My heart skips a beat when I hear another photographer anxiously asking for assistance after a hard drive failure and their images were not fully backed up. I feel that professional photographers have a serious responsibility to make sure client images are available for the amount of time they commit. Some photographers keep files only until purchases are complete and then their files are purged. I keep my client files indefinitely. This is quite a challenge to my peace of mind and has resulted in a fairly extensive (not to mention expensive!) process! But when I received another one of ‘those’ call in December from a client from 3 years ago who had just lost their beloved dog and I could quickly access more images for them to cherish forever, my goal was again validated!
So for those interested, this is how I sleep well at night knowing my client and personal images are safe.
- It all starts with the digital cards. I only use professional grade, high capacity compact flash and SD cards from very reputable companies. The high capacity of the cards means I do not need to switch out cards during a normal session reducing the possibility of losing or damaging a card.
- My two cameras (Nikon D800 and D3s) each have dual card slots. This means every time I depress the shutter, two copies of the image are automatically stored. So at the session itself, if a card should fail, the back-up card has the images.
- The next step in the process is downloading the images for processing. As soon as I return from a session, images are copied to a LaCie 3tb external drive from one of the cards. That card, with the images still intact, is then stored in my locked safe in a very fancy storage device. Ok, not so fancy, but it keeps out dust and dog hair! This card is not used again until the session images are stored in at least two locations. The duplicate card in the camera is reformatted and put back into use.
- My LaCie drive (and my three other LaCie external drives) are continually being backed-up to a 16tb LaCie Quadra drive. These are the primary and back-up drives which I use:
- The next step in my back-up process is off-site storage. All my files prior to 2015 are stored in a friend’s safe on small and efficient Western Digital Drives. I keep an additional copy of 2015 files on one of these drives in my safe.
- This year I began something new to allow immediate storage offsite. I tested this in 2014 and have been very happy with it! My 2015 files are also stored in one of Amazon’s data centers using their Amazon Glacier Service. Once a client’s files have been culled and edited they are uploaded to Amazon (all RAW, XMP and PSD formats) utilizing the Fast Glacier Pro Frontend for uploading and downloading. This service is extremely affordable ($.01 a gigabyte), but as the name ‘Glacier’ implies, it is not a service that provides immediate access to uploaded files. You put in the request to download a file and can expect the process to take 4-5 hours. Given all the other back-ups I have in place, this timing is completely acceptable.
Have I ever had a compact flash card or SD card fail? No. Have I ever had one of my LaCie or Western Digital drives fail? No. But I do not think that these are the relevant questions that should drive a back-up strategy. I must assume that at some point one or more of these devices will fail. The back-up process I have in place should do the job of safekeeping your memories even if hardware fails, a thief gets lucky, or a fire strikes! The big weakness here is a magnitude 10 earthquake followed by a huge tsunami that wipes out my studio and my friend’s home where back up drives are kept. Ah…the joy of living in California 7.7 miles from a major fault! But my 2015 files are safely tucked away in an Amazon data center – not located in California. I wonder if I would be around to access them?
I would love to hear your comments and about your own back-up strategies!