Not a question of IF but a question of WHEN!

Not a question of IF but a question of WHEN!

Today I want to talk about storage and back up of digital images. I’m sure you all back up your pictures on a regular basis, but how? Do you still use a simple external hard drive or back up to DVD and think you are safe? If indeed than you should get your act together and quickly. We all think we are safe until something happens, and with digital technology it is not a question of IF but a question of WHEN!

In the past we used to have boxes where we kept the negatives along with a contact sheet. Some photographers had so many of these boxes that they needed extra rooms to store them, but today when we all shoot digital (well almost all), storage of our archive is a completely different issue. Everything we have can fit into a small box on our desk and be accessed in a matter of seconds using simple search tools. All the high resolution images that I have since starting to shoot digital don’t even fill up a 5TB drive. This is very convenient but what drive is safe enough to hold my life’s work like this? My assignments, book projects, my client’s memories, my family pictures?

The question you should ask yourself is “What if I loose it”?

Are you willing to take the risk? I’m sure we all agree that we can never be too careful but we do have some limitations. If I were an agency with a huge budget I’d probably go crazy with the back up system, but I am not. I am just a freelance photographer working alone (more or less) and running my own small business so the options are limited. However, I will do everything within my power to enable myself a good night sleep (which brings me to think that it is high time to buy a good mattress). The reason this post is written now is because I am at the moment in the midst of a situation that could have been a huge catastrophe but is actually being handled quite well. More about this later.

After having lost a 500GB drive a few years ago (I managed to save the data eventually) I took the extra step and bought one of the very first Drobo systems in India. The Drobo-S is not a cheap piece of equipment but is probably the best back up system out there today. The Drobo is a BeyondRAID system built of five separate hard drives (I use Seagate drives) that keeps track of the safety of the drives at all times. The data will still be secure even in an event of a simultaneous crash of two drives out of the five thanks to an advanced mirroring system. Dual disk redundancy will reduce the possible storage capacity of course but you can get up to 10TB of back up space in one Drobo-S. Read more on the Drobo website.

The Drobo is my main back up but I also have two other drives. One is the amazingly useful Apple Time Capsule and the second is a portable Lacie. I also have an online archive with PhotoShelter where I keep not only the things I hope to sell as stock, but also my important work in progress.

My Back Up workflow

On assignment I shoot all RAW images and every night copy the cards to my laptop as well as a second copy to the portable Lacie. I do not erase the cards until I’m home where I convert the RAW images to DNG and load them onto the Drobo. I do all my abracadabra in LR4 and then export the selected images onto a new folder on the Drobo where they go to sleep. Important images are also exported to JPG10 and uploaded to PhotoShelter. At this point I could theoretically delete the original image folder but I usually still keep it for a few months, just in case i want to get back to it for any reason.

To maintain a regular back up of all my files (not only images) I use TimeMachine with the TimeCapsule which is a very sweet thing actually. The real thing however is SuperDuper which is, as they put it, a heroic system recovery for mere mortals. SuperDuper backs up the entire hard disk to the Drobo on a weekly basis.

The files and documents I use on a regular basis; contracts, invoices, writing, templates etc. along some other things I need are all on the cloud with Dropbox. My contacts, emails, notes, calendar and passwords (I use 1Password) are all on my iCloud account so that even if I loose my phone or my computers I will still have my work schedule, address book and passwords to login to my bank account and see if I have enough money to buy a new mattress.

And if worst comes to worst

Even the best system has it’s weaknesses and a hard drive will eventually fail. My UPS had crashed two days ago causing the Drobo drive to develop a fatal error that seems to be impossible to fix. The best and most recommended drive repair tool out there is DiskWarrior which builds a new directory and replaces the damaged one. I tried and had a message that DiskWarrior cannot replace the damaged Drobo directory and that I have to reformat the drive. The data on the drobo is not lost and I can still access it but cannot write to the disk anymore. I opened a case with Drobo service center and got a mail back that  . .  they are sending me a replacement unit! I am now backing up everything from the drobo to alternative hard drives and continue working as usual. I know my data is safe and it is only a matter of time until my system will be back to normal. Can you beat that?

This image was taken in Goa a few days ago and has gone through all the above. Feel free to have a look at my archive on PhotoShelter to see more travel images of Goa and India.


Sephi Bergerson is a travel and culture photographer based in India since 2002 and is available for assignments worldwide.

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