Backing up your photography is just about as important as the shots themselves.  Don't learn this lesson the hard way.  It is hard to know where to post this:  Photography genius, photography mistakes?  Over the past decade of professional photography, I have seen any number of "backup systems" that my photography colleagues are using to keep their images "safe."  From DVD backups to external hard drives, photographers are putting a ton of work at risk and exposing themselves to some very upset and possibly litigious clients.

Backups start with the camera.

If you're shooting once-in-a-lifetime events (i.e. weddings) you need a camera with dual card slots.  Set your camera to double every RAW file you take.  Put a large card (32GB or above) and use smaller cards (8-16GB) that you'll change throughout the day. Remember to use the best, class 10 cards.

Using dual card slots protects you the day of the shoot against card failure. Also, if you have an assistant working with you that day, one of their jobs should be taking your used cards and pulling them onto a portable hard drive unit or a laptop WITHOUT formatting the cards. Cover yourself on the wedding day because you only get one chance to get this right.

Things that should be AVOIDED

  • DO NOT Back up to DVDs - Since DVDs only hold 4.3 GB of data, a typical wedding might take 9-12 DVDs to back up.  Also, they are a physical product which can be scratched, destroyed in an office fire, experience data loss or have another failure.  Some colleagues report that they will store them in a safety deposit box at their bank.   That is safer, but not very convenient.
  • DO NOT Back up to external hard drives - External hard drives are great....until they fail.  Data recovery companies love photographers who back up to external hard drives.  Also, external hard drives use a power cord (unless they are powered by USB) and data transfer is slow.  They are also subject to office fires, flood, damage from dropping and are generally not safe or suitable for backing up one-of-a-kind shoots like weddings.
  • DO NOT Back up to two external hard drives - Still not safe.  Safer than backing up to one, but not safe.  Why?  Because it is possible for both to fail at the same time.  How?  Most often a computer virus would take them out.  Because they are connected to a computer through a USB or firewire, there is a direct line for viruses.  Another thing that could destroy them would be lightning.
  • MAYBE USE Raid storage and Drobos - These are a bit safer, but still possibly susceptible to computer viruses.

What should you use?

My recommendation is to use Network Attached Storage (NAS) combined with off-site storage.  Network attached storage is much less apt to be damaged by viruses because a virus would have to figure out how to get through the network security first.  Very difficult to do compared with following a link through USB.  Second, NAS is much faster for data transfer than USB if you use the right router and CAT6 cable.  Third, NAS can be used by multiple computers.  It turns Lightroom into a real photo-managing beast when set up correctly.

I personally use the Lime Technology MD-1510 server.  (No longer in production)  I was able to take the 8 external hard drives and install them into the server.  So, I didn't lose any money for the external hard drives I had purchased in the past.  I use a parity drive which will automatically rebuild any of the 14 drives (right now we have 6 empty slots for future expansion) in the system that might fail.

HOW MUCH DO NAS SERVERS COST?

If you're gonna be a professional photographer, then backing up your digital files is not optional.  You simply CANNOT be a pro (especially for weddings) and not do everything you can to make sure that you protect your client's investment in photography. NAS servers are not very expensive. I keep a running list here of NAS servers on eBay.  You can probably get a decent NAS server for less than $500 which is significantly less than I paid for mine back in 2009.

Lightroom Goodness

Using NAS as opposed to drobo or RAID has a huge advantage.  Lightroom interaction.  You see, when you use Lightroom you normally have to go through some paces to access the RAW+XMP files to edit them on a different computer.  What if you are one of those photographers who likes to sometimes sit at your desk while editing and other times on the couch with a laptop?  Normally, you would have to have some way to access all of those files on both computers.  Typical RAID and drobo systems aren't set up to be accessible by multiple computers but when you use NAS, it is attached to the network...thus the name Network Attached Storage.

With NAS, you can simply add the photos to your LR catalog on both computers and allow the files to stay where they are on the NAS server.  So, you have one copy of the RAW file and it's corresponding XMP file or sidecar file.  Your laptop's hard drive stays clear, you can work off your battery and don't have to find a plug for your external hard drive and all changes are written to the same XMP file that your desktop has.  Both will access the same files.  I don't recommend working on the at the exact same time, but who does that anyway?

Online backups

This article is more about the NAS server than online backups, but I think that I should mention the final piece of the puzzle just in case.  We do backup all of our edited images online with Smugmug.  We've used them for about five years now.  They allow pros to have unlimited storage and the ability to sell prints and downloads.

We've also read about others who use Backblaze with great success.  Whatever solution you choose, make sure that your house/office/computer is NOT the only place where you have client images stored.

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