For the past couple of weeks we all saw the devastating results of hurricane Sandy. One recurring image in the news was of the people looking through the debris of what was left from their homes and picking up damaged prints. Many lost everything. This prompted this post: how safe are your images?
As a professional photographer, I take backing up very seriously. Being paid for your services brings a high level of responsibility. Just like I have many backups for my gear (side note: it amazes me when I hear people buying a camera and starting taking money from others and calling themselves a “professional photographer”; especially when photographing weddings), I have many levels of backups for the images that I take.
There are many types of backups that will protect you from different types of scenarios. Let’s look at some of them.
1. Hardware/software failure – this is the most common type. No matter how much you pay for it, everything is susceptible to failure. Over the years I had many hard drives fail. Also, let me tell you what happened to me last year. I transferred some videos from tapes into my computer to burn them to DVDs (more convenient to watch than the tapes). I didn’t get around to make the DVDs. Also, that was an old computer that I gave to my son so I didn’t implement any backups to it. Apple came out with Lion so I decided to upgrade the computer. Well, that killed it. I had to reinstall everything from scratch. However, in the process, I lost all the videos so all the time I spent was in vain. Luckly I still have the tapes. As you can see, you can’t predict when things will go wrong (and they do; it’s not a matter of if, but when)
Solutions: if you have a desktop computer, you can install a separate hard drive and have your backup files on there. If you have a laptop (or iMac type desktops), invest in an external hard drive. Just make sure you get one that has the same ports as your computer. The most common one is a USB port which 99.99% of computers have. Also, in order to make it effective, you will need some backup software that will automate this process for you (many that do have a second hard drive don’t really take advantage of it since they keep forgetting or postponing the back up). This way you set it and forget it and don’t have to worry about it.
2. Calamities: fire, earthquakes or something like hurricane Sandy. This is not as common as the hardware failure but it happens all the time. To protect against this type of situation it can be very cheap or a little bit more expensive. The cheapest (and easiest) is online storage. Now, be very careful since some services will replicate your computer. That means anything you add to it, it will automatically be backed up online. At the same time, anything that you delete from your computer will be deleted from your online backup (usually within 30 days). So make sure you read all the details. Another way is to burn DVDs or copy the images (or video) to an external hard drive and store it at a different physical location. Many people think that if they buy a safe that’s fireproof they are protected. The consumer types that you find at office stores are not rated for DATA safe. Those ratings are for paper. Your DVD/HD will deteriorate even though the papers inside will be fine.
Many new photographers and most people don’t think about storing all these images. We are so used to take a picture with our phones that we don’t think about it anymore. And many use their phones to capture their kids life and are the only images they might have. If you loose those, you lost all these memories.
Since I’ve been asked many times before, I’ll share my backup system.
1. When I get home from an event, I transfer all the images from the cards to my computer (I have a hard drive dedicated to current projects). The images on the card stay there until I have all the files backed up (I have several sets of cards so if I have events back to back, I don’t need the old cards). The cards are stored in a DATA fire proof safe
2. Over night, the files that were copied from the cards are copied to two separate hard drives on my computer. This protects me for HD failure. At the same time, they get backed up online. I use BackBlaze service. This protects me for any calamity since all my RAW files are saved. There are many others out there (Carbonite..) you can choose from. Like I mentioned previously, this service will delete from the online backup anything that you delete from your computer. The transfer to the other hard drives is also done automatically with Chronosync software.
3. Another layer of backup/storage that I use is a combination of online storage as well as HD storage. For the online one I use Smugmug. There is a cost involved with it, but it’s cheaper than buying a Machiatto coffee a month (for a basic level which is more than enough for most people).
You don’t have to be as paranoid as I am for your backups, however, you should be prepared. Especially since it can be done very economically.
So, are your pictures safe?