This lesson is part of the How To Photograph Life - FREE Course. To see the full list of lessons, and learn more about the course, click here for the index.
“Did your cat just die??” was the concerned question that my mom asked after opening the door to reveal my tear-stained face.
*sob sob* “No…We just accidentally deleted some photos!” *wail*
It was an all-too-easy mistake to make. We were brand new photographers, totally unschooled in the importance of backup. And all it took was a simple miscommunication, and Rob deleted a folder on my desktop that contained the only set of files. A quick empty of the trash can and poof! The photos were gone.
Now, I don’t think I’m the only one who is attached to the images I take, and feels genuine grief over their loss. But the number of photographers out there (including my old self) who don’t have a proper backup plan in place is scary.
Thankfully this tale has a happy ending. Rob, along with some recovery software, was able to get back all of the photos. But from that day on we were committed to never losing images again, and set about learning the ins and outs of backup.
Is it sexy? No. Is it fun and exciting to learn? Not usually. Is it absolutely crucial information for anyone who takes photos that they want to hold onto? Yes, it most certainly is.
Do you take photos that you care about? Do you have a fool-proof, fail-proof, fire-proof system in place? If you don’t, get out your notebook. You’re going to want to write this down...
Your photos are delicate little files that live in CONSTANT FEAR. Why? Because there are threats coming at them from all sides, at all times, lurking in the shadows. Your job, as their creator, is to keep them safe. To do that you first need to understand just what could harm those precious little things.
The three threats are:
Take a look at those hard drives you have. Guess what? Every single one of them will fail. Yes. Every one. And when they fail, all of the data on them could very well be irretrievable. Hard drives are just mechanical devices that wear out. How long do you have? Are you sitting down? Most hard drives are only rated to last 3 - 5 years. Let that sink in. Just a few years, and then you’re working on borrowed time before it bites the dust. Not scary enough? Let’s continue...
That story above is an all too common scenario. A split second decision can wipe out months or years of work. And sometimes you wouldn’t even realize you did it for weeks, until you go back to check on something and realize it’s gone. Nervous? I sure am. But there’s one more...
Fire. Flood. Theft. Earthquake. Zombie attack. Dragons. Ninjas.
There are countless disasters that are out of your control that could destroy your home, and everything in it, including those valuable hard drives.
Now that we’re all thoroughly paranoid, let’s move on.
Write this down now:
To keep your images totally safe, you need three copies of your files, on three different drives, with one of those being stored offsite (i.e. not in your home).
Why so many? Simple. You need the first two drives in case of hard drive failure or user error. If your hard drive is corrupt, or you accidentally delete a file? Pull up the other drive and you’re saved. The third drive, stored offsite, in a place like your office, a friend’s home, or a bank safety deposit box, will protect the files from disaster. See how you need all three?
To keep your images safe, you need three copies, on three different drives. That means getting nice and familiar with these pretty things.
Hard Drive Bay
Where do you keep your plethora of drives? In a nice little hard drive bay, like this guy. Keeping your backup system organized is key to making it effective.
Everyone cares about their photos, but so few have a proper system in place. So why don’t they? I think there are a couple reasons: effort and cost.
And I get it. Always keeps your files on three drives? That sounds like a crazy amount of work. Copying all these files? All the time? No thank you!
But here’s the big secret: it can be automated. See, there are a lot of programs out there that are designed to do all of the work for you. They can copy your files, every night at a specific time, to a different drive, so that you’re always protected. And, once you’ve set it up, you never really touch it again.
I know at first I thought backup meant manually copying files, but no way man. That’s both inefficient, and way too easy to mess up. You have to let the robots…er…computer programs do it for you!
The second consideration is cost. With a backup system you pretty much have to buy three hard drives now, instead of one. Three times as expensive, and that’s not factoring in the cost of backup software and other hard drives (because yes, sometimes you need even more).
But here’s how you have to think of it. Imagine you have your photos of your newborn child, your wedding, that trip around the world, and your last images of your grandparents all on one hard drive. And it dies. How much would you pay to recover the files? Hundreds of dollars? Maybe even a thousand? Sure, those are priceless images. It’s easy to see they’re worth that much.
Well good, because that’s about how much it costs to try to recover a single hard drive. The worst part? Those photos might not even be able to be retrieved. Sometimes no matter how much you pay, the data is just gone.
Hard drives are continually getting cheaper and cheaper for more and more storage. Recovery software programs will probably run you a couple hundred for a license, and then you’re set. Yes, you’ll have to pay more to back things up properly. But it’s just good sense.
Taking the risk, and going without a proper system is going to one day cost you. And it might cost you a lot more than you bargained for – lost photos (and, if you’re a pro, lost reputation).
So here’s the thing. Creating a full backup system is a much bigger topic than we can discuss here. It will depend entirely on how much storage you need, and how much protection you require. There are different programs for different parts of the system, and different operating systems. It’s more complex than a single lesson can cover, which is why we have a very thorough, and very affordable eBook that deals with it. If this is something you need to get set up, go grab our eBook right now.
For now, let’s round this discussion out with a few last tips about backup:
A hard rule. Do not delete images from a memory card until you are positive that it has been properly backed up. You check those files on your backup drive, and then you format. Why? You might have missed a step. Your software may have glitches. The transfer may have created an error, and the files were corrupt. Make this an absolutely solid habit, and you’ll save yourself a lot of heartache.
Now this is tricky, but worth working on. When you travel on some wonderful exotic adventure, and are taking buckets of amazing, once-in-a-lifetime photos, you better be thinking about how to keep those safe.
When we travel we bring a laptop, if for no other reason than to ensure we can backup our images. They go from the card, onto the computer and then onto two portable hard drives. Yep, we have our three copies even when in the jungles of Peru.
If you can’t bring a laptop? You can offload some images at an internet cafe, burn them to a USB key, and mail them home or keep them separate from your camera. Or, at the very very least, try to shoot on multiple cards so that, if you lose one, you at least don’t lose all your images (but, of course, you’ll still lose some, so this is really not the best option).
Travelling With A Computer
It can be a pretty big pain to lug a computer to the far corners of the earth, but it's worth it if you're taking photos that you don't want to lose. We've taken our laptop everywhere we go, if only to make sure we can back our photos up properly.
Three Copies, Always.
We use the laptop to transfer our photos onto three separate hard drives, which we then store apart from each other. This gives us the best chance of getting those precious photos home safe and sound!
And if the worst should happen and you do lose some photos?
Step one is to STOP USING THE CARD OR DRIVE. Immediately. Power off the drive, or take the card out of your camera, and do not touch it. Every photo you take or byte you write will be overwriting the ghosts of the deleted files, making them harder to retrieve.
Then the second step is to try retrieval software. We’ve used DataRescue in the past, and have been able to pull files off both cards and drives. This is where to start.
And if you can't get anything yourself? Now you’re looking at professional data recovery services, ranging in the hundreds to thousands. You’ll find them locally, or you may have to mail your drive somewhere, and hope that they might find something. It might work. It might not. You’ll probably have to pay either way.
So really, do everything you can to avoid that horrible situation, and ensure that you have a solid backup system in place!
Talking about backup sure does make me nervous – and I have a solid system in place! It’s good to remind yourself every once in a while just how easily you could lose all your photos. It's scary, but it's the motivation you need to make sure you’re keeping them safe. So take some time, right now, and see if all your photos are safe. If they aren't, start making a plan today. You can do it!
Like I mentioned earlier, creating your backup system is a bigger topic than we could discuss here. That’s why we created an eBook, Backup or Die, that will take you through the entire process, step by step. You'll learn all the essential concepts (like the types of hard drives, what RAID and incremental backup mean, and more).
Then it will introduce you to the best backup software options, and help you choose the programs that best fit your needs.
Finally it will lay out complete backup systems that you can choose from, depending on how much storage and security you need, and then take you step by step through the setup. It really makes it as easy as possible to get your photos probably backed up!
Oh, and did I mention it has dragons? Yep, it’s a fairy tale story because really, backup can be boring so we should make it at least a little bit fun!
Click here to check it out and get it with an instant download - keep on learning, you’re doing great!
"So comprehensive and answers every possible question...I now have a wonderful backup plan and feel so relieved."
Ok, so you have your beautiful images, full of light, with stunning compositions and telling an engaging story. You’ve made sure they’re safe and sound. Now what? Well tomorrow we’re going to talk about what to do with those photos once you’ve taken them. We’ll cover the pros and cons of sharing them, the most important thing you can do with them, and tips on making it all easier and a whole lot more fun! See you then!
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