Those who know me or who have read some of my articles know that I advocate keeping photos on an external drive, preferably a solid-state drive or SSD. Access to photos is faster and all your photos are in one place.
But there’s one thing we also know – computer drives fail. Certainly not at the rate they failed only a few years ago, but any drive will fail at some point. And it’s almost a given that a drive will fail at a most inconvenient time.
Drive failure can mean the loss of data, and there’s nothing much worse than losing photos that we may have taken a lifetime to collect. So it’s only prudent that we have a strategy for backing up those photos so a drive failure won’t mean irreparable loss.
While it’s true that a drive can fail at any time, it is extremely rare – almost to the point of near-impossibility – that two drives will fail at the same time. So the most accessible solution is to have a regular backup of our photo library to a separate external drive.
Currently, my photos are stored on a 4TB Crucial SSD. Every morning at 2:00 AM, I make an incremental backup of my complete photo library to a separate 4TB SSD.
Carbon Copy Cloner
The tool I use for this backup is called Carbon Copy Cloner. It is designed to make an exact duplicate of a drive onto a second drive. That backup can be scheduled so, once set up, it is a completely automated process1.
The interface provides easy setup. There are three icons that you click to enter 1) the name of your source drive, 2) the name of the destination drive, and 3) the start time for the backup and the regularity of backups.
Once a backup is completed, the same screen tells you the actual start time of the most recent backup, the total time elapsed to make the backup, and the number of files and total size backed up.
it is important to note that Carbon Copy Cloner does an incremental backup, meaning that it can detect which files (or photos) have been changed, added or deleted since the last backup. The current backup only affects those files. So, although the initial backup can take a few hours, from then on, it’s usually takes only a few minutes each time. This, of course, depends on how often you have it perform a backup. In my case, it runs every day.
More Than One Backup
Note also from the sidebar in the illustration above, you can have more than one backup sequence. So in my case, I back up my main photo drive (Mike Worley Photos) to one destination (Photo Backup II) every morning starting at 2:00 AM. However, I also back up my main photo drive to a second SSD once a month on the first day of the month. This backup takes longer because it is backing up any photo which has been changed or added during the entire previous month.
It is important to remember that the source and destination drive must be attached to the computer for the backup to occur. In my case, I keep my monthly backup SSD in a fire-resistant safe, so I have a note in my to-do list on the last day of each month that reminds me to get that drive out and connect it to my iMac for the back up to occur2.
With Carbon Copy Cloner, you are getting an exact duplicate of the source drive. Additionally, the app creates a folder which contains each change in a file with the date the change was made.
This exact duplication is important in the case of a failure of the main drive. Since the backup is an exact copy (up to the time of the last backup), it is not necessary to do any type of ‘restore’ function. You only have to rename the backup drive to the name of the original source drive and you immediately have everything in place just as if the source had not failed – with the exception of any changes or additions made between the time of the last backup and the moment the original source drive failed.
This is shown in the figure above. The center and right folders – Lightroom Files and Photos – of the backup drive (Photo Backup II) are identical to those same two folders on the original drive (Mike Worley Photos). The third folder, on the left, (_CCC SafetyNet) contains sub-folders organized by backup date showing each change or addition made3.
So, for example, it’s 9:00 AM. I’m working on some photos when suddenly my photo drive (Mike Worley Photos) stops working. I determine there is likely some failure of the drive. All I need to do is rename the backup drive from Photo Backup II to Mike Worley Photos and restart the application – in my case, Adobe Lightroom Classic. Everything will be there up to 2:00AM that morning. Changes made from 2:00AM to 9:00AM – in our example – will be lost, but that’s better than losing everything and recovery is simple and straight-forward.
More Than One Backup
I want to be sure as I can be that I never lose my photos, so I don’t rely on just one backup. The one I described with Carbon Copy Cloner is my primary backup, but I have others as well.
Apple iMac and MacBook come with a backup system called Time Machine. While this utility is intended to back up the entire hard drive on the computer, it can also be configured to backup an external disk attached to the main unit. I have mine set up that way.
Time Machine works in the background and, more or less, makes a continual backup of the computer drive.
A couple of years ago, Scott Kelby introduced me to a utility called BackBlaze. For a fee of $50 per year, you have unlimited and continual backup to BackBlazes cloud servers. If necessary, you can download a recent backup or, for a small fee, they will send you your most recent backup on a USB stick.
Let me know in the comments below how you back up your photos to make sure you never lose those precious memories.
- While Carbon Copy Cloner only works on iMac and MacBooks, an app called Acronis True Image is available for Windows machines and performs very similarly.
- If a scheduled backup is missed, it will resume immediately when the missing drive is connected.
- This can be extremely helpful if you accidentally delete a photo, but decided days or weeks later that you want it back. If you have an idea of when the photo was last on your photo drive, you can go to the change folder for that date and likely retrieve it directly.