Protecting your external hard drives

If you’re dealing with photos, videos and audio on a regular basis, you probably know by now that you need to back up everything you’re working on. We’ve all heard horror stories of someone losing months of footage because their hard drive crashed. You may even have experienced this yourself!

Make multiple copies

When you are working on a project, you should save it in at least two different locations (your computer’s hard drive and an external hard drive, for example), because you never know when technology is going to fail you (or be stolen from you, or get dropped). You don’t want to lose six months worth of footage and hard work just because you didn’t take the time to back up!

When you’re done with a published project you may think you don’t need to take as many precautions, but you do. Someone may ask you for the raw file of a photo so they can check the metadata. Someday, you may work on a project where footage you took ten years ago will come in handy.

Keep them in separate locations

Have your projects saved on at least two different hard drives, and store the hard drives in different physical locations; not your bedroom and your living room, but two different buildings. Some bigger projects are saved in three different locations (sometimes each of them in a different state or country). Some photographers put a hard drive in a safe at a bank. This may be overkill for you, but it’s something to think about.


Keeping your drive in a padded case can prevent dust from getting inside and can help protect the drive when you’re traveling with it. However, don’t use the drive inside the case, because it can overheat. Treat your drive just like any other piece of electronic equipment and protect it from extreme heat or cold.

Working from a hard drive

Some visual journalists like to keep a smaller drive for carrying files that are currently in use, and bigger drives for archives or projects that are finished. The files from the working project can be backed up to a bigger drive often. If the only files on a working drive are current, you’ll lose less if that drive is lost or damaged.

Full hard drives

When a hard drive is full and you’re not working from it anymore, the tendency can be to forget about it, but that can be dangerous.

Hard drives should be used often so the motors inside them don’t die. There’s not a lot of information about the longevity of external hard drives.  The online backup company Backblaze published a study in 2013 on the longevity of internal hard drives: turns out, 80% of hard drives make it to four years.

It’s safer to assume that your external hard drives will last less time, as they are subject to more shocks and transfers.  Make sure to plug them in and run them on a regular basis and to back them up on newer hard drives every two to three years.


In some situations, you may need to protect your hard drives with a password. When you’re formatting your drive, there is an option to encrypt it.

Additional backup

Another option is to back up everything in the cloud too, if you’re not dealing with a sensitive subject. Dropbox or Backblaze or other cloud services offer storage, and they take care of the server maintenance.  Be aware that if you’re shooting video, your footage will be larger files and it could be expensive to store it all online.

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