A Simple image backup strategy for photographers

written by Pramod Viswanath on October 15, 2010 in blog and Image backup management and Photography with 9 comments

Digital asset management is a broad area of management for media ‘assets’ that are in digital form and includes ( though not completely! ) the process of ingest, cataloguing, storage and retrieval.

Though storage is just a part of the process, it is definitely not an easy task to be accomplished effectively and in an organized way. For all photographers, backing up of images is extremely vital to protect the assets that were created by them. I have worked writing programs before in DAM domain and I definitely understand how a media company effectively uses computer servers to automate the entire process. Its a multi-million dollar industry. At my level, as a photographer, I prefer to talk in brief on challenge at a much smaller scale that I faced recently w.r.t storage.

How does it feel when you loose another external storage drive just before you go on a long trip? And, how does it feel, as a photographer, when 2 of your backup hard disk drives subsequently fail in the middle of a long trip?

3 hard drive crashes in a span of one month really took me to the heights of not trusting in present day strorage technology. I underwent this trauma very recently. As a computer engineer by degree, I felt really embarassed to accept this fact when we talk so much about technology, its uses and reliability. At the end of the day, I had to just accept the reality as is and move on with life. To add salt to injury, data recovery support is really poor in India be it with Seagate or Western Digital or Maxtor or any other major players in storage technologies. Third party data recovery agents exploit this lack of ‘official support’ from the hard drive manufacturers and charge humongous amounts of money for data recovery that makes the situation even worse. I am sure many of you would have faced a similar issue at some point in your life. With drooping shoulders, we at many times let go of the ‘vital data’ that we all need fearing the high costs charged for data recovery process. Sounds really insane and I hate this.

With this post, if anyone from Seagate by any chance is reading this, I would strongly urge you to provide a data recovery support in major cities of India!!

Glad that I had redundant backup of my so called ‘assets’ but this incidence provoked me to analyse my current disaster in depth and make some corrective actions and better strategies.

Through this post, for all people who wish to go serious on digital photography and asset management, I would like to urge you *not to* procrastinate your backup activity ! If you do not have multiple copies of your images, please do make it now! Make a strategy for backup. Different people follow different backup strategies and methodologies and through this post I would like to throw some light on the most common and easiest strategy that I have come across. This can be efficiently implemented by any amateur/beginner photographer who wishes to go professional  ( I hate this word!) way. Many of the photographers might already be following a similar methods already, but for the uninitiated, I feel this post would serve as a pointer in their learning curve.

A Simple Backup process:

Click on the above image to view it larger

1. At the end of each day, review and transfer all your ‘keeper’ images to 2 backup devices ( can be 2 carry-on external hard drives or 2 copies on DVDs or combination of both), on field. Discard what is not needed. Be critical of your keeper images to avoid dumping garbage!

2. At the end of the trip, transfer all the on-field backed up images on to one of your enternal hard drive that is in your studio/home. Do not discard the images from the drives that were copied as a part of step 1 until your next trip happens. This helps in having multiple copies incase of emergencies / surprises! Remember you can never predict when a hard drive fail is bound to happen.

3. Have a secondary backup hard drive and synchronize the images onto this from the primary ( first backup) hard drive.

4. I would also suggest you to have a third copy of backup of images on another external hard drive. Make sure you do not keep this at your home/studio. Keep it in a trustworthy, secret location. This is necessary for ‘disaster recovery’. In case of fire or theft, you still have all your RAW files with you !

5. For the sake of convenience and identifying your drives, you can color code the drives and assign a name to it.

For example:

a. Green – Primary backup
Blue– Seconday backup
Red – Tertiary back up used as a disaster recovery plan.

6. Back up to primary and secondary drives can happen once you have your new set of images ready for backup. For backing up on tertiary drive you can have sync time of 6 months to 1 year or depending on your need.

Tips for staying ahead of time against disk crashes:

1. Make sure you buy new set of hard drives atleast once every 2-3 years. Storage gets cheaper by day and technology keeps changing. If you rely on DVD, you need to back all your images when a new technology like blue-Ray disc becomes a most commonly used optical media.

2. Do not move your external hard drive when it is switched on.

3. Avoid dropping hard drives. Prevent them from shocks. Always wrap them in anti-static covers to keep them safe.

Remember, if you are a serious photographer, the content you have with you is just not limited to be called as your asset, but all your images are your investments resulted  from personal sacrifices!

4. More you spin the disk, less reliable it becomes over time. This doesn’t mean you should completely stop using the disks. Do it at a relatively lesser frequencies than the other two. This is slightly grey area and only the hard drive manufacturers can provide the right answers. Some even say that, not spinning the disks can make it unusable!

Note:  This strategy can be further simplified when one chooses to use RAID or NAS, but what I have told here is a simple and cost effect way of backing up images.

Hope I have some useful tips for backing up of digital images.

Do feel free to share your thoughts / suggestions / better strategies if you feel you can improve this post 🙂

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