The most important asset a photographer has is not their camera, it’s their photos – or, to put it more technically, it’s their data. Our data and the processes that we have in place around it is something we take very seriously. When we finish a job, whether it’s a wedding or a fashion shoot, we will end up with:
While this might sound daunting, the extra steps we have added to our workflow in order to achieve this are minimal and not that time consuming. Would you spend an extra 10 minutes per job if it potentially saved you losing your files, revenue and reputation?
It is critical to any business that they have a backup and recovery process in place for their data. In the event of major catastrophe, a business needs to be able to recover their data as quickly as possible. Lost time = loss in revenue. Lost data = very unhappy clients.
A backup and recovery process is different for each business. There are some key principles that apply to all, but the implementation of them will vary because of the different ways people run their business. For example, a single photographer running their business from home on one computer would require a different backup strategy to a studio with multiple shooters, multiple workstations and their own server.
Before we share our workflow and the steps we take in managing our data, it might help to give you an idea of our setup:
We take a portable storage device (Epson P-7000) to every job. When we fill a card or finish a shoot, we backup the card to the storage device. At the end of the job, we drop the storage device at the studio and the cards at a secret location. Straight away, we have two copies of our data – one onsite (at the studio) and one offsite (at the secret location). If anything were to happen to the studio before we could start working on the files, we would be able to recover by using the cards.
The first thing we do when we get into the studio after a shoot is import the photos from the storage device on to our computer. We do this using Lightroom. One of the great features of Lightroom is that you can backup your photos to a secondary place during the import. The import dialogue gives you the option to choose a second folder to copy the photos to. For us, this is an external hard drive plugged directly into our computer, which we call the ‘Archive Drive’.
One of the advantages of having the storage device is that we can import all the photos at once, rather than having to import from separate cards. We can have up to 8 cards, depending on the job, so having the storage device saves us time.
The next step we do is backup the imported photos to DVD. Now, the use of DVDs might seem “old school” to some, but it’s another key part in our backup and recovery process. External hard drives (excluding solid state hard drives) are mechanical, whereas DVDs are not, meaning that DVDs will last longer – pending use and storage conditions. We do not destroy our data… EVER! We keep it for as long as the media that it is stored on permits. While external hard drives make it easier to recover archived files, DVDs have a longer lifespan.
These DVDs are then taken offsite.
The photos imported on the local computer are then edited and processed. All working files remain on the local computer. Each computer is connected to a Time Machine drive and backed-up every hour. This Time Machine drive is swapped with another Time Machine drive once a week. The unused Time Machine drive is kept offsite. The ‘Archive Drive’ containing the backup copies of the RAW files is synced with another external hard drive also located offsite once a week.
If a catastrophic event were to occur at the studio – i.e. fire, flood, theft – and we were to lose all our computers and external hard drives, the most we would lose is one weeks worth of work. Our insurance would replace our computers, our data would be recovered using the offsite drives and we would be operational again with little fuss.
If Trudy and I need to handover files to each other, we do it in a number of ways.
For those who haven’t heard of Dropbox, it is an application that runs on your computer that syncs the data in a particular folder on your computer with the dropbox server. You can then share this folder with someone else, so that they can access the data within it. Any changes they make are synced back to the dropbox server and updated on your computer.
Once a job is complete and the final product has been handed over to the client, all design and working files are copied to the ‘Archive Drive’. This includes any Indesign and Photoshop files and resulting JPEGs. As mentioned above, this ‘Archive Drive’ is synced with another external hard drive located offsite once a week.
The production files are also exported as JPEG and copied to another external hard drive called the ‘Catalogue Drive’. This drive contains its own Lightroom Catalogue and all final files that we have ever produced – yes, all. This drive makes it very quick and easy for us to access our previous jobs if we need to show potential clients or publish the files somewhere else – without having to go back to the individual archive drives that the project is stored on. This ‘Catalogue Drive’ is synced with another external hard drive located offsite once a week.
Once the above steps are done, the working and production files are removed from our computer.
When an archive drive becomes full, we store it away and get another one (well, two – one for onsite and another for the offsite copy). All drives are given unique names. When a job or project is saved to one of these archive drives, the name of the drive is noted on the project file so that we know which drive to go to when we need to reference the original working files .
When a catalogue drive becomes full, we get a bigger one and copy the data from the old drive to the new one. This means we can keep a copy of all our production files on one drive, making it simple to review our past production files.
Restoring files is just a matter of grabbing the right archive drive and copying data back to the local computer. Once we have made our changes, we follow the same process to backup our data.
If you want to see a backup and recovery process in action, but on a much grander scale, check out this blog post on Chase Jarvis’ Workflow. It will either impress you, inspire you… or give you gear envy. For me, it was all of the above.