As an IT professional and a photographer, I want to tell you that storing and backing up your photos is a big deal.

I grew up around computers and spent seven years working in information security before leaving to help run an IT consulting business with my husband. As a result, when I got into photography, I came to it from a very technical standpoint. One of my biggest concerns was safeguarding all of the memories that I was capturing. I’ve dealt with many drive failures over the years, so having a reliable storage and backup system lets me rest easy knowing my photos will always be protected.

The great news is that photographers now have more options than ever to store their digital assets. Here are some of latest photo storage and backup options available to photographers in 2019, along with some tips to consider when planning your own storage and backup strategy.

Why photo storage and backups matter:

As photographers, we have a large amount of images and other digital content that we need to protect. No matter what solution you choose to store and backup your files, the most important thing is that you fully understand the system you have in place. Know where you store the original copies of your files. Not just your images and videos, but your entire file system, including workshops, presets and actions, financial documents, etc. If you use Adobe Lightroom, you should know exactly where your catalog is stored, and where your catalog backups are stored.

Now consider what would happen if your drive failed tomorrow. Is everything on it backed up to another drive and/or to the cloud? Do your backups run continuously, or at least daily? So many people think they have good backups, but then when something happens, they realize that their backup is months old or that it didn’t include an important set of folders. Take a few minutes to evaluate your storage and backup strategy, and see if you can use the tips in this article to make some improvements to your systems.

My backup plan

My main computer is a Dell XPS desktop. I have a Samsung 500GB SSD for my primary OS drive, and store my photos and other files on a Seagate 4TB internal hard drive. I back up both internal drives to a Seagate 4TB Backup Plus Hub external hard drive as well as to Backblaze. In addition, my husband (an IT professional) has a 4-bay Synology DiskStation with four 4TB drives at our home that we use to store older photos and other media.

The best photo storage options for photographers:

Today, there are great options for storing a lot of digital data, such as a photographer’s collection of photos. Some of these options include cloud storage, external hard drives, SSDs, DAS or NAS systems… Don’t worry, I’m going to go through what all of this means. The most important thing is to find the right photo storage option for you.

1. Cloud storage

As the world of technology is increasingly moving to the cloud, more photographers are opting for cloud storage of their photos, through cloud services like Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and Dropbox. These services sync images on your computer to their cloud servers. This allows for convenient access to your files from any Internet-connected computer/device. These services typically offer a small amount of storage for free, with the option to pay for more storage space. For around $10/month, you can get 1TB of storage with Dropbox and OneDrive, or 2TB of storage with Google Drive. Some services offer plans over 1-2TB, but prices go up sharply. For example, the next largest Google Drive plan is 10TB for $100/month.

While cloud storage is growing in popularity, it is not the right solution for everyone. If you have a large amount of RAW images to store, cloud storage for all your data may not be feasible. 1TB of storage space holds about 25,000 RAW images, and many photographers will have collections much larger than that. If you’re a photographer who also shoots video, you’ll need an even greater amount of storage space.

Another consideration is your home internet speed and any data caps. If you’re located in a rural area or are limited to wireless internet access, cloud storage may not be a good option for you.

Read more in my Tech Tip: 6 Ways to Simplify Your Life with Dropbox

An external hard drive for storing digital photos

2. External hard drives (EHD)

If you’re storing your files locally, most photographers will need at least one dedicated storage drive in addition to their computer’s primary internal drive. The most popular option is to use an external hard drive for this extra storage, and they are very affordable. Most EHDs cost in the range of $80 to $150.

  • Consider your brand options.
    Seagate and Western Digital are some of the most common brands. LaCie is another more niche brand that is especially popular with Mac users. I personally use and recommend Seagate drives.
  • Decide what physical size works for you.
    EHDs come in two main sizes: full-size desktop models and portable models. Full-sized drives are typically more cost-effective, so if your EHD will just sit at your desk, these are your best choice. If you use a laptop and frequently work from different locations, a portable EHD is probably more convenient for you.
  • Understand how much storage space you need.
    When buying an EHD, the primary consideration is the amount of storage space. I always recommend getting drives bigger than you think you need, because your storage needs will often grow faster than you anticipate. I recommend drives that offer at least 4TB so you have room to grow. If you’re getting a desktop EHD, I suggest going even bigger, like 6TB or 8TB.

3. Solid-state drives (SSD)

Most external hard drives are still traditional spinning drives, but solid-state drives have become increasingly popular over the past year as prices have dropped. The main benefit of a SSD is that they are significantly faster at transferring data. Also, because they have no moving parts, SSDs are generally more resilient and reliable than spinning hard drives. So if you’re looking to improve your computer’s performance, solid-state drives are a great choice for your primary operating system drive.

However, solid-state drives are still significantly more expensive per gigabyte than spinning hard drives, so they aren’t ideal storage drives yet. The largest common solid-state drives are 2TB, and those cost over $300. By comparison, a 2TB portable EHD with a spinning drive is only around $60. As prices for SSDs continue to drop in coming years, it will become more realistic to use SSD for storage drives.

Choosing the right digital storage option for photographers

4. DAS and NAS storage systems

If you have a large amount of data to store, you may be interested in getting a Drobo or similar storage device. These are boxes that contain multiple drives in an array that work together as one drive. They use a technology known as RAID to mirror the data across multiple drives. When a hard drive inside the unit fails, you can simply replace that single drive, and you haven’t lost any data. These devices come in two varieties: Direct Attached Storage (DAS), meaning they connect directly to your computer, or Network Attached Storage (NAS), which connects over your home network. While these devices are a more expensive solution than a standard EHD, they offer more space and built-in redundancy.

Drobo and Synology are two of the most popular brands in this space. Drobo makes both DAS and NAS devices, and they are designed for the consumer market as an easy-to-use storage solution. They have become very popular with photographers in recent years. Synology makes NAS devices exclusively, and their products have advanced features that appeal to the more tech-savvy crowd. The downside of DAS and NAS devices is the price – you’ll pay about $1,000 for a typical setup with a storage device containing four 4TB hard drives (which will provide around 12TB of total storage space with redundancy).

Read more in my Tech Tip: External Hard Drives vs. Network Attached Storage

Desktop external hard drive

Backing up your photos and data:

Whichever option you choose to store your photos, video, and other digital files, you also need to make sure you have a solid backup plan in place. Hard drives fail. I’ve been in the computer industry for over 20 years and have experienced several sudden drive failures in that time. If you’re not fully backed up at all times, a drive failure can be devastating, both personally and professionally.

In addition to protection in the event of drive failure, a good backup plan also addresses other risks to your data. Computers and hard drives can be stolen, destroyed by flood or fire, and drives can be corrupted by viruses or ransomware. For this reason, the traditional 3-2-1 backup strategy dictates that you have three copies of your data, two locally, and one off-site.

What is a backup?

A backup is an additional copy of your data from a specific point in time. If you save the only copy of your images on an EHD, that’s not a backup, it’s a storage drive. Cloud sync and RAID redundancy aren’t true backups either. This is because in a cloud sync or redundant drive setup, if you delete a file or it gets corrupted, it’s immediately deleted or corrupted in both places. And what happens if you lose access to your cloud service or your DAS/NAS won’t turn on?

The 3 rules of backups

1. Backups should be complete.
2. Backups should be automatic.
3. Backups should be redundant.

1. Local backups

The easiest option for a local backup is a large EHD or DAS/NAS box (in addition to your storage EHD drive, if you have one), configured with automated backup software. I always recommend automated backup software, because it’s very easy to forget to backup for a few days (or weeks, or months). MacOS includes TimeMachine for configuring automated backups. Windows 10 has a File History feature that backs up user data, but if you want the ability to restore your entire computer, I recommend Macrium Reflect for system imaging.

While local backups are the most convenient for backing up and restoring files, they aren’t adequate to protect your data in the event of theft, fire, or flood. That is why an offsite backup is also recommended.

2. Cloud backups

For offsite backups, the easiest solution is a cloud backup service. With a cloud backup service, your first backup may take weeks or months, depending on your internet speed and how much data you have to backup. After the initial backup, the software automatically uploads new or changed files, and your cloud backup stays current because only a small amount of data needs to be backed up each day.

Two popular cloud backup services are Backblaze and CrashPlan. I have used Backblaze since 2012, and I highly recommend them. For $60/year, they offer unlimited cloud backup of all your files. The Backblaze software is easy to set up, and is known for using fewer resources on your computer than CrashPlan. To restore your files, you can download them from the Backblaze web site, or if you need to restore a large amount of data, you can order a thumb drive or EHD from Backblaze containing your files. If you return the drive within 30 days, Backblaze will refund the charge for the drive. With CrashPlan, you must perform your restores over the internet.

CrashPlan restructured their plan offerings in 2017, and the service now costs $120/year – double the cost of Backblaze. The main benefit of CrashPlan is that users can control their own data retention policy. With Backblaze, your version history is stored for 30 days. If a file is deleted, or a drive is left disconnected for over 30 days, Backblaze will delete the data. So if you routinely keep EHDs of storage disconnected for months at a time, consider going with CrashPlan.

Backblaze cloud backup
Backblaze cloud backup solution

3. Other options for off-site backup

If cloud backups won’t work for you because you are limited by very slow or spotty internet access, the next best option is to use two different backup EHDs, and store one in a safe location. You can keep your offsite backup at the home of a friend or family member, or store it in your home, in a waterproof and fireproof safe.

Read more in my Tech Tip: Back up your files

Photos by Kelley Krohnert