A photography back up strategy to avoid saying “I lost my photos!”

I’ve known family members and even experienced photographers who have lost the photos on the memory card even before offloading them to a computer, and also those who have lost their photos from computer storage. Take a moment to think the time invested and the many beautiful memories you could potentially lose if your current photo catalogue were just gone. I feel my anxiety rising, just thinking about it. Ugh!

Stuff happens, and if you do not have a coherent strategy for protecting your images form data loss, at some point, you will be the one to utter the phrase, "I lost my photos." Here's the strategy I used to mitigate the risks.

Backup While Shooting

My risk mitigation strategy starts before I click the shutter release for the first image. I use two similarly sized SD cards in my Fuji X-T2, configuring my camera to store full-sized RAF (Fuji's RAW image format) to both cards. If one card entirely craps out on me or if I accidentally format a card in the camera I’ve got all the RAW images safely stored on the other card. I never remove the second memory card from my camera.

If your camera has two memory slots, even if each slot is a different storage type, there is no reason not to use this two-card arrangement to reduce the risk of data loss. Memory cards used to be quite expensive. My first digital camera was a Sony DSC-S70, a 3.3-megapixel camera with one storage card slot that used 128 MB Memory Sticks. That 128 MB Memory Stick barely held 36 JPEG quality images. Today, for the same prices, I fill the card slots on my Fuji X-T2 with 32GB Lexar Professional SDHC UHS-II cards that are super fast. I can store over 1200 RAW quality 24-megapixel images. If you get a low-speed memory card for the backup card slot, you may experience the slow performance of the camera during burst shooting. I recommend buying two of the same brand and type of card and buying the fastest storage card your camera can support.

Local and Online Backup

Time Machine

Hard-drives fail, computers get stolen, and there’s any number of ways a whole bunch of data can get lost.

macOS, Time Machine
macOS Time Machine

I’m a Mac so my backup strategy includes the built-in Time Machine as well as a third-party backup solution, Code42’s CrashPlan Pro for Small Business.

Using Time Machine is simple. Plug in an external drive to the Mac and follow the on-screen wizard. Then forget about it. Time Machine automatically runs in the background doing its thing. Additionally, I used CrashPlan to backup the internal SSD of the Mac to an external USB hard drive.

If the internal SSD fails, I can boot and run from the Time Machine drive until I get a replacement and ca recover from the Time Machine drive. If the Time Machine drive fails, I can recover from the CrashPlan backup. These multiple backups reduce the risk of a single point of failure. Time Machine is only used for data loss prevention on my Mac itself.


If I have the computers and the backup in the same place, then what happens if they both get destroyed by a fire or another disaster?

CrashPlan Pro Console
CrashPlan Pro Console

Last year, I wrote an article detailing my backup strategy using CrashPlan PRO for Small Business. Nothing has changed for 2019, except that I now use a Fuji X-T2, and sometimes I import my images as Fuji RAF. I recommend reading that article for all the details.

CrashPlan is a backup software that I installed on my Mac. It is highly configurable, lightweight and runs automatically in the background. I configured CrashPlan to backup when my iMac is idle and to use more bandwidth at night when my home network is not being used. The software is set to make local and encrypted cloud backups.

I pay about $10 per month per computer for a subscription to their online backup. My cloud backup is configured to use 256-bit AES data encryption for data at rest, has no file size restrictions or additional charge for space. Since I have the encryption keys locally, neither CrashPlan or anyone else can read my files.

I can control what files are protected, when, and how often. CrashPlan backs up my most recent files first, then makes sure I have a full backup at one destination as soon as possible before backing up to the other target.

When I run into a problem, CrashPlan’s support staff are available by phone, chat, email. For recovery, I can restore via CrashPlans’ desktop app or web browser. I have a fast internet connection via Xfinity, so recovery times are not too time-consuming.

In the recent past, CrashPlan offered a disk recovery option whereby they would ship an encrypted disk with a copy of my backup. However, the company recently re-organised to focus on small to medium-size business and shuttered the consumer arm of the company.

All of my images are stored in an Adobe Lightroom Catalogue on a 5 TB external hard drive. CrashPlan’s backup software continuously creates copies of my pictures to another local 5TB external hard drive as well as encrypted copies to CrashPlan’s cloud service. A real-time file watcher checks for new files and file updates, and backs up changes every 15 minutes by default.

That means I have three copies (two local and one in the cloud) of my images. The likely data loss is minimal. If one of the local drives fails, I can work off the other drive. With a quick trip to Best Buy or an Amazon.com Prime delivery, I can replace the defective drive.

If both local drives fail (unlikely) or if my house floods, and electrical surge, or burns down in a fire, I can rest easy knowing that I can restore from cloud storage. No technology is zero risks, but it is highly unlikely that I would lose both drives and cloud backup. These multiple backups reduce the risk of a single point of failure.

I use CrashPlan to backup all of my other files - my iTunes library (a separate hard drive from my Adobe Lightroom Catalog), home movies, financial records, etc. using a similar three copy strategy.

CrashPlan Notification Email
CrashPlan PRO Notification Email

One of the features of CrashPlan that I often forget about is email notifications. My wife doesn’t use her MacBook Air daily, preferring to use her iPad for most tasks. Sometimes she can go an entire week without using her MacBook, and when she does, she may only use it for a few hours.
That means that often, CrashPlan has not had a chance to back up her MacBook. CrashPlan’s cloud service will send me an email notification.

My wife also forgets to attach an external backup drive. However, CrashPlan will pick up where it left off the next time I plug in the drive. Compared to other cloud backup options, CrashPlan Pro for Small Business is an excellent value.

I’m happy with CrashPlan for Small Business because it always works.

Backup strategy for MacBook Air for college student

Kiran has a MacBook Air which we just purchased as both high-school graduation (2019) and birthday gift (November). We did the same for her sibling in 2017. When she starts college next year I want her to be somewhat self-sufficient when it comes to tech support. I was thinking through the options for backing up her MacBook Air, and I realised that a Time Capsule would not be a viable solution.

Based on our visit to the college tour, we learned that the colleges she is considering (Oberlin, Smith, Mount Holyoke, etc.) provide campus-wide W-Fi. There are no Ethernet ports in the student residence rooms to connect a wireless access point or router. For the Apple Time Capsule, it could not be connected physically to a router or an Ethernet port. It's also not possible to connect the Time Capsule to the campus Wi-Fi as a Wi-Fi extender.

The bottom line here is that the Time Capsule has been designed to connect permanently to wired Ethernet, college residence halls do not have Ethernet, my daughter will need an external hard drive to use with Time Machine.

Using Migration Assistant with a one USB-C port MacBook

So … you know that process where you use migration assistant to move an account from one Mac to a new one? A one port MacBook present challenges to the process.

So you know that process where you use migration assistant to move an account from one Mac to a new one? With the MacBook, the customer can do this via one of the following methods.

  • Connect both computers to the same local WiFior Ethernet network.
  • Or connect both computers directly using a Thunderbolt, FireWire, or Ethernet cable.
  • Or connect the new Mac to a Time Capsule or external drive with a Time Machine backup of your old Mac.

Except for WWiFinone of the options works well when you need the USB-C port to connect the external hard drive or Ethernet cable (via an adapter) or USB-C to USB-C, but the MacBook battery needs to be charged. I planned to use Migration Assitant to transfer my son's account from the family iMac to his new MacBook. The MacBook only has one USB-C port. The 2013 iMac has USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt ports. It seemed to be the most practical migration path was to use a USB-C to Ethernet adapter. I picked one up at the Apple Store in the Quaker Bridge Mall. When I explained what it was for, the Apple genius tried to convince me that I did not need an adapter. He told me to use a backup from Time Machine. I tried to explain that I still needed an adapter since my 2013 iMac did not have USB-C. Apple doesn't sell USB Type-B to USB Type-C adapters.

I didn't have any problems connecting the two Macs via the Ethernet cable, but the MacBook complained that the battery was low before I could start. I needed to charge it before Migration Assistant could continue. That meant that I could no longer use the USB-C to Ethernet adapter. I could either wait to migrate until after I charged the battery or use the ONLY USB-C port to charge the MacBook and do the migration over WiFi.

I decided to use WiFWiFido for the migration while the MacBook charged. I didn't know how long that would take, but I had no choice but to migrate my son's account info using WiFiWiFi almost as soon as I started, I had to stop. The new MacBook has an older version of macOS than the iMac. Migration Assistant could not continue until after I updated the macOS on the MacBook. Downloading and installing macOS to the MacBook took over 45 minutes on WiFi.WiFie the macOS update was complete, I was finally able to start migrating the account. According to the Migration Assistant, the process would take fours hours over WiFi. WiFiMacs will be tied up during the process.

This experience has me thinking about how my son will back up his MacBook during the school year. Apple would most likely suggest backing up over WiFi toWiFime Capsule. But the campus has its WiFi, and residents are not allowed to set up their access points. A Time Capsule for WiFi backup over WiFi would be useless.

I think the only option is to buy a $150 USB-C dock so that my son can charge the MacBook while he connects an external hard drive for use with Time Machine backup. Backing up to an external hard drive is the practical thing to do.

In case you think this is a case of sour grapes, consider this. Apple is offering back-to-school bundles that include a MacBook and Beats headphones. The Beats uses a USB Type-B to USB-mini cable. You can't charge your Beats via a MacBook. The iPhone is offered with a USB to Lightning cable. You can't charge your iPhone via a MacBook. What the f**k is Jonny Ive thinking!