A devastating loss of images can happen to any photographer, and from what I’ve learned now, at any time - don't let the worst of it happen to you

What happened?

It was all going smoothly; I liked to think I had a pretty robust system for backing up my images which had worked for me for years; in theory, everything should have been backed up on two separate hard drives, so if one fails, I’d have another to fall back on. It worked in theory, but I’d occasionally slipped and hadn’t backed up as much as I was supposed to - and it eventually hit me at the weekend.

I was working through my Lightroom Catalog, where I had my external drive plugged in to import images. And unfortunately, during the import process, the hard drive disconnected. This had happened to me a couple of times before without an issue, so while it was frustrating, I wasn’t concerned. Well, not until I tried to plug in my hard drive again and found that my Mac didn’t recognise it. Cue a frantic attempt to connect it in all ways I thought might work, i.e. trying a different computer, changing the port and cable, restarting the computer - nothing worked.

What then followed were hours of horror, realising that I’d potentially lost thousands of images. I dived back into my other hard drives to see what I had backed up as part of my plan - luckily, I found that the majority of images were backed up on my other hard drive, but there was a gap of several months, including my most recent work - which has been lost.

Most are snapshots, but still my photos and memories from trips I've taken. Unfortunately, I’ve also lost the originals of some of the best images from my most recent work too, that’s even harder to stomach.

The dreaded 'File could not be found' notification in Lightroom

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What am I doing now?

Following this horror crash of a hard drive, I’ve now invested in uploading my images to the cloud, which I should have done years ago. It’s added to the cost of my hobby, but it’s worth it; I’ve learned now that hard drives can fail when you least expect it, and no matter how much of a backup plan you have, you can make mistakes with catastrophic losses. I'm also going to try and recover some of the images from the failed hard drive, however, there's no guarantee it'll work - it can be very costly too.

I’ll still likely use hard drives for my day-to-day work with my photos, but knowing they are backed up to the cloud will be hugely reassuring. And as a plus, too, you can access them from anywhere, which is ideal if you travel a lot and want to access your images while you’re away.

I'm now taking the time to back up all of my images to cloud storage - so I know if my hard drives fail again, there's an additional copy of my photos safely stored


The moral of the story

If not, a case of if your hard drive fails, much more when your hard drive fails. Always have a solid backup plan, don’t take your photos and storage solutions for granted (like I did), and take the time to back up your images regularly - embed backing up naturally into your workflow. While my incident was unfortunate, I couldn’t imagine a scenario where I’d lost photos for a customer - that would be far worse.

"I couldn’t imagine a scenario where I’d lost photos for a customer - that would be far worse."
Further reading:

We have some dedicated guide on Focus with tips on how you can best back up your work and organise your photos, see below:

- The best places (and ways) to store your photos
- Expert tips for organising your photos
- How to use the Lightroom Catalog system