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There are few photographers who can claim they haven’t at one time or another accidentally deleted an image or lost an important file, yet so many of us negate the need to back up our libraries. It could be due to laziness, lack of time, lack of knowledge or sheer denial that anything bad will happen that prevents us from doing the most obvious thing – photography 101 – always back up your work.
If you don’t create a separate catalogue of files externally and your computer crashes, laptop gets stolen or your memory card corrupts – you’ll only have yourself to blame, and who’s to say the monetary value as well as wasted time these losses can bring . However, don’t hang your head in shame just yet as incredibly, a survey carried out by software giant Symantec last year, discovered that only 34% of photographers regularly backed up images, despite the fact that apparently two out of three admit to loosing data.
With that in mind we look at righting a wrong, in this four part series on backing up we will first give you some guidelines and suggestions to consider before, during and after you saving your files. The second part uncovers external hard drives; how to use them, how to choose one and who are the big players in the market. The third part assesses the emergence of online storage sites and the rise of backing up software. The final instalment will uncover ways in which you can retrieve lost or damaged files from your computer and memory cards. This may not be a lesson in creative, but it’s a lesson many of us photographers could learn from.
The first thing you will need to do is create a folder of all the files, images and documents you want to save. Whilst most contemporary hard drive capacities will run into terabytes of space, online storage can be a costly venture. With that in mind it is advisable to back up all your work or all the files in this newly created folder to an external device, then cherry pick the most precious files from this folder and upload these to the online storage provider also. However be sure to research the options carefully and pick an affordable solution that is within your budget; as online backup can become very expensive in the long run as the fees have to be continuously paid or the content is erased. Read every letter of the small print before you sign up to make sure you are 100% comfortable with their policies. It is often best to use a service that encrypts your information before it leaves your computer and is thus dedicated to keeping your work private. What is more a site that promises not to compromise the integrity of your information by giving it an array of advertisers is one to definitely consider.
There is limited benefit in backing up your files once or leaving it as a bi-annual chore. If you are a prolific photographer, you’ll be uploading images regularly and so backing these up should become a regular habit. Furthermore if you have a penchant for editing you may want to ensure your newly altered frames are saved in their latest version. If you simply don’t have the time or energy to be as prompt with storage, why not circle the same date in your calendar every month or the same day every week to back up thus minimising the amount you would lose in a crash.
Some photographers prefer to just use an external hard drive for backing up images as they are arguably more cost effective, for example £60 ($95) will buy you around 1TB of storage – more than most photographers will ever need. Whereas others declare an online storage company more reliable; the most secure way to protect your data is to use both, however as we’ve just realised – online storage can become costly. The external hard drive will act as an accessible bank of data, but if that crashes or is stolen you will find yourself in the same situation as if you hadn’t backed up in the first place, so keeping an offsite copy of your data as well could be a happy medium. Rather than purchasing one massive external hard drive, it is advisable to buy several smaller capacity ‘passport’ style hard drives or even USB pens, and saving your work in replica across these devices. As well as keeping a data bank in your house or office, why not ask someone you trust to hold on to the other in case your main unit is lost, stolen or damaged? How many you use is your decision just remember there is a fine balance between paranoia and being safe, it’s just a case of being comfortable with the level of protection you choose.
As with most things in life, there is a solution for every budget, but ultimately you get what you pay for. The more money you spend, generally the higher performance and security feature, capacity and faster transfer speed you can expect. As explained above, it is not unheard of to find a 1TB Hard Drive for around £60 on a shopping website such as Amazon, however the performance and features you get for this may not be able to compete with a prestige model offering a lower capacity from a more reputable firm. So in short, shop around and if possible read customer reviews from a variety of sources to ascertain its ‘real’ value for money. We will discover what features you will need to evaluate in Part Two of this backing-up trilogy, as well as explaining what specifications are good, great and excellent.
As well as backing up online and using an external hard drive, there is the option to back up onto CDs, DVDs or now Blu-Ray Discs. This is perhaps one of the simplest operations to perform as users need only to click and drag files onto the disc’s folder or simply select ‘burn to CD’ depending on your operating system. There are several software packages available that are specifically designed to create a more straightforward workflow using this method, which we will discuss in part three. Furthermore, depending on which brand you purchase, CDs can often be quite cost effective. However due to the ‘open’ nature of the medium, discs can easily become scratched or damaged and thus your images corrupted. Whilst this is a worthy second or third string to your back-up bow, it is unadvisable to use this method as your sole backing-up solution.