The importance of backing up photos

I read today this sad story of a photographer having their computer stolen, which had the only copy of three couples wedding photos on it. It’s very sad for the couples, and totally irresponsible of the so called professional to have only one copy of such important images. Read on to see how we make sure this doesn’t happen to our customers images, and some tips to help make sure you don’t lose any of your own photos.

At Wild Photography we copy the images onto our main storage system within two hours of a wedding finishing, which has redundant copies of the photos, as well as to our closest off site location. The memory cards are kept in a CardSafe at home overnight, and the following day the images are copied to our second off-site storage location. Every three months we copy all the images to our third off-site storage location. Yes it’s a slightly paranoid number of backups, but it doesn’t take much effort and it’s great peace of mind!

All of our processed images, finished album designs, and details like contracts are kept in this same storage and backup system, and at this stage we have no plans to delete images. While we can’t guarantee to keep images once they’re delivered, we will make our best effort, and the chances are we’ll have all our customers wedding photos and albums stored for many years.

We use RoboCopy to do our routine backups as mirrors of out working drives, it’s a very powerful tool but it’s a little complex to use. It makes sure the backup drive has an exact, up to date copy of all the data we select on the main drive. SyncToy is another similar program that’s meant to be easier to use, as is Karens Replicator. All are free. The downside of mirroring is if your first drive corrupts without you noticing your backup is also corrupted, for this reason you also need a full backup that isn’t updated by mirroring software. We do it manually, but there are dozens or hundreds of backup programs available, as well as what’s built into Mac OS and Windows. OS X Time Machine is a fantastic backup program that if set up properly will do everything most people need.

If you want to back up Windows in a way that’s easy to get running again you can use Macrium Reflect Free. If your operating system drive fails you can have a working computer in a couple of hours.

Testing backups is also vital. It’s not uncommon to hear of someone who’s run their backup system for years, but when a disaster happens it turns out there was some flaw with the backup that makes them unusable. I test my backups by opening random files to see if they work – the odd word document, the odd raw image file, a couple of photoshop documents. I also check to see that all my newest and most important data’s been backed up by checking timestamps after each backup.

Backups are important for everyone, not just professionals. Do you have photos of your family, your wedding, your kids, your pets, important financial documents or emails, or anything else valuable or irreplaceable stored on your computer? Every computer and storage device fails eventually, even brand new drives. A few people I know have lost data or images in the past few years, if you don’t have a backup outside of your home the time to do something about it is now! Online backup services like Crashplan or Backblaze (and many others) are a reasonably cheap and completely automatic way to back up your important information. We use Crashplan which costs about US$25 per year, but there are free options that may suit some people. BitTorrent Sync is another option, it’s a free and legal way to copy any file you like from one machine to as many others as you like. This can be good to keep copies of your photos and documents on a relatives computer.

As an aside: we also have backup equipment: cameras, lenses, flashes, memory cards, backup photographers for if we’re sick (which hasn’t happened yet!), and plans for a backup vehicle. All the backups are as good as the primary equipment, not old substandard equipment. Professionals have backups of everything important!

Questions about backups of any kind are welcome in the comments below!

Notes for Photographers (a little bit technical)

We’re occasionally asked our backup format and workflow. Here’s what we do:

  1. The night of the wedding the memory cards are copied to our internal drives. The cards are put back into the GEPE CardSafe and put into a vehicle or building not connected to the building the computers are in.
  2. The next day the images are copied to our offsite storage system and our on-site but offline storage systems, as raw files.
  3. The images get culled, processed, albums made, work done. Over the months this happens the offsite mirror and onsite disconnected mirror are updated regularly.
  4. Four times a year the culled finished images are converted to DNG and kept at a second offsite locations. JPG, PSD, and album layouts are copied as well. At the same time we copy the original RAW files to another onsite disconnected backup system, one not involved with mirroring so any corruption can’t corrupt the images.

This may be slight overkill, but we haven’t lost an image yet and we’re fairly confident we won’t any time soon! Note that we don’t back up images online as internet connection speeds aren’t yet fast enough to make it practical, though in a couple of years with fiber broadband and increased data allowances this may become practical.

This entry was posted in General, Wedding tips.

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