'What's your backup plan?' My take on keeping data safe - Nick Brickett Photography
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  • 'What's your backup plan?' My take on keeping data safe

When I'm not out taking photos on the street, or shooting weddings & events, I'm an IT manager for a small independent company in Lichfield. I deal with lots of different clients, ranging from your average consumer who wants nothing more than the surf the 'net, to small-medium sized business who have critical accounts and business data, to the high-spending gaming market with a lust for serious horsepower. 

Right in the middle of that group I have a core of amateur and semi-pro photography customers, people who have a shared love for the art form and one which I'm keen to discuss at great length when I sniff out their passion for it! The question I get asked most (after 'What gear do you shoot with?') is 'What's the best way to backup my photographs?'.

An important question about a subject which as a photographer shouldn't be ignored. Modern technology is great, but should the worst happen (as often does), you need to have a good plan in place to restore your lost files as quickly as possible. Almost 2-5 times a week we receive a laptop or desktop which has suffered from a hard drive failure, and in many cases the data isn't recoverable unless it's sent away to a very expensive specialist forensic data company. A repair that runs into many hundreds of pounds and often results in many photos being lost or corrupt.

It may seem obvious to some of us, but the best insurance policy against this kind of disaster is to have a backup plan. Backup everything, multiple times, across different media, often.

So how do I keep my data backed up? 

Multiple external hard drives, cloud backups, and an offsite NAS:

- 2 x 2TB WD My Passport Ultra drives. One as a 'live' drive which is plugged into my iMac and houses the DropBox folder which is my main working directory, along with my cold storage folders for older directories which I don't use as often as the live DropBox folder (i.e. 2002-2012 is cold). Once a week, I plug in the 2nd drive and mirror the first drive onto this one using a 'differential' backup routine which only copies across files that have been added or changed since the last backup. That ensures I have at least two 'physical' copies of my library of photographs.

- DropBox Pro account (1TB). This is my live working area, when I import a new collection of photos, they go straight into the 2016 folder on my DropBox, which is located on the first 2TB external hard drive plugged into my iMac. I only have a 480GB SSD as the OS drive in my iMac, so I keep all my photographs on the external connected via Firewire 800, which provides plenty of speed, even when working with my D750's massive RAWs. This is an effective way to work, because whatever is stored on my DropBox, is also available on my portable hard drive at all times - and vice versa. Great if I need to take photos with me to a client or if I go away for the weekend and want to access my library away from home, as well as accessible from my smartphone and tablet.

So at this point we have 3 copies of every photo in the last 4 years - one on Dropbox, one on the live working drive, and one backed up onto the second 2TB drive. So what about the older, cold-storage folders? I only keep two copies of those, and not in the cloud (for allowance reasons), so where do I keep the 3rd copy? Offsite.

4TB Synology NAS.This is stored at work, safe and sound in a secure store room connected to the LAN. Every few months I'll bring my primary external drive to the store with me and do another differential backup to the NAS from my workstation. This keeps the OCD inside me calm, knowing that if some freak accident happened at home that somehow took out both of my 2TB externals, deleted my DropBox and murdered my pet fish, then I would still have the 4TB at work keeping the whole lot safe. Except for my poor fish.

Convoluted, I know, but at least I know my stuff is safe at all times. Your backup method will no doubt be different to mine, but that's the great thing about tech - we can all have our own way of doing things! The moral of the whole story is though, keep multiple copies. So many times people think they've 'backed up' but they've done nothing but move their data from an internal hard drive to an external and still only have 1 single copy on a drive that is now vulnerable away from the safe(ish) confines of the inside of a laptop or desktop. Don't do that.

What's your take on backing up? Get in touch on Twitter, I'm always looking for ways to improve my system. Thanks for reading!

@nickbrickett

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