How to back up your photographs in Evernote

A couple of weeks ago I described my photography backup plan and explained why I use Evernote to back up my best photographs.

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Turns out the article was more popular than I expected and a few people have asked me to expand on exactly how I store photographs in Evernote. I can understand the question. There are a few ways to do it and each behaves a bit differently, so I'll expand on the details today.

If you haven't read the previous article, I suggest you go read it for context first. I explain why I back up photographs in Evernote as one part of my overall photography backups. The gist of it is that it is not my only back up. It's not even my main back up. I use Evernote as an extra safety net for only full resolution JPEGs of my best photographs.

OK, now that you've read the why of it, here's the how.

Export high resolution JPEGs

I use Apple's Aperture, but no matter what application you use, just export full res JPEGs to a folder on your computer.

In Aperture, it's as simple as following these steps:

  1. In the Project, create a Smart Album that filters photographs to 4 Stars and above. I call the album "Backup EN".
  2. In the new album, select all photographs.
  3. Go to File > Export > Versions (or cmd-shift-E). It's important to choose Versions and not Originals. Versions will export the photographs with any adjustments and metadata you've added baked in. Originals will export the original file which doesn't include any changes you've made in Aperture. Remember Aperture is non-destructive, so your originals are always intact.
  4. In the Export window, choose "JPEG - Original Size". This will export with the default image quality of 10. You could increase it to 12, but I find 10 is good enough. You can also export as TIFF if you want. It'll give you better quality with larger file sizes. But since these are final images and won't be manipulated anymore, JPEG is good.

Of course, the originals stay in Aperture and are backed up separately (see previous article).

Store the JPEGs in Evernote

There are several ways of getting your photographs into Evernote and this is where it can get confusing. The three methods described below give you a different result, but they all get your images into Evernote, which is what you want. All examples are using a Mac, since that's what I use. I don't know if it's the same on a PC.

Option 1: Drag or add the Folder into Evernote

If you select the folder you just exported your photographs into and add it to Evernote by either dragging it or using the Add to Evernote service, you'll end up with a new note with a compressed zip file inside that includes all the photos.

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The problem with this is that you can't preview the photographs in the note without unzipping the file. Quick Look doesn't show you the contents either. Also, the note will be created in the default notebook.

Option 2: Drag or add the photographs into Evernote

If instead of importing the folder you select the photographs themselves and then drag or add to Evernote, you'll get a new note for each photograph with the filename as the title.

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With this method you can see the photographs, but I think it's a bit messy and it'll be a pain to find them all later unless you tag or re-title them. You can always merge them into a single note once in Evernote, but it's an extra step. And the notes will all be in the default notebook as well.

Option 3: Create a new Note, then attach the photographs

If you create a new note in Evernote first, you can create it in the appropriate notebook and stack, and give it the title you want. In my case I use the exact same as the Project name in Aperture. Then either drag the images in or click the Attach button and attach them that way.

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This will create a note with all the images in it. You can now see them all and they're all tidy in the same place. One note per project. I use this method.

Conclusion

The method you choose will depend on how you use Evernote and what a "note" means to you. There's no right answer.

Personally, I like to map a note in Evernote to a project in Aperture and I want to be able to browse through my Evernote library and see the photographs in each note. You could probably save some space by compressing the photographs, but I don't think it's worth it.

If you want to learn or get better at Evernote, I suggest you get Brett Kelly's ebook, Evernote Essentials. It will save you a ton of time and give you great ideas to get the most out of Evernote. I believe it's a good investment. You can find my review of the ebook here.

Why I back up my best photographs in Evernote

You can never have too many backups of your most important or precious files. In my case, my best photographs are both important and precious, so I back them up multiple times. One of them is in Evernote.

Every time I mention this, people look at me like I'm insane. You're probably thinking that right now!

Let me explain my overall photography backup programme first so I can put the backing up photographs in Evernote idea into context.

Evernote Photography Backup Notebook

Evernote Photography Backup Notebook

I organise and keep all my photographs in Aperture as managed files. This means each Aperture Library is a single special type of folder called a package that behaves like a self-contained entity. It includes everything in one place. I like the managed approach because I never have to worry about where my original photographs are.

I have 2 Aperture libraries: a Main library in an external Thunderbolt drive that has everything, and a Mobile library in my retina MacBook Pro's internal drive that has only a copy of the projects I'm actively working on. I merge the mobile one back to the main one regularly.

In the external Thunderbolt drive I keep my main Aperture library and my main Final Cut Pro library. Nothing else.

This is my overall backup strategy:

  1. Time Machine: One at home via Wi-Fi and one at work via USB. They back up both my rMBP and external Thunderbolt drive, which includes all my photographs.
  2. Backblaze: Continuously backing up both rMBP and Thunderbolt drive to the cloud.
  3. Clone: About once a week I clone my rMBP using Carbon Copy Cloner. This only backs up my Mobile library.
  4. Aperture Vaults: This is my primary photo backup. An additional external USB drive holds Vaults for both Main and Mobile libraries. Vaults are one of the great things about managed files in Aperture.

My photographs live in at least 5 places: the original drives, two Time Machine drives, the Backblaze cloud, and the external drive with the Aperture Vaults. I think I'm covered.

So where does Evernote fit in?

Aperture is non-destructive. Many photographs don't exist in their final form since Aperture doesn't touch the original files. Any adjustments you make in Aperture are just instructions that Aperture interprets. This is good because it preserves your originals intact, you can further adjust the photos later, and you don't fill up your drive with duplicate files.

However, I still like to keep an extra copy of my very best images in a final "rendered" format. Full size JPEGs are good quality even for print and will be readable for a long time by pretty much any computer.

I used to export these to MobileMe Galleries back in the day. Now I store them in Evernote.

Once I'm done with a project in Aperture, I filter out the 4 and 5 star images and export JPEGs in their original resolution. In Evernote, I create a new note for each project with the same title as in Aperture and I add all the JPEGs to it. All these photo backup notes are then stored in a dedicated stack called "Photography Backups (JPEGs)".

UPDATE: Several readers asked me to expand on how I put the photos into Evernote, so I wrote a follow up explaining it.

Backing up my best photographs in Evernote is really just in case the worst happens. I don't think I'll ever need them, but it helps me sleep better at night.

If you want to learn or get better at Evernote, I suggest you get Brett Kelly's ebook, Evernote Essentials. It will save you a ton of time and give you great ideas to get the most out of Evernote. I believe it's a good investment. You can find my review of the ebook here.

My current data backup strategy

Over the years I've had my share of hard drives fail. I've lost a few files that I wish I'd backed up, and I'm sure I've lost many more that I don't remember but would be very happy if I suddenly found them. Basically, I don't know what I've lost.

So I'm slightly obsessed with my data backup strategy.

At the moment, I have 3 computers:

  1. A MacBook Pro 15 is my "Main" computer. It's a 2 year old MacBook that I carry between work and home on an almost daily basis. It holds my personal iTunes Library, my Aperture Library, and all my documents.
  2. A 5 year old MacBook Pro 17 serves as my "home" computer when I leave the other one at work. Personal documents are kept in sync via Dropbox. It doesn't have a copy of my iTunes or Aperture Libraries, nor anything I need backed up that's not in Dropbox. I also use this one for testing new applications and fiddling with the system. I like to keep my main computer as clean and organised as possible. I'm slightly OCD when it comes to my computers.
  3. An old iMac is the family computer and the media server. It has the home iTunes Library connected to the Apple TV 2.

I've been thinking about my data backup strategy for a while now. I've considered cloud options like Mozy and Crashplan, but haven't taken the plunge. I'm not convinced they're ready for prime time.

Dropbox covers most of my data backup needs for documents. It's my iTunes and Aperture libraries that could use a robust cloud backup solution.

Hopefully iCloud will deal with backing up my music and apps, but not sure how it'll work with video, audio books, and non iBookstore books like pdf and converted ePub files.

I also still have no good solution to backup my photographs. My Aperture Library is currently 220 GB and growing fast. I use MobileMe's Gallery to backup the 5 star photographs, but that's sadly going away.

Basically, I don't think I have the perfect backup solution yet. Here's what my current data backup strategy is:

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My main MacBook Pro gets backed up twice:

  • Time Machine kept offsite. This handles pretty much everything that's irreplaceable.
  • Weekly Clone. 

Plus I keep an extra backup of my Aperture Library as an Aperture Vault in a third drive. My photos is what I absolutely do not want to ever loose.

The iMac gets:

  • Time Machine local backup.

The video in the iMac's iTunes Library is duplicated in an external drive, just in case.

The "testing" MacBook Pro doesn't get a backup. The only important documents in it are in Dropbox, and that's already backed up several times with the above set up.

Seems really convoluted now that I write it. Maybe it's time to re-think it. I did ask myself if Time Machine was still necessary or Dropbox had made it irrelevant. We'll see how it goes.

Has Dropbox made Time Machine irrelevant?

Backing up your data is important. Most nerds know that, even if we don’t do it as often as we should. The problem is that “normal” people (ie. my Mom) don’t know that… until it’s too late.

In my opinion, that’s what makes Time Machine so cool.

Time Machine just made it easy for everyone to back up. The instructions area as simple as “Mom, just plug in any drive and click ‘yes’ when it asks you if you want to use it to back up, then forget about it”.

My back up strategy is slightly more complex than that, but not by much. Currently, my main machine is a MacBook Pro with a 500GB drive. That’s enough to hold all my data (except for movies and TV shows, which are managed separately).1

So, I keep all my stuff in my MacBook Pro, which gets backed up to 3 drives:

  1. Clone Drive: A weekly clone using Carbon Copy Cloner and kept at home.
  2. Time Machine: Backing up whenever I’m at my desk and kept at work.
  3. Media Drive: Additional backup of my Aperture Library (as a Vault) and iTunes Library.

The weekly clone lets me get back up and running instantly if my internal drive ever fails. The Time Machine backs up files while in between clones and gives me access to previous versions of files. The Aperture Library back up is because I love my photographs and like the peace of mind of having multiple backups. Same with my iTunes Library.

I’ve been using this setup for a long time. Luckily, I haven’t had a drive fail yet, although I have had to use Time Machine to get to older versions and deleted files a few times. It’s worked great so far.

However, I now have a 50MB Dropbox 2 account where I keep all my documents. Since Dropbox backs up everything to the cloud and has the “back in time” feature, I’ve been wondering if Time Machine is still necessary.

I’m thinking a weekly clone and Dropbox would be enough.3

That would effectively mean:

  • Documents: exist in 3 places (MacBook Pro, Clone Drive, Dropbox Servers)
  • Photos, Music/Videos: exist in 3 places (MacBook Pro, Clone Drive, 3rd Drive)
  • Personal data & settings: exist in 3 places (MacBook Pro, Clone Drive, MobileMe4)
  • email: since I use IMAP for all my email accounts through Google Apps and MobileMe, it’s backed up on the servers anyway.
  • Applications: exist it 2 places (MacBook Pro and Clone Drive). I don’t need multiple back ups of these as I can always re-install if necessary.

And if I move my Clone Drive to live at work, I can still have data in multiple places (home, work, cloud).

I’m not sure yet if I’ll ditch Time Machine though as I may be missing something here, but it sure seems to me that Dropbox has really made Time Machine irrelevant. At least in my case.


  1. They’re on an iMac that serves as a media centre and family computer. ?
  2. Referral link, gets you and me additional space for free. ?
  3. Plus my extra Aperture and iTunes back up, of course. ?
  4. I use MobileMe Backup to back up personal data and settings to my iDisk. ?