Why Play with Fire?


Have you backed up your photos lately? I am asking because I have just seen the grief of a good friend of mine who lost all his photos because he hadn’t. He had done what everybody knows one shouldn’t do, but everybody does. He had kept all his photos taken over the last three or four years on an SD-card in the camera – and had not backed them up on any other device. These were photos of family and friends, from holiday and travels, of precious moments and of big sentimental value. The SD-card malfunctioned. All photos gone.

Are you putting yourself in a similar position? Please, don’t. Go right back home and back-up your photos. Now.

Don’t expect it won’t happen to you. It’s only a matter of time before it will. Before your precious photos of which you only have one copy of will be destroyed because the storage device – whatever kind it is – breaks, because you accidentally delete the photos or because you lose the SD-card somewhere you can’t get it back from. Too many people take risks, even professional photographers. I have too often surprisingly seen professionals that play with the fire – and I know one day will regret it. I know, backup is boring, but I assure you will regret, too, not paying attention to this trivial task the day all your photos are gone – even if you are only an occasional photographer, yes, don’t even see yourself as a photographer.

I learned my lesson early on (and don’t we all have to learn the hard way). It was back in the days when my computer had a stunning 20 megabyte hard-disk, a computer that was more expensive that my quite more advanced computer of today and couldn’t even hold one of my regular TIFF-files of today, and back in the days when the computer was run on a disk-operating system call MS-DOS, the precursor of the later Windows, by, yes, Microsoft. Anyway I had been writing the majority of articles for a magazine I was editing back then, when the hard-disk crashed. I lost one month worth of work. And there was only one solution to the problem: To write all articles once again.

I learned my lesson. After that I backed up everything I wrote or created on the computer. Later on when I started photographing digitally, my photos were backed up the same way. All my originals would exist in at least three different storage devices. Back in the beginning I thought I was safe if I backed up only the original photo files. If I lost processed photos – I could always process the originals again. But then my archive of processed photos quickly grew, and I realized that I should not only backup the original information, but also all the work I had put in. If I lost ten years of processed photos, it would take me another ten years to process them again from the originals.

I had to learn one more lesson. Not long ago I was on an assignment. Every night after a day’s work my photos were transferred to my portable laptop, and the CF-cards formatted to be ready for the next day’s photographing. That had been my workflow for many years while on the road. Of course you have already seen what was wrong with this picture. Yes, I backed up all my pictures in the various ways when I got back from the trip – but I didn’t backup while travelling. One of the last days of this trip the hard-disk of the laptop crashed. Disaster! So yes, now I always backup right away every evening to an external harddrive when I am travelling. By the way, the pictures from the trip weren’t lost, but it was an expensive operation to get them extracted from the crashed laptop. Not recommended!

Today, all my photos are stored and backed up in hard-disks on different servers – and even backed up on DVD’s (there is no way you can delete a file from a DVD – and extra precaution). In addition I have them backed up on an external hard disk that is stored off site. If my house burn down, I still have my archive intact.

For any data that is important to you – photographs or anything else – there should never, ever, be only one copy of it in existence, no matter how safe you believe it to be. Catastrophes do happen, houses burn down, banks get robbed, data centres have power failures and cloud companies go out of business.

Have you backed up your photos lately – or at all?


103 thoughts on “Why Play with Fire?

  1. well, i have a mac, and one of the best things about a mac, is that you can get a G drive and run a thing called ‘time machine’ which backs up my system once an hour… so yeah, even if my computer gets a virus, i just run a backup from before the virus and all is well….

    apples computers are not as wonderful as before steve jobs died, but in this case, they are still wonderful

    backups are really SO important

  2. This reminds me that I need to continue backing up some of the photos I have that I haven’t backed up on discs yet and that I need to buy more discs to back those ones up hahaha

  3. Oh dear, what a good reminder, Otto. I’m constantly on the road and of course I have experienced more than one disaster. Time do my homework straight away! 😉

  4. I do now, but not before a friend of mine lost all her photos. I learned from her experience. Thanks for the reminder and the good advice.

  5. Yes, yes, yes–I have even had external drives malfunction. My routine is manyfold. I store them on an external drive, a cloud drive, and flash drives. I’m always backing up the back up. Great advice.

  6. After a home robbery when we lost all electronics I’ve started backing up to a cloud service along with DVD’s. The thieves didn’t touch my old stash of discs so I only lost about six months of photos but it’s really important to be sure one storage method isn’t in your house. Like your off site drive.

  7. Yes, I do back up my photos because once I thought I’d lost my hard drive, I hadn’t but it was a lesson so I’ve got back-ups on external hard drive, a USB device and Dropbox. I’d be devastated if I lost my photos and artwork.

  8. Yes, I am a backer upper. LOL I take my photos right off my camera, and put them on my computer. And because my computer is really close to going belly up, I have an external hard drive that I put everything on regularly. It lives in a fire proof box. Some day i will do cloud storage as well.

  9. I back up everything to an external hard drive and a cloud backup service. It’s all the more important because I know my computer is aging and it’s only a matter of time before the inevitable happens.

  10. This is soooo important. I often email attachments between computers and handheld devices, have a drive for automatic backups attached, and still fear the loss of precious material. (I once lost 10,000 words of a manuscript that I will go to my grave believing were the best words I’ve ever written.) Great advice, as usual, Otto!

  11. Otto, thank you for this post. As soon as I read the first few lines my heart started to pound and I felt panic surging through my body. Last year my computer crashed and luckily I was able to retrieve my pictures, truthfully I hardly thought about my documents, I only backed up a few. I keep telling myself I should make the time but…well life keeps on happening. Then I opened your post and realized today is the day. So now I am sitting watching my computer back up my photos, a seriously long process and as you have now reminded me, back up those backups and put them elsewhere. Whew! I’m so happy I read your post today. Now, I’ll work on my IPad and oh no! I have to back that up too. Lol! Thanks for the reminder. I will play with fire no more. 🙂

  12. Funny you should write this, because I just had an incident with my computer, and all my work went south, but all was not lost. Thankfully, I backup my work on an external hard drive. Always, I repeat always, backup everything! Nice post, and sound advice, Otto!

  13. Terrible to read all that can happen to my photos 🙂
    But I do make backups regularly, I’ve learned my
    lesson many years ago when the harddisk of my
    computer crashed. And I didn’t have the money to
    have my files extracted. There were no photos then,
    but many creative art files went down the drain.
    Many hours of work just gone.
    Yes, this post is very necessary 😀
    Have a fine day

  14. I’m a bit obsessive about backing up documents and photos to an external drive, but I am mulling over whether to print out my very best (a small number!), or most precious, photos for an old fashioned photo album as well. I’m just an old fashioned girl at heart!

  15. I always download my photos from my camera to my laptop the same day (usually). Lately, when I travel, I have not been taking my laptop, and take along an extra SD card should it be needed. I know, that is very risky. So now I contemplate how to get around that. I also have all my photos on my laptop backed up by Carbonite, a cloud based company; and thank goodness, my laptop hard drive crashed a couple of months ago. Talk about fear striking my heart when I first thought of my photos, but they were all there on Carbonite. Now you’ve made me think of other backups also.

    1. A solution to your travel dilemma is simply to bring a small portable external hard disk with a SD-reader built in. That way you can backup your cards without needing to bring a laptop,

  16. Ah, a very good and important point, Otto. Until a few weeks ago I would probably have been guilty as charged as I haven’t done any back-up since I switched from Windows laptop to a Mac which was in October 2013. Before that, I wasn’t doing any real back-ups, it was merely a case of saving files on an external hard drive whenever my hard drive of laptop got too full. When I got my Mac, I wanted to do it better, even bought a large 3 TB hard drive which than sat on my desk, unused for months, because I wanted to clean up my archive first. Then, about 4 weeks ago, I finally plugged it in and let Time Machine do the job. It’s still not a perfect solution as I don’t do another backup on something that I keep outside my flat or in a cloud but at least it’s a start. And of course, a lot of the edited pictures are also stored on my blog and Flickr 🙂

    Oh, and I also lost lots of pictures back in 2010 when somebody broke into my house and stole my camera and laptop. I hadn’t really picked up photography back then so it were mostly holiday pics but still, a few lost memories. Now I have a lot more treasured pics so I better look after them.

    1. Always sad to lose memories captured on photos. But yes, when you start to do “real” photography the eventual loss would be much harder. Good that you have started getting your photos backed up – even if there is more you can do to secure them even better.

  17. Certe volte rischio troppo non facendo spesso un backup delle foto, so che sbaglio e appena posso cerco di porre rimedio, prima che sia troppo tardi. La maggior parte è al sicuro, devo provvedere al più presto ad aggiornare il backup. Grazie per aver ricordato una cosa così importante.
    Saluti, Patrizia

    1. Lei ha perfettamente ragione, Patrizia. Backup fatto l’anno scorso, non ha intenzione di contribuire a salvare questo anno foto o file se qualcosa va storto. Regolarmente il backup è necessario! Suona come si dispone di un po ‘di lavoro da fare … 🙂

  18. +10. I had a hard drive failure early last year. I had a weekly full drive backup and only lost few things. I have now have a disk that just backup files that just change quickly and weekly full drive backup. Not off location yet… Hmm.

  19. I’ve lost things from not backing up too. It’s such a heart-dropping experience! But we live and learn and hopefully remember to save often. Love the colors in this photo.

  20. Great reminder, Otto. Your friend may be able to recover some of those images off the SD card. It’s expensive, but can be done by nerds with the proper tools and know-how. I once made the mistake of slipping my SD card, filled with just-taken vacation pictures from Glacier National Park, into the computer of a friend. Her rickety old computer ate the data from my card. I was devastated. When I got home, I took the card to the Office Depot store and for $75, got almost all the images back!

    1. That’s was I real turn-around – from the devastated feeling of having lost everything to actually be able to recover most. I am sure you were very happy at that point. And it’s wasn’t even expensive. My friend was going to try to recover the image, but I haven’t heard the result yet.

  21. Fortunately I now have Mac and run Time Machine, the automatic back up. On my travels I download my photos to a laptop and have enough memory cards that I don’t have to format them until I get home. If I travelled for longer periods that could be a problem!

  22. Good advice, Otto! I keep all my images on an external hard drive, and backup on a second…probably should have a third set

  23. Not only am I backed up, but I also have a back up out of state at my daughter’s house. That only gets changed out every few months, but I’m glad to have one that’s not in the house and is somewhat current.


      1. I agree it doesn’t get updated as frequently. But if something truly catastrophic happened, all I’d lose is up to two months of photos, not the whole thing. And that’s a pretty good consolation. Hopefully I will never need it.

  24. Not only do I have my photos backed up to duplicate external drives, I’m in the process of moving all of my blog entries and draft files to my hard drive and external drives as well. WordPress went through a period where the entire site would go down, and the thought of losing everything I’d ever written made my blood run cold. I didn’t do anything about it at the time, but now I’m getting with it.

    The draft files are done, and the published posts will be in a week or so. To be quite frank, an individual hard drive crash isn’t the worst thing that can happen. There are forces abroad in the world that would love to strike the net itself, and I refuse to allow them to have my writing!

  25. That is a really painful lesson to learn!
    I used to be an IT technician, so I am usually ultra careful about backing things up. Sometimes I forget, though.
    I have 3 external hard drives (back up of a back up…), one of which I used to keep in my car (keeping archive drives in the same place is fine unless the unthinkable happens like a fire or flood). This post has reminded me that I need to do a little back up session again. Thanks!

  26. Hi Otto, I back up my files (images, photos, words, spreadsheets, etc) regularly using Apple’s AirPort Time Capsule. It automatically backs everything up every hour or so, though you can set the frequency. It saved a ton of time and eliminated chords from my routine since it’s wireless. If you want to make a second backup via hard disk, you can easily use a chord and transfer everything over.

  27. Önskar dig en fin och meningsfull påskhelg…var du än är…
    och för ovanlighetens skull så kommenterar jag inte ditt inlägg:)
    Jag förstår och jag håller med och det är viktigt att poängtera och föra fram allt som kan hända…och “shit” nu blev det en kommentar i alla fall:):)…
    Ha det gott…och ja, du vet nog vad jag tycker…om man skall göra något, så är det lika bra att göra det på riktigt från första början…annars kan det vara.
    En hälsning från mitt norra hem…dis, dimma och en meter snö…men jag är glad ändå??

    1. Jeg håper du er glad!.. Jeg er i hvert fall glad for din kommentar – jeg mener ord. Jeg er nok enig med deg, at skal man først gjøre noe, må man gjøre det ordentlig. Jeg hilser tilbake fra mitt andre nord.

  28. I am super paranoid about losing my digital images so I have two external hard-disks as back up with all RAW files and as well store the images in my internal hard-disk at laptop. I also store my RAW files online in a paid website, however I am thinking to cancel the online storage and instead having the third external hard-disk only for the RAW files..
    Thanks so much for the post! It reminds me to buy the third external hard-disk 🙂

  29. I have a Mac and use TimeMachine to back up regularly on two different external HDs , which I alternate. It means one HD one week, another one next week. Of the two the one not used is stored by a friend.The reason is that if a thief should enter and steal it I have the other ones, in the worst case it’s only one week work gone. In addition all the photo files and LR catalogs are backed up to a different portable hd to be used with my macbook when moving.

  30. A great reminder. I do a pretty good job of backing up my files, but my system is still not where it should be (I like your off site idea). Of course, even doing a reasonable job backing up, I’ve ran into problems with a software program which caused me to inadvertently delete about a years worth of photos. Such a horrible feeling. Time for me to reassess 🙂 Thanks ~

  31. Dette kan vel ikke sies for ofte, og som du selv skrive så har et eller annet hent oss alle. Et alternativ du ikke nevner er fjernlagring via nettet. Selv bruker jeg Jottacloud som gir deg ubegrenset back-up for noen hundrelapper per år, og som har sine servere i Norge. Da gjelder også norsk lovgiving, og det kan være en fordel. I tillegg to eksterne harddisker. Men siden jeg sjelden drar en bærbar PC med på ferie er mitt svake punkt at noe kan skje med mine CF-kort …

    1. Du har helt rett, fjernlagring via nettet er absolutt et alternativ. Men det er litt avhengig av hvor mye du fotograferer. Kommer du tilbake fra en tur med 100 GB med bilder, tar det litt tid å laste opp…

      1. Jeg kom nettopp tilbake med ca 40 – 45 GB. Med 50/50 MB fiber gikk det rimelig greit som en bakgrunnsaktivitet. Ellers kan man jo ta natten til hjelp 🙂

  32. Excellent advice! I’ve been obsessive about backing up work since I lost four chapters of my thesis a few days before it was due in, and I had to call in a posse of friends to re-type the work from my (luckily) printed-out drafts. That was a long time ago, and my stomach still flips when I think about it.

  33. As you make clear, Otto, this is a matter of the utmost importance. I read somewhere that when all has been lost due to some disaster, what most people want to get back the most are their photographs and wedding rings.

    I don’t keep any photos on my computer, itself, because it’s a Windows touch tablet with only a 256 GB flash memory drive. I have three external 1TB hard drives: original, backup 1, and backup 2. Any new photos (plus important documents) get copied to backup 1 on a daily basis. Backup 2 is kept in a remote location. I bring it home at least once a month to get it up to date.

    My first two drives are incredibly small and light, and these go travelling with me. One stays in the hotel, but the other goes in my shoulder bag when I go out each day.

    When I come home from a trip, if I haven’t yet done the second backup, I take the backup 1 drive with me when I go out, so that I’m never leaving the only two copies together in the same place.

    You mentioned a DVD backup, Otto, because they can’t be erased. This is an important point because I had a potentially bad experience a couple of years ago. After doing a primary backup, I found a the folder with a whole year’s photos had disappeared! I have no idea still how this happened. What I did, of course, was to copy the missing folder from backup drive 2 to my primary drive. But what if I hadn’t discovered that the photos were missing before doing the second backup? In that case, I would have lost that forever.

    Thanks for reminding me, then, that I must make at least one DVD copy of everything to archive away. Then I will add a new disc monthly.

    I say at least one copy because many years ago, before I had external hard drives, all my beautiful were first on CDS, and then DVDS. The advice I read then was to have two backup series, each being on a different lot or brand of disc. This is to take into account the possibility of a faulty lot of discs. Even then, the advise was to recopy all files to a new set of discs every five years, because you can’t be sure of just how long a disc will last.

    And finally, I’d like to mention that it’s important to have good backup software. I’ve been using SyncBackPro for a few years now. It’s very user friendly, so I highly recommend it.

    Now to get started on a set of DVDS!

    1. You seem to have a very good setup. As long as you update your backup system you don’t seem to be in danger of losing images. As to backing up on DVD’s: You have an important point. DVD’s don’t last forever, so every 10-15 years one should copy the files to a fresh DVD.

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