What are your images worth to you?

On his blog, Chase Jarvis, recently posted “Priceless Data: Apple Faces Lawsuit of Lost Baby Photos” along with his opinion and link to a video describing the backup methods he employs at his studio and on location. I encourage EVERYONE to read his important post.  I have embedded the video from YouTube below.

I’d like to give my perspective on this as a photographer who does not have a large studio budget with a staff to assist in the backup process. I’m just a guy with a camera(s) and a passion for creating images.  Are my images worth preserving?  Are your images worth backing up securely?  The answer is a resounding YES! Sadly, very few photographers have an effective backup solution; especially one that includes a critical offsite backup.

Back in 2004, I learned the lesson of backing up images the hard way.  At that time, I was running on custom built Windows PC’s (switched to Mac in January 2006) and editing using PhotoShop.  I manually managed my image libraries and manually backed up my images once per week (on Fridays) to CD and DVD.  As we know now, optical disk backups are not effective long term solutions.  Additionally, because they area  manual process and time consuming, they often are run late and eventually just forgotten.

What happened to my images and what did I lose? It happened on the weekend, my internal hard disk died. It happened prior to the Friday I was to run the backup again…I lost my honeymoon photos.  Luckily, I did have about 25 actual prints that I was able to scan later.  I sent the drive to be recovered only to find it a total loss.  Needless to say, my wife was not happy. After that, I was determined NEVER to let that happen to any image ever again.


1) Images, including video, captured

2) Images are imported directly into the Aperture library (SD card are not erased).  As part of this process two things related to backup happen:

A) The images are stored on an external G-Tech FW800 2TB hardware RAID 0 (for maximum speed) drive as my workspace.  This is where the “master images” for my Aperture library reside (a referenced library).

B) During the import, the images are simulatnously copied to a second external drive (2TB USB). The end result is that immediately upon import, I know have the images in 3 separate locations (2 external drives and the SD cards)

3) The entire iMac server is also backed up using TimeMachine on a third 2TB external HDD. This includes the Aperture library file residing on the Mac’s HDD and the RAID drive master files.  So now, the files are in 4 locations (incl. SD cards) on 3 external drives.  TimeMachine backs up every hour on the hour (24/7 as the server is never powered off).

4) At this point, I confirm that all 3 HDD’s contain the images for before I erase the SD cards.

5) Sitting in front of the iMac, looking at the images for the FIRST TIME in Aperture, they are secured on 3 drives in my office.  However, now they need to be backed up to a separate geographical location as well!  Remember, what would happen in the event of fire, flood, tornado, theft, etc?

6) Before I make any edits to the images, I use Aperture’s export function and a Zenfolio plugin to send every file to my unlimited storage space on Zenfolio’s servers.  In case of disaster, I can recover every image in all of my libraries online and back to my server.  Zenfolio is a BARGAIN, for around $60/year, unlimited storage space is incredible with an upgraded account. (here are the Zenfolio pricing plans, you can use referral code NWY-ZEE-MBZ )

ALL backup drives are scheduled to be refreshed (replaced), on a rolling schedule, every 3 years. My HDD’s are running 24/7, they are accessed frequently and have a lot of read/write activity.  Relying on old hard drives is asking for trouble. So is using the cheapest drives you can find.  The same can be said for SD/CF cards as well.

I will most likely be adding an additional step in the not too distant future which included an offsite HDD stored in a safety deposit box that mirrors my RAID 0 drive.  I envision swapping two drives in and out of the box, each time storing the most recent version safely in a bank vault.

Always remember, ANY drive can fail.  ANY optical media can fail.  Back up, back up, back up and then back up again.  I feel “fairly” comfortable with ALL of my images on 3 separate HDD’s (6 TB of space in total) and all of them online as well.  However, it only takes one loss.  What are your images worth?


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