The Aspiring Photographer Part 4 | Storage Systems and Workflows for Your Photography

Hard drives, cloud storage, best practices for how to secure your digital files, my personal backup systems and the un-sexy world of digital archives. This part is definitely full of concepts that make creatives nervous, but it’s better to realize you’re unprepared beforehand than when you’re in the middle of a client project and you make a costly mistake.

So let’s get started!

If you missed the first few parts to The Aspiring Photographer Series, you can read ‘em here - Part One | Part Two | Part Three

The Aspiring Photographer Series shares advice for new photographers on storage systems and workflows for safeguarding their photos and client work

Why you need to prepare for the worst when it comes to your digital files

Client work

If you want to become a professional photographer and make this a primary gig, you’re going to be held accountable to your clients and your work. Memory cards get lost, corrupted or stolen, computers reboot and lose files, a client asks for a reprint of a photograph from 3 years ago - these things alllll happen (really). If you’re working with clients, you need to have a thorough and sturdy back up system for the duration of your business or you’re going to run into trouble.


Similar to above - things will happen to your photographs on one of your storage systems and if you’re in the wedding game that can be a real headache. There’s so many stories of people being taken to court over losing photographs of the first dance, or having their memory card corrupt and lose all the getting ready photos. Even if you’re not doing weddings, you’ll want to have a good back up system to better safeguard you from future liabilities - imagine dropping your laptop as you’re on your way to meet your client and losing everything. Wouldn’t be a problem if you had more than one back up. ;)

In summary - Storage is cheap. Losing a client project is not.

Best Practices & Workflows for Photo Storage

I always find it helpful to hear the systems of other photographers to get an idea of what could work for me, so here’s a quick overview of my workflow with client sessions.

During the Photography Session

I record on dual memory cards in my Canon 5D Mark IV. Most professional grade cameras have dual memory card slots so you should absolutely use them - again, because memory cards are cheap and losing a client isn’t. Once the session is done and I’m heading to the studio, I leave one of the memory cards in my camera and put one in my pocket in a water resistant case, just for extra safekeeping!

I use the Beeway Water Resistant Memory Card Holder (affiliate link). I like it because it's sturdy, holds 9 memory cards (both CF and SD) and has a fun keychain!

The best workflow advice I can give any aspiring photographer is don’t delete the photos or overwrite until you deliver the final product. I’ve heard so many horror stories of photographers overwriting the SD cards they used to shoot a session because they had already uploaded the photos to Lightroom or saved them onto their computer hard drive, then somehow those photos go missing and they’ve already formatted the memory card to shoot another session.

My personal belief is that you shouldn’t delete the photos from your memory card until you’ve delivered the final product - memory cards are not that expensive and having excessive backups is a good habit to get into.

After the Session


Once I’m back in the studio I back up all of the photos immediately onto my desktop computer no matter how sleepy I am or how late it is. There’s too much possibility for forgetting about the photos until tomorrow morning when you have your next session and then overwriting on the memory card or formatting on accident.

External Hard Drives

After I back up on my computer, I back up to two external hard drives. I’ve used Seagate and WD drives and have no real preference between the two - I would just say to get a solid state drive (SSD) for at least one of the two. The reason I recommend two external drives for your photography back ups because if one fails then you still have the other - sensing a theme here? Having multiple forms of back up each step of the way is ideal because weird things happen that you can’t predict and you want to be as prepared as possible.

Here are some of the external hard drives I’ve used (affiliate links).

Online storage systems

I’ll admit that this is an area I haven’t delved as much into as I could - I’ve used my Google Drive account from college that’s unlimited since I graduated and haven’t really needed to upgrade yet (thanks SAIC). I have dabbled recently with Backblaze and like it, so we’ll see how that goes...

The reason for a cloud storage in addition to your two external hard drives in addition to your computer storage is because you want to be as repetitive and thorough as possible. Having multiple physical back ups is great, but adding in a cloud back up is even better because what if your house floods, or catches on fire, or flips upside down… You’ll want some of your storage to not all be in the same physical location, feel me?

This is meant to get you thinking about how secure your storage systems are so that you can better protect yourself from liability, safeguard your client work for the long haul, and feel confident that your files are there waiting for you. So there you go, the long and the short of storage systems and workflows for your photography back ups!


Homework: Back up your photos. Like, right now.

Questions? Drop ‘em below and I’ll do my best to answer!

Katharine Hannah

Katharine’s work has graced the walls of institutions such as The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Harold Washington Library of Chicago, and local galleries such as Dreambox Gallery, Siragus Gallery and Blick Art Materials. She has also been featured on websites such as the Huffington Post, Phlearn, Fstoppers, Tigress Magazine for Girls, Bitchtopia, and Golden Boy Press.

In addition to photography, Katharine has been a mentor and educator in the arts since 2013. She has worked with students in various organizations and projects over the last two years, including Hive Chicago’s PROjectUS initiative and Digital Youth Network’s Digital Diva’s and Chicago City of Learning programs.