Backup Your Backup

My son came to me earlier today with his laptop that seemed to be DOA.  It seemed to be stuck in some sort of infinite boot cycle.  He was pretty upset about it, mostly because of a research paper he’d been typing up and the possibility of loosing all his work.  He’s just in fifth grade, but found himself in the same boat as any one of us could be at any time.  I too was worried, not because of his paper, I had a backup of that on our network drive, I just did not want to spend a couple hours reformatting and rebuilding his laptop. Well, in the end I was able to coax the laptop back to life and it seems to be running fine right now.

My first digital Image 4-12-2003

But this whole thing got me thinking, what’s the best backup approach for your irreplaceable images?  I’ll be honest here, having my memories and keepsake images existing on my hard drive as 1’s and 0’s makes me a bit unsettled. There was something more tangible to appreciate back when I shot in film.  You had a nice stack of images you could store in an album or picture box. Now I’m soon coming up on my 10 year anniversary of shooting digital images.  The first image I took is of my son back on 4/12/2003 crawling on the floor in all it’s .5 megabit glory.  And here I am 10 years later, able to pull up that shot in about the same amount of time that it took me to type this sentence.  Now since I organize my pictures by date, admitably finding that particular image may have been cheating a bit, but it is a great example of a benefit with our digital lives, the speed at which we can access our images. The danger however is that these memorable images are one mistaken keystroke, one lightning strike, or one coffee spill away from extinction.

I’ve had my share of computer mishaps over the years and I’ve been around them most of my life. I knew well before 2003 the benefits of backing up your data and I’ve had to bring back to life many more computers than my son’s laptop this morning.  So I just wanted to share with you a simple approach to backups. This applies to any important file, however since this is my photography blog and really the most important files I own are my 10 years of family pictures, I’ll refer to pictures as the data.  The approach to saving your pictures is the 3-2-1 Rule. I’ve heard a lot of backup explanations, but think this one is the easiest to remember and apply. Peter Krogh has a very detailed write up of this on the American Society of Media Photographers site

The basic concept is this:

3 – Keep three copies of your important files (photos), one primary and two backups.
2 – It’s recommended that your files be on two different media types.  For example a hard drive or optical disk.
1 – One version of your backup needs to be at a different physical location or offline (or in the cloud).

So I’ve tried to operate using the above approach as best I can. I do deviate a bit from this approach by keeping all my files on hard drives in general. I don’t have the storage space or time to create DVD copies of all of my images.  At just under 5gb a pop, DVD’s are not going to cut it for the amount of output I’m getting from my camera shooting 16mb RAW images let alone trying to go back and get all my historical photo’s on a big stack of DVD’s.  So I operate this way, I have my primary images in split between my computer and a synology NAS drive. I keep my more current pictures on my computer, but only for the current year. My primary copies of my historical shots are on my NAS drive along with other media (video’s and music).  I then have my first backup of these primary files on external drives which are connected to my computer and NAS drive.  These backups happen automatically, set it and forget it. For my second, offsite backup I use Crashplan, which is a cloud storage solution.  This serves the purpose of having my files in another location in case of a disaster like my house burning to the ground.  I’ve been happy with it, however I’m considering not renewing my subscription at the end of the month and instead using that money to invest in another synology device which I can put in a different location and back up my files to it over the internet.  I’ll provide an update on what I end up doing there.

So that’s my gameplan. It’s not overly complicated, however it does require some thought and investment.  I’d encourage you to do an audit of how you store your files. How confident are you that your photo’s will be around 10 years from now?  Nothing is certain in life, however by implementing the 3-2-1 Rule toward my backups, I hope to minimize the loss of irreplaceable files and sleep a little better at night.

The Lightbox Share for this post is an image from Elliott Erwitt, I’m planning on doing a post about him later on, but I look at his images often for inspiration. The image below comes from Magnum Photo’s. Check them out if you want to see some great photography from around the world.

Elliott Erwitt


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