How to protect your photos against a catastrophe
Is your photo library protected against catastrophe? I thought I had a pretty good backup strategy until that terrible day a year ago. Labor Day weekend 2011, after the hottest summer on record in Texas, a fire broke out in Bastrop county, just east of Austin. The fire raged for a month and destroyed nearly 1,700 homes. The worst wildfire in Texas history. I remember that day. Driving down a highway in Austin, to the West I saw a large plume of smoke and to the East an even larger bank of smoke from Bastrop. The record heat and drought ignited wild fires throughout Texas. On that windy day, there were multiple wildfires raging in the Austin area.
Tragically, my friend lost her home and almost everything in that Bastrop fire. The story could have been worse. Luckily there was no loss of life. Her family, her horses and pets got out safely. She also had portable backups of her photographs which she was able to save. I took these photographs of my friend’s place when I went out there to help her clean up. The photos are used with her permission so that I can make a point. You may not be able to save everything when a catastrophe happens but your digital files can be safe.
I’ve always been very good about my photo backups. I use Apple’s Aperture 3 software and I have two backup vaults on two external drives. I also have a backup on a portable USB drive which I store offsite. But I realized that there were holes in my backup strategy, and the tragic Bastrop fire brought them to light. Here are 5 tips to protect your digital photo library.
1. Make at least 1 copy of your photo library on an external drive, the more copies the better. If possible, use an automated process to continuously backup your photo library.
2. I you don’t have an automated process, have a good manual process that ensures backup. This is what I do. I make sure that I have 3 copies of a photograph before I erase my CF and SD cards. I have two external drives connected to my Macintosh and I use Aperture 3’s vault system to back up my Photo library to both drives.
3. RAID systems and Drobos may work fine but I don’t use them. I prefer multiple separate external drives. Each drive is a separate, independent entity. If one drive happens to go bad, I have a 2nd completely separate backup drive. The potential issue with multiple drive RAID system is if there is a glitch in the drive interface, all of your data on the multiple drives may be at risk. Also if you use a proprietary backup solution, what happens if that company goes out of business? If I need to get my data out of the building, carrying a single external drive is a lot easier than carrying a big RAID box full of multiple drives.
4. Have offsite backup. I also use a small, portable USB drive for backup and keep it offsite. Offsite means anywhere out of your house or office. Bring the drive to a friend’s house in another part of town. Keep it in a safety deposit box. Put it any place safe, separate from where your main photo library is located. The downside with this solution? If you shoot a lot of photographs like I do, your offsite back is never complete. Suppose you copy and move your library offsite religiously once a week. You can still end up losing a week’s worth of images. And let’s be honest. Most people will find it difficult to use this offsite method on a consistent basis. Inevitably your once a week schedule may start slipping. At least mine did.
5. Have an automated offsite backup. This is the change I made to my backup strategy after the Bastrop fire. I now have an automated cloud based backup solution. There are many services out there. Backblaze, Carbonite, CrashPlan, Mozy and a bunch more. If you have a large library, it will take you a while to upload all your files and you do need a fast internet connection. After a bit of research I decided to use CrashPlan. I’ve been using them for year now with good results. Within the last year, I have updated a failed drive and moved to a new computer. I was able to successfully reconnect my new computer and new drive to my cloud based Crashplan backup. I’m now up to 900GB of storage in the cloud.
So there you have it. My backup strategy for my precious photographs. Is it completely bullet proof? Probably not. But I do have multiple redundant backups updated in a consistent and automatic process. And my friend in Bastrop? She has rebuilt her home and getting settled in her new life. While she might have lost most of her physical possessions, at least she has her photographs which she can cherish.
Please make sure to click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure details.