Ask LH: How Should I Back Up All These Pictures?

Dear Lifehacker, My wife and I have a digital camera, and we love taking pictures. At last count, I have 20GB of pictures on a hard drive on my main computer. I have these backed up to a home server, but I am still worried. What if both hard drives fail, or there is a fire or a power surge?I have investigated cloud hosting, but this gets expensive at larger amounts of storage (I'd want 100GB to be safe). How should I back up my memories for peace of mind? Thanks, Happy Snapper

Picture by Bryan Gosline

Dear HS,

Mild paranoia is a necessary element in any backup plan. You've already taken a sensible first step by backing up the contents of your computer to a home server. However, as you suggest, that won't help if your house burns down and both drives melt inside it.

Backing up online is definitely a sensible precaution, but as you note, it isn't free. That said, it needn't be ridiculously expensive. Backing up with CrashPlan (one of our favourite ways to back up automatically and continuously) costs $69.30 per annum. That's not free, but you'd pay just as much to purchase a spare backup drive, and it's a small price to pay relative to the amount of photographic effort you've already put in. There are other alternatives too, which have similar pricing approaches (BackBlaze costs from $US5 a month; a 100GB Dropbox account is $US10 a month; Google charges $US5 a month for 100GB of Drive/Picasa storage).

If you really don't want to spend any money, you could try spreading out your backup amongst multiple online services (Dropbox, Skydrive, Box, iCloud and others). But going with one service that works continuously is a much more reliable alternative.

For additional peace of mind, consider picking up a pair of basic USB drives (easily done for under $100), doing a backup onto one and then leaving that drive with a friend or relative. Every three months, do a fresh backup onto the other drive and then swap the one that's being stored. That way, you've got a local backup, an online backup, and a spare physical backup.

If readers want to recommend other digital photo backup approaches, we'd love to hear them in the comments.

Cheers Lifehacker


    I've been storing a spare encrypted (Truecrypt) hard disk drive at work. It comes home with me once a month, I do the backup onto it and then bring it back to work the next morning.
    I've tried storing it with a friend or relative but it gets too annoying going back and forth. The routine of regular work means that I never have the 'offsite' backup at home more than 12 days a year.

    I store my photos and other files on a desktop PC then automatically push them to a server. The server intern duplicates all its files onto separate HDDs and also pushes another copy to one of two USB HDDs, one of which is kept offsite in my office. Local files are updated daily and offsite backups are updated monthly.

    Microsoft Sync Toy manages everything for me with great reliability.

    Am I paranoid about losing data? You bet! But short of a big natural disaster I should be fine :)

      You have a server intern? Poor guy - sounds like a tedious job to duplicate all those files and he's not even getting paid for it!

    Dropbox is my friend. I have the 100gb dataplan and I have dropbox installed on my HTPC, Desktop and my wife and I's Android phone. I also have dropbox syncing just photos to my sisters laptop and desktop at her house across town which acts as an offsite backup in case dropbox decides to die one day. So when a photo or video is taken with either Android phone it will upload to all of those devices for safe keeping. As further backup I have an Unraid server setup at home that pulls the Dropbox photos fortnightly to keep the accidental erasures that may occur in check.

    I have a 100gb plan with Google Drive, and it works well and at $5 a month, seems reasonable to me. Useful for sharing music and documents across devices too. I think I have about 50gb of photos on there: just be prepared to take a loooong time to upload everything.

    Is it crashplan that lets you backup automatically to a friend's computer? With their free version?

    Edit: Yes, it is.

    Last edited 14/11/12 1:52 pm

    I bought a CrashPlan+ Unlimited subscription about 2 years ago. It was ridiculously cheap (I paid for 3-4 years in advance, I think?) and I've never been happier. I currently store 300gb of info (mostly photos -- RAW files at ~10mb each), but also documents, photos and even disc images of various stuff (animations I produced while I was younger etc.) and CP has never missed a beat.

    Only thing to watch out for is if your ISP counts uploads. But if you space it out over a few months, you should be right as rain.

    The family plan was also ridiculously cheap, offering to backup 6 computers (I think) with unlimited storage, but because we only have basically two machines (the laptop is used for games and internet), it wasn't worth the money, so my wife just copies over new artwork she's made onto my computer, and CP backs that up. It's only a handful of images, so it's not a big task

    But if you don't want to pay, go for CrashPlan anyway. The free version lets you back up to a friend's computer who has CP installed as well.

    I upload all my photos to Flickr (unlimited storage and uploads is $25/yr for the Pro plan).

    You could also upload them to Google+ (at lower resolution to avoid the storage limit).

    Sadly uploading hundreds of GB of photos takes a while.... a long while...

    Flickr is the best, not only are your photos backup there. You can setup how you would like to share those photos as well (or not share them at all). This is how I share my photos with my family now, gone are the days of emailing me photos.
    It does not support RAW files though, so that's the only downside.

    Create a locked down, fake Facebook profile (I haven't done this because I'm not as paranoid - having them on a separate hard drive is enough for me) and just upload them to that profile.

    You can download all pictures on your profile through the settings and best of all - no limits and totally free.

    Good luck with all the naked pictures of your wife, Happy Snapper!

    Last edited 14/11/12 2:53 pm

      Innovative however retrieving the photos for editing and such, these is a GREAT LOSS of quality

        I'm not sure about exact specifics, but I know you can use the "Download" feature as opposed to right clicking and selecting "Save image as" for a higher quality photo...maybe there is still some compression, I'm not sure!

        For what's left over (as pictures of your gran at her 80th etc aren't really needed in super-HQ), you could use I believe it's called a "Skydrive" for free on Hotmail. Basically an online album through your email account and you can choose to share (or not to). Unsure of limits though...

        Just checked out the Facebook scaling - a photo originally at 4000x6016 (a ridiculously large photo - new DSLR -) was scaled down to 1362x2048 which is about what you'd want it for editing so you don't need to wait for half an hour for the changes to implement.

        So the reduction, in this case, was 2.9X smaller...I don't know how they do it - whether it's based on dimensions or just any photo bigger than 1462x2048 is scaled down to that, but that's what happened to my photo.

        Last edited 15/11/12 10:04 pm

    I have two issues with Crashplan as a backup solution (but still think I will go with it):

    1. I have read in previous LH articles that you must have the Crashplan server accessible in order to retore - even from local backups - is that still the case? So if I completely fry my Mac and can't access anything (internet etc) then I can't access anything....

    2. I'm running a 1500/256 connection to the net. I have (probably) 250gb I want to backup. I'll see you after Christmas I think! (Plus my uploads are counted, so will have to space out my backup over some months)

    Regardless, I think I will remain with CCC for local backups to my external HD, Crashplan for local backups to my NAS, and Crashplan for backing up to the cloud. As well as an offsite portable HDD stored at work forn that added level of safety.

    You can tell the people who have lost stuff in crashes before (in my case, about 400gb of personal photos and files....)

    I do a backups to my Windows Server also.
    For critical backups, I also burn BR disc, and store them at work or my parents house.
    (25Gb @ around $2.80 each)

    $63.90, only if you pay the Australian sucker pricing.

    Otherwise it's a more reasonable us$49.99.

    You could get a fire-resistant safe to keep one of your portable drives in? Some even have USB ports so you don't need to get the drive out, just plug it in to the computer.

    I created a script which will load them all up to Amazon S3 and then create a web front end so you can also browse them on any device. Check it out on github -

    Umm, they are not so good. I had a customer a few years ago have a fire at his workshop, luckily he did backups, unluckily they melted in the Fire Proof safe. The safe performed as it should of as the contects didn't catch fire.

    I personly use BackBlaze and have so far uploaded 500+ Gb of photos sitting on their server. Where I live I do not have the option for offsite HDD storage. I do have unlimited uploads with my internet plan so this is not an issue for me as I actually upload more than I download.

    In addition to onsite backup on external drive, I use Amazon Glacier. Cheap as chips - US_East is $0.01 per Gb. Perfect for something you just want to know if safe, and don't necessarily need to access all the time.

    Just use pogoplug which is $5/month for unlimited storage. There are free ones too for photos but for $5/month it's not bad. They use Amazon Glacier.

    I use Dropbox. Have all my photos stored in my Dropbox (but not the public Photos folder). Any new photos get added there - the only storage on my desktop & laptop. At times I make a full backup to an external network HDD in case the Dropbox account suddenly disappears (and then deletes all photos from all machines linked)

    I used to use crashplan... until I reinstalled windows and it decided that it'd DELETE all my files (online backup) and start upload from scratch. Wasn't impressed. Now im using Google Drive. While it's not a 'backup' but a sync it means the files are online and better than nothing at all. Plus I have access to the file anywhere on my phone or tablet.

    I tried putting my photos in google+but that became annoying to manage.

    I bought a DSLR! So now im a 'tog'. Since I bought my DSLR, i have taken at least 1 million pictures. I have 6 batteries always charged so I never have to stop 'togging'. But my disc drive on my BONDI BLUE IMAC is nearly full and ive run out of memory for moar 'togs' of my dog. I showed my 'togs' to a friend at the pub and he said my dog 'togs' wear so good i should call myself a 'pro tog' but i need to bacup the togs or if I loose them it will be a crime against humanity.

    I don't have the interweb so my firend from the pub sold me 1,000 disc drives. He said they were the high capacity type of 1.4 MEGA bites.

    How many photos will I fit on each disk? Also the disks don't fit in my iMac slot, do I need to reform them?

    Also I am happy to do wedding 'togs' (espesially if their are dogs in it)

    Also also as I don't have the web on my firend from the pub is letting me use his computer to post this. He is a good firend and lets me use his computer for my banking and stuff. His name is Jeremy. If you want me to 'tog' your wedding reply to this and Jeremy will let me know.

    Please do some more research before recommending services to people. I quickly (I emphasise quickly) checked out one of your recommended online backup services crashplan. It seems they offer encryption but they retain your email, your IP and your encryption hash key. I should say that they actually do have fair terms, however In my rush to read there ELUA I could not find anything about the data that is uploaded to their servers. Do you retain the rights to your own your data like photos as the person who asked the question-How Should I Back Up All These Pictures? or does crashplan (or the organisation or people who own crashplan)? Facebook is a perfect example of why you SHOULD be care-fall and read the TOS or the ELUA of a site. A number of people on the comments thread recommenced facebook as a place to store photos online but I don't think they realise, and most people who use facebook certainly don't, that facebook, upon signing up for your account makes you agree to a number of things, including relinquishing your rights of your data to them. Meaning you DO NOT own ANYTHING you upload on facebook, facebook owns the rights to your personal photos and other data instead of you. Wouldn't you be shocked and upset if suddenly you got sued for the Christmas party photos that YOU took at YOUR house with YOUR camera if they appeared on another site? Facebook can at any time do this. What if the (innocent and fully clothed) photo YOU took of YOUR wife with YOUR camera ended up in a porn magazine like playboy or penthouse because facebook either sold or 'let' these magazines use these photos? and your wife's boss happen to be 'reading' playboy and saw the photo your wife and because one of her photos was in playboy, her boss fires her on the spot?? You cannot sue facebook because you already agreed to let them do whatever they want with YOUR data. There would be nothing you can do about if you uploaded the photo to facebook. I agree it is unlikely this would happen but it easily COULD.
    Dropbox (another recommendation and another service that really popular) at least promises to inform users when their data is sought by the government, unless prohibited by law. This gives you a chance to defend yourself against overreaching government demands for their data.
    Does anyone remember what happened to users data with mega upload when the US government 'stole' there data?
    The point is do your research and always read the fine print for anything that requires your consent for something before trusting a person or an entity like a corporation.
    The safest solution is an 'off-line' method such a backing your photos up to a local drive but I agree its not not always convenient but before using ANY 'on-line' service or entering in personal or contact information read the TOS, Privacy Discloser, ELUA or any other price of boring important documentation so you can decide it you can trust them enough for what they offer.
    If this post has peaked your interest or worried you in any way check out this site: Terms of Service - Didn't Read. It sums up some of those documents for some of the more popular web sites, but it is a work in progress so these is only a small selection of sites. That just might save you from making a mistake.

    Its not that hard -
    Phone a friend!!!!
    Create a dropbox account that is synced to a friends house on an external hard drive - all you do then is copy then and automatically they are saved at your friends house

    No Friends????
    Get out more

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