Your Ultimate & Easy Photography Backup Guide: Tips for iPhone and DSLR Users

The Exposure Triangle, consisting of aperture, ISO, and shutter speed, is a well-known concept among photography enthusiasts. It is a crucial learning point for beginners and serves as the foundation for capturing star trails and light trails. However, from a hardware perspective, the three essential elements are the camera, lighting, and storage devices.

As hardware technology advances, smartphones can now replace traditional cameras, while lighting requirements depend on factors such as the camera’s aperture size and ambient light conditions. For entry-level photography enthusiasts, renting camera gear and lighting equipment can save on the cost of humidity-control materials needed for long-term storage. Similarly, professional photographers can rent high-end equipment to meet client demands. However, storage devices remain a must-have for every individual.

Whether you are an iPhone photographer, a beginner with a DSLR, or an experienced photographer, storage is a critical consideration for everyone in the photography world. After all, losing or damaging the files of your hard-earned work can be a significant setback.

1. The Importance of Backup in Photography

Do you always need to keep RAW files for backup?
For photographers capturing still images, shooting in RAW format provides more flexibility in post-processing compared to JPEG. RAW files allow for easier adjustments of color temperature and noise reduction using software like Photoshop or Lightroom. Nowadays, not only cameras but also iPhones and some Android smartphones can capture RAW files¹, preserving uncompressed data and offering more room for post-production.

However, many people may wonder if they still need to save RAW files if their photos are only intended for social media uploads. In reality, saving in RAW format is the safest choice. If no further editing is required, RAW files can be converted to JPEG for publishing and sharing. On the other hand, JPEG raster image files cannot restore the original image signal and information contained in RAW files. If you discover that the captured results are unsatisfactory when viewed on a large screen, the adjustment range for JPEG files is relatively limited.

Photography often captures fleeting moments that pass in an instant. Especially in low-light environments, saving highlight and shadow details in RAW format allows for the recovery of seemingly overexposed areas through post-processing, revealing the true appearance of the scene. Therefore, before deciding whether you need to adjust your photos, it is crucial to shoot and backup in RAW format. We can never predict how an image will be presented in different contexts. Perhaps one day you decide to showcase your work in an exhibition, which will undoubtedly differ from the compressed versions uploaded to social media platforms. In such cases, having RAW file backups becomes extremely important. While some moments and scenes only appear in our lives for a brief instant, the right photography format can recreate those precious memories.

The 3–2–1 Backup Rule
The 3–2–1 backup rule is a widely accepted best practice in digital data management. It suggests having at least three copies of your data, using two different storage media, with one copy stored off-site. This approach minimizes the risk of data loss due to hardware failure, theft, or natural disasters. As a photographer, following this rule is crucial to safeguard your valuable work.

Consider the following when implementing the 3–2–1 backup rule:

  • Keep at least three copies: One original file and two backups. Ensure your backups include all essential files, such as RAW images and XMP sidecar files containing editing metadata.
  • Use two different storage media: Diversify your backup storage to reduce the risk of simultaneous failure. Consider a combination of external hard drives, SSDs, and cloud storage.
  • Store one copy off-site: Keep one backup in a separate physical location to protect against localized disasters. Cloud storage is an excellent option for off-site backup, as it also enables easy sharing and collaboration.

Remember, effective backup means keeping your backups completely separate from your primary computer. Storing backups on different folders within the same machine or relying solely on network-attached storage (NAS) connected to your computer does not provide adequate protection against malware or system-wide failures.

2. Memory Card Choosing Guide

Which Memory Card to Pick?
If you own shooting equipment, whether it’s a drone, DSLR camera, or GoPro action camera, you must have faced the dilemma of selecting SD/microSD memory cards. What do the specifications written on the memory card packaging represent? How should photographers at each stage and users of different hardware devices choose the right memory card for themselves? Try to interpret the specifications based on the following points and select the memory card that suits you best. Not only will it be more convenient for recording and shooting, but it will also make archiving, organizing, and file management easier.
(1) Memory Card Types and Specifications
While various memory card formats like TF, MS, and even Mini SD still exist, we’ll focus on the most widely used types: SD/microSD cards and CF cards. The primary difference between Micro SD and SD (Secure Digital Memory Card) lies in their physical size, with Micro SD being a smaller version of the SD card. Many people prefer purchasing Micro SD cards, believing they can serve dual purposes with an adapter. However, mid-to-high-level photographers should be aware of potential issues caused by adapters, as file loss can be a significant setback.

CF cards, on the other hand, are used in higher-end DSLR cameras and come in different variations: CompactFlash, CFast, and CFexpress. CF cards are often compared to SSD drives due to their fast read and write speeds, as well as their lightweight and compact nature. CFexpress memory cards are further divided into Type A, Type B, and Type C, differing in their physical dimensions. When purchasing, ensure that your camera model supports the specific CFexpress type.

(2) Capacity Standards: SD, SDHC, SDXC, SDUC
The SD Association has established capacity standards, represented by the following designations:

  • SD: Up to 2GB
  • SDHC (SD High Capacity): 4GB to 32GB
  • SDXC (SD Extended Capacity): 32GB to 2TB
  • SDUC (SD Ultra Capacity): 2TB to 128TB

As photography technology advances, storage requirements lean towards higher-capacity memory cards. Most SD cards on the market today are either SDHC or SDXC, with capacities below 2GB being quite rare.

(3) App Performance Class: A1 and A2
This specification mainly defines the performance level of memory cards for smartphones. A1 represents a minimum write speed of 10MB/s, a minimum random read speed of 1500 IOPS, and a minimum random write speed of 500 IOPS. A2, on the other hand, represents a minimum write speed of 10MB/s, a minimum random read speed of 4000 IOPS, and a minimum random write speed of 2000 IOPS.

(4) Bus Speed Class: UHS-I and UHS-II
UHS-I has a theoretical maximum transfer speed of up to 104MB/s, while UHS-II can reach speeds of up to 312MB/s.

(5) Speed Class, UHS Speed Class, and Video Speed Class
Memory cards often display multiple speed classes simultaneously, such as Class 2/4/6, U1/U3, and V6/V10/V30/V60/V90, indicating the minimum write speed per second.

Furthermore, the SD Association announced the SD 9.1 memory card specification in 2023. The standard full-size SD Express card can achieve performance up to 2GB/s and incorporates a multi-stream access mechanism, along with relevant power and thermal management standards to ensure stability. This enhances the user experience when shooting 4K UHD and 8K DCI high-resolution videos. We have included this new speed class in the table below. As NAND flash memory technology continues to develop, we can expect more SD Express cards to become available for photographers, further advancing image creation and production capabilities.
Choosing the Right Card for Your Needs
After attempting to decipher the various specifications, if you still find yourself overwhelmed by the multitude of options, it’s worth taking a moment to consider your specific usage scenarios. For instance, let’s say you’re a digital camera user who primarily shoots in JPEG format, without the need for video recording or RAW image capture. Additionally, you prefer to swap between multiple memory cards for convenience. In this case, you might opt for cards with smaller capacities and invest in a separate storage device for backup purposes. This approach allows you to centralize your file management, minimizing confusion and safeguarding against the risk of losing a memory card.

  • Photography-Focused: Begin by clarifying the devices you frequently use, such as digital cameras, DSLRs, drones, or GoPro cameras. If you require long-duration video recording, select memory cards that support extended Full HD recording. Furthermore, if you intend to use the card solely in your camera and not in your smartphone, you can disregard the app performance ratings like A1 or A2, saving your budget for other priorities. Instead, focus on ensuring that the transfer speeds and capacity align with your specific needs.
  • Gaming Expansion: If you plan to use the purchased memory card in gaming consoles as well, first assess whether the console’s built-in storage capacity meets your requirements and determine the storage space needed for your desired games. Then, choose a card based on the official recommended read and write speeds. For example, Nintendo officially recommends read and write speeds between 60–95 MB/s for the Switch console. When making your selection, prioritize read speed, as it directly impacts gameplay performance, while write speed affects the time taken to download games.
  • Surveillance Recording: The primary focus for this application is 24/7 uninterrupted recording. Therefore, it’s advisable to opt for memory cards with high endurance, such as the High Endurance microSD UHS-I U3, A1, V30 128G card mentioned in the table above. These cards are suitable not only for surveillance cameras and dashcams but also for drones and GoPro cameras.

MB vs. Mb
When choosing memory cards, you may frequently encounter the specification “MB/s.” It’s important to note that MB (megabytes) is often confused with Mb (megabits). MB/s refers to megabytes per second, while Mb/s represents megabits per second. To put it simply, 1 MB/s = 8 Mb/s, as 1 byte consists of 8 bits. Keep this distinction in mind when verifying the recommended speed ratings for your camera.

3. Choosing an External SSD over NAS for Archiving

The Drawbacks of NAS for Backup
Network-Attached Storage (NAS) is a popular solution for centralized file storage and sharing. While NAS can be useful for managing large photo and video collections, it has several drawbacks when used as the sole backup solution:

  • High hidden costs: Beyond the initial hardware purchase, NAS systems require ongoing maintenance, upgrades, and security measures, which can add up over time.
  • Reliability concerns: Self-assembled NAS setups may not offer the same level of reliability as purpose-built backup solutions.
  • Security risks: NAS devices are constantly connected to the network, potentially exposing your data to security threats.

The Benefits of External SSDs
External solid-state drives (SSDs) offer several advantages over traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) and NAS systems for photo and video backup:

  • Faster transfer speeds: SSDs typically offer much faster read/write speeds compared to HDDs, making them ideal for transferring large media files.
  • Lightweight and portable: External SSDs are compact and lightweight, making them easy to carry on-the-go for on-location shoots or travel.
  • Durability: With no moving parts, SSDs are more resistant to physical shock and vibration compared to HDDs, reducing the risk of data loss due to accidental drops or rough handling.

When used as an external storage device, solid-state drives (SSDs) are generally less prone to damage compared to traditional hard disk drives (HDDs). Due to their structural differences, external SSDs exhibit higher tolerance to environmental factors than portable HDDs. HDDs primarily rely on mechanical read/write heads to read and write data on the disk surface, and these mechanical components may be damaged by impact or continuous operation, resulting in their inability to withstand environmental shocks. When choosing a hard drive to install inside a computer, HDDs may be considered due to cost considerations. However, when it comes to external storage devices, SSDs are undoubtedly the preferred choice because susceptibility to damage implies the potential loss of important data, which may require more costly efforts to recover.

Organizing Your Files on an External SSD
To make the most of your external SSD for photo and video backup, consider the following file management tips:

  • Use descriptive folder names: Organize your files into folders based on date, location, subject, or client name for easy navigation and retrieval.
  • Add text annotations: Include relevant metadata, such as captions, keywords, or editing notes, to help you quickly identify and locate specific files.
  • Keep original and edited versions: Save both the original RAW files and the edited versions (with XMP sidecar files) to preserve your creative work and enable future adjustments.

External SSDs also provide a convenient way to deliver final projects to clients, eliminating the need for slow cloud transfers or the risk of data breaches associated with online file sharing.

You don’t just have to use external SSDs for temporary file management. Using a card reader or a Hub allows you to manage SD/microSD cards directly on your computer, which is useful for post-production and file organization. Hubs also clear up USB ports so you can connect more devices, like streaming video to larger displays or charging laptops.

As a photographer, investing in reliable storage and backup solutions is just as important as choosing the right camera and lenses. By understanding the importance of RAW file preservation, following the 3–2–1 backup rule, selecting appropriate memory cards, and of course checking out Silicon Power’s Photography Solutions, you can safeguard your precious work and focus on what matters most — capturing the beauty of the world through your lens.

Look at it this way, each shutter click captures a moment frozen in time, a memory to treasure. By adopting the proper storage and backup strategy, you can keep your photographic journey going smoothly, enabling you to create, share, and enjoy your art for years to come.