Get Started: Backup Your Data

At its simplest, a backup is a copy of a file, generally stored on a separate device, such that if the original file is lost, a current copy is available to take its place.

Where things get complex is in implementing a system of regularly backing-up important files so that protecting your data does not rely solely on your memory.

As one new user wrote to me recently: “Now, if I could just figure out the best way to back up everything! I’m very confused on RAID’s, back up drives etc. I am so not technical, although I am learning, surely but very slowly!”


Time Machine is an automated backup system built into all current versions of macOS. It will automatically, every hour, back up every file on your Mac, plus all actively-connected storage devices unless you specifically exclude them.

Ideally, you should point Time Machine to an external drive so that, if your internal drive crashes or loses data for any reason you can restore from that external drive.

However, if you don’t have a separate drive, Time Machine can backup your system to iCloud, or even a special section of your internal drive.

To set up Time Machine, go to Apple menu > System Settings > General > Time Machine. In the screen shot above, you can see that I back up my system every hour.

To change the backup drive location, click the plus button. This displays all drives and servers attached to your system. To add, or change, the backup location, select it from this list, then click Set Up Disk.

This panel provides options for encryption, password protection and whether to limit the amount of disk space that Time Machine uses.

CRITICAL NOTE: Whatever external drive you choose as the destination for Time Machine, it must be exclusively dedicated to Time Machine. You can’t use it for any other files. For this reason, I use a separate 2 TB drive exclusively for Time Machine.

While you can use a local server volume for this, I found it faster and easier to just attach a Samsung T7 – or T9 – SSD, tuck it behind my computer and, essentially, forget it. Time Machine handles all backups and, if I delete a file, Time Machine makes recovery very easy. This has worked great for several years.

NOTE: iCloud can also be used, however, your Internet bandwidth may make transferring lots of data very slow. Plus, extra iCloud storage requires a monthly subscription.

Click the Options menu to specify any external drives that you want to exclude from backups. Here, I’m excluding two attached SSD drives.

Click this menu at the top of the Exclude panel to specify how often to save backups. The default is every hour. This is a good choice for your computer, where files change rapidly. However, daily or weekly backups save storage space for drives with limited space, or data that doesn’t change very often.


Here’s my current storage system:

While I regularly use Time Machine to back up my Mac, I don’t use it to backup the external drives. The main reason is that the files on those drives don’t change that often and they take up a LOT of storage space.

Instead, I connect the three computers in my office to the Synology DS1522+ server. (I just upgraded from a five year old DS-1517+.) This acts as my central backup and archive, with an attached expansion unit to backup the server.

Whether you use a server, which can be expensive, or simply a second external device, making backups is as easy as dragging icons from one to the other.


At a minimum, you should have at least one copy of all your important files stored on a separate device from the source storage. However, over time, the “3-2-1 Backup Rule” has emerged as “best practice.”

Invented by photographer Peter Krogh, the rule states:

There are many different ways to implement this:

The KEY!! is to make sure that all the data you care about is backed-up somewhere on a device you can count on over time, with at least one copy off-site.

(Image courtesy Sergei Starostin,


If all you are doing is dragging files from one drive to another – and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that – you need backup capacity at least as large as your current storage.

But, if you are using backup software which retains older versions of files – similar to Time Machine – you need backup capacity larger than your current storage.

For me, I use SSDs for all my active projects, but large HDDs as archive drives. Spinning hard drive (HDDs) hold immense amounts of data and don’t cost very much. While they aren’t as fast as SSDs, they are MORE than fast enough for backup storage.

In terms of size, I recommend backup storage capacity 2X – 3X larger than your main drives. For example, if you have a 4 TB drive as your main external storage, get an 8 TB drive for backups. Ideally, get two drives so you can store one off-site.


For backup storage, I recommend hard disk drives (HDD). They provide vast capacity at a very low price. They aren’t as fast as an SSD, but speed is not critical for backups, because the best time to backup is over night, while you sleep.

A RAID, which is a collection of hard drives, is only necessary if you need more capacity than a single hard drive can provide. (RAIDs are also useful when you need more speed, but speed isn’t an issue for backups.)

Since single hard drives these days can hold up to 20 TB of data, for many of us, a single large drive will be more cost-effective than a RAID. Keep in mind that if that backup drive dies, you lose all the data on it. This is why multiple backups are always a good idea.


If all you need to do is make periodic backups of a folder, a small group of folders or an entire drive, that can easily be done simply by dragging-and-dropping. This is also the best technique if you don’t have the backup drive always connected to your system.

But, if you want to automate the backup process, keep copies of older files that have the same name, precisely verify that all backups exactly match the source, track where files are stored, or backup some files, but not all of then, you need backup software.

While there are a lot of software tools to choose from, my favorite is Carbon Copy Cloner, from Bombich Software. It can do everything I describe here, plus, much, much more. The only requirement to using it is that the backup device must be turned on and connected to your Mac at all times.

NOTE: Here’s a link to learn more.


Making backups of your system and external files, then keeping them current, is essential. Whether you do it manually or using software is less important than that you actually do make them.

If you’ve been editing for a while, you’ve probably developed your own system. If, however, you don’t, here’s what I recommend:

It may seem like a lot of work… and it does take some time and money to set up. But spending time and money creating backups is FAR better than that sinking, hopeless, panicked feeling that washes over you when the files you need are suddenly gone.

I’ve been there – I don’t ever want it to happen again.

Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Get Started: Backup Your Data

  1. Sandee Lawrence says:

    Thank you so much for this! It helped me understand that not only was I on the right track with what I was already doing (instead of guessing)…but also that I didn’t need to spend the time, effort and most of all, money on a RAID system!

    I think I can speak for all of us in that we are very grateful for your time in answering our questions, making recommendations we can trust and overall just sharing what you know!

  2. Kami says:

    Happy New Year!

    Thank you so much, Larry for this article. I agree with Sandee. I no longer feel like I’m guessing. You make things comprehensible, giving me confidence in the choices I’m making. And my backups are working great giving me peace of mind.

  3. Hi Larry,
    as always, very clear and helpful and needed for many, I think.
    If I may add something it would be to have one copy stored OFFLINE so that no network threat can reach it resulting in a 3-2-1-1 Backup schema.
    Simplest way is to have a disk that is only connected during Backup runs and disconnected the rest of the time.
    For bigger volumes and larger companies the need for LTO tape-based backups increased in recent years due to the increased number of risks.
    Best regards

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Larry Recommends:

FCPX Complete

NEW & Updated!

Edit smarter with Larry’s latest training, all available in our store.

Access over 1,900 on-demand video editing courses. Become a member of our Video Training Library today!


Subscribe to Larry's FREE weekly newsletter and save 10%
on your first purchase.