Gadget Bag: The 3-2-1 Backup Rule

Strategies and solutions for preserving your photo archive
Outdoor Photographer may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. Outdoor Photographer does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting Outdoor Photographer.

G-Technology G-DOCK ev
The innovative, hot-swappable G-DOCK ev can be configured as a RAID 1, or you can use each drive independently. The latter is advantageous for managing your offsite backups—copy your image library to one of the drives, eject and go. The Thunderbolt dock is compatible with G-DRIVE ev, G-DRIVE ev 220 and G-DRIVE ev SSD drives, each of which can be used when away from the dock via USB 3.0. List Price: $499 (2 TB).

“There are two kinds of people in the world—those who have had a hard drive  failure, and those who will.”

—Peter Krogh

It’s a reality that all photographers face: No single storage solution is immune to data loss. The only way to ensure your photo archive is safe is to have multiple copies, in multiple locations.

The 3-2-1 Rule
In his book, The DAM Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers (, Peter Krogh introduces the 3-2-1 Rule for backing up your image files. The idea is to keep at least three copies of any important file on two different types of storage media, with one copy in an offsite location. If your primary storage device is your computer hard drive, you can follow the 3-2-1 Rule by keeping a copy of your image library on an external drive, with an additional copy “in the cloud,” but there are other ways you can follow the rule, depending on your preferences and workflow.

SanDisk 64GB Extreme PRO SDXC UHS-I
With memory card prices more affordable than ever, consider keeping your original captures on the card and replacing it when full. A high-quality 64 GB card like the SanDisk 64GB Extreme PRO SDXC UHS-I retails for around $35.

Keep Your Originals. With the cost of memory cards more affordable than ever (a 32 GB pro-quality SDHC card retails for about $25), one option is to leave your original image captures on the memory card. When it’s full, label it with a date range and store it securely—bonus points for investing in a fireproof safe. Memory cards are also a highly portable option for offsite backups.

Pelican 0915 Memory Card Case
Made of polycarbonate resin, the Pelican 0915 Memory Card Case offers splashproof protection (IPx4 rating) for up to 12 SD cards, plus 6 miniSD and 6 microSD cards, with a clever stacking design. Estimated Street Price: $18.

Make A RAID. One of the most common backup solutions is a pair of external drives configured in RAID 1, meaning that the two drives are mirrored. Whether you copy image files manually or use backup software to manage the process, an external RAID 1 offers the peace of mind that if one of the drives fails, the remaining drive has a duplicate of every file.

Cloud Storage + A Website
If you don’t already have a website to showcase your images, consider a service like PhotoShelter (, which not only makes it easy to create and manage a polished portfolio online, but also includes cloud storage with support for most common image file types. The Standard Plan is $25 per month, and includes 100 GB of cloud storage, customizable website templates (no coding required) and even the ability to sell prints or image licenses with built-in e-commerce.

To The Cloud! Services like Dropbox and Google Drive offer 1 TB of storage for around $10 per month. That’s plenty of room for most image libraries, and also satisfies the 3-2-1 Rule’s requirement for at least one offsite copy. Getting your data to the cloud may be the bottleneck initially—you’re going to need a high-speed Internet connection, and it may take several hours for the first sync of large libraries. Utilities like Arq ( can make setting up and managing your cloud storage a lot easier.

Transcend StoreJet 500 Portable SSD
Available in capacities of 256 GB, 512 GB and 1 TB, the solid-state StoreJet 500 Portable SSD offers both Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 interfaces for fast image transfers. The pocket-friendly drive comes preformatted for Mac OS, but can be reformatted for Windows. Estimated Street Price: From $189 (256 GB).

Portable Drives. An alternative to cloud storage for your offsite backups is to use portable external drives and keep them in your desk at work or at a friend’s house. The downside of this method is that you’ll need to physically update your remote copies whenever you add new images to your catalog. One way to handle this might be to use a USB flash drive to ferry your latest images to your offsite backup.

Optical Disks. Though Apple has been phasing out the optical disk for a few years now, they continue to sell a USB Super Drive that can record to DVDs, and most Windows computers still include DVD-burning drives. This solution is somewhat limited, with a capacity of just 4.7 GB per disk, but it’s an inexpensive option. Keep in mind that the fate of optical disks is questionable, however, and one of the chief concerns when choosing a backup medium is the future availability of hardware and interfaces that allow you to read it. In other words, you may find yourself transferring your optical disk backups to another medium in the not too distant future.

Technology-Independent Preservation & The Professional Print
In a recent conversation with Drew Hendrix of Red River Paper, he referred us to a white paper by Joseph E. LaBarca entitled, “Preservation of Photographic Images for Future Generations: New Opportunities for Prints and Photo Books.” In it, LaBarca observes that the persistent advance of technology makes file format and media obsolescence a perpetual issue for those of us trying to preserve digital photo archives. He points out that there are several hurdles: the media format itself (think floppy disks, if you’re old enough to know what those are); the availability of devices to read the media format; the ability to connect such a device to a modern computer (the interface, e.g., remember serial ports and SCSI?); the file format, potentially an especial concern with proprietary RAW formats; and—perhaps the most unsettling—data integrity, meaning the media hasn’t physically degraded, and the data is still there, uncorrupted and readable.LaBarca’s paper is an interesting read for tech enthusiasts, and is easily found online, but it also drives home an important point for all photographers: In the digital age, a professional-quality, archival print not only is a beautiful, tactile experience, it’s also a way to preserve your best images that doesn’t rely on storage technology. Decades from now, no matter what storage media prevail or file formats come and go, a well-crafted print still will be ready to enjoy.