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Photography

Reliable Backup Software for Photo and Video Workflows on Windows, Mac, and Linux

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:LongLanguages:
This post is part of a series called Digital Asset Management for Photographers (Learning Resource Guide).
Choosing Data Storage Media for Photos and Video: When Not to Use Optical Media
What's in a Name? Nomenclature, File Structure, and Saving Digital Images

We all know that backups are essential. It takes time and effort to backup our images, and you already have plenty to do. You've heard the maxim that the best camera is the one you have with you. The same is true for our backup process: they work if you use them.

The best backup processes reduce friction and give you peace of mind without causing extra hassle. The software in this tutorial is designed to do just that. You'll learn about great tools for Windows, Mac and Linux to help you get the job done without the headache.

Plan, Test, and Rotate Your Backups

As photographers, our need for backups is as strong as anyone's.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you choose a backup program:

  • Can the backup program send your files to a remote location? Backing up your data is essential to keeping it safe, but it's just the first of several steps to securing your photos. You'll need to make sure the backups are stored somewhere physically secure, such as in a fireproof safe or a trusted friend's house to protect from natural disaster or theft.
  • Can the backup program checksum your data to make sure nothing is corrupted? Backups have to be tested. Just because you have a backup doesn't mean that it's functional. Check the destination folders to make sure all images have copied correctly and aren't corrupted.
  • Can the backup program run multiple backup routines to separate drives? Rotating external hard drives is one of my favorite techniques. With rotated drives, if case things get corrupted or a drive goes bad you can go back and use a slightly older backup to recover data.

In this tutorial, as an example, I'm going to backup the folder containing my working images, videos, and catalogues from my hard drive to an external hard drive. The process is very similar for backing up your picture archive and your operating system. Hopefully, the backup software you choose will be able to handle all three. Also, though my example is with an external drive, your system might include external drives, network drives, servers, hosted "cloud" solutions, or some combination thereof.

Windows: Bvckup 2

On Windows, I highly recommend the $20 application Bvckup 2 (and includes a free two week trial) for its simple, no frills-interface, as well as its powerful backup scheduling options. It's the kind of backup app that you'll actually use.

Bvckup 2
Bvckup 2 is a great app because it's simple to use, but has a lot of power in the settings. You can schedule backups and its sole goal is to keep two folders exactly in sync.

Backup with Bvckup 2

Once you've installed Bvckup 2, opening it will showcase the simple and clean interface. Click anywhere in the app window to start setting up our first backup.

On the New backup window, we'll need to configure our backup. Backup applications have a pretty common format: they ask you to choose what you wish to backup, and where you want to send it to. Often, this will be copying images from our computer to an external hard drive.

Bvckup 2 Config
To setup our first backup, we'll need to set three things. In the "from" field, choose the folder that you want to backup. The "to" field will be the destination of our backups. Also, give the backup a name, such as "Weekly Photo Backup" as I've set in this screenshot.

Bvckup 2 is easy to get started with but there are a lot of advanced options to automate backups and keep your data in sync. After you've setup the basics of the backup press Review and configure the details... to access the advanced options.

Review and configure the details
The default options here work great, but there are also some advanced settings to tweak your backups.

The default options are fine for making the most basic backups. Ultimately, though, you'll want to tweak some settings for your workflow. Here are the important options:

  • What to backup: it's best to leave this set to the default, Everything with some exceptions. When this is chosen, Bvckup 2 skips non-critical system files that don't need to be backed up.
  • When to backup: tailor this to your needs. You can choose to keep files in sync in real time, but this is not recommended. With sync mode, accidentally deleting your source copy will delete your backup copy too. Backup periodically is a better choice for files safety. Depending on your workflow and storage configuration, that might be nightly, every couple days, or once a week. Finally, you can change it to manual to run backups only as needed.
  • Detecting changes: the app has a nice feature for monitoring how the files are changing.
  • Copying: Select use delta copying to only copy files that have partial changes. For instance, if a large text file has a few words change, Bvckup 2 will try to only modify the bytes of the file that differ. This can save a lot of space, but it's not the most reliable option for image and video files. I prefer to change this to Copy files in full.
  • Deleting: The default setting archives deleted files for safe keeping; for a smaller backup change this to Delete backup copies.
  • More options: Bvckup 2 has some advanced settings such as email alerts when the backups are complete that you can configure as needed.

After you've finished setting the details for your backup, click create to kickoff your first backup. The process will begin, and you'll see the progress at the bottom of the program; if there are any errors, the app will let you know.

Bvckup 2 Progress
After you've finished configuring your first backup with the app, the backup will begin. The log of the backup will be shown at the bottom of the application. If you want to create another backup configuration, access File > Add new Backup. You can also right click a backup task and choose Adjust backup settings... to modify the backup settings.

OS X: Carbon Copy Cloner

Carbon Copy Cloner is a Mac-only application. I use Carbon Copy Cloner because it's flexible; I have some scheduled backups that run periodically, but I also use it for quick, on-demand backups. It can also make a complete disk-image of your system so that if your computer gets stolen or damaged you can get back up and running in no time.

Carbon Copy Cloner Intro
Carbon Copy Cloner has a permanent home on my Mac because it is a flexible application. I use it when I need to backup an entire drive, and also when I have single folders to backup. It excels at its ease of use - in the above screenshot, I've simply chosen a source (the images I want to backup) , a destination (the place I want to send images to) and a schedule

The app is $40, but you can try it out for 30 days. Download it on the official site and install it to get going.

Backup with Carbon Copy Cloner

Backups with Carbon Copy Cloner are easy to setup. Let's take a look at how to schedule a backup of an image library once per week to an external drive, which is a common and reasonable setup for many workflows.

After you've installed Carbon Copy Cloner, let's get started by creating a New Task. Tasks are basically backup presets, and they're a great way to configure multiple backups scenarios. I use one task to backup my photos weekly, and other tasks to backup my entire hard drive and OS once per month.

Carbon Copy Cloner Tasks
Tasks are how Carbon Copy Cloner separates our various backup methods. Think of a Task in CCC as a preset for backups. Click "New Task" to get started.

Click the + to start a new Task, then select a source and a destination. Click on the drive in the Source section to choose which folder you want to backup. Once you've clicked on the drive, click "Choose a Folder" (unless you want to backup the entire hard drive) and browse to the folder that stores your working library.

Carbon Copy Cloner Source
Carbon Copy Cloner is often known for its ability to clone entire hard drives, but it's just as powerful for backing up a single folder. After you click on the source, select Choose a Folder to browse to the images you need to backup.

For this tutorial, I'm backing up the folder titled "Andrew's Library", where I store my working library, including my Lightroom catalogs and in-progress TIFF files. I'll also choose a destination, in this case an external hard drive that's on my network. After you click on Destination, you can choose the external drive to backup your images.

Carbon Copy Cloner Destination
After you've chosen a source folder, you can choose a destination drive in the "Destination" section. Note also that underneath the "source", we can selectively choose the files you want to backup.

Once we have the source and destination selected, there's just one more setting to choose, and it's optional: the schedule for our backup process. The default setting is On Demand, which means the backup is run as needed by opening the application and starting the process. If this is more than a one-time backup, which I recommend, it's best to schedule the backup process.

Carbon Copy Cloner Schedule
When I think about removing friction from the backup process, one of the best methods I can recommend is scheduling your backups. If you stay plugged into the same set of hard drives, it's great to set a schedule for periodic backups. In Carbon Copy Cloner, we can either run a backup on demand, or schedule it for periodic backups to our drive of choice. To get started with scheduling a backup, click the third box in the window, titled Scheduling, and setup a periodic backup schedule.

That's it! You've configured your first backup with Carbon Copy Cloner. If you've set it on a schedule, make sure you're plugged into your drive when the backup is set to run. If you've setup the process for an on demand backup, click Clone at the lower right corner of the app to kickoff your first backup.

I suggest you set up a few different backup routines, including one for your working library, as we did above, one to image your operating system, and one for your picture archive.

Linux: Grsync

rsync is a well-known utility for the Unix family of operating systems, including OS X and Linux. It's built into Unix OSs and is run through the terminal. On Linux, a graphic interface called Grsync is available to make using rsync easy. It harnesses the power and reliability of rsync backups but eliminates the learning curve of the command line.

Grsync Package Manager
The easiest way to use the rsync utility is with Grsync, a GUI for rsync. Most Linux distributions have a package manager, or in the case of elementary OS, a "Software Center" for installing applications. I simply searched for grsync and clicked install to add it to my computer.

Grsync can be downloaded and compiled per the instructions on the site, but it can also be installed easily from a Linux package managers in Ubuntu, Fedora, and others. I'm running ElementaryOS and use the Software Center to install applications.

Backup with Grsync

On Linux, backups are made easy with Grsync. After you've installed it using the package manager of your choice, go ahead and open the application to kick off your first backup.

Grsync Home Screen
Grsync

In Grsync, it's as simple as setting a source and destination to get started with backups. The Source specifies the folder you want to backup, and the Destination specifies the location of the backup. In this example, I'll backup the folder that holds my working library of images and video files.

Source and destination in Grsync
Setting up a backup with Grsync is really easy - just pick the folder that needs to be backed up (source) and choose a destination for the backup. 

Much like Carbon Copy Cloner, Grsync allows you to create backup "sessions", a saved preset for your backup settings. You could build a weekly backup for your image library, plus a monthly backup for your entire hard drive and OS, plus one for your picture archive. After you've set a source and destination, you can save your backup settings by pressing the button and giving the session a name.

Grsync-session
After you've set a source and destination, you can save your backup settings by pressing the button and giving the session a name. This is like a preset for your backups, and you can build many of them for your backup needs.

Once all of your backup settings are ready, access the File > Execute command to kickoff the backup. When I run this backup in the future, it will synchronize our backup drive; basically it will only add to the images and not start the backup process from scratch.

Grsync Execute
Once your Grsync settings are complete, go to File > Execute to start the backup.

It's easy to make backups with Grsync, but also check out the optional tweaks to really take control of the process:

  • On the Basic options tab, tick Delete on Destination to remove the files that are no longer on the source.
  • On the Advanced options tab, tick Always Checksum for a detailed check that the files have copied successfully. This option is a great one for images and video, where having one corrupted byte can mess up the whole image.
  • Leave Verbose and Show transfer progress options checked in order to view detailed status messages on the status of the synchronization; this is always handy for troubleshooting a problematic backup.

Grsync doesn't have it's own built-in scheduling capabilities, but you can use Gnome Scheduler to automatically run the backups for you.

Recap

In this article, I've introduced you to three efficient backup tools for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. No matter what platform you're on, you need an application to protect your files.

But what files should you protect? This tutorial is part of our series "Digital Asset Managment for Everyone," which is all about taming your image and video collection and putting it to use. I suggest Dawn's "Anatomy of a Digital Asset Management System" to get you thinking about backups in a larger context. The better control you have over your process, the less you have to back up and the less you have to worry about.

So, what backup apps are you using? How do you handle your backup process?

Keep Learning

  1. The Digital Pipeline: How to Safely Manage Images and Video from Capture to Archive
  2. Explore cloud backups with Amazon S3, with this article from Tuts+ Computer Skills

Credits

Time Backup by iconsmind.com from the Noun Project is the icon used in the title card of this tutorial.

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