How To Backup Your Photos as a Photographer
Posted On | February 18, 2020
Why do you need to know how to backup your photos as a photographer? Have you heard one of those horror stories of a photographer’s memory card getting corrupt and losing all the images from a couples wedding day? Maybe, their computer crashed and they lost all the images from their client’s family session? Those stories freak me out and I never want to be put into the position of having to tell my client that I don’t have the pictures I took of them. Ya know what? I don’t want that to happen to you either! Today, I’m sharing my system for how to backup your photos as a photographer. This includes a full backup system for photographing, backing up and storing my client’s photos.
WHY DOES YOUR PHOTO BACKUP AND STORAGE SYSTEM MATTER?
Like I mentioned above, the biggest reason for having a backup and storage system for your client’s photos is so you reduce the risk of ever losing a client’s photos. As a photographer, I think that would be just about the worst thing to ever happen (besides dying). Your clients are trusting you to capture a moment in their life that is very important to them. Some of those moments, like a couple’s wedding day, is a moment you can never get back and just do-over.
Having a photo backup and storage system reduces your risk of losing money. In my contract, I have a clause that states that if I was to lose a client’s photos, I would owe them the whole amount of the session price.
You can also use the fact that you have a backup and storage system as a selling point for clients. If you are on a call with a potential wedding client, you can reinforce your professionalism by mentioning that you have a top-notch back-up system to ensure their images are as safe as possible.
HOW TO BACKUP YOUR PHOTOS – MY EXACT SYSTEM
STEP 1 – Dual-slot memory cards
The very first level of image back-up that I rely on is when I am actively photographing a session. I shoot on two Nikon D750’s which has a dual card memory slot. If you have a camera with dual memory card slots, insert two memory cards into your camera (make sure they are the same size memory card). Then go to your settings and make sure that the 2nd memory card is set to back-up (For Nikon D750 users it’s under the Photo Shooting Menu > Role Played By Card In Slot 2 > Backup). Now, as soon as you take a picture, the camera will save the image to the first memory card and immediately back it up to the 2nd memory card. That is your first level of backup.
STEP 2 – Copy images to your computer
As soon as you get home from a session, immediately copy the files from one of the memory cards onto your computer. This is your second level of back-up.
I’d like to note here that I keep all my files for sessions that haven’t been delivered and I am currently working on directly on my computer (as opposed to keeping those files on an external hard drive). I have heard that if you are editing photos with a Lightroom catalog or image files that are stored on an external hard drive, there is a higher risk of the Lightroom catalog corrupting.
I also keep image files for each session separated so if one folder gets corrupt, it doesn’t affect other sessions. Here is how I organize and store files for each client/session:
- First I separate sessions by month and create a folder for each month of the year (ie “01 January 2020”, “02 February 2020”, etc.)
- Then I create a folder for each session. I like to name it after the client, so I’ll do “[Client Last Name], [Client First Name] – [Session Type] – [Date]”
- Within each session folder I have the following folders:
- RAW – this is where I store all the raw files from the session
- LR Catalog – this is where the Lightroom Catalog is stored
- High Res – these are the final edited images exported from Lightroom
- Sneak Peek – if I do a sneak peek for that session
- I also create a Timeline and Permits folder for elopements/weddings that require those things
STEP 3 – Auto backup files using an online system
There are several options out there for backing up your computer’s files to the cloud. CrashPlan, Backblaze, Dropbox, Google Storage, OneDrive are all examples of online backup options. When you’re looking at a back-up system, I highly recommend choosing one that automatically backs up files as you add them to your computer. I currently use CrashPlan to back up my files.
As soon as I copy images from my memory card onto my computer, CrashPlan begins backing up those files. This is your third level of backup.
STEP 4 – Store the memory card in a safe place
If you are following along, you will have two memory cards with your session’s images on them. I always take one of those memory cards and store it until I have delivered the session to my client via an online gallery. The reason I do this is if my computer fails and my online back-up fails, I will still have the raw images from the session. Yes, I’d likely have to re-edit, but it’s better than losing the images completely. I will format the other memory card and place it back with my ready to use memory cards.
STEP 5 – Cull images and create a new Lightroom catalog
I use Photo Mechanic to cull through my images. If you have never used Photo Mechanic it is a GAME CHANGER for culling through images. Before I purchased Photo Mechanic, I would cull photos in Lightroom. Photo Mechanic has cut my culling time down by more than half! After I cull through the images, I create a completely NEW catalog in Lightroom for this session. The reason I have a separate Lightroom catalog for each session is 1) it doesn’t slow Lightroom down with a giant catalog, and 2) if one catalog gets corrupt (which I’ve had happen to me!) then it only affects the one session and no others. After I create the new Lightroom catalog for that session, I export only the culled photos into the Lightroom catalog.
STEP 6 – Edit, export and upload images to an online gallery for delivery
Once I finish editing a session, I export the high-resolution files to the client’s folder on my computer. Then I upload those files to a new online gallery for the session and deliver it to my client. I currently use Pic-Time for my online gallery platform. I like their simple style and the ability to upsell clients on prints and products. Most importantly, I have Pic-Time’s unlimited plan so I never have to delete an online gallery and can use that as my fourth layer of backup for my client’s images. If you want to try Pic-Time, you can use code “N4KLVR” to try it free for one month!
For more information on how to deliver photo galleries, and how to do it on a new-business budget, head over to this blog post.
STEP 7 – Format memory card
Only after I have delivered my client’s gallery via Pic-Time, do I go back and format that memory card I’ve been storing in a safe space.
STEP 8 – When I run out of storage space on my computer
I can’t store my client’s folders on my computer forever. When I’m at the point where I need more space, I just simply transfer the client’s whole folder (RAWS, Lightroom catalog, High res files, etc.) over to an external hard drive.
STEP 9 – Online backup of external hard drive
Once I transfer those files over to my external hard drive, then CrashPlan automatically starts backing up those files as well (as long as the external hard drive is plugged in).
I have never completely lost the images from a session using this system! I have had Lightroom catalogs get corrupt and memory cards get corrupt. I even accidentally completely deleted my hard drive on my computer and lost EVERYTHING on it. Thank the Lord I had it all backed up to the cloud and the current sessions I was editing were still on the memory cards. I have had a lot of things fail on me, but this system for photographing, storing, and backing up my client’s images has not yet failed me.
OTHERS WAY TO REDUCE THE RISK OF PHOTO LOSS
Here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years for weak spots in a phot backup system.
- Never individually delete photos from your memory card on your camera. This weakens your memory card and creates more room for corruption. Instead, either 1) delete all the files on the memory card when it’s plugged into your computer, or 2) format your memory card using your camera settings.
- Always format your memory card before shooting on it. The more you photograph on an unformatted memory card, the greater the risk of failure.
- Create a separate Lightroom catalog for each session. This reduces the risk of losing multiple sessions if one Lightroom catalog gets corrupt.
- Clearly mark your clean, formatted cards and your cards that have images on them so you don’t risk taking a card that already has images on it and shooting over it.
- Be sure to export your memory card and external hard drive from your computer first, instead of just pulling it out of the slot.
I hope all this information on how to backup your images as a photographer helps! I never want you to have a conversation with a client about why their images are gone. If you use a different photo backup system, let me know below!
Hey, it’s me, Larissa! I started my photography business three years ago with a one-day photography class, a craigslist camera and zero experience photographing people. I’m not a hot shot in the industry, but a real person who built a business that replaced my previous job’s income and a fire in my soul to share how I got my business off the ground with other newbie photographers. If you want more advice, how-tos, and tips on getting your portrait photography business off the ground, head over to my photographer’s page!