As the busy season opens up again for photographers with more weddings and events, it’s a perfect time to revisit your data management workflow to make sure the files you capture stay safe (and saved). Without a proper system in place, it’s not a matter of if, but when are you going to lose your files. In this video/article, we’re going to walk you through our 3-2-1 workflow in detail to ensure you never lose your client’s photos, ever.

We’ve teamed up with GNARBOX to give away a GNARBOX 2.0 SSD (1TB) + (2) Extra Batteries. Find more details at the end of the article.

Video: The Ultimate 3-2-1 Workflow Guide with the GNARBOX 2.0

What Is a 3-2-1 Workflow?

You may or may not have heard of a 3-2-1 workflow before. If you haven’t, then today should mark the day you officially look into updating your data management workflow. Before we jump into each section of a 3-2-1 workflow, here’s a quick overview of each of the workflow’s three parts:

  • 3 Copies of the Source File
  • 2 Backups to Local Drives
  • 1 Off-site Copy via the Cloud

Okay, let’s dive in.

Step 1. Create 3 On-site Backups

As a wedding and portrait photographer, I spend most of my time on-location at destinations away from the studio. Because of this, it’s important to have a dependable, portable system in place to keep from losing files.

Dual Card Slot Cameras

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For my team, it’s a must to shoot with cameras equipped with dual card slots. This allows for an immediate back-up of the photos in case one of the memory cards fail. Always go into your menu before a shoot and make sure the record function is set to record to multiple cards. You can have two memory cards in the camera and still accidentally record to only one card.

When it comes to deciding which memory cards to use, we’ve found Sandisk Extreme Pro memory cards to be the most reliable with the fewest incidents of failure and data loss, and they’re also cost effective in comparison to other brands.

I like to use the SD card (rather than the CF card on a Canon 5D Mark IV) as the primary card so that any ratings or other info I apply to my images in-camera will be applied to the SD card, which will then be backed up and used in our workflow. As cameras continue to evolve and use dual SD cards or other formats, it won’t necessarily matter which card you choose.

It’s also important to use cards with enough memory to get through an entire shoot in order to avoid having to remove and possibly misplace any cards. A 256GB primary and secondary card system will get you through most weddings and similar-sized events. Some may argue that using multiple cards throughout the day adds a safety buffer in case one of the cards fails or gets lost or stolen, but the fact is removing a card in the first place increases the risk of those things happening. On the other hand, if you keep your cards in the camera, you only need to focus on keeping your camera with you at all times. That said, if budget is a concern for selecting your cards, you can compromise on the backup card and use smaller capacity, lower price cards, and swap those out throughout the day. Still, go with a larger capacity primary card and leave it in your camera.

Finally, do not format the cards until you’ve confirmed that your images are backed up via the following steps. If you operate a multi-shooter studio, allow only one person the ability to format all cards. The data management person should verify the following data points as part of a regular workflow. Having one person in charge lowers the risk of mistakenly formatting cards before they’ve been adequately backed up.


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The two memory cards in our dual slot cameras give us two on-site backups, but we still need one more, and that’s where the GNARBOX 2.0 comes into the workflow. The GNARBOX 2.0 serves as a pocket-sized computer and hard drive. It also happens to be weatherproof, shock-resistant, and downright rugged. Even better still, backing up with the GNARBOX 2.0 is fast and easy.

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All you need to do is load the primary SD card (to preserve image ratings, in case you have any) into the GNARBOX 2.0 and the unit will backup and verify all of the images. If you’re using a different type of card (not an SD card), you can use one of the two USB-C ports to connect an adapter.

You can also attach a second SSD drive (like the Sandisk 2TB SSD Drive) directly to the GNARBOX and then select “Multi-Destination Copy” option to back up the photos to two drives simultaneously. This will give you yet another backup you can use to import your images into Lightroom and continue your workflow. This is a big deal because, previously, we used to have to bring an iPad or laptop to each job in order to get to a third on-site backup. That means carrying and managing extra gear that can break or get lost or stolen, not mention the hassle of getting out the laptop, plugging in a card reader, and uploading cards one at a time. While the GNARBOX does represent a bit of an investment, it offers a huge return in ease of use and quality of life. If the GNARBOX 2.0 is outside of your budget, simply replace this step with whatever external storage device you have available.

3 2 1 workflow guide backup selects app

As an added bonus, if you have downtime during your shoot or event, you can pair the GNARBOX 2.0 with the Selects App on your mobile device and you can cull, rate and even keyword files to get ahead in your workflow while you’re still on location. You can also start sharing your files to a cloud drive. This is an amazing tool, especially when vendors want images right away for sharing through social media and other channels.

[Related Reading: GNARBOX 2.6 Review Update | A Rugged and Improved Solution for On-Site Photo and Video Backups and Editing]

Step 2. Create a Working Drive Backup (Optional)

I’ve listed this step is optional because you may have already created a working drive backup as described in step one with the GNARBOX 2.0 “Multi-Destination Copy” function. If you haven’t already done this, then upload a separate external drive and upload all of your data in a single transfer.

Step 3. Backup to a NAS

This step completes our “2” in the 3-2-1 workflow. Once the images have been backed up on a working SSD or a local computer hard drive, we can then create a backup on a NAS device. Your needs may vary, depending on your workload, but our favorite off-the-shelf solution comes from Synology and will work with studios of most (if not all) sizes.

Set your NAS to “mirror data,” which means when you copy to the NAS device you’ll have a redundant backup built into it. You can also use the GNARBOX 2.0 to backup from the GNARBOX root directory to your NAS rather than having to go through your local hard drive. Just connect and backup via wi-fi or ethernet from the GNARBOX to the NAS. You can use “User Defined Folder Presets” to allow you to skip the computer entirely; just use the GNARBOX’s screen and buttons to backup directly to the NAS. You can find more information on this step here.

Step 4. Backup to Cloud or Off-site Storage

To complete our 3-2-1 workflow, we need an off-site backup. You can upload your original files to a cloud service of your choice. This step can prove time-consuming and can be completed even if you’ve already begun editing your catalog of images.

If you have a quick turnaround time (say one week vs. months), I would suggest a second option. Use a GNARBOX or other SSD solutions as your off-site backup. Leave the images on one of these devices and separate it from your office backups.

[Related Reading: Synology DS1618+ 6 Bay NAS Review | Professional Grade Backup Solutions Have Never Been This Easy]

Step 5. Archive the Files

Here’s a quick look at my studio’s archival process:

  • Create a final folder set to “00_Originals” to house all of the “keeper” RAW files (those not rejected during the culling process)
  • Create a “01_Print” folder to store all final images that are to be exported for print use
  • Create a “02_Web” folder to keep all of your watermarked, web-sized files for sharing on your blog or social media platforms
  • Create a “03_Rejected” folder to save jpegs of your rejected images in case the need arises to access these files
  • Delete the RAW rejects from the catalog
  • The main folder should be titled as follows: MM-DD-YY_Name_Description

At this point, we can begin two transfers of the final, ready-to-be archived project. One copy goes to the cloud for off-site storage, and another copy goes to our NAS for completed projects. The NAS copy remains readily available for the next 12-24 months in case we need it. We’ve found that after the images are delivered, 12 months on the NAS is usually enough time. After that, we prep the files as jpegs for longterm archives via external hard drives. If you’ve already created a cloud backup in step four above, you can go back and delete THAT backup after the final archived project has been uploaded. This will help free up some of your cloud storage.


I hope this video/article on the ultimate 3-2-1 workflow guide helps you to create an efficient, bulletproof data management workflow. Here’s a quick recap of the steps we covered above:

  • Create 3 On-site Backups
  • Create a Working Drive Backup
  • Backup to a NAS
  • Backup to Cloud or Off-site Storage
  • Archive the Files

We highlighted the GNARBOX 2.0 because it’s what we use in our actual studio workflow and it simplifies the 3-2-1 workflow. If you don’t have this option, you can replace it with the gear and tools you have available, whether that be a laptop or some other device. The important thing is that you properly back up your files so that you never have to face your client with the devastating news that you lost their photos.

Enter to win a GNARBOX 2.0 SSD (1TB) + 2 Extra Batteries

We’ve teamed up with GNARBOX to offer one lucky winner an incredible storage solution! You can enter using the widget below or by clicking this link. There are a total of 4 ways to enter and each entrant can gain up to 15 entries if you complete all of the entry methods. Giveaway ends October 16th, 2020.

GNARBOX Giveaway 2020

Good luck!