Posted by: kerryl29 | March 2, 2020

Just Do It

I’ll get back to the Hawaii chronology next time.  What follows is a public service announcement.

Oneida Falls, Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania

I don’t believe I’ve ever discussed the subject of image (and other) file backups on this blog prior to now, largely because the boredom typically induced when reading about the subject is only surpassed by the boredom induced when writing about the subject.  But the truth is, sleep producing or not, it’s a subject of critical importance, as I was reminded just a few days ago.  (More on that below.)

Beauty Creek Reflecting Pool at Sunset, Jasper National Park, Alberta

A bit more than five years ago I put together an article on image organization that was posted on the now dormant 1001 Scribbles, when I had a guest blogging gig there.  The main thrust of the piece wasn’t backups but I did broach the subject.  To wit:

Nothing, in my opinion, is more important when it comes to image management than establishing and religiously following a well thought-out, comprehensive backup plan.

I have four—yes, four—full copies of all of my image files, RAW and processed, arrayed across a total of six dedicated external hard drives.  Two full sets of files are kept in each of two places, roughly 1100 miles apart.  If you think this is extreme…well, it may be, but I’d much rather be safe than sorry.  I back up my files after literally every image editing session.

As always, you don’t necessarily have to do what I’m doing, but what you should do at a minimum:

  • Back up your files regularly.  Here, I don’t think I’m being extreme at all. Every time you add or change a file, run a backup (assuming you don’t have a system that includes backing up in real time).
  • Don’t settle for any fewer than three backups.  Why isn’t two enough?  Let’s say that something goes wrong during a backup. Your original file set can be compromised and so can your backup.  In one miserable moment, all of your images could go poof.
  • If at all possible, keep at least one backup in a remote location.  That way, if something catastrophic happens to one place (a house catching fire, for instance) you’ll still have a full copy of your images.  The “remote location” doesn’t have to be 1100 miles away (I only do that because I split my time naturally between two places), but it should be somewhere other than the same structure.  A number of people I know keep a backup hard drive in a safety deposit box at a bank.

Waterfall, Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

I stand by all of the above; it remains good, solid advice.  And why am I bringing it up again now?  No, I didn’t have a recent event involving the loss of image files…but I did have the next worst thing.

Lily Meadow, Obstruction Point Road, Olympic National Park, Washington

I still use Adobe Bridge CS6 for image organization.  Included in my workflow is an extensive keyword list that I’ve built up over the span of something like 12 years.  The list is dynamic; I add to it regularly as I visit new locations–and occasionally old ones as well.  A few nights ago, while processing and keywording images from my trip to Big Bend National Park a few weeks ago, a big chunk of that list was accidentally deleted.  I lost the entire part of my list dealing with general image subjects, a component that included a few hundred keywords and one that I use for every image I process.

Fern Forest, Riverbend Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

I was positive that the file that contains the keyword list was among those files being copied every time I performed a backup (which is done after every processing session I conduct).  Guess what?  I was wrong.  The file wasn’t backed up anywhere.  This meant that I had to recreate the subject part of the list, which was a major pain.  I was able to find a freeware program that would extract the keywords from every file, but they were in a massive, redundant jumble.  I spent at least 10 hours over parts of two days parsing that file to recreate the full list.  It could have been much, much worse, of course, but it was plenty bad enough.

White Trillium, Cove Hardwood Nature Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

I have now made certain that the keyword list file is regularly being backed up (multiple times) with each editing session.  Do yourself a favor and learn from my mistake.  Make sure that you back up every file that is important to you–not just photography-related files:  everything.  Don’t wait for something to go wrong to take action.  Doing so would be like purchasing homeowner’s insurance after your house burns down.

Koyukuk River at Sunset, Brooks Range, Alaska



  1. Definitely could have been much worse. Glad you were able to find a tool that helped with the recovery.

    • Thanks. Yes, it most certainly could have been worse. The *entire* list might have been lost, for instance. Ugh…

  2. As someone who is still putting things back together after a motherboard died….this is SOOOOOOO important! I do need to get better at naming my files though.

    • I may produce a post in the near future that deals more broadly with the topic of image management…

  3. You have just reminded me, I have some to do. Thank you. Good to hear you were able to salvage a challenging situation.

    • Thanks very much!

  4. Do you have a recommended backup system for keyword / category tags? I currently use 2020 elements and not sure how to even go about this. I just built this computer/software/categories from scratch in the last nine months, and that has been on my list of ‘find out how to do it and get it done’.

    • By “elements,” I’m working under the assumption that you’re talking about Photoshop Elements. I will perfectly honest–I had no idea that Adobe was still producing that program. I’d have guessed that they’d have more or less moved everyone they could over to Lightroom CC a few years ago.

      I’ve never used any version of PS Elements, so I don’t know, for instance, if there’s a command built into one of the program’s menus that would allow you to backup the file containing the keywords and categories. Knowing Adobe, there probably isn’t (though there absolutely should be). There may, on the other hand, be some way to *export* that information to a text file which could then be imported seamlessly, if needed, at some later date.

      **UPDATE** I did a search and found the following link:

      Here’s the text from the key part:

      Import and export keyword tags

      Importing and exporting keyword tags can help you share media files with others of similar interests. For example, suppose that you have created a set of keyword tags for media files related to your hobby. If you save your tag set, your friends with the same hobby can import those tags into their Keyword Tags panel and apply them to their own media files. Alternately, you can import your friends’ keyword tags and apply them to your own media files. You and your friends could then use keywords you have in common to search for media files related to the hobby you share.
      Export keyword tags

      You can save your current set of keyword tags, including the entire hierarchy of categories and subcategories in your Keyword Tags panel and the tag icons, so that you can share it with someone else. The exported tags file is saved as an XML (Extensible Markup Language) file.


      Exporting tags does not export the photos associated with the tags.

      Click the New button in the Keyword Tags panel and choose Save Keyword Tags To File.
      Choose one of the following and click OK:

      Export All Keyword Tags

      Creates a file that contains all of the keyword tags and tag hierarchy.

      Export Specified Keyword Tags

      Creates a file that contains all keyword tags and the tag hierarchy of the category or subcategory you select from the list.

      In the Save Keyword Tags To File dialog box that appears, choose a location and enter a name for the file. Then click Save.

      Import keyword tags from file

      You can import an existing set of keyword tags (saved as an XML file using Save Keyword Tags To File), including the entire hierarchy of categories and subcategories and the icons.

      Keyword tags can also be imported by importing images that have other tags in them already. For example, when media files are e-mailed, exported, and edited, or tag information is added, keyword tags are attached.


      Importing keyword tags does not import the photos associated with the tags.

      In the Keyword Tags panel, click the New button and choose Import Keyword Tags From File.
      Select the XML (Extensible Markup Language) file in the Import Keyword Tags From File dialog box containing the keyword tags, categories, and subcategories, and then click Open.


      Hopefully that helps. The file this stuff is exported to will have an XML extension; exactly where it’s located in the pre-export process (you should be able to specify where the output goes in the export dialogue) is uncertain. With the regular Windows versions of Photoshop/Bridge it’s buried deep in the User/AppData folder structure and I’ll bet it is with Elements as well.

      • Elements- It’s just a cheaper version of PS. I started with it years ago, and love the editing capabilities. I’ve got lightroom room too, but never cared for it so haven’t switched, it seems so limited for what I need. But really haven’t given fair time.

        Thanks for your help… I’ll check into it. Glad to know it’s possible.

        • Oh, I’m familiar with Elements. almost 20 years ago, I had to decide whether to go with full-blown Photoshop or Elements, which was brand new at the time. I was convinced to do the former and pretty much completely lost track of the latter within a few years. I have to say, I’m really surprised that Adobe is still producing Elements, partially because they’ve clearly tried to market LR as the alternative to Photoshop and partly because Elements–as perpetual license software–obviously doesn’t fit Adobe’s hellbent subscription software model.

          In any case, thanks for bringing to my attention the fact that this software still exists and is, evidently, still being updated and supported. I still view Affinity Photo as the near-certain alternative for me if/when I abandon PS CS6, but it’s nice to know that there’s something else out there.

  5. Ooooh, I have fallen victim to the crash curse/didn’t back up before, I’m glad it wasn’t worse but I’m still sorry for the stress!

  6. I’ve had similar issues, Kerry. I now preserve all of my memory cards as well rather than re-using them. Are you familiar with Peter Krogh’s DAM system (Digital Assets Management)? I’ve used it for a while, works for me. Now I need to go back up my Bridge files 🙂

    • Hi Lynn.

      I remember “The DAM Book,” which I know is his…I think it originally was published about 15 years ago. I think I glanced at it, or read some excerpts from it, way back when. It may have influenced my own approach. Of course, there are far more tools available now than was the case back then. Regardless, as I stated in my 1001 Scribbles piece a few years ago–and as I will restate if I revisit the topic on this blog in the near future 🙂 — there are many plausible ways to go about managing one’s images; the goal goal is to figure out a system that works for *you*. Sounds as though you’ve done that. Bravo!

  7. I love the photos, especially Beauty Creek Reflecting pool because I have been there, but yuck, not fun to lose those keywords/files.Thank you for the warning.

    • Thanks very much, Jane!

  8. Beautiful pictures!!

  9. I’ve learned the hard way to always back everything up. Glad everything turned out okay!

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