Don’t forget to back up those precious digital files!

Well it’s sunday and I’ve got homework, lots of images to edit and process from two big assignments in the past week and just like when I was in high school and college, I’m procrastinating!  When I was younger my procrastination technique of choice was to clean my room or when in college it was to do laundry.  My argument was “how could I possibly be productive in the midst of such chaos.”   Well you know what they say about old dogs and new tricks so today I’m organizing the mayhem that is my assortment of external hard drives at varies stages of redundancy.

external hard drives

© Kurt Budliger Photography

Last year I made the big leap from a Window based system to a Mac, and prior to the switch I had been pretty religious about backing up my photo archive and keeping everything pretty dialed and organized.  Since making the switch however I’ve let things get a bit sloppy, leaving most of my archive on an external drive called photo library, putting many but not all new images on the macbook pro hard drive, forgetting what was backed up, yada, yada, yada it was a mess.  To make matters worse I’ve been feeling like a hypocrite.  I teach two college level digital photography classes and I covered the topics of digital workflow and good digital asset management in class this week.  Can you say practice what you preach?

Here’s my system and routine, modified as recently as today 2/7/10.

  • 15″ macbook pro – my main computer which houses my operating system and all applications (lightroom, photoshop, etc.).  This gets backed up to a 500gb external hard drive using time machine.
  • 500 gb external hard drive named Photo Library – this houses all my photos and related photography documents as well as my lightroom catalogue.  There are two main folders on this drive, Photography (which contains all the images and documents) and Lightroom 2 (which contains the lightroom catalogue, previews, and settings)
  • 2nd 500 gb external hard drive named Photo Library Backup – this is a mirrored copy of the Photo Library drive and gets backed up daily using carbon copy cloner for mac.  If the primary Photo Library drive fails all I have to do is plug this one in and away I go, they are identical.

When I come home from a shoot I first upload all my new files to a folder on the Photo Library drive using the finder.  I then launch my lightroom catalogue (from the Photo Library drive) and import the new folder with some develop presets as well as keywords and copyright.  The benefit of keeping the lightroom catalogue on the external hard drive and not on my macbook pro is that I can access and use this catalogue as well as the associated image files from any computer that is connected to the drive.  I use the loupe in lightroom to rate the images, one star for keepers (I’m considering starting to use PhotoMechanic for this step because of its speed over lightroom).  I then select all the non-keepers and delete them from the hard drive.  I then rename all the keepers with a unique file name and sequence number, my system is based on date.  Ex. 10-02-07kbp001

At this point I may begin processing images or perhaps wait until a later date, regardless I’ll be going back through another round of ratings to segregate out the real gems.  I’ve got carbon copy cloner scheduled to do my daily backup in the evening while I’m sleeping, I’ve just got to remember to turn on and plug in the second drive before going to bed.  Sometimes If I know I’ll be away from my computer and not using it to process images I’ll manually initiate the backup during the day.  The final step in this process, to be done only after backing up the new files is to reformat memory cards.  This should be done in your camera to ensure proper file handling and keep the cards healthy and happy.

Something I have yet to do and is definitely recommended by the digital asset management gurus is to keep a third copy of you backup drive off site.  The obvious danger of keeping two external hard drives (photo library and photo library backup) living side by side on your desk is that you are not protected from theft, fire, tornado, earthquake, tsunami, you get the idea.  I’ll be incorporating a third external hard drive into the rotation soon.  I plan to leave this third drive at a family member’s house and periodically (once a month or so) pick it up for backup.  When I retrieve the third drive I’ll leave behind the other photo library backup and just keep leapfrogging them.

So here’s the lesson, get organized, stay organized and make sure you are routinely backing up your photo library.  Because hard drive failure will happen, it’s not a matter of if, it’s when.  I’ve had it happen twice  in the same year and were it not for by backup drive I would have lost 10s of thousands of images.

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~ by kurtbudliger on February 7, 2010.

One Response to “Don’t forget to back up those precious digital files!”

  1. […] from home.  One of the benefits of getting myself re-organized in the past week (see previous post here) is that I really started to dig through some old folders and look for images that I hadn’t […]

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