It’s not the most exciting part of photography, but it’s one of the most important: Getting your ducks in a row! There are some critical behind-the-scenes parts of photography, like backing up your photos, that you don’t want to forget. Here are five of my top reminders as we venture into 2023.
1. Double-Check Your Photo Backup System
A few weeks ago, a pipe burst above the apartment next to mine. No one was occupying that unit, thankfully, but still – every room was flooded. It made me think about my backup system and reevaluate if all of my photos were as safe as I thought. Turns out I wasn’t doing everything that I could.
No building is 100% safe from hazards like natural disasters, fire, or theft. And no hard drive is immortal. If you’re not following the 3-2-1 rule, you’re just delaying the inevitable day of disaster. (The 3-2-1 rule says to keep three copies of your files, stored on two different types of media, with one of your backups off-site.)
Make sure that your 3-2-1 backup system applies to everything that you don’t want to lose – old shots on film, family photos, your XMP files, and so on. If you’re not already backing up your photos properly, take this as the sign you’re been waiting for. Get it done today.
2. Save Your Camera Setup File
Just like hard drives, all cameras will fail eventually. Likewise, you might end up changing a setting by accident that throws the camera out of whack.
Whatever the case, it’s useful to store a backup of your “correct” camera settings. Almost all modern cameras have a Save/Load Settings option in the menu, which creates a file that you can drag onto your computer for later use. (I recommend also keeping a copy on your laptop in case you need it while traveling.)
Considering how quick it is to create this file, there’s no reason to put it off any longer.
3. Start Using Unique File Names
Most of us have probably taken well over 10,000 photos by now. (Henri Cartier-Bresson would be proud.) But on most digital cameras, the standard file name – like DSC_1234 – starts to repeat itself after 9999 photos.
So, ask yourself: Do you have multiple photos with identical file names? That’s just a disaster waiting to happen. If you ever drag them into the same folder on your hard drive and accidentally click “replace,” you’ll lose one of them completely.
I’ve already written an article called How to Avoid Duplicate File Names that covers the easiest way to fix this issue, including renaming your old photos quickly. Now’s the time to fix this if you haven’t already!
4. Sell Your Old Equipment Sooner Rather Than Later
Old camera equipment usually decreases in price on the used market over time. A Nikon D500 that might sell for $1500 on eBay a few years ago is closer to $900 today. DSLR lenses are slowly selling for less and less over time. Even the newest mirrorless gear won’t be selling for high prices on the used market for long.
So, if you have any camera equipment to sell, don’t keep waiting until “next month” arrives. You’re just losing value as time goes by. You’ll have to sell it eventually, so why not just do it now?
You might find that you have a lot of value stored in old cameras, lenses, and accessories that you’re never going to use. The sooner you go through your equipment, the more you’ll get on sites like eBay or FredMiranda. You’ll also get a head start on Spring cleaning while you’re at it.
5. Back up Your Lightroom Catalog (or Similar)
While you’re in the process of backing up your photos, don’t forget to save a recent copy of your Lightroom catalog. The same applies if you’re using a different cataloging software instead of Lightroom.
Maybe you’re the type of photographer who always backs up when you close out of the software, or regularly backs up once a week or so. If so, I commend you! If not, it’s time to change that.
I recently lost my regular Lightroom catalog when my computer failed, but I had a backup from just a few days prior that saved my bacon. Otherwise, it would have been a long process to re-edit a lot of my old photos.
Maybe you’re a Type A photographer who always remembers to do the “housekeeping” parts of photography. Or maybe you’re like me. Either way, I hope this article was a helpful reminder to safeguard your photos and keep your photography running smoothly in the new year.
Feel free to share some reminders of your own in the comments section! I’m sure that other readers will find them useful, and so will I. (Maybe this article is secretly a way to be reminded of things I’ve forgotten to do…)
1. Double-Check Your Photo Backup System – I keep a couple backup hard drives in my local bank’s safety deposit box.
3. Start Using Unique File Names – Every file name begins with inverted date e.g. today is 230111.
4. Sell Your Old Equipment Sooner Rather Than Later – That’s my main weak point but the minute a I sell something I find a use for it. Oops.
5. Back up Your Lightroom Catalog – When Lightroom was first introduced, I went to a seminar on how to use Lightron, and during Q&A, almost every question was photographers complaining about catalogs that disappeared or related problems. Never looked back and still use Photoshop exclusively but plugins by DXO and Topaz help a lot.
Seems like you’re doing things right! The Lightroom catalog is definitely the most difficult part of the software. It’s possible to manage the catalog without any issues (I’ve been fine for more than 10 years) but it’s not always intuitive, and it’s important to keep backups.
Another idea is to update the copyright date to “2023” in your camera and editing software, such as the Apply During Import option in Lightroom (look for the Metadata preset).
That’s a good one, thank you, Jerry!
Great suggestions, Spencer. I back up my settings files to a spare SD card, then to a thumb drive that is also in my camera bag, then to two laptops, then to my NAS. Due to the fact that the camera has five custom settings, I keep a spreadsheet of all the individual custom settings that is in sync with the settings file from the camera. In the case where I really should have six custom settings, the spreadsheet also details the sixth settings parameters as well as the name of the settings file in which that particular grouping is kept, so I can switch settings files, if I need that sixth grouping. The spreadsheet also details any changes to the CAMSET files as well as has a tab for the most frequently used settings by menu so I can find them in a hurry. There’s much more to the spreadsheet than just these, and it’s been a life-saver. I keep a PDF copy on my phone and printed copies in my camera bag as well as the camera’s manual notebook.
As for the photos, I shoot only RAW, and SD card 2 is a duplicate if SD card 1 (belt and suspenders approach). Both cards are emptied to my photos drive on the primary laptop, then backed up to the other laptop and to the NAS.
Since instituting these processes, I’ve never been left stranded without a backup, and no photos have been lost, despite a very rare SD card failure.
If everyone had a system like yours, horror stories of losing photos or settings files would be a thing of the past! Every storage device from memory cards to hard drives will fail. It’s a matter of when, not if.
I hope this article can be a sign for some photographers – now’s the time to back things up properly.
“it would have been a long process to re-edit a lot of my old photos”
you don’t write changes to xmp automatically?
Back in the day, I turned it off because it slowed down Lightroom whenever I did a lot of local edits. I just looked it up, and it seems that isn’t a significant problem any more. I’ll take your comment as inspiration to re-enable xmp files.