We just lost an entire wedding’s images!

…I am sooo glad that we have never had to say this! :)

Now that we have your attention though, read on so that YOU never say this to a client.




I treat my back-up process like a new baby. Never drop it just because I’m tired!
– Zach Gray
Let’s talk back-up systems and why the system you choose to use will either make you and your clients happy while keeping your precious images safe, or why it will potentially cause a MASSIVE problem in your business that you might not recover from.
Even if you don’t shoot weddings, it does not mean that you can re-shoot something if you lose images. We had a friend who shot a senior session, and 2 weeks later the senior passed away.
That may not ever happen to you, but it is just good practice to do everything within our power as a photographer to protect and back up images each and every time we shoot.
Here is our system: 

Step #1 – Download the Safest Way Possible




I first download all the images using the SD cards ONLY from my Canon 5d3. I use the SD cards because they only have a contact plate instead of 16 pins (like in your CF card) and there is less chance of breaking something when it is removed from the camera.

I only download them in the office on a quality, Lexar USB 3 card reader that never leaves my office. It never leaves the office because the reader or the cables it uses can be damaged during travel, which gives you a higher chance of card failure. Most failures happen not from your cards, but from something your card interacts with (camera, bad card reader, the environment, water, heat or impact).

If you download more than 2 cards per-shoot, then you can check out the Lexar Hub that allows you to add any type of reader to that hub (up to 4). You can add an SD reader, or a CF card reader. You will need 1 of these for each card (and type) you download and this allows you to download them all at once instead of one at a time (which wastes time).

(Side note: I shoot all images on Sandisk 64 gig Extreme Pro SD and CF cards MIRRORED on the 5d3. Every time I shoot an image it’s recorded to BOTH cards at the same time. I NEVER open the CF card door during a shoot since that gives the highest potential for an error. I only open the CF card door once I am home, in my office in a safe environment. If I have any camera issues during the shoot, which has happened once before, I grab my back-up camera and leave the main camera alone until I can look at it in a safe place).



Step #2 – Back-Up 1


I first copy my images directly to my main editing drive (and not to my computer) as I don’t want thousands of photos bogging down my laptop. I do NOT use any other program (like Lightroom) to move my photos for me as that just adds one more point in the system which could cause an error. I simply copy the images directly from the SD card, and paste them into my main editing drive.

My main editing drive ($449) is the G-Tech 4TB zero raid USB 3 drive. This drive writes all data to two hard drives that spin simultaneously in order to deliver data to your computer (using USB 3 connections) at around 250 Mbps. This is fast enough that you don’t notice any slow down versus having the data directly on your computer.

(It is NOT a mirror style back up even though it has two drives, so if you lose data on this, it is gone).

You also do NOT need the Thunderbolt version of this which costs an extra $150. The reason is that USB 3 can move data at 600 mbps and this drive can only spit out data from the spinning hard drives (that work in unison) at 250 mbps. You can only move data as fast as the slowest part of your system, and Thunderbolt only makes sense when sending multiple signals through one line.

Step #3 – Back-Up 2 & 3


Next I make two more copies (directly copied from my SD cards and NOT from the main editing drive copy) to my Black-X system.

This is essentially a port that accepts internal hard drives that you can buy for a reasonable price since they do not have cases, fans, and all the other stuff that external hard drives use. The Black-X is cheap and works really well for making extra back-ups without breaking the bank.

I use two 3TB Western Digital drives that then plug into the black-X and make my 2nd and 3rd back up copies on these.

Once the back-ups are complete, I take one of these Western Digital drives out of the Black-X, pack it up in the case it came in, and send it to a friends house for safe keeping (just in case the house burns down, gets broken into, or has something like water damage from a leak).

All of these back-ups happen simultaneously and it takes just a few minutes to copy my RAW files from the SD cards and start backing up to all 3 drives that I use.

(You will notice at the end of this post that I have TWO Black-X Drives. I bought mine before they had one Black-X drive that accepted TWO hard drives. You only need the one drive linked above and two internal drives to go into it).

Step #4 – Online Back-Up


Once I have all 3 back-ups complete, I edit the entire shoot (when we shot weddings, I did this the Tuesday after the wedding which was our first day back in the office), and then export the high-res JPG files to PASS.

PASS backs up the images on Amazon S3 servers for 10 years.

I now have 6 total back-ups of the images.

  • 1 copy on my CF card/s (I never delete cards until JPG files are on PASS),
  • 1 copy on my SD card/s
  • 1 copy on my editing drive
  • 1 copy on my Black-X drive 1
  • 1 copy on my Black-X drive 2
  • 1 copy of the JPG files on PASS

6 Total Copies

At this point (once all the files are edited and on PASS), I am free to move my Lightroom catalog off of my main editing drive and place it on my Black-X drive 1, and then delete the images from my main editing drive and from my CF and SD cards.

When all the dust settles, I will still have 2 copies in my office of the RAW files on my Black-X drives and 1 copy on PASS of the JPG files.



All of my drives (as well as my printer, Shuttle Controller, internet hard-line and editing screen) are all connected to my laptop with just one cable using the amazing Elgato Thunderbolt Dock.

What I LOVE about this dock is that I can use my laptop (my only computer these days since it is so fast and powerful it is insane) and only have one cable connecting all my editing tools, then unplug that one cable, and go mobile easy and fast.

All my other devices like my external keyboard, mouse and Apple TrackPad are all connected with bluetooth.

My Desk


As you can see, there are almost no cables plugged into my computer and everything is neat and tidy. I keep all my SD and CF cards in a card case to keep them organized and if a card is facing out (where you can see the red color from Sandisk) that means do NOT use it. Red=Dead.

You may also notice my Veri-Desk that holds my computer and my monitors. I will do a post on this coming soon, but this addition to my desk allows me to go from sitting to standing in seconds so that I don’t die early from sitting all day working. :)

Homework – Create YOUR System

The most important thing you can do after reading this post is create a system. A system means it is written down somewhere (either on paper or digitally) and each and every step of how you download and back up your files is checked off for each client as you go.

Having a system written down somewhere will help you to not make a mistake and get out on a shoot and wonder if you backed up your files you are about to shoot over. The last thing you want is to lose files due to a simple lack of a good system.

Happy back-up-ing!