Backup strategies for a professional photographer ver. 2

A while back a wrote a post about my backup strategy, but I’ve changed my workflow significantly since then so I thought I needed to make an updated post.  This should be helpful to anyone trying to figure out how to keep the precious images, we as professional photographers take, safe from accidental loss or deletion.  Backup is one of the most important things a photographer needs to do.

First of all, I forget who said it, but if you don’t have a digital image in at least 3 places you don’t really have it.  You should have 3 copies of any picture you take, you also should have an offsite copy just incase your home or office is broken into or fire or something else destroys your hard drives.  This might seem like overkill, but trust me, things happen.  I once had to get some data from what I call my last resort offsite backup because of a stupid mistake on my computer.  It’s scary, I’m really glad I was making good backups.

My Workflow:

Update 9/30/2012 : Brand name CF cards such as from Sandisk or Lexar are extremely reliable.  In fact, in my literally hundreds of thousands of pictures, I’ve maybe had one or two that was corrupted.  Even so, my main camera body has two CF card slots.  Every time I take a picture it is automatically backed up as a jpeg to the second card.  This is probably unnecessary. But it makes me feel better.  

First of all, as soon as I get home from a shoot, I begin importing images into my Lightroom catalog and to the folder it creates on my hard drive.  I don’t have time in this post to go into my Lightroom workflow, but the images get placed into an organized by date folder on my drive.  Then I put the CF memory card to the side and I don’t delete it until all my backups have been made, typically by the next morning.

First Backup:

Data Robotics Drobo 4-Bay USB 2.0/FireWire 800 SATA Storage Array DR04DD10The important key to backing up is that it has to be automatic.  You will forget if you have to do it manually.  I use software called Sync Toy on my PC.   You can see how to automate the software here.  Automatically each night, Sync Toy copies any new or changed images from my working hard drives inside my PC over to my Drobo.  This way I have my original working copy on my fast internal raid 0 array, plus an extra copy on my Drobo.  The Drobo is much slower but provides the additional protection that a drive can fail and be replaced without any loss of data.  I can’t go into what a Drobo is here, but you can check out their website.

Offsite Backup:

So now we have 2, and essentially 3 copies of the pictures because the Drobo provides protection from a hard drive failure itself.  What about the offsite backup? In the past I would just occasionally put a copy of all my images on an external hard drive and store it somewhere offsite, but this is a pain and it doesn’t get updated frequently enough.

Why Carbonite doesn’t work:

I’ve tried various services like Carbonite that promise unlimited offsite backup.  This doesn’t work for a pro photographer!  Here is why.  I have a new Docsis 3.0 internet connection with 5mbps up, so technically I have plenty of bandwidth to upload as many files as I need quickly.  The problem is, at first Carbonite works very fast.  However, after around 50gb of storage, they start to slow down your uploads so much that it becomes very difficult to keep up with incoming images even if backing up constantly day and night.  After 200gb they slow you down to 100kbps, so you are pretty much done at that point.  So even though they claim unlimited backup, they slow you down so much that it’s not practical.  I always wondered how they got unlimited storage for $60 a year, now I know.

Amazon S3 to the rescue:

Update 9/30/2012 : Now instead of backing up just my latest images offsite, thanks to the cheaper Amazon Glacier storage I now backup all images offsite.  I don’t really have to worry about the fireproof safe and things like that anymore.  I know in a worse case scenario I can pull the images (at a cost) back down from Glacier.  This cost is about $10 per TB of data, really cheap.  They just charge if you need to pull the data back down.  Everything else below works the same for Glacier as S3.

I signed up for the Amazon S3 service.  This gives you storage space on Amazon’s servers that you can use as much and as fast as you want, they just charge you per GB of storage.  If you use their reduced redundancy storage option, which is still 99.9% reliable, plenty for a 3rd offsite backup, it cost about $10 per 100GB per month.  This might seem like something very complicated, but if you get software called Cloudberry Backup for about $30 it steps you through the process and automates the backups.  With the Cloudberry software, every night any new pictures I’ve imported, are automatically uploaded and backed up to the Amazon S3 service.  S3 is so fast that I can backup a whole wedding’s worth of raw images overnight.  What I’m going to do so the cost doesn’t get too high, I’m still going to keep my offsite physical hard drive backup and update it every few months.  My latest 500GB or so of pictures I’ll keep backed up on Amazon S3 which will cost around $50 per month.

Now if you really want to get fanatical, like I am, you can also get a fireproof safe and keep a 4th backup copy in there as well.  Hard drives are so cheap now it doesn’t hurt.  So to sum it up, Microsoft Sync Toy automatically copies any new pictures to my Drobo.  The Cloudberry Backup automatically uploads all new images to Amazon S3 overnight.  You would really have to try hard to find a way to lose images using this system.  I hope this helps!   Let me know if it does or if you have any suggestions below.

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