If you don’t have it twice you don’t have it, so goes the saying in the business. It means one copy of your images on the computer is not enough. What if something happens to your hard drive?  Lose the drive and all of your work goes with it. I have been working on switching some of my hard drives around and updating my backup system. It seems like a good time to talk about what makes a good backup system and why it is important.

With any good backup system you need to have the data in multiple locations with multiple copies. When I get back from a shoot I start by downloading my cards onto the Photo Archive drive. My computer is setup with three hard drives. The first drive has the operating system, programs, my ITunes library and so on. The second drive is the Photo Archive where all on my still work lives and the third is the Motion Archive where all of my motion work (video and moving content) resides.

When implementing a backup system make sure it is something you can keep up.  When implementing a backup system make sure it is something you can keep up with.

Until now I have had each of these drives backed up daily to an external hard drive of equal size. I am going to change to one four-terabyte drive as the backup where all data will go. I decided to make the change for convenience and to use the other drives for a different purpose. I needed more drives and this was one of the most economical choices. There are many different programs on the market for running automatic backups, which is what will be going to the 4TB drive. The standard Time Machine provided by Apple does a great job and is what I am using.

Now I have multiple copies of my work in my office but what if something happens to the house, say a fire. I could lose both copies and be left with no images. These are the things you hope and pray will never happen but you have to prepare for the possibility regardless. Would you have a home with no homeowners insurance? That is what a backup is, an insurance policy. Your work is your intellectual property, after the shoot it is the product you have created. Don’t take the chance of losing years worth of work.

Think of your backup as an insurance policy and a way of ensuring your photographic legacy. Think of your backup as an insurance policy and a way of ensuring your photographic legacy.

The second stage of the backup process is the offsite archive. Here is where I am adding a step to my process. Until now my offsite archive has been composed of DVD copies of all images. I am going to add external hard drives as well giving me two copies of my work offsite.

Each of the hard drives on the computer will be backed up once a month to the equally sized external hard drive I already have from the old backup system. I am doing a straight erasing of the externals followed by a complete file transfer from the drives in the computer. I will also continue making a DVD copy of every shoot I do. They are housed in a Pelican case at a friend’s house. There is an external DVD reader in the case as well. At some point in the future I will add a laptop as well. I also have an online archive with Photo Shelter who does my web hosting and online image sales.

The photo of this bee is a snap shot in time that will never occur again.  Don't lose it to history by mistake. The photo of this bee is a moment in time that will never occur again. Don't lose it to history by mistake.

When traveling for work I carry two identical notebook sized hard drives for making two copies of my work everyday. Again you want two copies of your work. Do not rely on having the images on the memory cards or on your laptop hard drive alone. You want to minimize the chances of anything going wrong. When traveling back I keep these drives with me at all times.  Never check them regardless of your mode of transportation. Where returning from a trip these drives are the only thing that matters. You can lose everything else and replace it but once the images are gone they are gone. It may sound a little paranoid but this is one place where being paranoid will pay off.

When I get back to the office I will download one of the portable drives to my main system and start them in the regular backup process there. I use hard drives from Seagate and Other World Computing and have had no problems with either. There are many companies making drives but don’t skimp on the cost here. Get name brand drives you know you can trust. A failed drive will do you no good.

Hard Drives having moving parts which can fail like any machine. Hard Drives have moving parts which can fail like any machine.

There are a few reasons drives can fail on you. The data can become corrupted requiring you to reformat the drive, losing all data in the processes. They can also fail mechanically. Hard drives are machines with moving parts and therefore have parts that can fail. Companies have been developing solid state drives with no moving parts like the memory cards in your camera. They have not been developed yet with sufficient size to be practical for large volume storage. Most of the drives I use are 1 and 2 TB currently.

With the new process I have put in place I now have three physical locations with multiple copies of my work. I have tried to prepare for every eventuality I can think of. You can start with having two copies of your work at home. Then build up to having an off site archive. I do recommend having a physical offsite archive not hosted online. There is nothing wrong with having an online archive as I have one myself. There can be times however when you need to get to your archive and getting online is not possible. Disasters are one of the reasons you have the archive in the first place.

Photographs in this post