Backup Strategy for Photographers

Backups are important, how important you mostly realize when it’s too late. In our age, especially for digital photographers, a loss of data is as if you would set a renaissance artists atelier on fire. So if you value your works, just a little bit, you shouldn’t sit down and wait for the fire to turn it into ashes. What I know about this? I’ve become an IT-supporter, seen desperate and shocked people, that were close to tears, when I had to tell them, that their hard drive was defective and had to be sent to a lab for a chance to recover data for a price of 1000€ and up.

The Hardware

Hard drives die slowly, every day. Their lifespan is depended on power on and off procedures, read and write processes, hours in use and more. Only millimeters are between the hard disk and the read/write head, so when it falls, it mostly doesn’t end well. Data are safe when you care about them.

To make sure you don’t lose then at any time, you’ll have to create backups / safety copies of your files. Let’s start out with the hardware requirements for that.

You need space, buy two external hard drives of your choice. The size is easily determinable through: average data volume * shootings per time span. This means, you need as much space to save the data of multiple shootings within a time span you choose yourself. I wouldn’t make it shorter than one year.

A little Example: Some time ago I had a wedding shoot as a team (photo and video) with 3 video and one common camera, plus one external microphone. The data volume after 15 hours overall: 85GB. On top of that are .psd files for  editing, that usually not stay very small. If I had a shoot like that once a month I’d at least need 85GB * 12 (1020GB) per year. According to this, I’d at least buy 1.5TB external hard drives.

Now it’s up to you if you want to keep something for eternety or say, nah, the client will not ask for anything after this year anyways, delete this old stuff. Since the maximum hard drive size is increasing about every year and big drives become cheaper it should not be a financial challenge to have the hardware for your choice.

The Software

There is some built in backup functionality in most recent operating systems like for example Apples Timemachine. If you only want to backup some folders, like these with raw and project files, there’s simpler ways to achieve that, like Synkron. It also by default skips files that already are in previous backups and have not been changed since then. This decreases the copying times significantly.

Apart from that, there are also services like Dropbox, that save data on external servers, which could result in awfully long transferring times, depended on internet connection speed. Also, with Dropbox you don’t have full control over the security.

The Strategy

Let’s get to our last point in line, the strategy. We have to ensure the data is saved at least two different places:

  1. Copy all files to both external hard drives
  2. Bring one of them to a friend or aquaintance that would never snoop around in them (a safe deposit box in a bank will do the same job if you don’t have somebody like that in your life)
  3. Backup your data daily/weekly and exchange the drives regularly
  4. Exchange the drives with new ones every 2-3 years
  5. Sleep well and unafraid of earthquakes, fires, burglaries or accidents

On tour

To secure data on the run, without a computer, there’s devices like the Hyperdrive Colorspace by Hyper. There are also cheaper alternatives like this by Wolverine.

Scale it

The principle remains, no matter how many TeraByte of data you have to make safe or how many people need access to them, they must be saved at different locations. Just the technical part changes a little, with some servers and some more hard drives. To take a look at a scenario like that, I can recommend Chase Jarvis wonderful video about workflow and backup strategy right here: Chase Jarvis TECH: Complete Workflow for Photo and Video

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