Keeping my photographs safe is one of the primary concerns as a photographer, as the image files are the only result from the camera. The last thing you want to happen is that you lose any of the files from corruption of accidental deletion, as this can mean our time and effort of capturing these images is instantly lost. There seems to be many options of backing files up and none of them are particularly easy or straight forward. So I thought I would share my strategy of keeping my photographs safe and secure, it may not fit everyone’s workflow but you may find parts of it useful.
Backing up while travelling
While I am on the road there usually isn’t very good internet access so backing up to the cloud or to another location is pretty much off the cards. So my solution is at the end of a day of shooting or during some down time I will take the memory card from my camera and plug it into my laptop, then using Lightroom I import all of the new photos onto an external hard drive (hdd). I have an identical hdd which duplicates the first hdd, so I then have a copy of my photos on 3 pieces of media (1 sd card, 2 hdd’s).
While I am travelling or walking around during the day I always keep one hdd on my person and leave one at the accommodation I happened to be staying at. This means that if for whatever reason one of the hdd’s fails for some reason or is stolen I still have a complete copy.
When I am at home
When I am at home or once I have returned from a trip I transfer all the photos to my desktop computer, from here the data is backed up to several different locations.
The main program I use for backing up is Bittorrent Sync, which is uses the peer to peer technology used in many torrenting programs. Think of Bittorrent Sync like Dropbox but instead of saving to the cloud you are saving to a computer or server that you own or have physical access to.
I find the program hugely useful as I can have complete control of where my data is going and it runs in the background so I dont even have to think about it at all.
For my Bittorrent Sync solution I back up to 3 machines, I use HP Microservers running windows server 2012 as the machines. These handy small boxes have 4 slots for hdd’s and often have a cashback deal so you can pick them up relatively cheaply. Then buy a few hdd’s depending on your storage needs (I personally have 8 TB on each machine) and you’re sorted. You don’t need to use server machines, you could use any computer running just about any operating system as Sync runs on pretty much anything including a variety of NAS boxes.
I have each machine in a different physical location, one is at my house, one at a friends and one at my parents. Now you may not have the benefit of leaving a machine at someone elses house, but even just running a Sync machine at home can be beneficial as a local backup solution. As the machine at home is on the local network to my desktop computer the upload speed is very quick and most data is backed up almost instantly. This means that my local backup is only ever 5-10 minutes out of sync at most which is much quicker than other backup solution I have tried.
As each off site location has differing internet bandwidth, I limit the speed at which sync uploads or downloads new data at each location. This is also useful for managing the bandwidth usage and maintaining the connection is still usable for my friends and parents at their locations. One way of having multiple locations is to get a buddy who also needs to backup up then you can both backup to each others machines, meaning that you then have 2 machine (1 local and 1 at a friends) which you both can benefit from. Depending on how much images I have taken on a given day, the data is usually backed up to the off site locations within 6-12 hours.
One of the keys to having a good backup solution is to not have to think about it and having it be completely automatic with little to no maintenance. Using this solution means that all of my new images can be completely backed up in 3 different locations within 12 hours completely automatically without having to schedule anything or copy and paste any files.
What about the cloud?
For the volume of data I deal with using the cloud is not a viable option for me as it would take months to backup anywhere in the cloud. I do however use the cloud to backup images that have been processed and are ready to publish as they are much smaller file sizes so uploading them is much more manageable. I use a variety of services to upload my completed images including Smugmug, 500px, Flickr and a few others. Although I don’t really think of them as backing up as they are being uploaded to these services anyway to share with everyone!
Now this solution may be overkill for some or too costly but you may want to apply it on a smaller scale (i.e backing up to less machines), but I have tried a variety of different backup solutions and software and for me this is one of the best I have used as I have complete control over my data and it works in the background so I don’t need to constantly maintain anything.
It may sound a bit complicated and full on to begin with but once it is set up there is very little maintenance. The fundamentals of keeping my data safe can be broken down into these basic steps:
- While travelling I backup to 2 external hard drives, so the data is in three locations if you include the memory card.
- Don’t format your memory cards until you are home and fully backed up.
- Make sure you have at least one backup of your entire photo library on a separate machine at your home location.
- Have an offsite backup of your entire photo library, whether you choose to backup to the cloud, backup to a friends/parents house or backup to an external hard drive which you store off site.
I hope you have found some useful information and can use it to create your own backup strategy, it may seem daunting to begin with but its important to have at least some kind of backup strategy. You only need to set it up once and it can make the difference if something goes wrong.
I will be posting up a guide on the details of setting up Bittorrent Sync in case any of you want to give it a try. Check back for updates soon or you can sign up for the newsletter to keep updated.