Are your files protected?
Insurance policies. We deal in them every day – car, home, life, renters, medical and more. The list goes on and on, but what are you doing to ensure your photos are insured against loss? The loss comes in many ways entirely out of your control – hardware failure, theft, or calamity. This article is your wake up call to consistently backup your work.
I am writing it because 5 months ago when my house burned I had my wake-up call. Don’t worry, my wife and I are fine, and there was no loss of life – only property. Why am I telling you this very personal bit of my life? Simple. Catastrophe can come in any form and at any time. Learn from my mistakes and back up as soon as you complete this article.
Let me take you back to six months ago because it is likely my backup strategy may reflect your own. I am a pretty serious photographer and create much content of professional and family-related photos. I had a 24tb server backing up my files with redundancy. From the server, I kept an off-site backup of files by copying to a hard drive and then storing it. As I’ll highlight later, that way of doing a backup is adequate as long as you stay up on it.
Unfortunately, I had not completed an offsite backup for two years! Consequently, ALL of my professional work and memories during that time were vulnerable as my living room went up in flames and the water from fire hoses quenched them. One of the first things I thought when I arrived to see my house spurting 20-foot flames from the roof was, “what about my server?”
It may seem intimidating to back up your work, but thanks to the advances of high-capacity, affordable hard drives there has never been an easier time to do it! Once you have a system in place it becomes even easier. Digital Photography School has published several articles on the subject and most advocate for the “3-2-1” strategy.
This means :
3: Have three copies of your data.
2: Keep them in two separate places.
1: At least one must be offsite.
If this sounds like it is too hard, fear not, and do not tune out yet! I’ll outline three strategies to back up your work in easy to understand ways that serve both beginner and professional photographers. To help show off the strategies I’ve created some schematics (hopefully entertaining and fun ones) to show you how each system works.
Back up to a hard drive
Hard drives are cheap. A quick search shows you can purchase a 6TB (terabyte) hard drive for $125! Before you think to yourself “I can’t afford $125,” consider it is cheaper than any insurance policy you currently pay for, and if your photos are like my photos, it is an insurance policy protecting your memories and business.
Purchasing and rotating two hard drives consistently allows you to keep a backup of your work current. You may want to consult these guidelines for purchasing a hard drive.
Most major hard drive brands come with built-in software to automatically backup your files for you. This makes it incredibly convenient to back up your work. You can use two hard drives (“#1” and “#2) to adhere to the 3-2-1 rule by:
- keeping a copy of your files on your computer
- using the hard drive’s software to back up to hard drive #1
- taking #1 offsite to a place such as your office or your extended family’s house
- setting up a new backup on #2
- rotating hardrives #1 and #2 periodically. Your backup software will update the files each time you re-attach the hard drive. I recommend doing this at least every two weeks, but you can choose an interval that works for you. Once you choose an interval set up a repeating reminder for yourself on your phone.
This solution is your cheapest option and requires the most work on your part. As long as you set up the backup using your hard drive’s software, it will automatically backup your files to hard drives #1 and #2 as you rotate them on and off-site. This system will FAIL if you do not adhere to rotating the hard drives consistently!
Backup to the cloud
Cloud services have become relatively cheap (about $100/year or less) and perform backups of your images with the caveat that you have a regular internet connection. Most cloud services can back up local files and files on attached external hard drives. You can adhere to the 3-2-1 rule by:
- Keeping a local copy of files on your computer
- Using the backup service provided by the hard drive to back up to a hard drive
- Using a cloud service to back up the hard drive
- Storing a hard drive off site
This is a pretty good option depending on how much content you are creating. If you are generating hundreds of gigabytes of content regularly or if you live in an area of slow internet this may not be feasible for you. Cloud services work best if the file structure doesn’t change. Moving files to new folders create a duplicate and the need to upload more data to the cloud. This option is middle-of-the-road for the expense. It is necessary to pay for a hard drive (or two) and a cloud service for a total of ~$300 annually.
Maintain a server
Servers (refer to NAS Servers) are arrays of hard drive that give you redundancy in case of hard drive failure. Housing all of your images on a server and backing them up from there is a great way to establish a relatively low-maintenance backup of your files. To adhere to the 3-2-1 rule:
- Have a copy of your images on a server
- Backup the server to the cloud, a hard drive for off-site storage, or mirror the server to an offsite storage site.
This is the most expensive solution, and will likely cost $1,000 or more to set up. However, that cost becomes distributed over several years since you no longer need to purchase several individual hard drives. This system is overall the most reliable and requires the least amount of work on your part once set up.
I hope my story of personal loss is compelling enough for you to start researching backup solutions immediately. Do you have a story of image loss you are comfortable sharing? Leave it below to add to the mounting evidence of the need for future readers. My story has a surprising ending because my server survived and I was able to recover the files. There is almost no chance I’ll ever be that lucky again. As I always say, “Pixels are cheap.” I say that at the end of all of my articles. However, just because they are cheap, doesn’t mean they are not emotionally or economically valuable. Please back your pixels up today!