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Backup Your Images. The Right Way.

Your hard drive will fail!

Your USB card, flashcard will fail and so will your DVD/CD (if you still have them) and you will lose those precious moments forever.

If I am scaring you, that is exactly my intention.

However, my intention is also to show you how to make sure your images will be safe with a good backup solution, regardless of your photography or technical skills and understand the risks with your current solution.  

Do you develop photos at your local drug store kiosk, or print photos on inkjet printer and then delete photos from the card?

If you are thinking that Kiosk Prints and InkJet Photos last forever think again.

  • What you printed before 1990 is most likely faded by now
  • 1990 and later, depending on the inkjet printer technology and how you stored your prints may last 10 years, some up to 100 years. However, if you left your images on direct sunlight they will fade very quickly. If you are hiding them in a shoe-box they will last longer.
  • Archival prints could last 100 years and print technology is getting better ... but have you ever checked with your service provider if you ordered archival prints?

Learning: If you deleted your digital images from the cards, and you now have only faded prints, your only option is to re-scan and or restore your images. 

Do you keep images on the card and when they get full do you just keep buying more cards?

Your thinking is that if you have all your cards, your images are safe .. no they are not!

  • SD Cards (including SD, miniSD, microSD, SDHC, miniSDHC, microSDHC and SDXC) have a lifespan of about 2-3 years, yes some manufactures claim a lifetime, but just try formatting them 10 times a day and you can cut their life fast.
  • Some professional SD cards may last longer but they also do cost more - look for Mean Time Before Failure (MTBF) rate of manufacturer to give you an idea how long they are going to last.

If the card is your only copy ... you will be out of luck sooner or later.

Do you download photos to your computer’s hard drive and than delete photos from your camera card? 

Your thinking: Images on my hard drive are safe.

The life of hard drives ...

  • During the 1st year of operation 5% of drives fail. 
  • Let's say "luck" is on your side and your drive survives the first year - now you have 1.5% chance of failure in the next three years.
  • ... after 3 years ... your chances of your drive to fail are about 12%

Your drive will fail. Think, when did you buy your computer? Is your drive about to fail? 

Do you backup your photos on USB or CD/DVD, in addition to the hard drive, thinking that you have two copies – on computer and on  USB/CD/DVD?

Life of CD's/DVD's/USB's ...

  • CD/DVD's are made of aluminum which oxidizes, UV light damages CD/DVD's, Bonding breaks down ... they will break.
  • Recorded CD-RW last 20-100 years, while unrecorded CD-RW, CD-R last 10 years
  • DVDs lifetime – Recorded DV-RW will last maybe 30 years
  • USB's while portable - can physically break easily due to heat or humidity
  • USB's life depends on how often you use them they can be written/erased btw 10,000 - 100,000 after which their memory may stops functioning.

USB/CD/DVD over time will break down, and it’s hard to prevent physical damage to the surface. Your hard-drive, as a backup, will fail.

Here is the deal 

InkJet technology prints, SD Cards, Hard-drives, USB drives, CD/DVD’s alone are not backup solutions - if you rely on these technologies someday you will lose your photos.

Here is a proven strategy to preserve your images - Always Have Three Backups!

  • 3-2-1 strategy: Three backups of each file | Two at home | One at remote location.
  • Two at home. Why? If one drive fails you have another one as a backup
  • One at remote location. Why? During disaster (flood, fire) your remote drive is your backup

Learning: Your photos are irreplaceable so don’t save money by not following this principle. 

Backup Your Images Right

 


(1) “Main Storage” - dual drive, RAID 1, hot swap-able  

  • “Main Storage” is where you store and manage ALL you photos (or any digital content).
  • Must be always “ON”.
  • Must have data always available.
  • Must have fast read/write speed.
  • Make sure it's quiet (some drives are really noisy).
  • Make sure it has "two drives" and is configured to write your files to both (1A and 1B) simultaneously - the technical term for this setup is "dual drive, RAID 1".  
  • Remember: 
    • Realize that your computer is “NOT” your “Main Storage”.
    • Your “Main Storage” can fail (power supply, control board, firmware update) this is why you need “Local Backup”.
    • To backup your data from "Main Storage" to "Local Backup" you need either software, or purchase a drive that enables you to backup images from "Main Storage" to "Local Backup". I use Carbon Copy Cloner Software to backup data from "Main Storage Drive" to "Local Backup Drive" daily.  This is a great tool for photographers.  
  • Can you get away with a single drive?
    • Yes. But if if you just edited a batch of files or added new files and your drive fails, you will lose all your work, or added photos since your last backup to "Local Backup". With Dual drive you prevent this loss because each time you save a file to the "Main Storage" you are writing the files to two drives (1A and 1B), if one (1A) fails you still have data on (1B). You simply take (S-Spare) and swap the drive and none of your images or work will be lost.

Other considerations for "Main Storage"

  • I highly recommend a Dual Drive configured as RAID 1 which means that each photo is stored simultaneously on two drives. If one drive fails you will know through audible signal.
  • Hot swappable means that if you hear audible or visual “fail” signal, you replace the “failed drive” with a “spare drive” while the device is operational (so when you buy this drive, please remember to get one spare drive too, yes it will collect dust, until one drive fails).
    • Some drives don't offer this option, you have to turn the drive off to replace the failed drive. This is acceptable.
    • Some manufacturers do not allow you to replace the drive (while operational or not), they require you to send the drive in for repair. Consider this option if the downtime while not having your "Main Storage" operational is acceptable to you. Also consider that during transportation your drive maybe damaged or lost.
  • Some drives can automatically “back-up” data to your “Local Backup” this is a nice feature to have.
  • You can connect the "Main Storage" as a “network (NAS)” drive or connect it to your computer through USB, Thunderbolt, etc. For speed, I prefer Thunderbolt or USB3 drives. However, NAS has it's conveniences.
  • This is the heart of your backup solution, spend most of your money here and just because it has two drives, it does not mean your data is safe. The enclosure firmware, power supply, controller can still fail - why you still need 2 more backups
  • Buy a spare drive.


(2) “Local Backup” -  if your “Main Drive” fails this is your local backup drive.

  • Chances are low that your “Main Storage” fails, but it does happen – enclosures do fail, and in some cases manufacturer may release firmware update that turns your device into a “brick” (unusable drive)
  • It is also handy when you modified files, and you want to retrieve the original (before editing).
  • This is your “backup drive” at home. Can be inexpensive, does not need to be high speed, rather it needs to be reliable.


(3) “Cloud Backup” -  will prevent data loss during disasters (flood, fire)

  • There are multiple cloud solutions you can choose from that enable you to “mirror” data on your “main drive” to the cloud.
  • I use Backblaze, also I am an affiliate. Thankfully, I never had to use it to restore my images, but I did try to restore images remotely and it worked flawlessly. Why do I like it? It's extremely simple to setup. Downside? Be aware that this solution backups up drives connected to your computer directly (not NAS drives). If you disconnect a drive from the computer, after 30 days Backblaze will remove the files from the cloud.  It does makes sense because the cloud thinks you have deleted the files, folders or drive content. I also tried Crashplan and while it is much more flexible solution Backblaze won me over for it's simplicity. Try them both and decide.
  • Prices of cloud backup range so shop carefully.
  • If you have a lot of data, “backup time” may take days (weeks) depending on your internet speed. Same applies when you would restore the data. In some cases companies charge a fee to send your data on a drive. Check this option before you buy their service.
  • Added benefit is to access photos on the go from multiple devices.
  • Cloud Backup, when configured correctly, and at right price, is the best way to prevent photo loss when disasters. “Cloud's" biggest weakness is security breach (change your passwords often) if this is not suitable to you “Remote Backup” is an option. Simply copy your data to a "Remote Backup Drive" and give it to your friend/family, or take it to your Bank Vault where they can store it in a separate location. Remember to update your drive frequently to prevent loss. You can also setup a drive at your friend/family house and backup your drive directly to it - Crashplan enables this feature.

What if the lights go out?

You will need a UPS - Uninterruptible Power Supply - to protect your devices, and your system will stay "ALWAYS ON" and "FAIL SAFE".

SAN DIEGO PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER

Why do you need UPS?

  • Always ON – UPS will keep your devices going even when power in your house is interrupted.
  • Surge Protector – UPS will protect your devices from voltage surges or spikes. Unsafe voltages can occur during lightning, power restart.
  • Proper Shutdown – UPS will automatically shut your devices down properly.
  • Remember: 
    • Your devices AND data are not safe without UPS. Improper shutdown of devices can lead to data corruption, and in some cases device failure which could lead to complete loss of your photos (or digital media).

Bottom Line.

  • Backup – is not “one device” – it’s a solution!
  • 3 backups at all times – 2 at home, 1 at remote location.
  • The solution must be always on and fail safe, buy a UPS.
  • Your computer is “NOT” your “Main Storage”.
  • Main Storage – This is the heart of your backup solution, the workhorse, spend most of your money here.
  • Remote storage, where you physically take a drive - to your bank vault, or friend/family house, may result in data loss depending on how frequently you update the drive.
  • Cloud Backup, when configured correctly, and at right price, is the best way to prevent photo loss when disasters. If you do not trust “cloud” to prevent security breach “Remote Backup” is an option.
  • Restoring files from cloud can take time, if you have large amount of data
  • If you do not trust Cloud Backup (security, type of photos, etc.), “Remote Backup” is a reasonable option to pursue.
  • Do not erase data from your camera card until you have confirmed that the data is replicated on all 3 backups (Main Storage, Local Backup and Cloud/Remote Backup).

Extra Protection on the Camera:

Setup your camera to write to two cards (most DLSRs have this option) at the same time - I use this option on my Canon 5D Mark IV. If one card fails the other will be still available. Alternative option is to immediately after the photoshoot download the images to your computer to prevent accidental loss during transportation, and back it up to your portable drive (to have 3 copies).

What products to consider:

My goal for the article was to give you an idea of how to approach your backup solution, regardless of your photography or technical skills and understand the risks with your current setup.  It is important for every photographer to know that their portraits, landscapes or that family vacation is securely backed up so you never lose those precious memories and photographs.  

Your solution will ultimately depend on your budget, desired speed, reliability - here are some tips when deciding on what to buy.

  1. For "Main Storage" enclosure, if you decide on Network Attached Storage - Synology makes excellent products, for external RAID hard-drive Promise Technology makes great products, or consider OWC RAID Drives.
  2. In terms of hard drives (for your Main Storage) - I would recommend to read the report on hard drive statistics for you to make a decision based on drive failure rate. I have purchased Toshiba (my preference), Western Digital and Seagate - they all failed at various points of their lives so there really isn't one magic drive to recommend ... why you need a backup solution and not worry so much about drives.
  3. Buy only enough storage to last you a year ahead. Hard Drive prices drop considerably each year, and you can get double the storage next year for the price of today's drive. It is better to rotate your drives in two-three year intervals to avoid failures.
  4. Backblaze (I am also affiliate) is a simple solution for cloud backup for $50 per computer per year with unlimited data backup. If you want a flexible solution, with more features consider Crashplan.
  5. To run my daily backups I use Carbon Copy Cloner. It has a great advantage for mac users - does a great job duplicating your boot drive on your Mac, including the hidden Recovery HD. This is the portion where Apple installs their OS X Recovery. What this means is that if your Apple computer (iMac, MacBook, etc.) drive fails, you want to upgrade to a larger drive, or replace the computer, you can restore your drive with including your OS X Recovery. (other applications either don't have this function or it makes this feature complicated).
  6. For "Local Backup" or "Remote Backup" you don't have to spend a lot of money it's just there when you need it - it doesn't have to be fast drive (fast spinning for read/write access), but it does need to be reliable. I use Seagate drives. 
  7. UPS - I use CyberPower CP850PFCLCD Sinewave UPS for each computer, it has been quite reliable.
  8. I use Lexar Professional CompactFlash or SDXC cards.

Hope you found this article useful.