The Ultimate Automated Backup Workflow for Photographers

As a professional product photographer, backing up photos is a must-do. But let’s face the facts, it is a real pain to do a manual backup. That’s why I’ve developed a fully automated backup workflow, for photographers using Lightroom, a NAS drive and cloud storage. It will also work for videographers as well.

If you aren’t already backing up your photos, you’re risking losing money from a job, your client and also your reputation. This is an easy to implement system that will give you peace of mind and will save you a bunch of time.

I have step-by-step instruction here and a youtube video after the conclusion if you prefer to watch how this is done instead.

automated photo backup workflow
Automated Backup Workflow

Why Photographers & Videographers Need a Backup Solution

I’ve been a pro photographer for over ten years now but I’d still likely lose a client if I lost all their images. Here’s why.

For product photography, food photography or corporate portrait shoots, my clients have usually spent a lot of time setting up or preparing for the shoot. They have had people taking time out of their day to assist and may have hired models or additional help for the shoot.

As you can imagine, there’s an expense to this. Time, money and mental energy.

Even if the client was happy for a reshoot, obviously in the case of an event, like a corporate event, seminar or tradeshow, you can never go back again to redo those photos.

You have your time invested as well. That means less time working on other shoots, less time getting new clients or less time working on your business. As a business owner, time is your most valuable asset and needs to be used to generate income, not redoing work.

Until you have delivered the final photos on the project, losing the images on a memory card or your computer could be disastrous.

That’s why it’s your responsibility as a professional to keep your client’s photos safe and secure.

How To Create a Photography Backup Workflow

automated backup system
Diagram / workflow of my automated backup system

How far you go and how many steps you take to protect the photos from the shoot is up to you, but come up with some system. I’m going to explain my workflow and system for backing up the photos I take and why I take those steps.

Most of the steps are completely automated but you could do some of this manually if you prefer.

Step 1. Backing Up Your CF or SD Memory Card (1st backup)

SD Memory Card
SD Memory Card – it’s important you don’t erase the images.

I’ll discuss in a moment how I copy the images from the memory card but first I wanted to explain how I handle the card itself.

The first thing is that I always leave the images on the card, I copy them from the card into Lightroom instead of transferring or moving them from one to the other.

Don’t Write Over or Format Your Memory cards

I keep all my photos on the memory card for as long as possible. That is, I don’t write over them until I’ve delivered the job to the client (or longer).

I have a dozen or so memory cards so I don’t run out and have to overwrite before I’m ready. I’ll cycle through all my other memory cards first and, once I’ve delivered that job, only then do I delete the images or video from the card.

Don’t Keep Your Cards Near Your Computer

Keeping the photos on the card is the first backup. Get into the habit of storing your memory cards away from the computer, so they aren’t close to one another, physically. I take this precaution just in case my house gets broken into, or more likely, my kids get hold of the card and start trying to use it as a guitar pick.

Store Your Memory Cards Safely

When I store my memory cards, I use the Pelican 915 memory card holder. Keeping my cards in here means they won’t get damaged if they get stood on or rained on.

This case has a rubber seal to keep out the dust and water. It’s not rated as being waterproof but it would probably be OK if you dropped it in a pool – I won’t be testing that out anytime soon though.

It’s also drop-proof and will hold up if something gets dropped on it or someone stands on it.

I know this case might be more expensive than unbranded cases, but for the extra $10 or so I prefer the peace of mind of a brand name recognized for making hard-wearing tough products.

Step 2. Hard Drive Backup (2nd backup)

When I get home from a shoot, the first task is to pop the memory card into the memory card reader on my computer and import a copy of all the images into Adobe Lightroom. As discussed earlier, use the “copy” not “move” option.

importing images to Lightroom
When importing images to Lightroom use the “copy” option, not “move”.

I use a USB 3.0 Memory Card Reader to do this. It plugs straight into my computer’s USB port and can read micro SD and SD.

All the images are copied into a folder on my NAS Drive.

The NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive I use is the DS215, by Synology. This is an older model now. The Synology DS220 is very similar.

There are bays for two separate drives which you can configure as RAID (redundant array of independent disks). This means that the system is running two drives at the same time and if one of them goes down, and this has happened before, I won’t lose anything.

When this happened last time, I simply purchased a new hard drive (same model and make), pulled out the broken hard drive and put the new drive in. Problem solved!

Step 3. Cloud Backup for Images & Video (3rd backup)

So now you have a copy of the images on the memory card and a NAS drive which has redundancy built-in.

Step 3 of my backup workflow is to use cloud storage. I use Google Drive but you could use Dropbox or Onedrive or any of the dozens of cloud storage solutions available. They are inexpensive these days and you can store a very large amount of files. I have several terabytes stored.

To save time, I have automated this step too. I do this step at the same time as I do the Lightroom import.

When you import images or video into Lightroom, there is an option to “Make a Second Copy”.

Make a Second Copy
Select “Make a Second Copy To”. This will make another copy. I send this to a folder that is hooked up to my Google Drive. This means it automatically uploads to the cloud.

This option will allow you to select a folder elsewhere on your computer and copy the images to this folder too.

In my case, I’ve set this to make the second copy of the images into a folder on Google Drive. This folder also happens to be on my PC hard drive and not the NAS drive. This means I have an additional copy of the images or video on my PC and another copy uploading automatically to cloud storage.

Now you have four copies of your media. You have the memory card, a copy on your NAS drive (with redundancy), a copy on your computer’s hard drive and a copy in the cloud. But let’s not stop there.

What if You Don’t Want to Use Cloud Backup?

Instead of making the second copy to a cloud folder, you could also plug in a USB stick or external drive and make a copy here and put that away in a secure place offsite.

The cloud backup though is what makes this backup workflow so powerful. It’s an automated offsite backup so in the event your house burns done, you’d still be OK.

But Isn’t Cloud Backup for RAW Images or Video Slow?

I used to manually backup all my images. The internet was slow then. It’s fast now.

I’ve found it’s certainly worth paying extra to have a faster internet connection. My internet connection for uploading is currently around 40 megabits a second. I can come home from a shoot and I’m able to upload all my images to Google Drive very quickly. It takes less than two hours to upload 10-20 gigs of files.

Since these are just a backup, I’ll go through this cloud storage every once and a while to delete old files so I’m not storing too much. I do this well after the job is delivered to the client.

Having this backup means that if I’ve lost the memory card, if my house burns down and destroys my computer, or if something happens to both my NAS drive, computer and memory card at one time, all is not lost.

Sure, it’s unlikely all that would happen but, if it did, I’d still be able to go to the cloud and grab the raw files.

Step 4. Backup Photos to an External Hard Drive (the 5th and final backup)

We have the images on the memory card, we have them saved on the NAS drive with RAID, we have another copy on our local PC (or MAC) and we have them on the Google Drive cloud storage but we aren’t done yet!

The final step is one that I do less often than I should and that is putting the images onto an external hard drive.

I regularly (one every couple of weeks) transfer all the images I’ve shot in the last 12 months to an external hard drive. You can plug this in via USB.

I use free synchronizing software, Free File Sync that allows me to sync up between my NAS drive and the external hard drive. The software compares what’s on the external drive and the NAS drive and also checks for any updates to the files. It copies any missing files or any files that have changed since the last backup.

The USB hard drive is then stored, separate from my computer, in a fire-proof safe.

You could use the WD 12TB Elements External Desktop Hard Drive

or the Seagate Portable 2TB External Hard Drive


Part of being a professional photographer is protecting the work. You owe it to your client and to yourself to make sure that you have backups in place. And that means integrating a backup system into your workflow.

You might not have the ability to store your files on a NAS drive but take what steps you can.

At least store your memory cards in a safe place (away from your computer) and upload the files to cloud storage like Google Drive or make a backup to an external hard drive.

Automated Backup Workflow for Photographers

Recommended Products

Pelican 915 Memory Card Holder

UGREEN USB 3.0 SD Memory Card Reader

NAS Drive – Synology DS220

WD Desktop 12TB External Hard Drive

Seagate Portable USB 3.0 2TB Hard Drive

Further reading:

Real Estate Photography Editing Lightroom Workflow Tutorial

Best Lens For Product Photography Recommended by a Pro Photographer

How To Install Pixieset Lightroom Plugin (And How To Use It)

Automated Photo Backup Tutorial for Photographers and Videographers