The Power of the Back-Up

Photographers the world over know the power of backing up their work in a reliable way.  It is generally accepted that hard drives will fail – not ‘if’ but ‘when’.  We have heard the stories of images lost yet I think most of us are not as diligent as we should be.  Many of us give thought to the work flow of our backups but often fall short in the implementation phase of the process.  It is one thing to do backups at home or in our office but another thing all together on the road.  Here’s a real life story that reaffirms the importance of data duplicity…

If you seen some of my recent blog entries, you will know I have just travelled to Cambodia as a dental volunteer.  An important part of any trip I take is making images of the experience.  Each adventure poses questions that must be pondered regarding the gear one takes along.  Part of that decision is how to handle the images between acquisition and returning home.  There are a number of approaches to this part of the creative process.  I have always been a stickler about always having two copies of your data and this saved my bacon on this trip.  Before I relate the story, let me first review a few strategies…

The first question that must be answered is whether you are going to be able to, or need to process images while on the road.  This will necessitate taking a laptop with you.  You could process using another device like an iPad but I find these limited in their capabilities and only useful for previewing images.  They also lack the space to make them practical for any serious level of storage.  If a laptop is along for the ride, the next question is how you are going to attain data duplicity.  If you have enough memory cards to last for the whole trip, then you can make one copy of the images to a hard drive (internal or external) and the memory card is the backup.  If anything happens to one copy of the images, there is another to fall back on.  The only downside in this approach is that you do not have a copy of your processed images.  It might be better to make and keep up to date a second hard drive copy on the road.  Portable external drives are inexpensive and light weight making them a good solution making sure they are kept up to date with incremental backups.  If you have two hard drive copies, then your memory cards can be kept as a third copy or reused as needed.  It is important to keep each copy of the data in a different location (suitcase, hotel safe, camera bag) so if something happens to one hopefully it will not happen to the other copy(ies).

If a laptop is not in the travel plans, then you have to have a way of duplicating or copying your memory cards.  You could put your faith in the cards and good luck and use them by themselves to store your images until you return home.  What happens if something happens to the cards?  Someone steals them or you lose them?  I have had good success using a portable card reader/hard drive unit.  A company called Sanho makes a device called a Hyperdrive which reads CF and SD memory cards directly onto a user replaceable 2.5″ hard drive.  The current model is called the Colorspace UDMA2.  It has a rechargeable battery and WiFi capabilities allowing you to access your files from a mobile device like that iPad mentioned above.  If you have enough memory cards to do you for the trip, they are your second copy just like above.  If not, you will need a second hard drive that can be used in the Hyperdrive to make your second copy.

Whatever your data redundancy solution, there two more factors that you must consider.  The first is power.  You must make sure you have access to the power you will require while on the road.  If you have ‘mains’ power, no problems.  If not, you will need portable of some form – a topic for a later discussion.  The second is diligence in on your part.  Keeping up with whichever protocol you chose is as important as the redundancy.  Make to time to do it right.  Here’s how this saved my bacon (an images) on this recent trip…

Over the course of the first eight days of my trip I had acquired some 300GB of images.  I had been backing the images up onto the Hyperdrive over these few days.  By the time I was getting to the end of my memory cards I swapped the hard drives and repeated the backup a second time.  Two hard drive copies of all of the images!  I began to use the memory cards again with confidence.  Two days later the Hyperdrive went MIA.  Nowhere to be found in my possessions.  I am pretty careful with my stuff while on the road and we were required to move hotel rooms unexpectedly during our stay in Siem Reap.  I returned to the front desk at the original hotel but was unsuccessful locating the device.  My initial reaction was that I might have lost several days worth of images.  The end of the world it was not but any photographer knows that sinking feeling they get when they thing they might have lost images.  After some consternation I began to realize that I still had two copies of my images  One on the hard drive I still had and ones that were not on the hard drive yet were still on the memory cards.  Fortunately, I had enough cards to get me through the rest of the trip and when I got home is was able to import all of the images into Lightroom as I normally do (some from the hard drive and some from the memory cards).  The hard drive was easy to access from a desktop USB hard drive adapter.

There are a number of other scenarios that could have resulted in worse outcomes but in this case, the backup saves the day.  I have already ordered another Hyperdrive to replace the missing one and consider it to be a small price to pay for peace of mind on future trips.

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