Photo Download Backup Strategy

This blog post is going to go over proper backup strategies for photos. This applies equally to working in your studio or at home, or traveling and shooting mobile. The number one thing that I cannot emphasize enough is that you should never trust hard disk drives! It is not a matter of if they are going to fail, but rather when they are going to fail! In fact, I would even extend that sentiment to other forms of storage such as SSDs, or other flash memory devices like USB sticks. Your photos are, presumably, very important and if they are for a client, even more so, therefore never trust them to a single backup device!

So, the most important thing for any photo import session, is to have a good cup of coffee, and several drives for backup…


Okay, maybe the coffee is not that critical, but perhaps it can help keep you alert to avoid making mistakes, like forgetting to import that one important memory card before reformatting it in the camera! I am going to cover my mobile backup strategy here, but really, at home I do the same thing, but instead of a large USB stick as one of my backups (you can see the white Lexar 256GB stick above), I use another hard drive.

Even though I usually use Capture One Pro these days for processing the raw files, I still do all my importing, keyword tagging, backups and such in Lightroom since I have a very comfortable and familiar workflow that I’m used to. Here is an outline of what I do when I finish a day of shooting and sit down at my computer to download my photos, specifically covering using Lightroom for my photo import…

  1. Plug in your backup hard drive. In the above photo I have a 500GB 2.5″ USB 3.0 hard drive plugged into my MacBook Air.
  2. Import your images using Lightroom onto the laptop’s main internal drive, in the case of my MacBook Air, a 500GB SSD. However at the same time, set up the external drive as a simultaneous backup location. Details on how to do that in a bit.
  3. Once the backup is done, plug in the 256GB USB stick and copy the day’s import from the backup drive to the stick. That way, the raw downloads are in two locations, the backup drive and the USB stick. The USB stick lives in my camera bag when I travel, so I always have a full backup of all the shots from any given trip or session with me, should my laptop and/or other backup drives get stolen from my vehicle or hotel room.
  4. Once I am finished for the day with working in Lightroom, I do a full mirrored (and bootable) computer backup to a different drive, which you can see at back left of the above image. When this is done, my Lightroom library and associated images are on two drives, the laptop’s internal SSD and the backup drive, and the “raw downloads” are also on two drives, the first download backup drive, and the USB stick.
  5. Once I am satisfied that all of my memory cards from my day of shooting are fully downloaded and redundantly backed up, only then will I reformat the cards in the camera again for reuse the next day.

So with the above strategy, all of my photos are on four different drives. When I travel by plane, I keep the USB stick in my camera bag, the laptop and raw download backup drive in another bag, and the laptop’s mirrored backup drive in my checked bag. By distributing the drives in your luggage, you have some degree of safety. If your camera or computer bag is stolen, you’ll still have the images in your checked bag on a backup drive. In fact, it might even be a good idea to put the small USB stick in a jacket or pant pocket, in case all of your bags somehow disappear! That way you’ll at least still have all the photos you shot…

So, how to make Lightroom backup during import? If you cannot see it clearly, click on the screenshot below to open it in a new tab, zoom in and look near the top right of the Lightroom window where it says “Make a Second Copy To:”…

In this case, just before I took the screenshot I was hovering the mouse where it says “/Volumes/…” and the white popup appeared below showing my backup path. My external drive is called “Lightroom Download BU” and the folder it is being backup up into is called “LR Download BU”. Lightroom will download the backup into a folder with the current month, day and year. It will always remember the last location, so you do not have to specify this each time you import. On my small backup USB stick, you can see that what I backed up in the above screenshot went into a folder called “Imported on April 2, 2020” which you can see in the screenshot below, along with some other recent imports from March…This is how Lightroom names and organizes the download backups and as far as I know, there is no way of changing how they are named. I actually wish Lightroom would name them something like “Imported on 2020-04-02” instead of “Imported on April 2, 2020″ since that would allow for a proper name sort in the correct date order at all times.

So there you have it: my mobile backup strategy. I more or less do the same thing at home, but have an extra hard drive instead of the USB stick. With the decreasing prices of SSD drives, I will more than likely be replacing my external 2.5” hard drives with SSDs in the future, since that should make for a much more reliable solution. However I know people who’ve also had SSD drives totally fail, so just because it is solid state memory, doesn’t mean that it is completely bulletproof either. I would still highly recommend multiple redundant backups!

In a future blog posting, I will go over how I backup and archive photos at home onto optical media, these days using archival Blu-Ray M-DISC media. If you have any questions about anything in this article, do feel free to contact me or comment on this posting.

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