How important are your images? Whether you take hundreds of family snapshots or you’ve built a professional portfolio, chances are you would be disappointed, no, make that devastated if your images were suddenly gone. No more Uncle Joe and his goofy expressions, no more Grandma holding her infant granddaughter, gone is that fantastic shot of a full moon behind the skyline, and bye bye to that very profitable sunset that you spent hours creating. They’re all important. And yet, without a proper backup, they’re all at risk of vanishing should you suffer a fatal system or hard drive crash.
Backing up is cheap and easy, so there’s really no excuse not to. Hard drives do crash, computers are stolen, basements are flooded, and sadly, houses burn down. Also, without a backup, you have no way of recovering from accidental erasure of one or more images.
The easiest backup plan is to purchase an external USB hard drive. They’re very inexpensive (under $100 for a terabyte, less for smaller capacities), and as easy to set up as plugging into your computer. I have first-hand experience with Western Digital My Book drives and a WD Elements drive, and they’ve held up well. Your computer should recognize the drive quickly and you’re ready to start backing up. In Windows, either use the Windows Backup Utility or create a folder on the external drive with today’s date, and drag and drop your folders and files onto the external drive and copies will be made. On a Mac, you can use Time Machine. In Time Machine and with Windows Backup, you can set the backups to occur regularly without intervention. If you drag and drop, set a schedule and add reminders to your calendar, and don’t deviate.
While that external hard drive will save you if your computer fails, it’s of no value if there’s a fire, flood or if anything similarly catastrophic happens where your hardware is located. If you really want to have coverage, I recommend going a step further, and there are a few ways to do this.
– Purchase a second, portable external hard drive and create a redundant back up. Store that second drive somewhere else – the office, a family member’s home, anywhere that is physically removed from your original hardware. Whenever you back up to your external drive, you’ll need to back up to the portable. A little more time consuming but well worth it for the piece of mind.
– Use the cloud. There are several online backup services you can subscribe to where you can upload your files in the background. These services are offered by Carbonite, Mozy and Backblaze who are some of the most popular companies, and they will run you about $5.00 per month. There are some considerations, such as the speed of your internet connection, the size of your libraries and accessibility of your data. For a good review of these services, please visit this recent NY Times article. Dropbox also offers a free account for up to 2GB of storage, and more for $10-20 per month.
At this point, you should be able to sleep at night, knowing that your images are safe.
What about when you’re travelling? If your camera accompanies you to a location where photographic opportunities are rich and abundant, you should be prepared to protect your images on the road, where theft, accidents or a misplaced camera can ruin an otherwise perfect trip.
I travel with a netbook which has a 160GB hard drive, and I bring a portable 250gb Seagate hard drive as well. At the end of each day, I download my images to the netbook and then back that up to the portable HD. The camera’s memory card can then be reformatted and reused. However, I bring several cards on a trip, in case A) I can’t download and back up on any given night, or B) I have a card failure. I rotate the cards daily and don’t erase, but rather I format them to get them ready for the next day’s shoot.
That free 2GB Dropbox account mentioned previously could come in handy for backing up a short trip too.
There are standalone portable hard drives that you can download directly to without a computer, but the better models, such as the Epson 3000, which allow you to view the images (confirming a successful download) are pricey. Less expensive drives accomplish the same thing but without the visual confirmation. I need to be sure everything is transferred before I format a card so a netbook with extra drive works well for me, plus I have the added benefit of being able to edit and email a photo from the road. The Apple iPad can also be used but limited storage space and no way to add an external drive are limitations.
One more point about backups when travelling: once you’ve downloaded and hopefully backed up your hard drive, carry the portable hard drive separately from the laptop/netbook/iPad. That way if one is lost or stolen, you still have the other copy.
Professional photographers have redundant backups that are even more elaborate than what we’ve discussed here. For the average photographer, that might be overkill, but having no back up at all is inviting trouble. Share your back up strategy with us and feel free to offer other suggestions. And as our mother always says “Be safe!”
– Posted by Ed