3, 2, 1, Backup!

A recent incident prompted me to write about backing up your photos – and data – again (I wrote about this back in 2013).

A friend of mine kept some of his photos on an external hard drive. Well, one day that hard drive started making ugly noises and it stopped working. The drive was only 5 months old.

He’s hoping that he can send it off to a data recovery company to get the data recovered, but that’s expensive.

I feel terrible for him, and I hope you never get in that situation. These days, we don’t print photos, so the digital copy is often the only one we have.

Here are some guidelines for protecting your photos. These also apply for important files, too.

Links to Backblaze and Dropbox in this article are referral links. You get extra storage or free months when you sign up for them using these links, and so do I.

The 3-2-1 Rule

There’s a well known “3, 2, 1” rule in data backup circles:

  • 3 copies of your data
  • 2 different types of media
  • 1 copy offsite

Let’s go through each of those.

Three Copies of Your Data

Obviously one copy of your photos and data – the original – isn’t enough. You have only one version and if you lose it, you’re screwed.

Two copies are good, because if you lose one, you have the other.

But why three? Keep reading.

Two Types of Media

Experts recommend having your photos and data on two different types of storage media. That usually means hard drives and… something else. It used to be CDs or DVDs, but with today’s massive photos, that would be a lot of DVDs.

I really recommend using a cloud backup service as your second type of media. I’ve been using Backblaze and I really like it, but there are other alternatives, depending on how much data you need to back up. More later.

One Copy Offsite

It won’t do you any good to have two or three copies of your data all sitting on your computer desk if you have a fire or someone breaks in and steals it all. You need to have one copy offsite to guard against this kind of disaster.

I keep an external hard drive at a family member’s house in their safe as my offsite copy, and the Backblaze cloud backup is another offsite copy.

The offsite backup is the reason why you need 3 copies – the original, a copy close at hand, and an offsite copy.

The easiest way to have an offsite copy is to use a cloud backup service, but you can also periodically copy your important photos and data to an external hard drive and store it with a friend or a family member.

What Do I Do?

My primary copy of photos and data is on hard drives in a desktop computer in my house. That’s copy #1.

We have a storage server on my home network that I copy all the photos and data to. That’s copy #2.

I have subscribed to Backblaze and it is installed on the desktop computer, so every file on that computer gets copied to “the cloud” automatically. That’s copy #3 and also an offsite copy.

I also have an external hard drive at a family member’s house. That’s copy #4 and a second offsite copy.

Cloud Backups

There are several free ways to back up your data. You can use Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, or another free file synchronization service to automatically copy any data you put in a certain section of your hard drive to “the cloud”.

I use Dropbox to copy files between computers but I have far too many photos to be able to use it to back up my photos. The free version of Dropbox offers up to 2 GB of storage, and if you use my referral link to sign up, you get another 500 MB (and so do I).

Most of these cloud storage providers will give you around 5 GB of free storage. That’s enough for around a thousand photos.


I started using Backblaze almost two years ago. I currently have half a million files totalling 3.67 terabytes of data stored there – that’s close to 4,000 GB. There’s an annual cost – currently $60 USD for a single computer – but I feel it’s well worth it, given how many photos I have and how valuable they are to me.

It’s pretty simple to set up and it “just works”. I’ll warn you that it takes some time to do that first upload to the cloud; in my case it took well over a month before it finished the initial copy. It depends on your Internet upload speed at home. Once the initial copy is done, any updates are quick.

It proved pretty handy to me one time when we were traveling and someone emailed me to buy a copy of one of my images. I was able to download the photo from Backblaze, touch it up on my computer, and send it to the client, all while I was in my hotel room in Europe. It was also a good test to ensure that my photos were actually being backed up!

If you choose to sign up for Backblaze, please consider using my referral link to get a free month when you pay for it.

Links to Backblaze and Dropbox in this article are referral links. You get extra storage or free months when you sign up for them using these links, and so do I.

Back Up Your Phone!

One other point – make sure you back up your phone and all the photos on it! It’s very easy to lose those, and many people never copy their photos off their phones at all.

If you have an iPhone, you can use Apple’s iCloud to back up your photos. Android phones can use Google to back them up.

Just make sure your phone’s photos are copied off and backed up.

Personally, I don’t keep photos on my phone. I copy them off to the same place that I store my camera’s photos and all my videos, so they get the same treatment as my “real” camera’s photos.

Remember 3, 2, 1

Ideally you’ll have three copies of your important photos and documents, on two different types of devices, with one copy offsite.

At a minimum, make sure you have two copies and one of them is offsite.

It’s pretty easy to do, and if you don’t have a huge library like I do, you can probably do it for free. Start now!

Leave a comment and tell me how you’re protecting your important files!

10 thoughts on “3, 2, 1, Backup!”

  1. Very well said, Steve!

    Ransomware is another reason to have a 3rd, disconnected offsite copy. Hopefully none of your readers will ever face that, but the “external hard drive at a friend’s house” is about the only way to recover from having your files maliciously encrypted without paying the extortion fee. I don’t use Backblaze, but I’m guessing that at least some of the encryption would propagate to their server before the ransomware was discovered. Careful what you click on!

    • Thanks, Jeff. One nice thing about Backblaze is that they keep a 30 day version history of your files, so if they get corrupted, maliciously encrypted, or deleted, you have a few weeks to get the old version before it’s gone. You can pay an additional $2/month to have 1 year of version history on every file.

  2. If you’re going to make extensive use of Cloud storage or a service like Backblaze, I’d recommend upping your internet service. Upload (you to the ‘net) speeds are usually a fraction of download speeds since the ‘world wide web’ was designed for retrieving information. Basic internet service is 5 megabits per second and your computer or device is probably a 64 bit per byte machine and your pictures are probably 10 megabytes if you use default size jpeg files… the math is not on your side if you move a lot of pictures around every day.

    The answer to this question is probably on the site somewhere but… Steve, what is the file size of a picture you take on your camera?

    • Excellent point, Rick. Upload speed is crucial with cloud storage of any kind. My current connection has an upload speed of 15 Mbps, which is pretty good. It’s considerably more than the default from MTS and I pay more for it.

      The RAW photos I take with my Canon 77D are about 30 megabytes each. People who shoot JPG files are going to have smaller file sizes.

  3. It is good to think about it before it happens. 🙂

    For those of you who are looking to save a bit, I did a bit of research and found that using an Amazon S3 bucket ( with Fast glacier) was the cheapest. That said, it is a bit clunky and definitely not a turnkey solution.


    • That is an alternative I hadn’t considered… but I think it’s probably only for the most techie people. I think there would be some scripting involved!

  4. Advice to live by: save early, save often. For us who started computer programming on Commodores and cassette tapes, that save obsession wasn’t just to preserve what we’d created but to respect and protect the time we’d invested and couldn’t relive.

    I keep thinking about my risk items: my paper and slides. I need to transfer those into digital copies so they too can be saved. It’s almost a decade now since the flood we had in the house when an upstairs apartment flooded straight through our ceiling and those high shelves where I thought the DAR Truro Sub slides I’d collected were safe. That’s a lesson learned the very hard way.

    • Ha, Commodores and cassette tapes. I suppose you could type the program in from Compute! magazine again, but that took so much time…

      Paper and slides are indeed the risk items. I didn’t know you lost those slides. I would have thought the same thing – items up high should be fine. Maybe I need to rethink my storage… tubbies for everything?

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