When I’m on commercial shoots, we bring two laptops. I’m not recommending everyone go out and buy a second laptop! But when I’m on big-budget shoots, it’s expected that I have redundancy in everything to ensure a flawless shoot, including cameras, lenses, lighting, etc. If one computer goes down, we have a working clone already on-site and ready to go. On normal photo excursions, I carry one laptop, two external 500 GB hard drives and lots of flash cards for field backup.
Smart traveling habits also ensure solid field backup. I always put my laptop out of sight when I leave my hotel room and put my external hard drives in my room safe. My flash cards stay with me in my photo pack. By putting your backup devices in different areas, you’re helping to ensure one will survive any catastrophe. I’ve been known to carry my external hard drive with me at all times. There’s just something warm and fuzzy knowing my entire shoot is with me.
Once I get back from a shoot, it’s time to download the images onto my primary computer. This is the location where your images "live" and where you access them regularly to make prints, send out submissions or share online. It might be your home or an office outside your home—but the Rule of 2 still applies. You need to have your images backed up in at least two different locations, and maybe a third location to be really safe. And just as important as how many places your images are backed up is how they’re backed up. On-site and off-site backup are both important.
When I first converted to digital many years ago, my image backup consisted of burning archival DVDs and storing images on a hard drive. Technology advancements prompted me to improve my office backup. First, hard drive connection speeds rapidly increased, making backup speed very fast, much faster than burning DVDs. Second, digital camera file size kept increasing. My main camera today is a Nikon D800, which shoots 36-megapixel files. I can easily shoot many gigabytes of images on a one-day shoot. Backing up to DVDs would be too slow and take numerous DVDs for all the files. And newer Mac computers don’t even have DVD drives. It was time to change our backup system.
Today, our on-site office image backup consists of all hard drives. We use G-Technology G-SPEED Q RAID (redundant array of individual disks) 8-terabyte drives. These four-bay drives are configured for RAID 5, which means data is distributed across four hard drives. If one hard drive crashes, I simply pull it out from my G-SPEED Q and replace it with another. The G-SPEED Q will restore the data using the three functioning drives and nothing will be lost. RAID systems can also be configured other ways, but generally don’t offer as much redundancy and data protection as RAID 5 systems (unless they’re higher than RAID 5). My G-SPEED Q is connected to our main computer in the office, allowing instant access to over 250,000 images. When we fill up the 8-terabyte drive, we move everything over to larger 12-terabyte G-SPEED Q drives.
Since this drive is RAID 5 and offers protection if one drive fails, I should be backed up, right? Yes…and no. The images on this drive are, in essence, on multiple drives, but what happens if my office burns down? Hasta luego to my images! To ensure I can sleep at night, we have a second G-SPEED Q 8-terabyte with all our images stored in another location off-site. We regularly download new images to this drive, as well as our office drive, to make sure we’re safely backed up. If one RAID system is completely destroyed, we have a second RAID system stored safely off-site. Some photographers even use three separate RAID systems stored in different areas. You have to decide what you’re comfortable with in your system.
So far we’ve talked about image backup, but what happens to all our documents and applications if our computer hard drive crashes? This brings up another aspect of our backup system: protecting our computer drives. For this task, we use two items, Apple’s Time Capsule and OS X Time Machine software.