to an i7 based motherboard with 64 gigs of ram and a dual monitor setup.

With all of those hard drives, a failure is inevitable and those failures will occur when you are not paying attention more often than not. The real question is how well you’ve backed up your images.

My images are kept in directories by subject matter and sub-directories by year. Most of my cataloging is done via Adobe Lightroom so along with my image files are xmp sidecar files that define all the editing I’ve done to each file. All told, I have about 50 different active Lightroom catalogs scattered among multiple hard drives in my computer.

The day after I returned home from Northern Colorado I was anxious to begin editing my latest batch of moose photos. I downloaded the new images to a directory on one of my 3 terabyte hard drives and imported them into Lightroom and started mining the best shots for editing and uploading to my services. On the sixth image, things went south. I could no longer access the hard drive I was working from and that hard drive contained a lot of my wildlife photos. Close to 70,000 images in total.

A quick scan indicated that the computer still recognized the presence of the drive but the drive was corrupted somehow. The utilities built into Windows 10 are not very robust. I couldn’t solve the problem without some type of advanced intervention. The first thing I did was go to Best Buy and purchase a new 4 terabyte hard drive. It installed easily and after a few minutes partitioning and formatting the drive, I was ready to restore my backups.

When I accessed my backup drives what I discovered was deflating. Yes, I had backups but many of them were not very current with most ending in early 2018. Any images stored on the failed drive that were newer than February were not backed up, except to two catalogs that I had recently backed up. Catalogs that I had been working on. Out of sight, out of mind. I had failed to keep all the backups current and in one instance I could not find an entire catalog of Bighorn Sheep in the backups. My heart sank. Over 10,000 photographs gone forever, or so I thought. I restored what I could and began coming to grips with my oversight.

Once I had restored my backup files to the new drive, I began the process of trying to recover the defective hard drive. I was lucky. I found a utility called TestDisk.

TestDisk is a freeware utility written by Christophe Grenier at It runs in a DOS window and is a very basic non GUI interface. TestDisk found my hard drive and I was able to scan the contents of the inaccessible disk. I was also able to get a clue as to what happened. It appeared that a recent update to Windows 10 may have spurred this problem on. I found numerous Windows swap files on the hard drive and I had specifically told Windows not to use that hard drive for a paging file. Somehow, Windows began barfing swap files on to the drive and it corrupted the boot sector. The drive light was staying on all the time and disk activity was reporting at 100% on the idle drive.

Using TestDisk, I was able to locate all of my photographs stored on the defective drive and able to copy them to the new drive. Time consuming to say the least, I was able to recover everything I needed from the bad drive, along with the xmp files that contained my Lightroom edits.

What I learned is what I already knew. Keep your backups current. If you aren’t backing up your photos you will eventually lose them. Digital storage is temporary. My slack attitude about staying current with my backup routine almost wiped out years of work. All because I lulled myself into forgetting to do the necessary computer work to insure there were second copies of everything I had.

So, guess what I’m doing today? I’m backing up all of my files, one catalog at a time. It will take several days to accomplish, or should I say nights. I’ll begin a backup in the evening when I’m done working for the day and let the computer groan away copying everything to external hard drives while I sleep.

My advice to you. Back your images up now. You could wake up in the morning with a good backup or you could wake up to a crashed hard drive and lots of missing photos. Windows won’t alert you until it’s too late.