Your Photo Backup Blueprint – Part 1

Backup Blueprint: Introduction

Have you felt it yet? That sinking feeling that comes when you realize all of your eggs are effectively in one basket? I’m talking about your “digital eggs”. If you’re like most folks, you have all of your precious photos of friends, family, and if you’re a pro even your client work stored one one rickety hard drive. And here’s the scary thing, YOUR-DRIVE-WILL-FAIL. It doesn’t matter which hard drive you buy, how much, or how little data you store on it… or even if you baby it by running drive maintenance software on it regularly. Hard drives are mechancial devices that have moving parts… parts that over time will wear out, and break. And if you  haven’t taken measures to safeguard your data with a multi-faceted backup plan, when your drive dies — it will take your data with it.

Mo’ Data, Mo’ Problems

The really screwed up thing is that this problem isn’t getting any better for most people. If you’re an active digital photographer, you’re creating more data than ever before. Especially since companies like Nikon and Canon are producing cameras capable of shooting higher and higher megapixel count images, not to mention the space hogging high-definition video files that are becoming all the rage. Add to all of this your documents, email, software, music, TV shows, etc, and you have a recipe for a *really* bad (and expensive) day when all of that stuff goes “poof”.

Forming a Strategy

Now that I’ve defined the problem (and probably scared the crap out of you), let’s talk about solutions. It’s not really rocket science when it comes to protecting your data. The thing is, electrons (information), unlike atoms (stuff) can reside in more than one place at a time. This means, at its most basic, an effective backup strategy means — you guessed it — making copies. If you, at the very least, buy a second hard drive, and copy all of your data onto it – you’ll be ahead of most folks. But doing that, effectively only cuts your exposure in half… temporarily. You’re still exposed, becuase what about keeping those files in sync? You can easily make a copy, but then after you send and receive a day’s worth of email, add one CF Card’s worth of images, or download one movie… suddenly your hard drives are out of sync. And you’re back to square one. Well, maybe not square ONE, but you’re still not in an optimal protected state. As my friend Alex Lindsay says, if your data doesn’t exist in three places (simultaneously), it doesn’t really exist yet.

The true goal is to have a drive failure be a NON EVENT. If a drive dies, get stolen, or some sort of natural disaster claims your house (and your data) you need a plan in place so that you can easily get EVERYTHING back — with very little time or effort. Don’t worry, you’re not alone… EVERYONE has these problems, except the really geeky amongst us (don’t look at me).

The Series

In this series of blog posts, I’ll give you a solid strategy to help you get your eggs OUT of that janky basket. So you can finally sleep at night knowing that, barring some sort of cataclysmic event, your photos will remain safe and accessible.

  1. Introduction (this post)
  2. Selecting a hard drive solution
  3. Choosing the right backup Software
  4. “Cloud” or Internet backup options
  5. Pulling it all together – The Plan

Be sure to bookmark this blog, or subscribe to the RSS feed because over the next few days you’ll be preparing to do some much needed end  of year (or beginning of year) data organizstion. So, let’s start the year off right, and build a solid foundation for your photo storage.

Note, though I am a Sr. Marketing Manager at Data Robotics, Inc. (we make the Drobo), this series will not be focused on any one product in particular, but rather the whole “Blueprint”. The hard drive solution, though critical, is only a piece of a truly robust backup strategy.

Stay tuned.

  • excellent! this is going to be interesting. looking forward to hearing what road you tak on all of this Frederick.

  • RudyH

    I just purchased a Drobo last week and loaded it with four 1Tb drives. This information will be very timely.

  • Awesome. Currently have 2 externals and looking to getting a third. Looking forward to reading. Thanks!

  • Huh, never made the realization that Data Robotics’ marketing dude was a serious photog… no wonder their marketing message has “gotten it” so well. I look forward to this series as it plays out, especially since your entire portfolio is currently 404. (I’m sure that’s not due to data loss, but to something far more boring, like a config problem or something.)

  • Can’t wait to see more! If you can touch on Time Machine on the Mac side, and 3rd party solutions that are similar I’d really appreciate it.

    My dream scenario would be to have a system like drobo to ‘work against’ as opposed to just backing up work onto it… can this be done for sub $2000 over firewire 800?

  • I hope you will mention the difference between having multiple copies and having multiple copies at different physical locations. Theft and/or fire may likely consume any backup solution you have stored entirely locally.

    That is why you should have either two local copies and a third in the cloud or at another physical location (preferably all three although the likely all three would not be 100% in sync). Anyway, based on the description of where you are headed, it sounds to be included, but I wanted to be certain. And I say this because I performed a physical audit previously and found the backup data for a large institution actually sitting on top of the physical box it was supposed to be backing up. So this is not a mistake of only amateurs.

  • I’m one of those fools that had all their eggs in one basket and had a hard drive fail. So I definitely will be following the rest of this series with great interest as I’m still desperately trying to figure out the best solution for me. The drive only failed a couple of weeks ago, luckily I managed to recover most of but not all of my work.

  • John B.

    Please consider us advanced amateur “family photographers” in your comments. We don’t have the same inclinations as the pro’s or semi-pro’s. We need to seriously and carefully consider the backup options, but we are not likely to put the same effort into this action as most of your audience. Give us options that are realistic, relative to our photographic ambitions. Specifically, many of us need to consider using the good old fashioned method of prints in physical albums.

    Thanks. -jb

    P.S. I am a big fan of TWIP, but I wish you guys would keep us advanced family photogs in mind during your discussions. There’s a lot of good stuff in there, but you often immediately get into heavy acronyms and assume that your audience is already up to date on new technologies. I think that there is a big bunch of us that just want to make better family and personal pics; we need to know about the new technologies, but the Q&A portion of the show is more valuable.

  • Jack Prindle

    Recently I experienced that sinking feeling you describe. As a work flow I keep raw images on one physical drive and processed images on another physical drive. The drive I keep the processed images on began to develop problems symptomatic of the drive failing. I immedately got a new drive and since I professionally work with electronic data and technology daily, I recovered all my images successfully to the new drive. Having listened to TWIP religiously for some time, and having a Drobo purchase on my to do list for sometime, I immeditely made the click and now backup all these drives to the Drobo as well. I love TWIP your blog, twitter feeds along with Alex Lindsay and the rest of the TWIP crew. Keep up the Great Work!!!

  • I use 2 Drobo’s and JungleDisk to back up my library of photos. I automated the process thanks to both companies great software!

  • Great timing on this blog post. My strategy as of now is to make a jpg copy of all my dng’s and store the jpgs in the cloud. I am also keeping my dng’s in two other places. I cannot decide if it makes sence to back the dng’s to the cloud too. Keep up the fantastic effort. Much appreciated.

  • hahaha mo’ data, mo’ problems, best part of the post :-p

  • DigitalFauxtographer

    I have two Drobos — one at work and one at home, Both are strictly for backing up data, especially media. I use CrashPlan to backup over the cloud everything I put on the home Drobo. A great way to get a free “Cloud” solution although all of by drives are in the same city, but if the whole metropolitan area goes, maybe I have bigger problems.

  • Thanks for posting this. I’m excited to see what blueprint you recommend. Also, thanks for the disclosure about you working for Drobo.

  • Besides Time Machine back up and Supper Dupper to clone the drive onto an external drive, you really need offsite back up. I have started using recently to back up my work as well.

  • Nikki

    I’m a sad statistic too. Bought a 300Gb external drive to save my images to and, lo and behold, after only 3 months, I turned on the drive one day to find more than 50% of my files corrupted beyond repair. Lot SO many photos that I can never recover. Whatever option you choose to back up your photos, stay far away from SimpleTech’s “Simple Drive”…big piece of crap that will break your heart.

  • Cathy

    I was a network admin for many years, and backups were a big part of my job. I believe in a three part solution: 1) a quick, local format which can be easily accessed (large volume backup drive/DVD’s, etc., 2) offsite hard storage (tape/DVD, etc), and 3) either a second offsite solution (think bank safety deposit box) or ship it off to cloud – in my case, now, for photography, it’s a pro Flickr account (catmca). I do keep old family photos on CD in the bank box.

    One of the biggest stumbling blocks I had for my photography was having too many copies and duplicates everywhere. I don’t like using a backup program because I like to be in control. Perhaps your series will change my mind about this!

    My workflow currently is:

    take photos and download to laptop from camera
    IMMEDIATELY delete all obvious sub-par photos (I never miss them!)
    IMMEDIATELY, send originals both to iomega backup drive AND to Flickr (if RAW, run conversion so that jpg’s can be uploaded to Flickr.)

    Edit photos at leisure, saving new files to folder on desktop (I create a monthly bucket – I have about 200 photos each month that I decide to keep). Daily, as edits are completed, photos are uploaded to Flickr, new names of course. At end of each month, the monthly desktop folder is copied to the Iomega backup drive. (Remember, all originals are already protected from loss in first step).

    This works for me, and will only become a problem when I use up all 500Gb on my iomega (I have used about half of it so far). I am not concerned with permanent storage on my laptop, so I depend on the iomega, the Flickr storage and then my bank safety deposit box for really important stuff).

  • Gavin

    I think this should be enough:
    1) Drobo
    If all works according to plan, I should never lose any data ever again! :oS

  • Thanks for starting this series. I learned my lesson with having a substantial number of eggs in one basket. I wrote a piece on my blog about it. Heartbreak for sure!

    As I try to recover nearly 650gigs of material, and implement an effective backup storage strategy, I look forward to reading more.

  • Papa Jorgio

    Hi Fred,

    Long time reader & listener; first time commenter/emailer/questioner…

    Question: I’ve been thinking about getting a Drobo to improve my backup strategy. What happens if the Drobo itself has a problem and the hard disks inside it are fine? Can the files be read off the hard disks? Or is the data ‘splattered’ about in some proprietary fashion that will make it impossible to retrieve without another Drobo?

    Any clarification would be great.


    Papa Jorgio

    BTW… keep doing what you’re doing. You’re a true talent.

  • Glad to hear that you are doing a series on it. I have unfortunately racked up some hard-learned lessons in backing up! As I type, I am recovering my Aperture Library of half a million files from a failed drive. Fortunately, I can recover it as I back up my main library to an Aperture Vault, and then copy that vault to my Drobo (slow USB) on the network (via Droboshare).

    As an aside, I am also rebuilding my iTunes Library, which became corrupted when I tried to dynamically partition my Drobo (DO NOT DO – DOES NOT WORK!) Unfortunately, I didn’t see that it wouldn’t work with iPartition (which does support dynamic partitioning) as it was hidden in the fine print of Drobo release notes. It is very prominently displayed now!

    I also think a strategy of redundancy and backup should be used. Drobo provides redundancy, multiple copies of the data in different locations provide backup.

    So, right now I back up my main library to a second drive as a vault, to the drobo (copy of the vault) and to the web via BackBlaze. Obviously there are issues with all of these, but I am feeling much better at night, knowing everything exists in different locations!

  • kudd

    Hi Frederick,

    is this series going to be continued?
    I am just right now looking for backup solutions and would love to hearing your porfessional option about it.
    Cheers from good old germany,
    a fan of your work

  • Paul

    What happened to this promising series? Did it move somewhere? I have been coming back to this sight as suggested, but can’t find the series.

    Seems everyone agrees on plan – data storage on 3 different places – OK. From this jump off, it seems very unclear on path to take. And I can not find a good series that has completed the steps. I guess there are so many options, any effort is better then doing nothing.

    Perhaps it is just me, but I have spent a lot of my time trying to find out solution with drobo.

    Drobo has confused me though. Many conflicting real world results, now the product has been in the field, both great and horrible.

    I bought Drobo, stemming from Fredrick’s and Macbreak peoples gushing over it. But now what? I have been reading recently how important it is to back up your drobo. What? Backing up my back up? Would this mean there needs to be 4 places for data (not just 3)?

    I find articles about how to use the Drobo seem to have stopped since early 2009, eccept from resellers. Even the people Macbreak don’t mention drobo anymore – why not? But I hear them embrace NAS solutions.

    I hope it is just me, but I find the supporters for drobo kind of faded away.

    Thanks, I really have been enjoying your photography blog