Backups Revisited

In GEAR, Workflow & Technical Issues by David31 Comments

Over 3 years ago I posted a video podcast about my backup strategies. Things change in that kind of time. Those backup strategies were good, but they’ve changed. But the video is worth watching if for no other reason than to watch one of my cats clean arse in the background the whole time. Sorry about that… 🙂

Here’s my current back-up strategy. It’s easier for me. As prices on storage go down some of this is much easier. It’s still pricey, but better than risking the loss of the photographs we love so much and work so hard to create.

On The Field

Images are shot to 2 x 64 GB CF cards on both of my Nikon D3s cameras. I download to a 13″ MacBook Pro with 2 internal harddrives (I took out the optical drive and put in a matching 750GB drive), one of which constantly backs up to the other. I keep the images on my CF cards as well, and don’t format them until I am home and the files are on my studio system.

In The Studio

All photographs go onto a G-Speed Q 8TB RAID drive, and that RAID unit gets backed up to a 4TB G-Speed drive with Super Duper and stored off-site in a Pelican case in case there’s a theft, fire, flood, or swarm of locusts. All my image files are on one Lightroom catalog on my main computer, and those LR catalog files are backed up to my RAID unit each time I shut Lightroom down.

What matters is not the kind of drives you use, though I suggest something reliable – now’s not the time to use budget drives – but that you find a solution that’s redundant, includes an off-site solution, and allows you to sleep at night. Hope this helps.

Hey, on an unrelated note, we announced a 2-day Vancouver seminar yesterday and it filled, with a waiting list that’s as long as the list of participants, within 3 hours. Thank you so much. I’m pumped to meet those of you that got in. We’ll start planning for next year, and maybe do a few of them. Anyways, I’m grateful. Thank you. Sorry this is limited to such a small amount of participants, but I can’t imagine doing this as a large group, just wouldn’t be the same.


  1. Good post David. A potentially dull (though I love it lol!) but vital topic that doesn’t get enough attention IMO. This is pretty similar to my strategy. Only notable differences are:

    – my 2nd laptop drive is an external (500gb) drive do I can have 2 physical copies. This is also has an eSATA port which I connect to my PC for quicker uploads at home.
    – a Nexto backup drive for infield backups/3rd portable backup
    – two drives in my main machine that I keep (manually) synced. This is similar to your RAID setup but I don’t like to rely on RAID as backup for a number of reasons.

    I also have my LR catalog on an SSD which I backup to my ‘photo’ drive before backing that up to the 2nd internal and external drives (4 copies, wtf?!).

    I think the biggest problem that most of us face is remembering to run all these backups!

    On the Vancouver front, not surprised it was subbed so quickly as it sounds great and I’m sure the group will get a lot out of it. If you ever do it in the UK I’ll be there 🙂

  2. David – you mention that you have all of your images in one LR catalog. Do you also use individual catalogs for separate shoots, locations etc. or do all of your photos go in this one catalog only? I had heard a while back that if a LR catalog gets too big, there can be issues, but maybe that issue has been resolved in newer versions. Thanks!

  3. David, I have a burning question. How on earth do you decide on the star rating? I struggle with this one. 5 stars obviously means best of the best. For me 1 star means it’s something ok that I want to keep (usually as a memory more than a decent shot) but it’s the 2, 3, and 4 in between. Bit of a grey area. Would love to hear abut your workflow in this respect. Many thanks.

  4. @Les Doerfler: the advantage of having everything in one catalog is that all your images are together and searchable – ultimately that’s what you’re looking for from a DAM tool. There are supposed performance advantages from multiple catalogs if you have 50k+ images (tho the quoted number varies). One potential strategy here that I’m considering is having a main catalog which has everything in it but a second ‘working’ catalog containing images from eg the last year that I sync regularly with the ‘import from catalog’ feature.

  5. Thanks David. That’s a great approach.

    For you “cripey-I-can’t-afford-that” folks here’s what I use:

    Mediasonic Pro Box 4 Bay 3.5in Enclosure $99
    with inexpensive Western Digital drives
    The drives can be raided.

    $50 more for the USB3 version.

    There are many good, free, Open Source backup software solutions. I use Microsoft SyncToy. There are probably better options but it works well for me.

    For off-site backup I use an inexpensive portable hard drive. I back all my data including photos to it about once every couple weeks and take it to work. TrueCrypt to encrypt the data on the portable drive (slick, easy, free).


  6. My system is similar in that I have all my images on a 4drive RAID box at home, with each drive being from a different manufacturer, although all are the same size/speed.
    My images are copied from CF to internal HD using Photo Mechanic, then duplicated & renamed, again with PM, before being copied into LR as DNG’s. This gives me 3 copies – original from CF, renamed & renamed DNG, in 3 separate directories on the internal HD which are then synched across to my RAID box using Chronosync.
    The RAID box is then synched to a portable drive that lives with my laptop – the synch occurs automatically when the external drive is connected to the Mac – and this external drive is in turn synched with second & third external drives (again by different manufacturers) that live in my office desk.
    If I am on the road the process only differs in that the initial sync is from laptop HD to the external drive(s), then to the RAID when I get home – but either way the cards don’t get erased until the images are on at least to physically separate external drives.
    My LR files live in a Dropbox folder so all the settings, presets & previews are synched between home & laptop, with the backups going to the RAID/external drives.
    The only thing lacking is sufficiently fast internet at my parents home in the UK so that I could also do “off continent” backup.

  7. Thanks for posting this, I hadn’t heard of G-Speed before. I recently home-brewed a system using unRaid: It works great for the money but required a lot of time and effort to set up.

    How do you regularly keep the off-site drive updated (unless that Pelican case has wi-fi? 🙂 )

  8. @Duncan Fawkes…I like your idea of catalog management and I think I will try that out myself.

    On a different note…@Martyn mentions online backup, which is something I have thought about as well. This would spare me having to rotate a backup drive off site. Does anyone have any experience or recommendations with online backups? I want to be able to back up my music library as well.

  9. Very timely post David. I just went through this exercise when I hit the limit of my 1 tb drives. Considered raid including Drobo but, in the end, did not see much advantage compared to a single drive. The real advantage to raid in my opinion is to get more space than is possible with a single mechanical drive. There are others like parity but it seems that can be a double edged sword with raid5 and propriety raid both having horror stories of corrupt drives/total data loss.

    In the end I settled on two 3 tb drives in really nice owc enclosures. One is main photo directory. Other is incremental clone of first drive. Images initially go to iMac from cf card and then to external when culled/processed. The iMac is backed up via Time Machine and a separate clone of the drive. All of this is run automatically via carbon copy cloner.

    I am also now setting up offsite backup to a server at work via crashplan (initial backup will be local then incremental backups will run automatically). Ended up costing about $500 for all of that.

  10. Hi David,

    Exactly what I had been researching in last few days. In fact just last night I was reading about World Vision Back up article that was published sometime back.

    Also watched earlier video… This is very timely. I have been thinking about my own backup plan so this is very good.

    Thank you again.

  11. Also noticed that previously you had mentioned Drobo, if I remember it right, and now seems like you have moved to G-speed (?).

    Did you have any performance issues with Drobo? how was your experience overall?

  12. Don’t ever think you have enough backups! This past week, 2 of my 4 were destroyed in totally unrelated accidents.

  13. Author

    Dianna, that sucks. Sorry to hear it.

    Great questions, folks, I’ll follow up with them in a separate post on Monday or early next week. Until then, keep those images safe! 🙂

  14. David, in ‘Vision and Voice” I read you convert to dng. Don’t you lose information, because I suppose dng can’t get access to the source-code of the RAW-file?

  15. Thanks for the update. You used to keep LR catalogues by year, but now you say you have one master catalogue. Is that correct?

    So, on the road, do you take the whole master, or do you have a catalogue for the project & merge it to the master later?

  16. @Richard: The way Peter Krogh (DAM book) looks at star ratings, he doesn’t use 5 stars at all. You can look at it like this: 0 stars – not bad enough to delete, not good enough to rate, 1 star – an ok shot, 2 stars – a good shot, 3 stars – an excellent shot… Depending on how good you are, you could use 4 stars, or just leave the 4 and 5 stars so you have room for future growth 😉

  17. Wait, you can take out the optical drive of a 13″ MBP and put in another hard drive?

    Can Apple do this?

  18. @Geoff, thanks for that. I’ve been following this kind of system actually. I get up to 3 stars, but nothing beyond that yet. If I had David’s photography skills then I could see where the 5 stars would come into play 🙂

  19. I was going to ask the same thing Michael just asked. The optical drive in my early 2008 17″ MBP hasn’t worked for the past year. I don’t miss it (never used it all that much anyway) and would *love* to swap it out for another 500GB HD. Did you do this yourself, or did you custom-order it from Apple? I used to be fairly Mac savvy, but haven’t done any work like this for awhile so would feel safer knowing someone who’s done it successfully before I attempt to do surgery on one of my own most valued “Objects of Beauty”. I suppose there might be some tutorials online. I’ll Google it.

    Thanks for the very informative post, David.

  20. @Michael and @Richard

    If you guys go to Other World Computing you’ll see they have optical conversion kits for various models. I haven’t tried them myself but I’ve read good things about their kits, including their solid-state upgrades. And almost anyone with a bit of techno knowledge should be able to handle the upgrade. They have videos and instructions on their site to help you along.

  21. My strategy is somewhat simpler. I get all my photos in my laptop, a copy into an Iomega NAS and from this NAS, it gets uploaded to Amazon’s S3 storage services. All automatically done.

  22. @Tif you’re very welcome.

    @Gustavo I like your strategy, however, how do you handle the enormous bandwidth issues to upload to S3?

  23. @Robert

    Thanks for the tip on Other World Computing. I didn’t get a hard drive kit or upgrade, but I upgraded my MBP to 16GB or RAM which has helped things tremendously. I was also under the impression from Apple’s own site and tech support (geniuses?) that you couldn’t upgrade to 16GB and 8GB was the limit for the 13″ MBP.

  24. Thanks David! Good to know that a renowned photog has a workflow way less complex than the one of Chase Jarvis =). However I would wanna know if you always carry your offsite 4TB G-Speed to your studio and then back offsite?
    And i’m surprised you have All your images in one LR cat. How many anyway?
    looking forward to your follow ups….thanks!

  25. @Robert, It just takes its time. That’s the beauty of the external drive. It sends 24x7x365. What I did not mention is that I have another couple of external drives that I use for backup from the iomega, in case it fails

  26. Pingback: Backup Questions Answered

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