If you’re a volume photographer, there's a good chance you've experienced the loss of an image at some point in your career. It's probably one of the most gut-wrenching emotions possible in this line of work. You put in those long hours, striving to capture the perfect moments. The thought of losing any images is a nightmare that lives rent-free in every photographer’s mind.
No matter what, it’s only natural to feel worry creep in occasionally, but we’re here to review effective storage approaches and solutions that will put your mind at ease. Now, more backup solutions are available than ever before, with options that fit any budget.
The 3-2-1 rule is the gold standard for backing up any data. You need three copies of your data: two onsite on two different media types and one off-site. Data protection exists in a worst-case scenario world. You already know that mishaps like a hard drive failure or a natural disaster can occur, so building redundancy into your system mitigates the risk of permanent data loss.
The methods and media you use to follow the 3-2-1 rule are entirely your call. In this blog, we will help you understand many popular local and offsite storage options and show you one of our experts’ setups as an example to pattern your own system.
If you’re new to file storage, this may be a lot to digest, but stick with us! If you’re here because you’ve lost files and are in panic mode, check out this article for recovery options.
Let’s dive in!
Onsite storage options come in two main categories: direct attached storage (DAS) and network attached storage (NAS).
- Direct Attached Storage: A storage or backup device that is physically connected to your computer by a cable is considered DAS. External hard drives (EHD) fall under this category. External hard drives come in two types: a mechanical hard drive (HDD) or a solid-state drive (SSD). HDDs have many moving parts and higher failure rates, so they have become less common; while they offer more storage space at a lower price, the gap continues to shrink. SSDs have fewer moving parts and transfer data lightning-fast, so most experts give this drive type the edge for its performance and reliability.
Seagate, OWC, and Western Digital are three popular EHD brands. They offer many models, including desktop and portable options. While doing your research, you will need to decide what physical size of drive you want and how much storage space you need. We recommend estimating disk space on the high side because having too much is always better than not having enough.
Given the heavy volume of files and data volume photographers must store and backup, you may want to consider investing in a RAID (redundant array of independent disks) system instead. RAIDs store data on multiple interconnected drives simultaneously and, in addition to giving you extra storage space, instantly add a layer of redundancy to your data management system. With a RAID, if one drive fails, you can swap it for a new one, and the system will rebuild the data stored on the disk for you. Talk about a win-win!
As you might expect, the most popular EHD brands are also popular options for RAIDs, but there are other alternatives like SanDisk. You should evaluate RAID options like external hard drives and all other equipment for your business. Determine your needs and budget, ask your peer group for any recommendations they may have, and then find the gear that suits your studio best. If you’re not already a part of the PhotoDay Users Facebook Group, consider joining! It’s a great place to talk with other volume photographers about these topics.
- Network Attached Storage: A storage or backup device that is available via your network is called a NAS. Like a RAID, a NAS contains multiple hard drives and uses similar redundant storage techniques. Unlike a RAID, the NAS includes its own CPU and has the computing power to perform functions like file management and backups without using your primary computer’s resources. NAS is also valuable because other computers on the network can access the files stored there.
Your NAS is the studio’s second layer of redundancy for storage. Since utilizing files over the network is comparatively slower than working with files on your DAS, you would typically store backups and RAW files here while keeping in-progress files and delivered JPEGs on your DAS so you can work with them efficiently.
The most popular manufacturers in the NAS arena are QNAP, Asustor, and Synology. All three offer excellent solutions for all budgets. If you don’t have a preference yet, check reviews and consult with your professional network to find an ideal fit for your studio.
Offsite (Cloud) Storage
Believe it or not, until recently, the most common offsite storage solution was keeping a hard drive at a friend or relative’s house or in a safe deposit box and swapping it regularly with a more recent backup. While this did ensure you would have most of your files in the event of a catastrophe, it was inconvenient, and your protections only went to your last backup. Not a great plan!
Enter cloud storage. We now have access to the cloud where we can instantaneously backup files and other vital data and know it will always be there if needed. It also has the added benefit of accessing anywhere with a connected device, allowing you to store processed files on the cloud for effortless viewing and sharing. If you remember the old-fashioned storage plan mentioned earlier, imagine how the cloud can relieve you of that clunky burden!
The other great thing about cloud storage? Its scalability. A basic package will provide a fixed amount of storage at a relatively low price, which you can expand as much as you need with significantly less cost than buying new hardware.
Google Drive offers minimal storage for free, so it is impractical for full backups, but it’s a great place to store finalized images for easy access. Amazon S3 provides numerous storage capabilities and an extremely low cost to host data using a specific service called Glacier, which is considered a ‘deep freeze.’ Deep Freeze or Deep Archive refers to the retrievability of these files. It may take 12 to 48 hours to retrieve your archived content from deep within Amazon’s servers.
Retrieving data can be expensive, so it is recommended to use Amazon S3 as a backup to your backup if you use it at all. Backblaze B2 is the most popular and versatile service, providing storage for $6 per terabyte per month with no download fees to access your data. If you’re a smaller studio with just a few drives to back up, Backblaze also has a standard plan with unlimited storage for every drive attached to your registered computer for $9 a month.
Having this infrastructure in place is only helpful if you manage it properly. Here’s how we suggest prioritizing your solutions.
Your first focus should be on digital asset management (DAM), which efficiently catalogs and organizes your image library. This system will provide the basis and structure for storage and backup at all levels of the 3-2-1 model. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is probably the most popular DAM used by photographers, but there are other options including Canto.
Once your digital assets are sorted out, and your storage game is strong, it's time to get creative with your system. Think about adding backup management and monitoring to keep everything in shape.
If your system is up to it, consider doing real-time onsite backups and scheduling cloud backups regularly. The cool part? You can use tools to automate all of this, making your life easier and saving you loads of time.
What Our Experts Use
Now that we’ve discussed the ins and outs of photo storage redundancy and keeping your files safe, we want to provide example setups from a couple of our experts. These samples go beyond hardware and explain each item’s functional and storage purpose. Feel free to use this as a blueprint for your own setup.
For onsite storage, one pro uses an OWC Thunderbolt 4 RAID enclosure for direct attached storage and a Synology NAS. They keep their Lightroom catalog, RAW files, processed JPGs, and design files on the OWC Thunderbolt for easy access and efficient working. The Synology NAS provides a concurrent backup of all files to prevent loss.
On the cloud, this pro syncs finished JPGs to Google Drive so they can easily access them anywhere and takes advantage of AWS Glacier for unlimited storage of RAW files. They use a Glacier plugin on their NAS for automatic backup of these files. This expert does note that it is very cost-effective to “cold store” files on Glacier, but it is costly to restore them if needed, so be sure to closely monitor your local storage solutions to avoid restoring from the cloud unless absolutely necessary.
Another expert utilizes a similar setup to follow the 3-2-1 rule. They use a Thunderbolt solid-state NVME drive as direct attached storage and a working drive. Their Lightroom catalog, RAW files, and design files are regularly backed up to an OWC Thunderbay 6-drive RAID enclosure. Then, they back up everything to Backblaze’s cloud for relatively cheap storage and equally cost-effective access if a restoration from the cloud is required.
Bonus tip: One pro suggests utilizing the Adobe Creative Cloud Libraries built into Photoshop Illustrator and InDesign. For example, you could keep your logos, assets, overlays, and digital backgrounds in folders inside the cloud library, so adding elements to designs is as simple as drag-and-drop! Canva is another tool you can use to this effect.
By now, we hope the 3-2-1 method has really stuck with you and is ingrained into your storage plan. You’re dealing with an extraordinary number of images, so ensuring those are safe should be a top priority. The good news? There are a lot of solutions out there to handle this, each with its own unique capabilities.
Focus on the 3-2-1 rule, and back up your backups onsite and offsite. Once you are confident in your photo storage plan and hardware, you can turn your attention to capturing the next great photo without having to worry about what may happen to it.
Happy capturing (and storing)!