How do you archive your pictures? or am I too paranoid?

Initially I was going to simply ask you “How do you archive your pictures” on facebook and google+ then I thought that maybe it would be better to give some insight on the workflow I follow myself since it might help the discussion.

As of today, I am sitting on a little bit more than 100k pictures and a bit more less than 1 terabytes of data, 85%+ out of which are photography related: Original pictures, Retouched Versions, layered edits etc… and there have very high value to me. I could easily imagine myself loosing, stolen/corruption/failure, the hardware but not any of my data.

I am not covering in this post how I organize my pictures nor which DAM, Digital Asset Management, software I use but rather how many copies of this info I have and where do I store them.

How many copies and their locations

I keep 3 exact copies on 3 different external disks

Copy 1 is on a Western Digital My Passport and is protected, I hope, by a Western Digital WD Nomad Rugged Case. This copy is in my bag with me all the time.

Copy 2 is on a Western Digital My Book Essential and is at office connected to a file server and is synchronized pretty much every other day.

Copy 3 is on a Western Digital WD Elements and is offline. I keep it at home in a fire and water proof safe, and is synchronized every other week or so.


If my data is important to me, I surely don’t want anyone else to have access to it without my consent. For that reason copies 1 and 2 are encrypted using Microsoft Bitlocker technology.

Yes I am a Microsoft person, however for people intrested in drive encryption and that would prefer a more open platform you can take a look at TrueCrypt.

Copy 3, the one kept in a safe, is not encrypted and is kept as a fail-safe option.


To keep these 3 copies in sync I use AllWaySync: A great piece of software that has true 3 way synchronization. I have paid for the pro version 5 years ago and been using it ever since.

Total cost

Maybe you think all this is overkill for just a “bunch of pictures” but the whole investment cost me less than $400. A price anyone would pay in a heartbeat to try to recover data from a failing disk.

My concern

Well all this sounds like a well thought off strategy however I am not sure that disks are good for long term storage…
10 years ago my archiving strategy relied on CDs and DVDs and theses are not age proof either.

So what do you think? Am I too paranoid? Would external disks still be readable 10 years from now? and how do you do it with your pictures?

  • Anonymous

    I use CrashPlan for cloud backup. The initial seed takes a long time, but at least you know that it covers all bases including the longevity side of things.

    • You are perfectly right, I should have mentioned could backups… unfortunately it is far from being a viable solution with the internet bandwidth we have in our part of the world.
      Any Idea if CrashPlan would accept to send medias by post to put on your cloud ?

      • Anonymous

        I know CrashPlan supports initial media seeds by mailing a hard drive to them. It costs a bit extra to do that option, but it is worth it if you’ve got tons of stuff. For me, I’ve got about half a terabyte and it’s uploaded about 50% of it in the past two weeks in the US. CrashPlan also supports backing up to a friend’s computer using the same software–for free.

  • Neal

    I don’t see how cloud storage is an effective long time solution? what happens if and when the company goes bust? or their servers crap out.

    hard drives in a closet also die randomly, a few years ago I found some old ATA drives in a cupboard so I booted up an old computer and tried to recover the data, it was all an unreadable mess, 2 of the 3 drives I had were also making bad noises (head clunking)

    It’s an unfortunate situation that we have to deal with, the best option for long term storage is expensive professional data tapes. All enterprise organisations and government use tapes as the only sure-fire way to protect data long-term.

    but even tapes aren’t 100%

    you also have the problem that hardware changes so quickly you need to keep legacy devices around to support your backups.

    as for me.. I shoot film.
    if I loose all my data, I’ll just rescan from the original.. film also has it’s own challenges with storage. (and there is only 1 original) but the great thing about film is that I can go and rescan it in 20 years with the latest in scanner technology and it will look much better than we are capable today. Just look at the wizard of oz. it was shot in 1939 but looks fantastic on bluray today. when they say “digitally remastered” it just means they rescanned from the original with better technology.

    no matter what medium we use to shoot and to archive we’ll always have challenges along the way, nothing is future proof we have to just accept that abide by best practices to keep the gremlins at bay.