The importance of backup

Tidying my room a while agoI came across a very dusty doc I had made yonks ago on the importance of computer backup. It had the “Backup song” that parodies the song “Yesterday” by the Beatles.  I rather like it, and it still rings true today. Enjoy.

All those backups seemed a waste of pay.
Now my database has gone away.
Oh I believe in yesterday.
There’s not half the files there used to be,
And there’s a deadline
hanging over me.
The system crashed so suddenly.
I pushed something wrong
What it was I could not say.
Now my data’s gone
and I long for yesterday-ay-ay-ay.
The need for back-ups seemed so far away.
Thought all my data was here to stay,
Now I believe in yesterday.

Google led me to a source, Rob Cosgrove who attributes authorship to Sunni Freyer with the original lyrics (and additional ones by Bill Frick) at

A stack of failed disk drives. Lucky I had backups

Now, getting serious! Your disk drive with all your photos WILL fail. Perhaps not today, perhaps not this year, but at some stage it will fail. You just don’t know when. Current expectation is that about 2.5% of disk drives will fail over a period of one year (even if they are brand new).

Check your disks

Your operating system may have some tools to check your drives’ current health (eg Win10 disk health check) though how reliable these are at predicting disk failure is contentious. Your best bet is to assume your drive(s) may fail at any time, and have good disaster recovery plans (ie backups)

Checking disks
On Windows: open a command prompt (in the start menu type CMD and press enter.) in the command console window, type “wmic diskdrive get model,status” and press enter. This should generate a list like this:

Microsoft Windows [Version 10.0.19042.1237]
(c) Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

C:\Windows\System32>wmic diskdrive get model,status
Model                                    Status
ÿÿÿÿÿÿÿÿ ÿÿÿÿ USB Device                 OK
ATA ST6000VN0033-2EE SCSI Disk Device    OK
Seagate Backup+  Desk SCSI Disk Device   OK
ATA ST10000DM0004 SCSI Disk Device       OK
Samsung SSD 840 EVO 250GB                OK
Seagate Expansion Desk SCSI Disk Device  OK
ATA Samsung SSD 850 SCSI Disk Device     OK


On Mac: you can monitor the status of your external hard drive by opening Disk Utility by going to Applications and then Utilities. Next, you will click on the drive you would like to test to see how it’s performing. Once you click the drive you would like to check on in the top right corner, click on First Aid. If your drive is performing well, you’ll be able to scroll until you find where it says the volume appears to be OK. If it is not performing well, this process will automatically notify you of any problems like file corruption, an external device not working properly, or that your computer won’t start up. Disk Utility will not detect or repair all problems that a disk may have, but it can give you a general picture.

Backup Photos and Catalog files

I will focus on backing up your photos and catalog files (don’t forget the catalog files made by Lightroom and many other software packages. They contain all the information on the edits you made. You don’t want to lose those edits!). Thus we will consider file based backups not whole disk copies for this purpose.

  1. Make more than one backup – a common recommendation is to keep at least 3 backups, two locally, on different sorts of media (eg internal hard drive, and external hard drive), and at least one copy off-site (perhaps an external hard drive you keep at your workplace, or leave with a relative or friend; perhaps a cloud based solution).
  2. Keep at least one backup off site. Yes, I know I just said that, but it is important and often ignored. If you have a fire, or a burglar takes your computer and disks, you may have lost all your backups.
  3. Update your backups regularly. Set calendar reminders to update those off-site backup disks – you will need to retrieve them, update them, and return them to their safe off-site location.
  4. Periodically check that the backups are still readable/error free.

Since we are talking about backing up photos, we are probably talking Terrabytes (TB) not megabytes, so large capacity is essential. Below I outline some options.

Disk Drives

A USB-SATA disk caddy allows you to use internal drives externally.

These days disk drives are cheap. An internal 8 TB drive can be bought for just over $300; an external 8 TB drive looks to be about the same price – a pittance compared to what you have paid for your camera gear. I have an internal drive that I duplicate my image files onto, and an external USB3 drive likewise. I have some old internal drives from my previous PC that I backup onto (using a USB-SATA disk caddy that lets me use internal SATA drives via USB – I have seen these as cheap as $12), then take these to my work office (off site backup).

Network Accessible Storage (NAS)

NAS systems provide external disk space accessible via network (or USB). These may use multiple disk drives configured to internally replicate the contents to provide fault tolerance, so if one drive on the array of drives fails, the data is still secure on the remaining drives. Since they can combine the storage of multiple disk drives they can provide a logical disk volume that is much larger than a single disk, if you have HUGE storage needs. However, a NAS is effectively another computer, and comes with maintenance overheads and a learning curve if you want to make the most of the investment. Unless you need to access the storage across a network, or access the same storage from multiple computers regularly, a simple external drive is cheaper and probably a more suitable option.

Cloud Storage

Cloud storage (ie storage on a remote disk array, accessible via the internet) may be worth considering. Storage is usually charged monthly or annually based on amount and features. If you have very high storage needs, look for one that offers “unlimited storage” (but check the fine print – a lot of “unlimited” offers come with caveats). There are many companies offering these services. Offerings change over time so it’s best if you search the web to find a suitable cloud storage system that suits your needs and budget if you want to go that way. Some offer free trials so you can check them out. Check reviews on the web to see what other people are saying (tip: tell your search engine to find pages from, say, the last year, so you get up-to-date information.) Here is an article that discusses cloud storage in more detail


It’s best for you to check the web for reviews of what is available, as software is changing all the time. Check for recent reviews and overviews in reputable unbiased sources (rather than ads by the software makers).


I use (on Win10) an old package called Yadis Backup which works in the background. I have it synch my main image folder (which also contains my LR catalog) to an external drive. Whenever a file is added to the main folder, it gets duplicated immediately on the external drive without me having to think about it. Alas, Yadis is no longer actively maintained. However, there are several similar packages around.

Windows: have a look at for some recommendations of free file / folder synchronisation programs. There are also many good commercial software offerings.

Mac / OSX

There are many third party apps in the Mac App Store. In addition you can use an rsync based strategy (see below – under the hood OSX has a linux like core).


There are many options in Linux. One of the standards here is rsync, which has a host of options and can maintain synchronisation between files and folders over slow connections (eg over internet) using extremely efficient algorithms.

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