The ultimate guide to backing up your photos..

... without crying

You come home from work and your computer won't switch on. It needs factory settings reinstalling and you're going to lose everything.

You drop your phone in the lagoon in Venice.

You are having building work done and every laptop in your house is stolen one morning. 

You want to open up some old digital files but they're stored in some format you can't even remember.

You are making an album for your parents' anniversary and all their photos are mildewed.

Each of these things has happened either to me or to someone I know. The ones that happened to me didn't matter because I have all my photos backed up in 2 places. The others - they lost their memories forever. 

Moments before I dropped my phone into the lagoon in Venice

Moments before I dropped my phone into the lagoon in Venice

How to backup all your photos in 2 days

You don't want to do it because it's an overwhelming task. That's fine, because you're not going to do it all right now. You're just going to start:

Day 1: Find your photos

Go through the house and find anything that might have photos stored on it. Put them all in one place. Laptops, other people's phones, old phones, old computers, old cameras, all your memory cards.

Find or buy any cables you're going to need to connect all those electronics to your computer or laptop.

Buy 2 external hard drives. At least 500GB each, 1TB if you can afford it. Make sure it's compatible with your computer's operating system (Mac/Windows).

Day 2: Get all your photos in one place

Once your hard drives arrive, plug the first one in and get ready to start your archiving.

Plug in each device in turn to your computer and copy all the images across to the external drive. Don't save them to the computer - you'll just clog up its memory.

My 3 external hard drives in action

My 3 external hard drives in action

Copy all your images from your computer or laptop as well - we're going to make your computer run faster while we're at it.

Plug the hard drive into any other computers and laptops, and copy all those photos across as well.

If you have a choice, the current advice is to save your archival images as JPEGs - this is the most universally recognised file format, and the one most likely to be readable in 40 years time.

Once you've got a copy of every digital image on the hard drive, plug the other hard drive in to your computer and make an entire copy of the first hard drive to the second. This may take an hour or more to finish. You should now have 2 copies of every single digital image you possess.

Check both hard drives. Open up a random selection of images to make sure they are saved correctly. Celebrate the fact you can sleep easy tonight knowing your photos are safe.

Celebrate the fact you've finally backed up all your photos

Celebrate the fact you've finally backed up all your photos

What next?

You've done the minimum you need to do. All your photos are saved in 2 places, so if anything breaks or is stolen, you've got a copy of your images.

But what about fire or flood? This is why you made 2 copies. Take one hard drive and leave it with a friend or relative. Now your entire photographic archive is as safe as you can make it.

And what about all those old photos in the attic? Get your scanner out and start scanning a few every weekend until you've archived those as well. 

Building a workflow

What about all the photos you take from now on?

You have 2 choices. You can either repeat this external hard drive exercise as often as you can manage. Or you can set up a system so that every time you import images from your camera or phone, they automatically back up to 2 places, one of which is offsite. The method I use is this:

1. First backup to local external hard drive.

I use Lightroom to import images from my camera or phone. This gives the automatic option to make a backup copy at the time of import. No extra work. My first download saves one copy to one local external hard drive, and another copy to a second local external hard drive. No images are ever saved onto my actual computer - it fills up far too quickly.

Lightroom has a "Make a Second Copy" option for easy backups

Lightroom has a "Make a Second Copy" option for easy backups

2. Automatic cloud backup

I use Backblaze to automatically backup everything to the cloud. It runs automatically in the background. I would never rely on a cloud service as my only backup because providers have gone bankrupt in the past and you can lose your images with no warning. 

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