How to Protect Your Photos

In Features by Jim Harmer

photography protect and back up

Are your photos missing?

If you caught a virus, your house flooded, a robber broke in your house, or your 2 year old decided to “play” with the laptop…. you could easily lose every picture on your hard drive.  If disaster struck right at this moment, would you have a backup for all your photography? If that backup is a DVD, you should know that only archival quality DVDs will last for years.

If you back up onto an external hard drive, is that hard drive right next to the computer?  Couldn't it be stolen or burned or flooded at the same time as the computer?  Is your backup truly safe?

The 3-2-1 Backup System

Today I will discuss the famous 3-2-1 backup system.  It is a cheap and easy way to assure that you will never lose your precious photos that you have put so much effort into recording.

The 3-2-1 backup idea comes from Peter Krogh in his “Digital Asset Management for Photographers” book.  The idea is that you need to have your photos in 3 places.  The photos should be on 2 different types of media.  And 1 copy of the photos should be off-site.

How to Implement a Solid Backup System

Here is how I implement the 3-2-1 system to be absolutely certain that I will never lose all of my photos from years of photography.

I have my photos on the hard drive of my computer, on an external hard drive in the house, and I use Carbonite to backup my entire hard drive to the Internet.

Carbonite is a ridiculously cheap program for your computer that makes a carbon-copy of every single photo (music, word documents, etc as well) on your computer and stores those photos on the Internet (their servers far away from your house).  To let you know what is backed up on your computer, it puts a little dot on every photo's icon that shows orange if that photo isn't yet backed up online, or a green dot showing that it has backed up that photo.

I am probably the biggest Carbonite fan-boy on the planet.  For only $55 per YEAR, they let you back up as much data as you want… no limit.  It gives me so much peace of mind to know that even if my hard drive dies or there is a fire, flood, or burglary, my photos are still safe.

I have needed Carbonite before.  My hard drive died, so I went to and pressed the restore button.  Immediately, my computer started downloading all my precious photos from their site.  I didn't lose one single photo.

I also don't have to worry about my data being compromised by hackers with Carbonite.  The data is encrypted once before it leaves my computer, and another time when it reaches  This makes it practically impossible for anyone to spy on your files.

I also like Carbonite because it is built well enough to prevent the program from slowing down your computer or Internet connection.  It only backs up the data while you're not using your computer, so you never notice any lag.

There are only two problems with Carbonite.  One, if you don't have a reasonably good Internet connection, it will take too long to upload your files to the Internet.  Two, it only backs up the data ON your computer.  If you have a small hard drive and can't fit all your photos on the computer, it won't back up your external hard drives.

Also, if you have hundreds of gigs of data, it can take several days to upload all your files to Carbonite.  Just relax and keep the computer turned on at night and the files will get uploaded soon enough.  After the initial upload, it works really fast.

Other Options

If you don't want to use Carbonite or you have too many photos to fit on your computer hard drive, you might try services such as Jungle Disk or a host of other options.

Another way to accomplish this is to buy two external hard drives.  Keep one hard drive at your home and send another one to your Mom or long-lost lover in another city.  Then, if your computer dies you can just get the backup from them and put it on your computer.  The problem with this method is that the off-site backup will get out of date and hard drives that aren't used frequently have a high failure rate.

Do you use a different backup system?  Comment below and tell us all about it.

About the Author

Jim Harmer

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Jim Harmer is the founder of Improve Photography, and host of the popular Improve Photography Podcast. More than a million photographers follow him on social media, and he has been listed at #35 in rankings of the most popular photographers in the world. He blogs about how to start an internet business on