How to Backup Your Data!

In a previous post we talked about a few online backup options. Those are a great first step, however, there are many problems – long upload / download times, similar services have been known to close down, ease of retrieval, etc. If you’re working professionally, loosing images has real consequences beyond your own disappointment. It’s time to consider a more robust backup workflow and while it might take some time and money to set up, it’ll be well worth it when (not if) your hard drive crashes or your images become corrupted.

Below you will find a diagram of the workflow I use myself. I’m going to assume all your files are currently sitting on your computer and thus go through each part as if you’re setting this up for the first time. I will use photography as an example, but this is applicable to all file types. It’s important to mention that no system is 100% fail-safe, but this is a good starter as it’s not too expensive and can be set up fairly quickly. Onwards!

To start off, I like to think of my files as being in three categories – Active, Archived, and Important.

Active Files: Images that you have just shot, are in the process of editing, or need to access on a regular basis.

Archived Files: Image that you are finished with, and don’t need to access regularly, but wish to keep.

Important Files: Highly important images that need extra redundancy (e.g. high value fine art images)

1. Constant Backup

This is the most basic backup – it’s an exact duplicate of the files sitting on your computer (or whatever your main hard drive is). This drive needs to be at least the same size as your computer’s hard drive and should be synced whenever you make major changes to files that you don’t want to lose. Set your sync software (some suggestions below) to only copy files in one direction – from your computer to your constant backup. If you do nothing else, do this!

2. Archive

Eventually you will run out of space on your computer’s hard drive. Instead of buying an endless stream of bigger and bigger hard drives create an archive where you put all you old files that you don’t use often (Archived Files). At this point it’s a good idea to start a list of what images are in your archive. Eventually, you will need to get a second Archive (and so on), so having something that tells you what files are in which Archive will save you tons of time. I manually copy over my Archived Files, just make sure you don’t delete them off your main drive just yet.

3. Archive Backup

This functions like the Constant Backup but syncs to your Archive instead of your computer. Once you have this setup and synced, you can delete the Archive Files from your computer. Free space!

4. Important Files / The Cloud

So now you have your Active Files backed up and you have an Archive that is also backed up. Chances are, you have some files that are extra important. For example, if you sell fine art prints, especially if you do it professionally, losing those files is not an option. These image are already on your computer and thus on the Constant Backup as well. I also manually create a folder in my Archive called Important Files where I put a copy of those images. This means they are automatically synced to the Archive Backup as well. However, in the case of a natural disaster or something similar you want to have you’re important files somewhere far, far away. This is where The Cloud comes in.

As we mentioned before, there are many services for storing data online. For Important Files, I prefer something more static where, similar to the Archive, I can create a folder and manually add files to it. Use a reputable company for this – Amazon S3 is good. A key thing is to remember – unlike your other backups which sync automatically, your Important Files are synced manually by you. So if you change one of them somehow, make sure to recopy it everywhere else.

Sync Software

To automatically sync your files you will need sync software. Almost anything will do and there are lots of options, the key is that you should be able to set a rule for it to sync files from one drive straight to another. The two options I’m familiar with and have used are ChronoSync for Macs ($40) and SyncToy for Windows (free).

Keeping Backups Off-Site

It is important to keep you’re backups off-site whenever possible. Hopefully you have somewhere not to far – your office, a friends place, to keep you’re Constant Backup and Archive Backup hard drives. It has to be somewhere relatively secure, someone you trust, preferably in another neighborhood in your city, and somewhere you can access fairly frequently and easily. Only bring your backup drives home to sync them and take them back the next day.

To wrap things up, here is the same diagram as above, but showing what types of files end up on what drives.

Please share this post and help save a few people from the stressful, horrible, and time consuming experience which is losing data. It’s happened to me, can you tell?

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