Backup of data is one of the most important parts of any photographers workflow, and if you get to the point of doing work for others it becomes essential. If you have invested lots of time in making photographs you want to make sure that you back them up, because ultimately you want them to be around for a long time. Hard drives crash, computers get old, phones get lost etc. I hope I don’t really need to convince you too much that you need to backup.
So what is the best strategy? Well, for me it is the one that works continuously, reliably, and without too much intervention from me to actually take place!
I know that constantly having to intervene to make a backup happen is just not going to work because I will forget, or put it off, or get complacent, until the un-thinkable happens. So having as much automation as possible helps ensure that my stuff is backed up regularly. At the core of my system is a bunch of hard drives and some very clever software. I am going to describe the way that I have set up my backup regime, which after quite a bit of tweaking and fine tuning, works really well without me having to do too much at all.
I have setup my backup regime based on the 3-2-1 backup system. A 3-2-1 strategy means having at least 3 total copies of your data, on 2 different storage mediums with at least 1 copy offsite.
I like the idea of keeping my iMac free of too much data storage and like to use it only for apps and document storage. The logic here is that it keeps the machine lean and makes it a lot easier to recover from any sort of disaster because all of the critical files are in seperate parts of the system. That’s why I keep all of my photography (and audio and video) on a seperate drive.
So my plan for the 3-2-1 backup is to have a main drive that holds all the media files that I have created, a backup drive that basically clones that main drive (the first copy, on a hard drive medium), cloud storage that continuously syncs with my main drive (the second copy, on a cloud based medium, which is also offsite) and two portable drives (The third copy, rotated off site). Here are all the details.
Main Photography storage
I have been using a Mediasonic dual bay hard drive enclosure for over two years, with zero problems, which is absolutely fantastic for such a reasonably priced device. I am not sure if they still make these but they are really good value and very reliable. This enclosure is stuffed with a couple of 2TB drives that just crossed over into being about 60% full which prompted this rethink of storage all around.
After some research into hard drives I landed on upgrading the storage inside of this enclosure with Seagate Barracuda Pro hard drives. These spin at 7200 rpm and are built to last a very long time. However when I looked into the price, I realised that two largish hard drives were much better value if purchased inside an enclosure, especially if found as part of a good deal online.
So I started researching Directly Attached Storage (DAS) and thats when I came across the LaCie 2Big Dock Thunderbolt 3 family of hard drive/enclosure/docks. The 2Big Dock not only serves as a dual bay raid hard drive, but also has a built in SD and CF card reader, and a USB dock on the front for charging and connecting other devices. A raid hard drive is actually two or more hard drives that continuously copies from the initial drive to the second and subsequent drives so there is always a redundancy of data if one of the hard drives fails, which is great because even before data is backed up it is being duplicated. That immediately appealed to me, along with the fact that the 2Big Dock contains a pair of high quality, fast Seagate Barracuda hard drives, within a slick enclosure that would also free up an extra USB port on my machine that was being used by my card reader.
I opted for the 12TB model but with the intention of using the raid option, to make it my main photography storage device that can hold up to 6TB of redundant storage (Using the enclosure in this way halves the capacity of the two drives total storage, but it is totally worth it due to the data security it offers).
Main backup drive
The 2Big Dock is backed up nightly to my Mediasonic two bay hard drive enclosure which currently still has those twin 2TB hard drives inside. I have these set up in a format - creatively named in a way that only computer nerds can - known as JBOD (Just a Bunch of Disks), which basically means they just act as one big 4TB hard drive. Eventually I will run out of space on this backup before I fill my main drive, but I figure that is a couple of years away at least, so it is all good for now.
Cloud backup services allow you to keep a copy of your data in the cloud. Now although the cloud is basically a bunch of hard drives in a very secure air conditioned warehouse somewhere else in the world, the point is it is a managed service, and for the purposes in the 3-2-1 backup system, I consider this a different medium to my hard drives at home. I had been a user of CrashPlan online backup for a few years, but when they recently announced that they would be ceasing support for home users, I went searching for an alternative. I landed on the Backblaze service. These guys have been around for just as long as I can remember, and are extremely good value for money for my needs. The Backblaze software basically runs in the background and quietly backs up all the files you nominate to their cloud storage. This happens all the time, from the moment you copy your images off the card and it just works without having to do anything apart from the initial setup. Just works with no input from me...great!!
Off site backup
A backup is not truly a backup until it is in three places, with at least one of those places being in a physically different location than the original files. In order for this to work, I use small portable hard drives that I dont mind shuttling to and from a location away from my home. This is where small 2.5 inch portable hard drives, which are super cheap these days, come into play. I have a pair of identical (save for the colour) Seagate portable backup drives that share stints in my office locker and in a lockable storage cabinet at home.
About every month or after an important photographic event, a copy of my image library gets backed up on one of these drives, taken to the office, and the one in the office comes home, gets updated with the latest library copy, and then is stored in my lockable cabinet. Too many backups are not enough!
The backup software - Carbon Copy Cloner
It is all well and good to have all of these hard drives in their various configurations, but if you don’t run the backups and make the copies, then they are practically useless. This is where the backup software comes into play. I held off buying any specific software for a number of years, getting by with limited free software or manually making copies.
However for the last couple of years I have been using Carbon Copy Cloner for Mac (CCC), from Bombich software and I absolutely swear by it. There are two reasons it makes backing up so easy.
First and foremost, it allows you to schedule backups. So I make sure that every night, my main photography hard drive backs up to my backup hard drive. This happens even if my computer is in sleep mode. The computer fires up, the copy takes place, and then CCC sends me an email confirmation that it is all done. Backup without me having to lift a finger.
The second reason why I think CCC is so great is because of the way it can detect a hard drive that is plugged into the computer, and automatically kick off a nominated backup task based on that hard drive. This is superb for my off site backup drives. All I have to do is plug them in and as soon as they are mounted, the backup task begins, and again I get an email letting me know things have gone to plan.
I know this might sound like an elaborate system, but it really is very straight forward and logical to set up. Once it is, there is incredible peace of mind knowing that I can always rely on a backup to get back data that is lost due to a mistake, damage, theft or anything else that life can throw at me. I spend alot of my time making images, editing and making selects, and post processing, and I don't want to lose all of that effort, hard work, and labour of love that are my photographs and family memories. I also include important documents in this scheme so it extends well beyond protecting images.
Linked below are all the items that I have mentioned in this article. For the hard drives, I have included Amazon affilite links. If you purchase using these links, I get a few pennies from Amazon which go to help support the blog.
- LaCie 2Big Dock
- Mediasonic ProRaid 2 Bay Enclosure
- Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB Portable Hard Drive
- Carbon Copy Cloner
If you don’t have a backup solution for your images, I hope this inspires you to take some steps to protecting your data, by implementing some or all of the methods described above. Let me know in the comments below what you do to backup your data and if you have any questions about the 3-2-1 approach to backup - I’d be glad to provide any information I can.