My Backup System 3rd january 2018

Image backup is one of those topics that many don't think about until they encounter a card, hard drive or computer failure, and by then its too late. Thankfully (touch wood!!) I have only ever experienced a memory card being corrupted once. This made me think about the importance of backing up my images in camera, but I had no real no real system in place for my computer. A friend, Elliot Hook, got me thinking about my non existent backing up system on his blog post about backing up . With Elliot's help this got me thinking about designing a backup system that works for me.

Not knowing much about backup systems a little research found one of the most common backup systems is the 1,2,3 Backup Rule:

  • THREE Copies of Data
  • TWO Different Types of Media
  • ONE Off Site Copy

What this means is there should be three copies of the data (including the original file) on at least two different types of storage media and stored in two different places. The idea of this is to give a system that can cope with most disasters thrown at it.

Often backup's are seen as a necessity regarding the storage of files on computers, but often forget the need for 'in the field' backup systems. Ensuring you are able to get the photos you have taken from your camera to your computer is quite important. I have experienced data loss at the "in the field' stage before and there was no way to retrieve the lost images. Thankfully I only lost 4-5 hours of images from a day at a wildlife park that I could repeat in the future, it wasn't a once in a lifetime experience.

My 'In The Field' Backup System

It has taken me a while to think about my 'in the field' backup system, I have now got it to a point where I'm happy covering the '1, 2, 3 Backup Rule' as best as I can.

Second Data Copy- Twin Memory Card Slots

Employing an 'in the field' backup system can be as simple as automatically recording the image files to two memory cards instead of one. Many DSLR's make backing up in the field easy as several models now have two memory card slots and you can decide the role played by the memory card in slot 2. Since experiencing a card failure I usually choose 'Backup' to automatically recorded to both memory cards. There has to be very specific circumstances where I don't have the camera set to write to both memory cards at the same time. Transfer speed or maximum storage capacity are the only circumstances I can think of where I may choose the 'overflow' option rather than 'backup'.

At his point I have two copies of the data split over two 64GB memory cards. To lose all images I would need both memory cards to fail or for me to lose both memory cards. I could reduce the chance of card failures affecting me by using several smaller memory cards in one of the slots. The only problem is smaller sized memory cards have less capacity and some modern cameras file sizes can be huge, below you can see the range of RAW files sizes I have experienced:

  • Nikon D7000 = 15-20MB
  • Nikon D7100 = 15-25MB
  • Nikon D810 = 35-40MB

Whilst using several small cards would reduce the chance of losing all images I find due to the file size it's not practical to be swapping memory cards all of the time. I now use two large capacity cards and I also carry a duplicate set of SD and CF cards. If a trip is a couple of days long or if there is a break part way through the day I can swap out cards midway through. Swapping cards out can reduce the chance of losing all images from the trip. Whilst having the data on two memory cards its really only one copy if both are still in one place. I try to compensate this risk by not leaving both memory cards in the same place. I try to remove one card and kept in a hard memory card case, and the other memory card stays in the DSLR. Removing the memory card prior to returning home can also help negate the possibility of condensation caused by bring a cold camera into a warm house. Already having a memory card removed lets the camera and lens slowing warm up inside the camera bag.

Third Data Copy- Laptop Storage

If I'm on a photo trip or holiday I may take a laptop with me. The laptop allows me to copy the images to the laptop's hard drive at the end of each day and take a look at them in Lightroom. It also lets me start the initial sorting (picks/rejects) whilst away and I can export the Lightroom catalogue to be integrated with my lightroom catalogue on the desktop at home.

With the laptop I meet the requirements '1, 2, 3 Backup Rule' as at the end of each day I have three copies of the images files, stored on two different types of media and one off site copy on the laptop.

An Alternative Third Data Copy- A Large SD Memory Card

Although using a laptop as part of my 'in the field' backup process is an ideal solution to meeting the '1, 2, 3 Backup Rule' I find it can be a pain due to its size and the fact it can need the battery recharging. This was a potential problem for a planned two night stay on Skomer Island where the accommodation has limited power sockets run off solar power. This lead me to investigate other ways to make a third data copy on long photo trips. I've found there are various options, I found some modern DSLR with 2 slots have a 'Copy Image' feature that allows images from one memory card to be copied to the other card slot. This feature provides the same storage functionality as a laptop, but the added bonus of only needing to carry an extra memory card. I don't have to carry any extra equipment or power cables, meaning less weight and items to forget to pack. The copy image feature is quite fast (depending on memory card speed) and easy to do. The only downside is you are copying to another SD or CF memory card so you are not fully complying with the 2nd rule of the '1, 2, 3 Backup Rule' by not backing up to two different types of media. Personally I don't have a problem with only backing up to SD and CF memory cards for the advantages they give me over carrying a separate media storage system.

Do I need a third copy?

A third copy is always my quandary, do I really need a third copy? Shooting to two cards and backing up in camera for majority of my trips should be sufficient. There are not too many times I feel it's really necessary top have three copies of the files. If I'm on a long or special trip it's likely I would contemplate creating a third data copy. Usually I feel it's not necessary to have third copy, remembering to take one of the memory cards out of the camera and storing it somewhere else is probably more important for me.

My 'Photography Processing' Backup System

For photography I use an Apple iMac. My backup system revolves around software for iMac's but the general backup system setup can work for a PC too. The flow diagram below shows my backup system.

iMac Backup- Time Machine

Apple iMac's have one great program, Time Machine, that makes backing up your files on your computer to an external hard drive very easy. Time Machine is a great backup program as it keeps a backup copy of not only all of yours files but also system files, applications, programs, documents etc. It differs to your standard backup programs as it remembers what you iMac looked like in the past and you can returned to how it looked at any point in the past. Time Machine keeps hourly backups for 24 hours, daily backups for the last month and weekly backups from then onwards. This is great if you delete a file and then decide you still need it a few weeks later. You just look back in the Time Machine backups until the point you deleted it.

Time Machine is easy to set up, connect an external storage drive and point Time Machine to the drive you want it to backup to. In my case I set Time Machine to Backup to a 1TB external portable hard drive. Thats all you have to do for Time Machine to start backing up everything that on your iMac's internal hard drive.

Lightroom Backup System

For RAW processing I use Lightroom. Lightroom has a great Library function for uploading, storing and exporting images. Once you have set up Lightroom correctly you don't ever need to touch your hard drive storage location to move, delete or edit images. I personally like the calendar folder setup on the left hand side of the Lightroom screen. It makes finding images easy and the folder layout is mirrored on your hard drive. You can set up Lightroom to automatically save a backup copy of your images files as you upload them. I prefer not to do this and backup my images by other means.

All of my image files are imported by Lightroom onto an external hard drive rather than on my iMac internal hard drive. I've had to make this decision due to the limited capacity of the internal hard drive and a growing image library. The 2TB external hard drive is partitioned into Lightroom Catalogue and Lightroom RAW's. I import all of my images through Lightroom, it's setup to import the RAW files into a Year-Month-Day file structure on the Lightroom RAW's hard drive.

Onsite Backup

One of the reason's I never had a good backup system was because I have found is that I'm not good at remembering to complete manual backups. The most important aspect of my backup system was automatic backups that required very little input from me. I needed something to complete the backups for me. Elliot introduced me to 'Carbon Copy Cloner'. It is a useful backup program that allows you to choose what and when you backup.

Using Carbon Copy Cloner I have set up the Lightroom Catalogue and RAW's hard drive to backup up to a 2x 3TB RAID 1 hard drive when both the Catalogue and RAW hard drive appear.

Carbon Copy Cloner provides a "SafetyNet' feature that can keep a copy of older versions of modified files, and files that have been deleted since a previous backup. This gives the benefit of being able to recover files if they were accidentally deleted or modified, rather than the onsite backup only mirroring the mistake on the Lightroom Catalogue and RAW's hard drive. You can select a time period that’s right for you giving you peace of mind that you can rescue any accidentally deleted file.

Offsite Backups

To provide an offsite backup in case the worst happened losing both copies of the Lightroom Catalogue/RAW's hard drive and the onsite backup I have an offsite backup to fall back on. The problem was I knew this was going to be a manual backup process, and any manual backup process brings risks compared to automatic backups. I knew I had to make it as easy as possible otherwise I would not be completed as often as it needed to. This is where Carbon Copy Cloner comes to the rescue again

'LR Offsite Backup 1' and 'LR Offsite Backup 2' are backed up to separate 2TB portable hard drives that backup when each disk appears. At first I tried only having one offsite portable hard drive but I found it was at home for several days until I remembered to take it offsite again. This risked losing everything during this period. Having two portable hard drives means one stays offsite at all times. Unfortunately the offsite backup process still needs manual intervention, Carbon Copy Cloner can be set to provide a reminder if the offsite backup has not been updated for a while.

Cloud Storage: Future?

The one problem of my current backup system is that all backups are stored on external hard drives. In the future this is something that I'm going to need to look into as these is no second type of media, and no automatic offsite backup. There are several cloud services that I could possibly use but there are several issues that are stopping me, namely poor internet upload speed and sorting out over five years of image files. Until recently I was using my website as an online storage space for the edited High resolution JPEG images, but since moving away from Zenfolio I've had to stop this. One area I'm interested to see progression is Adobe's Lightroom cloud based system. Perhaps in the future cloud based working storage with onsite backup storage will be the new norm.

Backup System Conclusion

So far I'm happy with the backup system described above. It covers my backup needs as best as I currently can, maybe in the future cloud storage needs investigating further. With an ever growing image collection I've also thought of ways I can expand the system easily in the future when I need to. Sadly a backup system cannot be truly tested until there is a data loss. I'm hoping I never need to use my backups, but its good knowing they are there. I just have to an eye on the backups to ensure they are running correctly and backup as they should. Carbon Copy Cloner helps again as it's set to email me when backups have taken place and if they are successful or not.

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