When it comes to photography, there are tons of places you can cut corners and save money.
Lenses, tripods, cameras, there’s always a low cost alternative, but there’s one thing you should never scrimp on, and that’s backing up your photos.
I’ve lost a hard drive before, and I can tell you, recovery ain’t pretty.
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Setting up Redundancy
The golden rule is the 3-2-1 rule, where you keep at least three copies, in two different formats, and at least one of those copies is off-site.
This might sound like overkill, but it’s actually not that expensive or difficult to set up.
Especially when you start using RAID hard drives as your backup.
So let’s start by talking about RAID.
3 – RAID – At Least 3 Copies
This is also know as ‘a redundant array of independent disks’, and it’s an essential format for your hard drive backups.
In layman’s terms it’s two hard drives in one. So you buy a 4TB RAID hard drive, which is internally comprised of two separate 2TB hard drives.
It’s because you can format it so that you only have 2TB of space and everything is duplicated from one drive to the other. Essentially making a backup of your backup.
That way if one drive fails, you won’t lose anything.
That’s a good start, but what if you lose the physical disk?
So far that’s 2 copies of my files, I talk about the rest of the backups in ‘1 – At Least One Copy Off-Site’ below.
2 – Two Different Formats
This is for best practice, but not always possible. The whole ‘two different formats’ thing is to protect you against things like viruses, but I personally can’t follow it.
In an ideal world, my photos would also all be backed up onto optical disks, such as DVD’s, but I’m traveling all year and not only can I not carry disks with me, but I don’t have a disk drive in my laptop anymore.
The reason optical disks are recommended is because they’re write only, so a virus won’t be able to affect them in the same way they could damage a hard drive.
1 – At Least One Copy Off-Site
Always backup the backup of your backup. This is the second half of the 3 in the 3-2-1 rule; ‘at least three copies’.
Creating another copy of your files and then taking them somewhere that you can trust they can be safe, can take a lot of time, and that leads to procrastination. Not something you want.
To make the process much easier, I recommend using a NAS (network assisted storage), that you can plug into a router in a secure location (such as a family member’s house).
Then when you have internet access, you can back up your photos from the backup you keep with you, to the one connected to the router.
Think of it as your own personal cloud, sort of like dropbox, only bigger, faster, cheaper and more secure.
The system that I use involves a device called the ioSafe 214, and it takes keeping your images secure to whole new level.
Not only is it a NAS device, which I can back up to from anywhere in the world, but it’s RAID (so doubly secure), and it’s also waterproof and fireproof.
So currently I’m traveling, and the ioSafe is at a family member’s house, and I know that even if the house burnt down (touch wood), the backup would be safe.
You can choose to use either hard drives, or solid state drives. I personally opted to replace the 1TB drives with two 4TB drives, so the space matches the hard drive space I’m carrying with me (which I’ll get to in a moment).
Here’s what the device looks like:
Your Own Personal Server
I’m probably not using the right term here. But a decent NAS device, with the right software, can act like your own personal server.
The ioSafe runs some some software called Synology, and although it’s a little complicated to set up, once it’s working, it’s super powerful.
Benefits of Synology:
- Online video streaming – got a video you want to watch on your tv? Stream it over the internet, or through your Chomecast, direct from your ioSafe.
- Online photo storage – the software includes the ability to view all of your photos online, including RAW files, and then you can then share those images. So if you have a client who wants access to some photos, you just share that folder with them and they can download them with ease.
- Online music streaming – the same deal as before, only this time with music.
- Download direct to NAS – I can download videos, ebooks, etc. all directly to my ioSafe, without being on the internet myself.
- Various mobile apps – access your files from any device.
- The list goes on…
I think the coolest feature there for professional photographers has to be the file sharing. No more exporting the files, uploading them wetransfer, or loading them onto a USB and sticking them in the post.
My Travel Workflow
To finish off this post, I want to show you how I backup my photography while traveling.
This isn’t a particularly cheap process, but it’s essential none the less.
I have three external drives, two 4TB Western Digital My Passport Pro’s, with built in thunderbolt cable. Please note that while these are great drives, you need to have a thunderbolt port. And it needs to have enough power to run the hard drive.
My older (4.5 year) Macbook pro didn’t have enough power, but they work just great with my new Retina MBP.
These are set up in a RAID configuration. This means I get 2TB of useable space from each, totalling 4TB, which is the same as my ioSafe.
And I have one 2TB Samsung M3 with USB 3.0 that I use to backup my macbook.
The majority of my photos aren’t actually kept on my Macbook, as there’s not enough space; they’re referenced. Only my most recent ones are kept there (so that I can access them quickly).
Lightroom is really good at managing external libraries, so this isn’t a problem.
Here’s what it looks like:
Here’s what the workflow looks like:
- The photos are imported from my CF card and are saved to the solid state drive inside my Macbook Pro
- During import, they are also backed up to one of my Passport Pro drives
- The Passport Pro drives are set to automatically backup to my ioSafe NAS which is connected to a router in England
- Once I’ve finished editing the photos on my MacBook, they’re moved to one of the Passport Pro drives, and the import backup is removed once the library is fully backed up to the ioSafe
- The Samsung M3 is running a regular Time Machine backup schedule throughout this whole process
So that’s how I make sure that I never lose a photo again.
I know a lot of this is seems quite expensive. But the great thing is that you can always scale it up or down.