« Anything that can go wrong will go wrong » (Murphy’s Law)

I’ve submitted this article for the Jan 2019 Edition of the Viewfinders Newsletter.

When speaking about digital photography that means that soon or later you will lose your precious pictures !

Be paranoid !

At the time of silver photography the risks of seeing his photos disappear were mainly fire, flood, theft, … and the time that was damaging the prints and the film.

With digital photography we face the same risks, except for the prints, but we add the technological risk.

The only reasonable approach is not to ask if we risk losing our images (damaged disc, erased, stolen, …) but when we will lose them !

Be paranoid if you do not want to one day find yourself without your photos …

The goal of this article is to share with you some golden rules that will help you preserving your treasures.

Golden Rule #1 : Multiple (3) Copies

As soon as possible make a first copy of the memory card.

The most obvious way is to import, or copy, your pictures on your main computer where you ill process them.

If you don’t have the possibility to do it you can use an external drive with the capability to read and copy the memory card.

Some cameras can also use a second memory card as backup card, writing in real time the pictures on both cards.

Do not erase the memory card yet ! You will do it when your main storage is safely copied to an external drive and/or the cloud.

Having a folder structure by year will definitively ease keeping  your pictures safe.   

Golden Rule #2 : Multiple Places

Use two external drives stored in different places (e.g. your office, a friend or family member place, …). From time to time make a copy of your pictures from your main computer to one of them. The next copy will be done on the other external drive.

Today external drives are quite cheap so there’s no reason not having two or three of them. The same for the memory card.

Avoid at any price to have all your copies at the same place at the same moment. Remember the Murphy’s Law !

Golden Rule #3 : Cloud

Keep in mind that cloud storage aimed for collaboration (e.g. Google Drive, Microsoft Onedrive, …) are not a foolproof backup solution. If you delete your pictures they will be deleted from the cloud also. Some will send you a warning (“You’ve deleted xxx files. Do you intended it ?”) but that’s it.  

Nevertheless it provides you a up-to-date secured copy of your files which is accessible from any computer or tablet.

You need a backup cloud solution to avoid any problems (Crashplan, …).

Keep in mind that if you change a file it will be uploaded again to your cloud storage.

For instance if you’re changing a metadata (e.g. Copyright) on all you’re pictures you can end up writing it to all the picture files and the synchronization app will detect the modification and start the upload process for all the files.

With Lightroom just keep the modifications (metadata, process, …) in the catalog and don’t write them in the file. More on the topic (in French) …

Well known Cloud solutions, some are providing you much more capabilities than purely storing your pictures : Microsoft Onedrive (Around 100€/year 1TB), Google Drive, Amazon Photo (49€/Year Unlimited photos storage), Dropbox, …

If you’re using Adobe Lightroom you can choose the Adobe Cloud solution (Around 350€/Year 1TB).

Want to know more ? Read this article comparing cloud solutions …

Golden Rule #4 : Backup companion files

Some files are very important because they are storing all the processes applied to your pictures (e.g. the Lightroom’s catalog, the XMP Cart Files, …). Don’t forget to backup them in the same way as the pictures themselves. 

Synchronization Software

People are lazy. The best and only solution to have up-to-date copy of your pictures is to rely on a synchronization software that will run seamlessly in the background taking care of copying your pictures as soon they are modified.

All the cloud solutions have a companion app that will do the job.

For ad-hoc copy to my external drives I’m using FreeFileSync whis is a free and Open Source software, available for Windows, Linux and macOS.

How do I apply these rules ?

My workflow is quite straight forward :

  1. Import the memory card in Lightroom on my laptop SSD (Disk). As the SSD as a limited capacity I just keep on it the last months.
  2. The folder is kept in sync with the cloud (Microsoft Onedrive).
  3. Process the pictures.
  4. Export the processed pictures to the cloud (Flickr or/and Google Photos) to share them and to publish them on my website.
  5. After a while I move (within Lightroom) the folder to the external drive connected to my laptop. The external drive contains all my pictures (+70.000 / +1,3 TB) and is kept in sync with the cloud (Amazon Photos).

From time to time I make a copy of my pictures, and of the Lightroom Catalog, to two external drives (used in rotation) that I kept outside my house (my office and our flat at the sea).

Each week Lightroom is creating a backup of his catalog in a folder synchronized with the cloud (Microsoft Onedrive). I’m including these backups when copying the pictures to the external drives.

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