it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted here on the blog. I’ve been busy with school and a few big projects. I also have one of my photographs in Boston right now at the PRC which I’m very excited about (check my instagram for the info).
Anyway, I’m here to explain an updated data backup strategy that I put into place today. I’m a big fan of saving multiple copies of your work. As a photographer it is crucial to have a system in place here that works well and fits your budget as it would be very counter intuitive to spend all sorts of money on equipment and overlook the data management itself.
I like gear as much as the next guy, I would love to have hundreds of thousands of dollars of camera equipment but if I lose all the pictures I took then what’s the point? It doesn’t matter that you shot a Hasselblad with a digital back, those files are still just as vulnerable to a dead/stolen/lost hard drive as images that are shot on a phone or point and shoot Kodak. One of my biggest fears is having to give money back to a client because of images lost after a shoot. It completely undermines your reputation as professional if you can’t also handle and backup your data safely and effectively. Having said that I’m sure there will still be plenty of people who lose work because of some overlooked issue or mishap.
I’ve grown to actually enjoy purchasing hard drives although I know for most people it is a chore and nothing more than a necessary evil. You can do the bare minimum here if you want but there’s really no reason not to have at least a couple hard drives to backup your work considering how cheap they are these days. A 1TB external hard drive from Amazon runs about $55 which is such a great price.
Ok let’s get right into things. Let me explain my original setup that I used since I got my Macbook Pro in 2012. This is the setup I recommend to most people as it works very well until your hard drive fills up (which is what I’ve had to deal with the last few weeks and I’ll get into my new setup in a few minutes). I made a neat little diagram to show you.
This is possibly the most basic setup with redundancy you can have that doesn’t also include cloud storage. Cloud storage like Dropbox is great for delivering images to clients but not so much for backing up terabytes of RAW images which is what this setup is good for. You have two hard drives- One which holds all of your media and one that backs up that hard drive and the computer. In our diagram “External Drive A” holds all the media and “Time Machine Backup A” corresponds to “External Drive A” and the computer. For this type of setup it does not really matter what you name your drives if you know you’ll only ever use one external drive as your main storage drive and one hard drive to back it all up. For the next setup though it becomes a lot more important to have a consistent naming structure for your hard drives because they can get hard to keep track of otherwise. I would recommend changing the hard drive name in finder to something like “Drive A” or “External Drive 1” or whatever naming structure you’d like as soon as you take it out of the box and plug it in for the first time. It will save some time later on.
I found that after about three years my “External Drive A” in the diagram was getting full. So now what? I feel like this is where things can get a little murky for some people because the next step up from this diagram could be a multitude of things. There are so many options for buying hard drives what do you buy? Luckily there are enough hard drive options today to make your backup strategy scalable and affordable. I’ve been using the Western Digital My Passport Ultra external hard drives a lot recently and I love them. If you don’t know what to get and need more space those are a great option and I haven’t ever had issues with them (but I also take very good care of my equipment). They are also cheap enough to purchase in pairs of two which is great so you’ll have two more terabytes of space and another two terabytes to back it up. If you need all of these hard drives plugged in at once then a USB 3.0 Hub is also probably something you might want to look into buying.
One of my main points I wanted to keep in mind while adding more data storage to this diagram was not also having to lug around more hard drives with me. I love just being able to take one small hard drive with my photos and going to a shoot, shooting tethered right into Lightroom and calling it a day. I don’t want to have to keep track of what hard drive to bring with me and when, I just wanted one hard drive to work off of while I’m away.
I came up with this.
What’s happening here is the same thing as the first diagram except that instead of storing all your pictures on “Drive A” you only keep your current year’s photos on “Drive A” to take with you wherever and move the rest to “Drive B” which has its own “Time Machine Backup B” drive to back it up separately from “Drive A”. This system works well because I rarely find that I need to have pictures from two years ago on-hand all the time. So essentially once the year is over, I’m done with those images and they’re really just taking up prime real estate on my “Drive A” that would otherwise be free space to shoot more photos. So all I have to do is move my previous year’s photos over to “Drive B” and back it up with Time Machine. This secondary “Drive B” doesn’t need to get backed up nearly as often because the files on it aren’t changing until “Drive A” fills up again. After a while if “Drive B” fills up all I have to do is buy another two Passport Ultras from Western Digital and move photos from “Drive B” over to the newly purchased “Drive C” and “Backup C” (not pictured). This method also saves me from losing all of my work if I lose “Drive A” when I’m out and about because it only has the current year’s images on it. Even then, “Drive A” is backed up so we’re still fine.
There are a couple other things I wanted to point out here too. Lightroom references and keeps track of multiple hard drives that you have attached. For example, you’ll notice in this screen shot of the folders panel in the Library module in Lightroom that I don’t have “Drive B” connected right now but Lightroom still knows what pictures in the catalog are on that hard drive. This is helpful once you start using multiple hard drives need to know what data is on what drive.
I would also recommend color coding your drives with tape or labeling them with a P-touch labeler so you can easily pick the right hard drive to connect to your computer.
In terms of actually transferring files between hard drives, at least with images you can do so within Lightroom by just dragging the folder over to a different hard drive. I didn’t do it this way for a big move like this because it was a lot of data and I also wanted to stop using my main external “Drive A” as the drive I take with me everywhere. The new “Drive A” I put into place is 2TB as opposed to the previous 1.5TB which will give me a little more on-the-go space. Using my older hard drive as the secondary “Drive B” works well in this case because it doesn’t move around too much or get used that often anymore but is still useful for this setup. I was just getting a weary of still using it as a hard drive to work off of because I’ve used it constantly for the last three years and I’d rather work off a nice fresh drive instead.
I just used Finder to copy all the files over to the new hard drive. This way, by using copy I won’t lose or corrupt data if the computer shuts down in the middle of copying or something else happens because this much stuff takes a long time to transfer. Then to update Lightroom with the correct locations of the images you can just right click on the folder you want to tell Lightroom to reference from the new hard drive and click on “Update Folder Location” and pick the same folder. This “Update Folder Location” method is perfect for how we used finder to copy all the data over because we have an exact copy of Lightroom’s folder on the second hard drive. For any smaller moves that are only a couple gigabytes I would just drag them around in Lightroom.
So that’s about it for today. I just wanted to share my new file management setup with you because I know I had no idea what to do when my hard drive filled up. A lot of places online make you think that if you run out of space you need to buy one big huge 6TB drive, which you can absolutely do, but I think for the time being it might be better if you’re on a budget to increase your hard drive space incrementally as needed and that’s what this setup does.