Losing irreplaceable images might just be every photographer’s worst nightmare. Fortunately, there are a few easy steps you can take to help prevent image loss. Almost all of these steps can be implemented right away with little to no cost or change to your overall workflow. While they might seem a little excessive, the resulting additional protection for your images should outweigh any inconvenience or minor cost.
Proper Backup – The First Step In Preventing Image Loss
Before you read any further, this article is worthless if you don’t have a proper image backup workflow. Photography is all about the images you create, so protecting your images should be a high priority.
To quickly recap, you first need to have a file management and organization system in place that you follow every time you import images. Next, at a minimum you need to always have two backups of your images in two different locations. Finally, you need to make sure you immediately back up any images you import, either manually or via automated backup software. Keep in mind, these are the minimum requirements for a solid backup strategy that every photographer should be following.
Write Images To Two Memory Cards In Camera
If you have a camera with two memory card slots, the first step you should take is to write to your cards in backup mode instead of overflow mode. This means that any photos you take will automatically be written to two memory cards instead of only one. If one card should happen to fail, all of your images should still be safe on the other card. Of course, this also means that you have half as much storage space to work with while you shoot. Fortunately, memory cards are cheap, so buy some extras and back everything up in-camera as you shoot.
Stick A Card In Your Pocket
If you’re like most people, once you’re done shooting for the day you toss your gear into your trunk and drive home (or wherever you’re staying). The next step in protecting your images is to separate the memory cards as soon as you’re done shooting. This means that you should pull one card out of your camera and stick it in your pocket. Why? If something happens to your camera on the way home, chances are you’ll still have a copy of your images safe inside your pocket.
What could happen to your camera on the way home? Maybe you decide to stop for gas or food but someone saw you with a bunch of camera gear and decided to follow you and steal your gear in the parking lot. Maybe you go into a restaurant and bring your camera inside with you but somehow forget and leave it behind. I’ve even heard of a photographer who’s car was rear-ended and all of the camera gear in the trunk was destroyed. Maybe your gear makes it home safely, only to get stolen in the middle of the night. Having a memory card with all of your images on it someplace besides inside your camera is the best way to make it through any of these scenarios without losing any images. Of course, these are all worst-case scenarios and aren’t likely to happen, but image loss is never something you can anticipate.
Back Up Images Immediately
Part of any good workflow is backing up your images in a timely manner. Getting them off of your memory cards and onto permanent storage should prevent you from accidental image loss due to formatting a card that hasn’t been backed up. This should be a part of every photographer’s workflow.
Immediate image backup becomes even more important while you are traveling. Simply having your images on two different memory cards is not enough of a backup strategy. Having a laptop with an external hard drive is an important part of an on-the-road backup plan. Once your images are backed up to the hard drive, it can be kept separately from your camera and laptop (ideally in a hotel safe or other secure location). Over the course of your travels, this external hard drive will come to contain all of the images you’ve shot, so regardless of what happens to your memory cards or hard drive (damage, theft, corruption, loss, etc…), you should hopefully arrive home safely with one good copy of everything.
Create Smart Previews In Lightroom
Let’s jump ahead in the workflow to the editing process. You might think that by this point you’ve already done everything you can to protect your images, but I’ve got a few more tricks for you. Take note, this step only applies if you’re a Lightroom user.
Starting with Lightroom 5, users have the ability to create Smart Previews of their images. This feature allows images to be edited without the source file (either RAW or JPEG). It also allows images to be exported at a resolution of up to 2500 pixels on the long side (depending on the original file size) without the source file.
You can use this feature as yet another way to back up your images. Once you’ve made your image selections, create Smart Previews of all of the images you want to keep. Not only does this allow you to edit them without the source file (which is very convenient for laptop users), but it also allows you to export images if something ever happens to the source files. As long as you have access to your Lightroom catalog, you have access to your images. Of course, the maximum image size will be smaller than what you could possibly export from the original file, but a smaller image is better than no image at all!
Upload JPEGs To Online Storage
The final step in keeping your images safe is something you probably already do, but it’s worth mentioning just in case. Once you’re done with your editing process and you have a bunch of finished images, export them as high-res JPEGs and upload them to some form of cloud storage. Regardless of how many backups you have at home, there is always the risk of losing everything due to theft, fire, flood, or some other type of disaster. Putting a copy of your images in the cloud will give you an archive of your images in an offsite location with a significant amount of redundancy, which should protect them from any type of disaster or drive failure.
You might choose to use an automated online backup system that allows you to upload RAW files such as Backblaze or Carbonite. While backing up your RAW files in the cloud is ideal, it’s also costly and time consuming. Fortunately, everyone should have access to some type of online storage for their library of JPEGs. If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, you automatically have unlimited free storage for JPEG images. If free is more your style, you can create a Flickr account and have access to 1TB of image storage space. Unfortunately, automating your uploads to some of these free services can be difficult (or impossible), so chances are you’ll have to force yourself to stick to a regular upload schedule to make sure your images are always backed up. If you’re a Lightroom user though, there are publish services that allow you to export and upload directly to certain online accounts such as Flickr.
All of these practices are not just theory to me. I’ve learned over the years just how important it is to take steps to prevent image loss. There have been many close calls, but fortunately I’ve never lost a single image. How close, you may ask? I once was standing on a small bridge while swapping out SD cards. I dropped the full SD card, which happened to slip between the boards of the bridge and into the stream below. Fortunately, I was backing up my images as I shot, so I had an extra copy of everything on the card that was still in my camera. Another time, I was traveling and somehow lost my entire wallet full of memory cards. Fortunately, I had everything backed up on a hard drive, so no images were lost. Of course, I’ve also experienced the inevitable hard drive crash, but I’ve always had current backups of all of my images.
As a photographer, protecting the images that you create should be one of your highest priorities. There are a few easy steps you can take to do this. You can start by backing everything up in-camera by writing to both memory cards at the same time. Once you’re done shooting, take one of the memory cards out of the camera and put it in your pocket. As soon as you get home, back up your images immediately. If you edit your photos in Lightroom, create Smart Previews of the images you select to edit. Finally, once your images are edited, export and upload JPEGs to some form of online storage. Taking these simple steps will greatly help to prevent image loss across all stages of your workflow.