The data backup journey

Data backup isn’t a sexy part of a photographers job, but surely it’s the most important? Here is how I protect myself and my client. This covers four areas of back up, with the initial one of the memory cards being a temporary measure, until delivery of the photos to the client. I run four main parts of the process which I’ll detail below:

Memory card > Mirrored External drives > Raid > Cloud backup

Dual memory cards

Before the wedding day, you should be thinking about data backup protecting the client’s images. Professional cameras available now have two memory card slots – either dual SD or CF + SD combined. I personally use Dual 128gb OR Dual 64gb cards depending on how large the wedding will be. The reasoning behind this is that if a card fails you have two copies. If the worst case scenario happens and a card fails, I don’t recommend swapping just one card out and replacing, take both cards out and keep them both stored safely until you get home. Put two brand new cards in so you are still running dual slots. This way, if the camera is causing the problem, you won’t corrupt the good card.

Single slot cameras

For those that are still running single card slots, which some brands still offer, you can run smaller 4-8gb cards and swap them out during the day. I used to carry a whole collection of cards and keep empty ones in the left pocket and full ones in the right. That way if a card failed you would only lose a small portion of the day rather than the whole thing.

Dual slots, dual camera

No one wants to lose any files so the dual slot option for me is the only way. This has been a major deciding point over the years for which camera I choose. On top of the cards – having dual cameras is a go-to thing for professional photographers. This means if a camera fails you have a backup readily at hand. You shouldn’t be caught out with this ultimate combo.

Once you get back to the office

Once I get home, I start the data backup process from the memory cards that evening. I want to prevent any potential problems as soon as I can. I don’t clear these memory cards until the finished product has been delivered. As such, I have a large number of memory cards and a storage system for these.

Mirrored external drives

Second half of 2017's external drives
Second half of 2017’s external drives

I immediately import the photos to mirrored external drives. I use 2 x Transcend 2tb Military edition. Over the years I have used Western Digital and Seagate. I have personally found the Transcend drives have been the most reliable. The shock-resistant casing means that when it’s inside a bag, any vibrations will be absorbed to some degree. You might be asking why I use 2tb drives. The reason being is that I will use these drives until they are 70% full (I always leave a little extra space just in case) then buy another 2x 2tb drives and repeat the process. Each year I shoot around 8tb of images. Yes – that’s a lot of weddings!

I import through Lightroom and convert my images to DNG with smart previews rendered. I prefer not to apply preset on import and do this myself afterwards.

My folders are always named as the client’s name, for example, Sam & Aden (I will add the last name if they both have the same name). Inside the folder, it looks a little like this:

An example of folder format

I use a little program called Filesync. This program enables you to sync both drives without actually creating a raid. The reason being, when using a raid you have to have both drives present for it to work. Using file sync I can do things on one of the drives, then do a sync later to copy. This allows that drive to be completely independent. This is another little insurance policy as if the drive fails you can buy another and just sync it up!

Pro tip: Don’t delete from one of the memory cards until you have delivered to the client for extra backup. SD cards are super cheap in Amazon deals. Keep an eye out for these!

Collection of Western digital NAS drives

Raid backup

Once you have created a folder layout on the external drives and made two copies, you can then do the primary data backup to the raid.

Raid – Collection of hard drives working together as one. 

Raid is a WHOLE other topic and I don’t want to get too far into what is right or wrong, but I run a 5 drive RAID6 configuration. What this means in simple terms is that two drives can fail and I can still have a full raid rebuild with no issues at all. The raid box I use is the QNAP TS-563. My raid is 30tb but in Raid6 there is 18tb usable space. You might be asking where the rest of the space is? In raid6 it uses a portion of each drive as backup space, so if one of the drives fails you can still rebuild the raid. While a lot of people see this as a backup option, it’s not. If the raid hardware fails you have to match it EXACTLY or else this will not rebuild. As they say, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I plug one of the external drives into this and copy the files into the wedding directory. This is stage 3 backup in my process.

Pro tip: When deciding which drives to use in your NAS, I choose to use WD Red 6tb drives due to research I had conducted on failure rates and cover the WD offer. A good place to see hard drive history on failures is Backblaze’s blog. They literally have THOUSANDS of drives running and experience failures daily. They compile this data to give you an idea which is working best. In the past, this has lead to manufacturers improving their drives purely because of Backblaze’s data. Their 2017 stats are here.

The cloud

The cloud

My final and fourth backup stage is the cloud.

I use a Mac mini connected to my RAID/NAS to upload to the cloud, in particular, CrashPlan. The raid will be connected with 24/7 uptime. I make sure the Mac mini also runs the same. Personally, don’t feel Crashplan is the best option. A lot of photographers use Amazon based cloud storage or Backblaze B2, purely because of upload speeds. Every photographer should have cloud storage. The reason is that you are protected in the eventuality that someone steals your hard drives or the worst case scenario of fire or flooding. I personally feel you should not be without this.

Pro tip: Optional extra to the cloud would be Shootproof. You can upload JPEGs here and create client galleries for them to view and download. Steve wrote a superb blog post on Shootproof about this.

Conclusion

So there we have it, a complete data backup solution for photographers. I feel it’s important to make this your habit when it comes to clients work, as they deserve to be treated with a professional approach. Not only this, but losing photos is surely one of the worst nightmares a photographer can face?

If you know any ways this can be improved I would love to hear from you. Let’s start a discussion in the comments below!

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Aden


Aden is a Lincolnshire based wedding photographer that likes to explore the world. With multiple international weddings under his belt, no adventure is too far or near.

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