Updated: Feb 25, 2021
We take more photos than ever before. An estimated 95 MILLION photos are uploaded to Instagram every single day! Yep, you read that right. Let's take that further. There were an estimated 1.4 TRILLION photos taken in 2020. It seems even with the lockdown, people are still taking photos.
Social media and smartphones have made it easier than ever to snap and share precious memories... be it of loved ones, amazing vacations, or that perfect foam art on your morning latte. The worlds largest photo library is not the Library of Congress, the Louvre or any other collection. Facebook holds that title.
But with all this digital imagery, the one thing we as photographers are NOT taking seriously is the longevity of our images. Sure, Facebook will keep all those photos... as long as Facebook is around. But Facebook is HUGE and not going anywhere. Remember MySpace? Further, now that Instagram is owned by Facebook; if one fails, the other is likely not far behind.
Ok so that's scary, but not to worry - you keep all your originals on your phone. The good news: smartphone memory is remarkably durable. You can drop it, fling it, soak it, and it keeps on going. That's great. But what about when you upgrade your phone? Are you SURE your photos will transfer. For Apple users (sorry I'm not an Android guy but I'm sure it's similar) iCloud seamlessly backs up and transfers your images over to your new phone. Awesome! What if Apple decides to shut down iCloud? It wouldn't be the first time that Apple moves in an unpopular direction. Millions of professional photographers relied on Aperture to catalogue and edit their photos and one day Apple just decided not to support it any more and it went away. Are you willing to bet your memories on it?
Alright so enough doom and gloom. Hopefully by now you've been convinced that you need to take photo storage and backup seriously. There's really no need to panic. Everything you need to create a reliable and secure backup system is easy to understand, and even pretty cheap.
I subscribe to the 2+1 idea. That means you need to have two physical copies of your images, plus one copy in the cloud. As a professional photographer, my clients expect me to be a good steward of their families images, so I actually have several more backups than that... but for 99% of you the 2+1 method is all you need. So here comes the money part. You'll need storage. Lots of storage. Terabytes of storage. The good news - storage is cheap. Really cheap. 4 terabytes runs around 80-100 bucks. You'll need two. So that's about $200. Then you'll need a cloud service. The cloud service I recommend is BackBlaze. For just $6 a month, it's a rock-solid backup that can save your bacon if something happens. The best part - if something happens and BackBlaze suddenly goes out of business, you still have your 2 physical hard drives to save you while you shop for a new cloud service.
Setting it up is easy peasy.
First make sure that both of your USB hard drives are cleanly formatted and ready to go. If you're on a Mac, you can use time machine to run your backup, and on a PC, download EaseUS Todo Backup Software. I've tried a bunch of freeware back when I was a PC user, and this is the easiest I've found. BONUS - some hard drives come with built in or free software. Often times this software works even better, or is even easier to use than EaseUS.
Download/transfer/scan all of your images. If you're anything like most, you'll have photos scattered on random external hard drives from old digital cameras, images on your smartphone(s), maybe a digital image or two still hanging around on a 'real' camera that you never use, and even a shoebox full of old 3x5 or 4x6 photos. Now is the time to gather all of these images, get a hot beverage (or a glass of wine if you like) and start moving photos. At first, you're just going to move everything to a single drive and do your very best to organize your photos into categories (how I organize my images is a whole blog post in itself), for now focus on organizing by year/month and additionally by major event (trip to Niagara Falls, Johnnys first steps, etc.).
Time to get even more organized. It's a good chance that your photos are 1000x better organized than they ever were before, but let's just take it one step further to put yourself on the path to a truly well organized collection. Time to get a DAM. A DAM stands for Digital Asset Manager. It's a fancy way of saying a catalog of all your images where you can easily browse, sort, tag, etc. The most popular in the world of professional photography is Lightroom... but this comes at an additional monthly fee, and has more tools than you'd likely use so let's save some cash and go with something that's much cheaper. I suggest Skylum Luminar. The software is regularly $89 but I've seen it as low as $59. Other great options are On1 Photo, Exposure X6, and DXO Photo Lab. All of these products hover around the $90 price point. Too much? No worries - if you're on a Mac, simply use the Photos App that's built in. On a PC? sell it and buy a Mac. Just kidding. Darktable is open-source and available for both Mac and PC. All of these offer a free trial, so give them all a whirl and pick your favorite. Once you've settled on your favorite, it's time to build your catalogue and get even more organized.
Time to run your first backup. Plug your second hard drive in (if you haven't already) and either launch Time Machine or EaseUS Todo. Follow the instructions, but make sure that you're ONLY backing up your first external hard drive. Go to bed several times because this first backup is going to take a LONG time. Probably hours, maybe days.
Download and launch BackBlaze. You've moved to the final step - downloading and launching BackBlaze for your cloud backup. If you thought your local backup took a long time. Brace yourself. This one may take days or weeks... even months depending on your hard drive speed, and the number of files you have.
Thats it! Congratulations! You're now backing up your memories like a pro. The key now is to stick to it!!! Keep backing up locally, and keep organizing your new photos too. Pretty soon you'll be a photo storage machine and can rest easy knowing that your precious images are protected.
I've also made a video to help with backing up and photo storage over on my Adapted Lens YouTube channel. Below you can click on the thumbnail to watch it.