How often to back up your digital pictures

I'm writing today to share a cautionary tale about a certain woman (who worked as a Photoshop and Lightroom instructor, as well as a photographer on the side) who failed to make sure her images were properly backed up and lost a year's worth of photos.

Who is this person? Me, Amanda Padgett, someone who has encouraged hundreds of people over the years to back up their images.

The Inexcusable Mistake

About four or five years ago I had a super-duper custom PC desktop built. This thing was 16 gb of RAM, 1 terabyte of storage, quad-core, raid 5 array. That last bit means that I had multiple drives in the computer and that I could have two drives go down and my data would still be safe.

The jeopardy of losing images was something I took seriously with my previous computer, and I had purchased a 2 TB external drive to back up my pictures frequently. However, when I moved to this mega computer, and I heard about the fail-safe of the "raid array," I didn't have that same urgency to back up my pictures consistently. I would periodically back up my pictures, but not on a consistent basis. I was lulled into a false sense of security.

As you can guess, I was unknowingly playing with fire and I got burned. One day my computer would not boot up. Nothing. It was taken to the computer doctor and they said that they could not recover any data from the drives. Nothing.

Instantly I had a sinking feeling in my stomach, but I tried to convince myself all was okay, that I didn't lose that many images because I had backed up a few months ago....right? Nope. When I checked my monster external drive I found I had not backed up my pictures for a WHOLE YEAR. 

A year. Twelve months of images were gone. At first I was in disbelief. Then I started to have a bit of a panic attack. Thankfully I was able to get a grip fairly quickly and realize this was not the end of the world - my father had all of FIVE pictures from his childhood. I still have hundreds and hundreds of images of my children from the years before and I needed to be thankful for that. This wasn't a house fire where we lost ALL our pictures (previous film photographs that were printed) and our computers with the digital images.

Making a Change

Losing a year's worth of pictures made me extremely diligent about backing up files now, and I am sharing my back-up process with you in hopes that it will spur you on to create your own system and not suffer the painful loss of photographs that I did.

Whenever I upload images from my memory card to my laptop or desktop hard drives, they are IMMEDIATELY copied on to a secondary external hard drive. RIGHT THEN.

You can back up your images by one of three ways:

  • During the import into Lightroom, using the option to copy files to another drive (image below).
  • Outside of Lightroom, by copying and pasting the image folder from the internal drive to the external drive.
  • Using a built in app like Time Machine to automatically back up all your files, pictures included.

Copying images to hard drive via Lightroom import screen

I use the top two options, however I'm not done. After they are on the external drive, I then copy them to a SECOND external drive. Why? Because hard drives can fail or become corrupted. The last thing I want to happen is have my internal drive die, go to the external drive to get my saved images only to find out that the drive failed. 

Before I walk away from my desk, the images now reside in THREE locations: my internal laptop/desktop drive, the primary external drive, and the secondary external drive. I told you I got serious about backing up files, didn't I?

That first way, the one via the Import screen in Lightroom is the easiest way to do it, and if you get into a habit of doing it every time you import, your images will at least reside on two drives, giving you a better chance of not losing them. 

Hard Drives I Use:

Because I know the question will come up, I will share what drives I use for back up. Right now I use two small, portable Seagate 1 TB drives. However, I also have a 2 TB desktop external drive that I haven't started using yet. (I have switched from a PC desktop to a Mac desktop, so my hard drives had to change as well, if you're wondering why I'm not using that original 2 TB external drive; it was formatted for PC.)

Below is one of the drives in the protective case and cord. I have this because I tote this drive with me wherever my laptop goes and I want to protect the drive from possible damage.

Seagate external drive used for backing up digital images

I am not saying Seagate is the best and that is what you should use. There are many dependable external drives available now. Look around and find the one that best suits your needs.

Think About Cloud Storage

If you want to take your back-up system a step further, you should consider storing your images in the cloud. I used to pay for back up with Carbonite but discontinued due to our pitifully slow internet here. There are a variety of options now, though, like Dropbox,, Google Drive, and more. You will need to pay for the storage, but it really is worth it should you tragically lose your computer and drives to a fire, or theft, or flood. 


Use cloud storage to back up your digital photographs