A Photographer's Nightmare: Hard Drive Failure Is Not a Joke, Back Up Your Photos

A Photographer's Nightmare: Hard Drive Failure Is Not a Joke, Back Up Your Photos

The day I’ve been preparing for arrived unexpectedly this past Saturday as I went to my Mac to export photos for a client, just like it was any other day. But I quickly found out it wasn’t going to be like other days when I found my photo and video files had disappeared from my Lightroom catalog.

I calmly checked my drive to see why my catalog claimed that there were missing images, and Lightroom was not lying. Five terabytes of my hard work had disappeared. I’d like to believe that I take great caution and care when dealing with my drives and files. I still don’t know why — it may have been a terrible glitch — but that’s not the point of this article.

PSA: Back Up Your Work

This article is simply a four-word PSA reminder: back up your work. It is not a joke and it can happen to anyone at any time. The reasons are endless on how you can lose your work: formatting errors, improper connectivity, read/write crash, file corruption, physical damage, bad sectors, glitches, and even unknown causes.

The Good News

Fortunately enough, I prepared for this very day to come. I visited my off-site drive location that I backup to periodically. I successfully avoided losing all of my hard work by taking the necessary measures. Even with a successful backup and avoiding potential disaster, I found out there is room for improvement.

A Reminder to You

But with that all being said, I will go out with this: hard drive corruption is not a joke, and I know of many photographers (novices and even professionals) that use simply one “pocket” hard drive and that is it. If that is you, I’d highly advise you to take the steps to protect yourself. I don’t care if it’s the most sophisticated backup system in the world or the simplest, just take the proper steps. Spending $500–$1,000-plus now is worth much more than losing your life’s work later. Make multiple copies of work by any means necessary. Think about it, be smart, and continue to create beautiful work with peace of mind.

Backup Education Resources

I know there has been a slew of backup articles published lately. I’m glad because it’s a topic that isn’t discussed enough. Here are some helpful articles to help set up or better your backup workflow:

Also, feel free to leave a comment below regarding how your backup workflow is set up. Keep in mind to make it as simple as possible as if you're explaining it to someone new who'd like the proper steps.

Photo by Azz Bad via Pexels.

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Previous comments
Douglas Turney's picture

Yep. Everyone keeps talking about backing up photos but having a bootable backup of your system is just as important. I know a guy who got hit with a ransom ware virus. While he lost a couple days of work he was able to simply move over to the bootable back up and said screw you. Of course he made a back up of the backup before booting it up.

Paul Seiler's picture

Yes! Carbon Copy is awesome. I also suggest really digging in to your motherboard's available options and, when available / supported: install a same-capacity 2nd internal drive and RAID1 your working drive. RAID article coming soon ;)

Hard drives have a typical life span of 3 to 5 years. Do the math people. Also, check your backup drives, don't let them get old either.

LA M's picture

Everyone is an evangelist AFTER a failure happens to them lol...good article tho

Paul Seiler's picture

Right?! I feel like I would have eventually come around, but being younger and naive helped kick me in the right direction:

Ben D's picture

If you're an Amazon Prime member, you have unlimited online storage to back up photo files. That includes RAW. That's my go-to for backups. I've got a few TB there already. Far better than Backblaze.

Paul Seiler's picture

Woah really!? I did not know about this, seriously. I'm a prime member. I imagine most photographers are nowadays. Is there a specific app or something you need to get this rolling? Do they only do photos? Do they confirm by file type or something? So for example if I have word documents in the same parent folder as some photos, would it back that up too or skip the word documents?

Reginald Walton's picture

It's not an "auto backup," you have to back the file up there yourself. I don't believe there is a specific type of file that you can backup.

Hard drives are not the only thing a photographer needs to worry about backing up. With the digital age upon us, most cameras have SD cards: regular and micro. These cards can go bad at anytime, obviously causing many problems. Here is an example story: https://www.gillware.com/blog/data-recovery-case/sd-card-file-recovery-c...

Making copies of these cards as soon as possible will also help alleviate the issues of lost photos.

Andre Goulet's picture

Good point! I use SDCard Formatter from the SD Card association (free app) periodically on each card and do a full format. That will find errors if there are any and either mark the sectors as bad, or flag you that the card is bad. My workflow is to take the card from the camera to a portable hard drive that has a card reader built in, which never sees a computer, back it up there automatically, then transfer the photos to my computer (still from the SD Card) and do backups of all that. This way, I have always got the original RAW source files, if worst comes to worst. From the computer I have a Time Machine backup for disaster recovery, then use an external hard drive bay and bare drives, one for each genre of photography that I shoot. Final PSD files from all shoots get put on one more drive that's taken off-site and on the local NAS. So, long-term, I have the original RAW files and the final PSD's in 3 places minimum, one off-site. As the photos age, I may be more willing to let them go if something goes south if it's of a genre that allows for this, such as my theatre work. Nobody cares for a 3-year old shoot of a live play, so those only remain on the bare drive until it dies after they age-out.

Daris Fox's picture

If you are using Windows 10 and have a NAS then enabling File History can be a major life saver:


Alex Armitage's picture

PSA For all photographers out there. Amazon offers unlimited photo storage to their cloud drive for just having Prime.

I have a RAID 6 NAS setup that automatically backsup my photography folder to Amazon. This includes PSD files, Raw files, and TIFF files.