Data back up for Photographers

July 25, 2015  •  2 Comments

Data back up for Photographers



Backing up valuable photography images is essential and something every photographer should take into consideration. However, there seems to be a surprising lack of knowledge out there on the proper way(s) to back up your work.


I personally learned a quite expensive lesson from not backing up my work properly and securely. I lost a significant amount of data and had to pay a hefty fee to have it recovered. I had at the time multiple external western digital hard drives set up through Apple’s OS RAID. RAID is short for redundant array of independent disk. With RAID technology data can be stored on multiple disc through a variety of methods.  In the event of failure, data is still preserved.


Through this experience I learned that a data RAID, like the one I had, is much more prone to failure than hardware RAID. I then decided to invest in a reliable hardware RAID. Discussed below are the different way to back up your data and my recommendations. 

Method 1) a single drive that copies work from your main hard drive.


If you’re a casual hobbyist that doesn't do a lot of shooting then this is your lowest budget option.  You would store your images on your computer and have an external drive that backs up your images. This is just fine for most hobbyists out there.


Method 2) The Cloud

Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources.

Cloud computing and storage solutions provide users and enterprises with various capabilities to store and process their data in third-party data centers. The cloud focuses on maximizing the effectiveness of the shared resources. Cloud resources are usually not only shared by multiple users but are also reallocated per demand. So for example, A server that may be used during business hours in Europe will be reallocated to be used during business hours in America. This approach should maximize the use of computing power, it also reduces environmental damage as well as less power, air conditioning, rack space, etc. that are required for a variety of functions. 


cloud computing can allow you to avoid upfront infrastructure cost. Cloud providers typically use a "pay as you go" model. However some newer cloud sites use flat fees for backing up all your data. If you need to get your data from the cloud at anytime or for any reason usually there is a one time fee for the drives and they ship it to you. I personally don't use the cloud as I don't like the idea of storing all my clients images on an easily hackable server. I do recommend that if you use the cloud though, you only use it second to your primary back-up system. 


Method 3) A Software RAID


A software RAID is where your computer's software or a third party software handles all the raids maintenance. You would export the data to a single drive and the software would copy that data over to another drive. This may be okay for light data however I do not recommend it. I learned a hard lesson using Apples software RAID to copy my data from one drive to another. This method is highly susceptible to failure and that's exactly what happened to me. I ended up having to pay a large chunk of change to get my data recovered. 


Method 4) A RAID


If you’re a working professional then this is your safest bet for storing your data. There are different levels of raid. Below are some of the levels explained.


 Level 0: Striped disk array without fault tolerance

Provides data striping (spreading out blocks of each file across multiple disk drives) but no redundancy. This improves performance but does not deliver fault tolerance. If one drive fails then all data in the array is lost.


Level 1: Mirroring and duplexing

Provides disk mirroring. Level 1 provides twice the read transaction rate of single disks and the same write transaction rate as single disks.


Level 2: Error-correcting coding

Not a typical implementation and rarely used. Level 2 strips data at the bit level rather than the block level.


Level 3: Bit-interleaved parity

Provides byte-level striping with a dedicated parity disk. Level 3, which cannot service simultaneous multiple requests, also is rarely used.


Level 4: Dedicated parity drive

A commonly used implementation of RAID, Level 4 provides block-level striping (like Level 0) with a parity disk. If a data disk fails, the parity data is used to create a replacement disk. A disadvantage to Level 4 is that the parity disk can create write bottlenecks.


Level 5: Block interleaved distributed parity

Provides data striping at the byte level and also stripe error correction information. This results in excellent performance and good fault tolerance. Level 5 is one of the most popular implementations of RAID.


Level 6: Independent data disks with double parity

Provides block-level striping with parity data distributed across all disks.


Level 10: A stripe of mirrors


As you can see they’re different ways to set up a RAID. The most common RAID levels for photographers are RAID 0, 1, and 5. I have my RAID set up to Raid 1 so I have multiple copies of my data. You can also set up raid 0 for speed, which splits your data up among multiple hard drives by striping bits of the data on each drive.



I know some photographers that just manually copy their data on to different external hard drives. I don’t recommend this method because it requires you to remember and save every little change to make on to each external drive.



So what do I use in my workflow and recommend? I recommend a hardware RAID. With a hardware RAID you have a safe and reliable method of backing up your data. After a lot of research I settled on G-Technolagy products for their reliability and reviews. I am happy to report that I've been using there products for awhile now and have had no issues at all. Below is an outline of my workflow. 


I have a custom iMac that has all my software and documents on it. The software and docs are backed up to a G-Technology Thunderbolt drive. All my photography workflow is on another G-Technology thunderbolt drive that I use as my “live” drive. This is the drive that I import images into off of my memory card and edit off of. This drive is then backed up to a G-Raid set at RAID 1. All Raid management is handled through ChronoSync software as recommended by G-Technology.



Work Flow


Documents and Software > G-Drive Thunderbolt


RAW, TIIF, JPEGS > “Live work drive” G Drive Thunderbolt > Backed up by G RAID




Note: I make copies of my drives and store them at another location periodically.


Below are Links to some recommended products. I use G-Technology exclusively because they work. I have never had a problem with G-Technology’s products. I trust them with my valuable client work and my most important images.


G-Raid Studio with Thunderbolt (What I use)


G-Drive with Thunderbolt (What I use)



Jonathan R Photography
Ric, I actually do store copies of the drives off site at another location.
Great article. However, it doesn't make it clear if you have any offsite backup strategy ?

Having multiple hard drives/raids is great, but there also needs to be a copy offsite. If your house/office/studio burns down is your are burgled then your multiple drives are gone...

I would also suggest having something like Backblaze or Crashplan, and have all data backed up elsewhere.

All of my master images are backed up with Zenfolio, and on a day to day basis all of my local hard drives are backed up to Backblaze.

So should the studio burn down everything is recoverable...
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