External hard drives and NAS devices, Cloud storage, online portfolios, and offsite backup… the list of photo backup solutions is long and confusing. But which perform best in the real world? We asked some experienced photographers to tell us about their expert photo backup techniques to find out.
The Winner! External Drives
The overwhelming winner, 52% of photographers questioned use HDDs and SSDs to keep their photos secure.
External drives are portable, easy to use, offer plenty of storage space, and let you transfer files quickly and without having to navigate any complicated software. They’re a tried and tested way of keeping files backed up, support almost all file types, and can be kept anywhere - offsite or close to hand.
External drives can’t be accessed remotely, and are vulnerable to environmental damage - not to mention that hard drive failure can strike at any time. The latter can be overcome, however, by keeping multiple backups of all of your photos.
The Price: $50-100 for 1-2TB
The Runners Up
24% of photographers questioned choose to backup their files using one of the many online backup providers currently dominating the personal backup market.
Run automatic & scheduled backups
Share your photos with friends, colleagues, and clients
Access your files on the go
Protect your pictures with extensive data security measures
Contact customer support staff if you get stuck
Works out more expensive than external drives over time
Providers with weak security measures can leave data unprotected online
Bandwidth limitations can mean slower file transfers.
The Price: From free (1TB typically $5 - 12 per month)
Our photographers recommend: CrashPlan, Dropbox, Google Photos (Google Drive), and Amazon Cloud Drive.
Network Attached Storage (NAS)
Network attached storage, which works by attaching a storage device to your local network, found favour in 12% of responses.
Automatic & scheduled backups
Don’t use up your bandwidth
Loads of space available
Data redundancy options
Download apps to also use as a VPN, media center, and more
Expensive - especially if you want a multiple-disk setup
Can be tricky to navigate without some technical know-how
The Price: From around $200, including disk drives
Our photographers recommend: Seagate Network Drives, Synology DiskStation DS216j, and the QNAP TS-231.
Flash drives (or USB devices) are considered pretty old-school by many today, but they still have a place in the hearts of 8% of our respondents.
Quick file transfers
Good for storing small amounts of data
Limited storage space compared to other solutions (up to around 128GB)
Not suitable for larger-scale backups
The Price: $5 - $30 approx.
Online Galleries and Portfolios
Websites that let users store photos as well as presenting them in customizable galleries or portfolios are favoured by 4% of the photographers we contacted.
Great for presenting & organising photos
Easy to access
Good for sharing files
Ideal for advertising to new clients
Very little security
Only suitable for images you want to make public
The price: From free
Our photographers recommend: Flickr, Imgur, and SmugMug
External Device Backup Stats
How pro photographers use their preferred backup technology, broken down.
The percentage of participants that use multiple different backup tools.
External Drives + Cloud Storage
The most popular combination of different backup tools.
The amount of photographers exclusively using external drives for their backups.
(Of these, 20% use just one drive, 30% use two or three drives, and 50% use more than three.)
Words of Wisdom
We got excellent advice from all of the photographers that we contacted, but sadly we couldn’t include it all. Instead, here are a selection of the very best tips from our contributors:
“The key to data security is redundancy and diversity.”
Backing up photos in just one place is a sure-fire way to lose them. So rather than storing your pictures on a single drive, do as these professionals do and multiply!
“I keep all of my work, everything, on an external 5 TB hard drive. I back it up automatically every night at 11 PM to a second comparable external hard drive. Every once in a while, I take that back up drive to work and replace it with a fresh back up drive and copy everything again.”
“I use external hard drives. I have several of them, I copy all my photos to them. For added safety, I rotate the hard drives to my storage unit, [so] in case my house burns down or gets robbed, I still have a copy.”
“I no longer have all my eggs in the same basket, I use multiple 2.5 inch hard drives, 1TB capacity, instead of a single 3-8 GB 3.25 unit!”
(Cristian M. Ioan)
For extra variety, smartphone photographers may also want to consider online backups:
“By default, for all my photos, I have enabled Google Photos backup, in high quality. It provides unlimited back-up and is good enough to backup all photos clicked from my phone. Also, I have a Box account with 50GB space. All pics from any get-together, trips, family functions etc. go into that.”
Another option is to split up your backed up data to minimise your losses if something goes wrong, just like Jc Lee who gave us this detailed response...
“I prefer to use a small capacity external HDD than a larger capacity one, so a 500GB drive than 2TB (bigger is not always better in this case). There have been a few instances where one of my drives loaded with thousands of files stopped working one fine morning and I could not recover the contents. I sleep better at night knowing that my files are in multiple 500GB ext HDDs instead of one giant 2TB drive.”
...and who left us this perfect summary of the best way to keep your photos safe:
“I would say back up your files in at least two separate external drives, name your image folders and files well so you can find them easily. Check your external drives often, make sure they are still accessible, and you are not getting the dreaded “no image found” message one fine day.”
Although methods and preferences vary, there’s a real consensus here that backing up is an essential part of being a professional photographer, and some useful trends to bear in mind for your own work!
If you’d like to know more about the photographers that we’ve quoted, head over to their Twitter pages, or check out our 5 best photo backup services to see which Cloud storage providers we think will do the best job of keeping your images safe. Alternatively, leave us a comment and let us know all about your photo backup techniques!