I need a new backup strategy


This is becoming an annual end-of-the-year ritual. I look at the hard disk on my laptop and realize that it’s 95% full, and the next time I download a CF card full of images it will likely tap out.

Digital photography is a major resource hog. I keep probably 95% of the images that I shoot, even if I don’t think right now that they’re worth working on. Often enough, I go back a few months later and decide that an image that I originally dismissed is worth working on. Of course I also need to keep every single family photo that I take, or risk a severely ticked off wife.

A few years ago I decided to switch to a laptop for all my computer needs, and I’m on my second MacBook. But I’m beginning to realize the limitations of that approach, and I think my next computer I’ll probably go the other direction and go back to a desktop Mac. One that I can upgrade extensively.

I don’t shoot nearly as much as a lot of serious photographers, but I do shoot RAW, 21 megapixel files. Once you start editing those files in Photoshop, with layers, it really doesn’t take long to fill up a hard disk.

Around the middle of 2009 I replaced the 250 Gb hard disk that came with my MacBook Pro with a 500 Gb disk. “No problem”, I thought at the time, that will give me plenty of space. Yea, right. My 500 Gb disk now has less than 10 Gb free. Time to do something different.

For the last couple of years we’ve used an old desktop PC stashed in a closet as a backup server for my laptop and Tammie’s. I put a 750 Gb hard drive in it just for data backup, and each day at 3 am it connects to our laptops using SyncBak and it copies over any new files that it finds. About an hour later, it uploads any new files to an account we have on Mozy, providing us with automated off-site storage. Our Mozy account currently has over 500 Gb of stuff on it. It’s a system that works beautifully, and I don’t have to think about it very often. Once or twice a week I connect to the desktop remotely to make sure it’s doing what it’s supposed to, and rarely do I ever have to mess with it.

But it’s not sustainable.

Our big concern is to have off-site backups of photos that are irreplaceable. That means, for the most part, family photos. For me it also means my artistic photos that I consider to be keepers. Ones that I really don’t want to lose. That means that other than the family photos, only about 5% of the RAW files I generate need to be backed up off-site. It also needs to be something that I can do with a minimum amount of manual effort or thought. I’m willing to put a lot of thought and effort into getting the thing working, but once it’s working I don’t want to have to mess with it.

I’ve used Lightroom for the last several years for managing and editing my photos, and it’s an essential piece of how I work with photos. In order to keep disk-space on my laptop manageable, I’ve kept a separate Lightroom catalog for each year, moving last year’s photos and catalog off the laptop to the backup PC when I’m done with them. But at this point I don’t want to have to keep upgrading the hard disk on the server PC, I don’t see the need to back up the vast majority of the RAW files to an off-site location (just the keepers), and my laptop can’t hold a full year’s worth of RAW photos, even if I sacrifice my music collection and numerous programs.

So what am I to do?

Yesterday I bought an external 1.5 Tb drive that I’ve got hooked up to my laptop. I also have a 1 Tb Time Capsule set up to sync my laptop, providing me with a convenient, automatic backup of everything on my laptop. My current plan, is to have all my photos automatically copied to the 1.5 Tb drive, and that will be the main backup for the majority of my photos. I’ll export my keepers to a second Lightroom catalog, and just that catalog and all the associated RAW files will be copied to the server PC, and then to Mozy.

But Lightroom doesn’t make this as easy as it could. I’ll write more about that once I figure out the mechanics of getting this to work.


~ by Dave on 01/03/10.

7 Responses to “I need a new backup strategy”

  1. Seriously, I feel your pain. It always seems this issue with storing, backing up, using and sharing media is always a headache. It feels as though all I really do is push back the “solution” to another date by purchasing more storage. I have opted out of off site storage for a few different reasons. Mostly I like to say “I enjoy living on the edge” I guess. More accurately I just don’t have the resources to allocate that type of reassurance. As I checked in on your blog I was shopping for a 1.5 or 1 TB external hard drive. What brand did you settle on for your purchase? My external hard drives are full and my laptop is about full. One thing I do enjoy is purging. I go through folders all the time deleting files as much as I can. In 30 minutes I can create quite a bit of space. Files that I had to come to terms with too. I had to realize that there are thousands of files which I will never come back to. I can talk myself into coming back to them but I won’t. It is liberating and I do feel as though my overall collection is at a higher level than when I have kept everything I’ve shot. I use a label system when I download pictures. That way when I come back to the folder down the road I can swiftly get rid of junk images that at one point for the life of me I just couldn’t delete.

    I enjoy the blog and keep up the good shooting. I should probably get back to my blog which hasn’t been updated in a minute.


  2. Hey Scott, good to hear from you.

    I got a Seagate Expansion external drive at Best Buy. The 1.5 Tb was only $30 more than the 1 Tb, but the 2 Tb was $100 more, and was a slower drive. So I went for the 1.5 Tb.

    I need to get less anal retentive about keeping everything. I do find myself going back and finding photos that I passed over the first time, but if I exercised a bit more discipline during my initial editing, I could probably eliminate a lot of photos that I’ll never go back to.

    The off-site backup of irreplaceable photos isn’t really negotiable with my wife. She was a volunteer fire-fighter/EMT for a few years, and knows from first-hand experience how family photos are just about the only things that can’t be replaced after a fire. I’ve never had the self-discipline to burn to DVDs and store them somewhere else.

    Mozy is cheaper than continuing to buy hard drives ($50 per year for unlimited backup), but it only keeps a copy of everything that you have on the computer the account is on. If you delete files from your computer to make room, they eventually get deleted from your Mozy account as well. I’ve recovered files off their service that I accidentally deleted from my laptop, but it’s really slow pulling files off their server, but other than that it seems to work fine.


  3. I have every photo I’ve ever taken backed up on a Drobo. It’s sitting at 900GB used of (currently) 2TBs available. I work off a 400GB external drive in an eSATA enclosure and back that up to the Drobo.

    My plan is to (pretty soon) purchase a new 2TB drive and make that the working drive in this eSATA enclosure. Newegg has 2TB drives for $200, and you can get them on sale for $180 if you keep watch.

    With he new 2TB drive I can have every photo on the working drive and (twice) on the Drobo. I’ll have three copies of every image, and with the external drive with me almost at all times I’ll have one set at work and one set with me. If anything were to happen while at work I just need to grab the working drive before I evacuate. πŸ˜‰

    It might be worth looking into two 2TB drives, use one as your main drive and one as a backup. I used to just keep buying smaller drives because they were so cheap, but it got to be a real pain keeping track of which drive had which set of month’s images.

    I don’t really like purging, it’s happens fairly often that I get requests for images I took way back, from family and clients. I know of photographers who delete client images if they don’t hear back from client in a certain amount of time, but know of one instance where the images were purged and then requested a few years later.

  4. I probably take more crap photos than you do,Paul. πŸ™‚

    Seriously, if I was shooting for clients I’d probably keep every photo I take.

    I’ve thought about a Drobo, or other RAID solution, but having an automatic off-site backup solution in place has made that less of a priority for me, at least for now.

  5. Oh, I don’t know, Dave. I work pretty hard at getting the crap photos out of the way. πŸ™‚

  6. I think this is what burned me out.
    Sending this link to Tom. We gotta find the joy again. πŸ™‚

  7. Hey stranger. I can definitely sympathize with getting burned out on doing stuff that computers are supposed to make easier. If you want to hear a real rant, ask us about keeping 4 different iTunes libraries synched with each other.

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