Normally I talk about the “fun” things related to photography and creativity, but today I’m going to turn my attention to the more mundane: Backing up your image files. Like file management in general, if you don’t put a little time and effort into this topic you may end up in a world of hurt.
This topic is on the top of my mind this week, because I’ve been in the throes of some computer maintenance. I’ve had indications that the main hard drive on my desktop computer is on it’s last legs, so I’ve been trying to replace it. It has turned out to be a bigger project than expected, first for technical reasons related to he new hard drive size and my computer, second for failed mirror image on my external back up, and finally, for the old hard drive failing permanently this morning.
Through all of this adventure, though, I’ve been calm and unworried about losing my data.
Why so calm? Because I have a solid back up strategy that means I’m in good shape. Let me walk you through it…
First, my desktop computer is my main archive. Even though I’m doing all of my photographic work on the iPhone and iPad these days, all of the image files I create get transferred over to the desktop for archival. I transfer the image files to my computer using Lightroom, same as I’ve always done for my dSLR files. (Did you know you can easily import from your device directly into Lightoom? Just plug in your device through a USB port and go to Lightroom’s Import menu. The device will show up as a drive and you can import as normal. One tip: Wait until iTunes has done its sync with the device before you try to Import with Lightroom.)
Once the files are on my desktop, they are backed up two places: An external USB hard drive (my mirror image drive) and online. You want both a local backup and an online back up, because they cover you in different situations.
The local backup is great way to get up and running quickly if you have an internal hard drive failure. All of your data should be right there, ready to restore if you accidentally delete a file or folder or replace your hard drive. There are a few maintenance things you need to do with an external hard drive backup:
1. Make sure your back up drive is larger than your internal hard drive. Some back up software saves multiple images of files and so the back up may require more space than you think.
2. Schedule your back up for a regular frequency. Most back up software allows you to schedule the back up for a time you aren’t using the computer. I back up daily, but weekly or a few times a week is likely fine. Think about how much you might lose if you have a hard drive crash between back ups, and the. Set the frequency accordingly.
3. Check periodically to make sure the back up is happening as you expect. Sometimes there can be software problems or settings in your computer that interfere with the regular back up. You may not get an error message.
4. Check to make sure that you can actually restore your files. This last one is the one that I got caught by this week, just assuming the mirror image would restore fine. It didn’t. A mirror image, which is supposed to restore all of your system software and settings in addition to data, is not something you can easily check, since it completely resets the computer. So I won’t be using a mirror image back up, at least on its own, going forward. I’ll find some good data back up software for my external hard drive that I can check for restorability occasionally. I need to do a little more research to find the right solution.
Since I’m not planning to back up a mirror image anymore, I need to make sure I have the system restore disks for my computer and install disks for all of the software I’ve added to my system over the last couple of years. Whenever I buy software, like Lightroom or MS Office, I like to buy a physical disk rather than just downloading from the web. This makes it easy to reinstall all of my software if I need to, as I’m doing this week on the new hard drive. I’m sure you can keep track of product keys and links for software downloads too, it just seems easier for me to keep track of a physical disk. I put them all in one place and forget about them. Easy archive.
So that’s the local back up. But what happens if there is a fire or a flood, and both my computer and local back up are damaged? What about theft? (Although the idea of a thief taking a 2.5 year old desktop seems laughable, I must admit.) Or what if both internal hard drive and local back up fail, as mine did this week?
You need a remote or online back up. Which I have, through Carbonite. And it felt great, through this whole process, to know no matter what was going on locally, my data was safe. All those photographs… From Brandon as a preschooler, to our two years of travels in Italy, to all of my fine art photographs… They are safe.
So it felt really good to call this morning for data recovery, since I’m all out of options here locally. I’ll be getting a hard drive FedEx’d to me with 800+GB of my backed up data, and I’ll get up and running on my new hard drive in no time. No loss, other than a little time.
There are lots of online back up options, beyond Carbonite. You’ll want to look at the cost, size limitations, and file types. I chose Carbonite because it backs up all of my files, regardless of type, with unlimited storage for one price. Many photo back up sites only back up JPG files, which doesn’t help you if you use RAW. And a photo-only back up doesn’t help for all of those other types of files… Like documents and spreadsheets and all, which can be important to life in general.
And just like the local back up, you’ll want to ensure your online back up solution is backing up on a regular frequency, working properly and you can restore your files when you need them. I’ve done that in the last week, before starting on this whole hard drive project, so I know I’m in good shape.
Here I sit this morning, a little inconvenienced my computer is not working, but that’s about it. Can you imagine what a mess I’d be if I’d lost EVERYTHING? All of my photographic work to date? All of the eCourse and Workshop files I’ve poured my heart and soul into? All of my personal documents? I can’t even imagine how upset I would be. Non-functional, probably.
How about you? How would YOU feel, if you were in my situation? Would you be sitting calmly, drinking tea and writing a blog post, or would you be pulling your hair out?
That’s why I’m talking back up strategy with you today. It’s not exciting or fun, but it’s important. If you are not in a good situation with your back up, make a plan and work on it TODAY. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Because if you’ve not had a hard drive failure yet in your life, someday you will. It’s just a matter of time.