I spent fourteen years in corporate IT and we had a saying back then that “Data only exists once it has been backed up”. I’ve written about a backup strategy for photographers before, about five years ago and a lot has changed since then. Not least, SSD’s overtaking the HDD.
It happens to all of us sooner or later. It’s almost happened to me once. You get back to base from a shoot, load up the card and there’s nothing there. In my case, I was recording my image files straight to a small HDD in an aluminium exposure. It was connected to my camera via a cable and was perched on the edge of an adjacent table. The floor was tiled with no rugs or carpet. Half way through the shoot, the client walked into the cable sending the drive crashing to the floor.
That drive only ever worked again once, when I got back to the studio and copied the images to another disk. I’d already reshot half a day’s worth of images onto CF Cards by then. It was that moment when I decided a backup strategy for photographers wouldn’t be a bad idea!
In a nutshell a backup strategy ensures that you have at least two copies of every file that you cant afford to lose. Ideally you should also keep an offsite copy too.
SSD vs HDD
SSD stands for solid state drive, HDD for Hard Disk Drive. The industry is moving apace to SSD but while the price of SSD remains high, there is still much to be said for HDD.
In part this split is driving me to redesign my backup strategy which has been dependent on HDD for a long time now. We’re still ascending the beginning of the curve for SSD and when they first appeared they were expensive and alarmingly prone to sudden failure. Now its not uncommon to get a five year guarantee, but that only pays for the drive, not the data.
Most cameras these days have dual slots for data. My Canon 5D Mk IV has a CF card slot and an SD card slot. Despite the different card formats, this does give a level of security as one card can be copied to the other. Do I use this facility. No. If I were a wedding photographer I might do, but landscapes are typically still there the next day and so far, I’ve been lucky.
On a trip, I take a small drive with me and copy my cards up to the drive every night. I don’t shoot over the cards, I have quite a few now so there’s no need and this gives me two copies of every image I’ve shot.
The cards only get reformatted when the contents of the drive have been uploaded for editing.
Back to Base
Currently, I copy my SSD drive full of images up to my editing drives (HDD). This is the part of the workflow that is getting reworked. I have a G Technology dual drive RAID that holds two EV Drives that can be set to mirror one another. It plugs into the back of my Mac Mini and just does its job with no fuss.
As a photographer I can live without SSD transfer rates, but Video is another thing. It works for me but the drives have been sunset since G Technology were acquired by Western Digital and are increasingly hard to find so this will all have to be rethought.
As mentioned above, I currently edit on archaic HDD technology, but video is problematic. For that I use a SanDisk Extreme SSD Pro drive which has meltingly fast read/write speeds. But has to be backed up to another identical drive every night.
I have a 5 disk RAID by Synology in the studio and after every shoot I rid the drive of the images that for whatever reason didn’t make the cut or are just not quite as good as the final selection. This culling is absolutely vital, ever since digital camera arrived we take so many more photographs! I’ll keep anything that I might want to go back to and I always keep the RAW original, the sidecar files and the output.
This is the bit of the backup strategy for photographers that comes from the professional background. I keep a separate Lightroom library for every client and the output, in jpg form is stored in a subdirectory of that library. So I can simply copy the library back to the SSD drive if I want to revisit it. It’s all there in one place and every library is organised in the same way.
Off Site Backup
My RAID failed once. Synology replaced it without hesitation and fortunately all the drives were intact, but it was a nasty moment. Ever since then, I’ve backed up my photos and work documents to Backblaze, a cloud based data storage solution.
A Backup Strategy for Photographers – Conclusion
The level of security described here is expensive to maintain and every aspect of it may not be for everyone. The main point for peace of mind is keep copies and keep them geographically separate. SSD drive prices are coming down and reliability going up.
If I were simply a good photographer and didn’t rely on photography for my living I might use a cloud solution as the final destination, while keeping copies on SSD drives. You’re unlikely to need more than 1Tb a year if you are ruthless about pruning the dross and you should be, from the back to base stage.
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