Backing Up Your Digital Images

Here’s a little secret about all professional photographers (and I do mean all). Every one of us is paranoid. Some of us are just more paranoid than others.

Of course what I’m talking about is the pro photographer’s need to back up his or her images in the field. Each of us has our own method of doing so, depending on one’s level of comfort and relationship with God. In any case, backing up is a good idea even if you are a newbie photographer. You certainly don’t want to risk losing your images from your 3-week European family vacation.

Here are the methods I use to back up in the field and at home.

In the Field

First, I carry at least 12 Compact Flash cards for my Nikon cameras, ranging from 8 GB to 16GB each. Rarely do I shoot through all the cards on an assignment, even if I’m gone for two or three weeks (and I shoot RAW only). As I use each card I put it in a nifty case called a Pixel Pocket Rocket (, facing backward, so I know it has been used. From that point on, my used cards are either on my person or nestled comfortable in a hotel safe.

Each night, I back up my flash cards to my Aperture software on my 15” MacBook Pro laptop and to a Western Digital (WD) 500GB portable drive. I usually carry two of these drives with me. They are incredibly small, lightweight, durable and inexpensive. Every few days, I also back up my Aperture library to the second WD drive. Backing up to my laptop also gives me an opportunity to review my images on a large screen and to gauge how the assignment is proceeding.

Paranoid, right? Well, if you’re not convinced yet, listen to this. On the way home, I make sure to carry every backup with me onto the plane (well I sure as hell am not going to trust my livelihood to airport baggage handlers!). However I divvy them up so that if my carry-on rolling camera bag is stolen, I still have one of the WD drives in my pocket and I haven’t lost the entire shoot. If my wife is traveling with me, I might give her another one of the drives to carry on board in her purse. My laptop is in its carrying case. All the original flash cards are in the Pixel Pocket Rocket, safely tucked into the camera bag. Four-way protection, ahh!

When I get home, I have the choice of downloading the originals from the flash cards to my desktop system or transferring the entire shoot from the WD drives or the laptop. In any case, I’m well protected from loss. Once I download the images and backup my office system, then I format my flash cards and the WD drives and delete the images from the laptop. Now I’m ready for my next photo shoot.

At Home

My home office involves a MacPro system. My Aperture library resides on a large hard drive. Each night it is automatically backed up onto another hard drive and once a week the entire system is backed up onto a third hard drive.

But, what about fire, flood or pestilence? Good question. I cover that base by keeping two, 2-TB backup drives in a safe deposit box at my bank, which is exactly one block from me. On one of the first days of every month I retrieve those drives. I back up the entire system on one and just my Aperture library on the other.

Colleagues of mine have variations on this theme. Several make an annual back up of all their images shot during that year and file that backup offsite. Others make permanent backups of each trip or assignment onto a growing stack of WD drives. As the saying goes, God is good, but you’d better have a backup plan.

Lester Picker is a professional wildlife and landscape photographer based in Maryland. He offers one-on-one and small group photography instruction. Visit his website:

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