Let’s Talk About Backups.

Many people don’t understand the importance of having backups until a catastrophic data loss takes place.

The best plan of action is to be prepared so that file loss never happens to you. With technology and situations out of human control, digital media can be lost more easily than printed or physical media. So if you are a photographer, you owe it to your clients to be prepared. If you are a client or a consumer, you need to make sure to hire a photographer who understands the importance of having a data backup system and doesn’t cut corners.

The sad reality: I am part of numerous photography and business groups online. On a daily basis, usually multiple times a day, a photographer somewhere posts that they suffered a card corruption or hard drive failure, asking for advice on how to hopefully get their files back. Many times this is even due to human error; the photographer deleted or wrote over their own files by mistake, or dropped their laptop or external hard drive. Sadly many of these posts are regarding wedding or newborn photos- things that cannot be shot again. The good news is many times they are able to run recovery software or send their hard drive off to a service to retrieve the files, without ever having to worry their clients. The bad new is that other times file recovery attempts didn’t work, and they are instead asking how to explain to their clients what happened and worrying about being sued over losing every single wedding photo. As a professional photographer it is extremely frustrating to see these types of posts, considering how easy and inexpensive file backup systems really are.

One should never rely on just one hard drive or one memory card to ensure the photos are safe; redundant backups are essential.

I personally experienced what very well could have been a catastrophic data loss once, but the safeguards were in place that it was a non-issue. I was second shooting a wedding with another photographer and he gave me one of his memory cards to use. I shoot to dual memory cards 100% of the time so I had another memory card in the other slot. The following day he informed me that something had happened to that card and it NEVER RECORDED ANY IMAGES. This is worse than a corruption; A lot of times recovery software can get back corrupted files, but there were never any files on the card to begin with. But, this was only a small inconvenience because 1) I was shooting to two memory cards in my camera. All of the same files were saved to the other card as well. 2) I was shooting to two cameras throughout the day. This is to be safe in case one camera experiences a malfunction rendering it unusable at some point of the day. 3) There were two of us shooting many of the same parts of the day, and he also was shooting to dual cards and two cameras. In this situation, had these precautions not been in place, we could have lost an entire wedding considering it was a complete malfunction of the memory card. Based on my experiences and stories I have heard, I wouldn’t even hire a photographer for my own event who wasn’t using a two cameras with two memory cards each.

Besides the importance of recording the images in multiple places, then comes methods for file backup and storage. Many people rely on just their computer hard drive to store all of the photos they ever took. This is a terrible idea, because hard drives can crash for no reason, without warning, and at any time; or a computer can be stolen. This is one reason why external hard drives exist. But don’t rely on just one external hard drive; using 3-4 mirrored hard drives is best. One or two can fail at any time. I have one that is now 7 years old and still going strong, but I don’t particularly rely on it anymore because of its age. I have others that are newer. One external hard drive is constantly connected to my computer and runs hourly backups, while¬† others live in a small safe and get manual backups weekly, as well as right after I shoot a session and before formatting my memory cards. I have another hard drive located off-site. In addition, I utilize a cloud (online) backup site to store all of my photos so that if something were to happen to my physical hard drives, my files would still exist remotely. After every session, I immediately copy the images to more than one location before formatting the memory cards. For further protection, my computer is hooked up to a battery backup system in case of a power surge or outage which could damage the internal hard drive as well as the external hard drive that is connected to the computer. Thankfully, the price of memory cards and external hard drives has come down quite a bit in the last few years, so there is really no excuse for not having multiple backups. While my system might sound like overkill or make me look paranoid, I believe it is better to be too prepared than not enough!

I always encourage consumers to ask their photographer about their backup system so that they can be most informed. If you are a photographer working for clients, please invest in a good system and make sure to take the necessary precautions every time you shoot. Not only will this give you happy clients, but also peace of mind. A business or reputation can be ruined in a day if a catastrophic data loss occurs. It’s a small investment for others to know that you are a true professional who cares.

Data Backup Tips:

  • Keep your folders/files well organized. Whether it’s by date, by client, etc., have a system and keep it consistent. Don’t leave folders randomly on your desktop.
  • Have a minimum of 2-3 external hard drives that have IDENTICAL data stored and backed up on them. It’s best to keep one of them offsite as well, in the rare instance of a natural disaster like flood, tornado, or fire. This is especially important if you do not use a cloud-based online backup service.
  • Don’t leave your externals plugged in to your computer constantly. Back up, eject, and store in a safe place. Power surges can damage any hard drives that are plugged in (if you don’t have a surge protector) and kids/pets/other people could potentially knock a hard drive off of a desk. Of course, keep one hard drive connected if you utilize a continuous backup program such as Time Machine.
  • If you take a lot of photos with your phone, don’t forget to back these up as well! You can either set your phone to automatically back up photos to the cloud as they’re taken, or do backups every week or so to something like Dropbox, Google Drive, or iCloud. After uploading them to the cloud, you should also download them to your computer and save them with your other photos. This will allow you to delete photos off of your phone so that you don’t run out of space, and will give you peace of mind in the event your phone is lost/stolen or breaks.
  • Get in the habit of regularly backing up your data. Make a note of when you last performed a backup. Personally, I back up data after every photo session as well as after I edit the photos. I also have a “note” saved on my computer listing the date each external was last updated and what folders I’ve made changes to on my computer.
  • No amount of backups are really ever too many. It’s better to be over-prepared than not enough.
  • Replace external hard drives every few years or when you notice one is having a problem.


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