Backing Up a Mac with Carbon Copy Cloner

March 19, 2010 | | Comments 46

Please read our tutorial on Professional-Grade Backup Plans before proceeding with this article.

Carbon Copy ClonerOf all the lessons in digital photography, nothing is as important as learning to protect your files using multiple external hard drives and good backup software. To keep my backup disks up-to-date, I rely on Carbon Copy Cloner, a “donation-ware” program. If you like it, please send its creators a generous donation. I will happily pay for a program that has saved me from data loss disaster!

There are lots of ways to configure this wonderful utility; what matters most is that your backup disks mirror your primary storage hard drive(s) and that your backup gets updated on a regularly basis. If the two drives are identical and one of the primary disk fails, then you haven’t lost anything! This video tutorial demonstrates how I backup my primary photo storage disk to a rotating pair of external hard drives using Carbon Copy Cloner v3. I rotate through my backup disks on a weekly basis. The “idle” backup disk, the one that I am not using this week, is stored out in my garage. A bank’s safety deposit box would be an even better choice, but getting the idle backup drive out of my office, and out of the house, adds a significant layer of protection to my backup plans.

Building two backup jobs is the best way to protect my images. As you can see in the video, I have trained Carbon Copy Cloner to make Daily Backups and to also run a Weekly Error Checking Backup job. I have taught the software to update my backup drive every night using these settings for the “Source” and the “Destination.” Source, in this context, means the drive that you want to protect. The Destination is the name of your backup disk. Backup disk rotation is easy with this software as long as both backup drives have the exact same name.

Carbon Copy Cloner Backup Source and Destination Screen

Carbon Copy Cloner Backup Source and Destination Configuration Screen

Using the factory-default “Maintain a backup (Archive modified & deleted files)” is probably an adequate choice for most users. I like to customize these settings so that Carbon Copy Cloner automatically maintains 5 GBs of free space on my backup drives. You could probably skip this step, but I like to know that all of my hard drives have a little bit of free space. Five gigabytes is a completely arbitrary choice, so please pick your own “overhead” threshold if you use these settings. Remember that completely filling up any hard drive can cause you unnecessary troubles.

Carbon Copy Cloner Daily Backup Custom Settings

My Carbon Copy Cloner Daily Backup Custom Settings

Once you have defined the appropriate settings for the Daily Backup job, use the Schedule this task… button. In the video tutorial, I defined a daily backup schedule in the first tab and turned off the use strict volume identification for the destination volume option. Turning off this option is crucial if you are rotating through a set of backup disks. I did not mess with any of the other settings, although I do like the power management controls in the Before & After tab.

Carbon Copy Cloner Daily Backup Task Schedule

My Carbon Copy Cloner Daily Backup Task Schedule

I use similar settings for my Weekly Error Checking Backup job, but I have to adjust one switch inside of the Advanced Settings menu. To get to this menu, go back into the initial “Source and Destination” screen, press the Custom Settings button, then hit the Advanced Settings button.

Carbon Copy Cloner Weekly Backup Advanced Settings

My Carbon Copy Cloner Weekly Backup Advanced Settings

The last step is to define a schedule for the Weekly Error Checking Backup and to disable the strict volume identification switch if you are rotating through your backup disks.

Carbon Copy Cloner Weekly Backup Task Schedule

My Carbon Copy Cloner Weekly Backup Task Schedule

Again, there are many ways to configure this software. Conduct your own experiments and make sure that your backup configuration is working properly before a disaster strikes!

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Filed Under: (01) Backup Advice(11) FAQAdobe Photoshop Lightroom Tutorials


About the Author: David Marx is a digital photography instructor whose engaging teaching style inspires photographers of all skill levels. David is an Adobe Certified Lightroom Expert. To learn more about David's Adobe Photoshop Lightroom software training seminars and digital photography field workshops please visit or follow David Marx on Google+.