Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Backing Up Your Data

Back Up Your Data:
The Modern Photographers Creed
Enter the age where the majority of what we create is being done digitally; it has been an amazing revolution to say the least. The benefits of creating in a digital age are endless, the most important being that the digital files can be copied infinitely with no noticeable signs of degradation. In the digital age, making copies or backing up is a necessity that comes with the medium. Sadly, not enough of us take the crucial steps in insuring our data remains accessible by making regular backups.

Backing up your data is as important as the initial capture whether we want to admit it or not, we are all guardians of what we create. If you don’t take this approach in the digital age you will most likely loose the irreplaceable. The irreplaceable that I speak of is primarily the photographic image of everyday life, our collective memories through pictures. This can be as informal as children playing around the house or as formal as a wedding, these moments are once in a lifetime. The apparent difference between the good old film days and current times is that most people don’t print their images anymore. This unfortunate phenomenon has made the total loss of images more possible than ever. In the not-so-distant past, images were put into photo albums and negatives were stored away in the ubiquitous shoebox. Today the image and the negative (the digital capture) are one in the same which is why diligence is needed to preserve it. The backing up of all your data should be a regular practice with photos and videos taking precedence over music and commercial movies. Again, focus on the irreplaceable in understanding what should be backed up.

When shooting digitally, I do not erase my memory cards or reformat them until I’ve made copies into my computer and external hard drives. An external hard drive is a peripheral to your main computer that lets you easily make scheduled or manual backups of your data. An extra hard drive is now considered a crucial accessory in the photographer’s arsenal. It’s equally important as all the must haves in the most well stocked of gadget bags. Storage is very affordable nowadays as we’ve reached a point in technologically where’s it’s cheap to manufacture. This being said, you can never have enough storage. You can purchase either portable or desktop external hard drives. Most portable drives are roughly (3 x 5 x 0.5) inches in size, which will hold 250GB’s to 1 terabyte of data. You can never have enough storage space but an extra 250GB’s in your pocket will suit many photographers needs. The 1 terabyte drive is substantial for most and should really appeal to those shooting video, or RAW still images, which will require massive amounts of space. The external desktop hard drive sits on your desktop and is roughly (10 x 6 x 1) inches. You can buy desktop external drives with a maximum of 2TB’s of storage space available. This is plenty for most users and can easily backup your entire system with one click. In most current computers on the market today, backup automation comes standard with the operating systems. If you have an older computer running Windows XP or a dated MAC OS, you can do it manually by the simple copy and paste action onto your external hard drive. It’s important to copy and paste, not cut and paste because cut and paste moves one set of files to another location. Copy and paste replicates your original files, which is what you want.

After backing up your data and creating more, one must be able to find it, quickly and efficiently. Luckily we live in an age where our computers find things easier than we do, so employ your computer to find your images. There is a an endless amount of software you can purchase for image organization but one of the best is free and that is Google’s Picasa. If you don’t have it, I suggest getting it, as it has amazing search and organization abilities. It neatly displays and uploads your images and has several interfaces to choose from. Picasa is quite robust and once you use it you’ll ask how you lived without it.

Once you’ve completed your scheduled backup (say once a month?) it’s now time to find a strategic location for your backup. If your main system is a desktop or a laptop the goal is to keep your master files and backups in separate locations. This is good insurance against fire or theft. If you are a real stickler or true guardian of all that you’ve created, I would keep a backup of your files in a safe deposit box or a separate residence from your own. Again, these are safe measures against the unforeseen threats of floods, fire and theft. I make backups of my backups for that very reason and they all live in several locations for added insurance. Backing up should be a regular practice because hardware does fail, computers are lost, stolen and found, so one does need (all puns intended) a backup plan. The beautiful reality is that there are now sizable solid state drives (meaning no moving parts) showing up not only as CF and SD cards but as hard drives. This doesn’t mean we can stop worrying about backing up our data, but it does mean much more stable (less chance of failing) hardware.
- Michael Reese
Editors note: While I agree with most of what Michael suggests, my views differ slightly and thought that it would be good to give a different perspective. He suggests backing up only what is important, while my views are back up everything! I've lost things before that I didn't even think to back up, or didn't think were that important until I've actually lost them. I suggest backing up all your files: photos, documents, music, applications/programs, etc. Another thing most people don't think to back up is their Internet bookmarks. Earlier this year I lost years worth of bookmarks, probably in the high hundreds, for stuff I haven't been able to go back and find through Internet searches. This is easy to do, just go up to the bar at the very top of your Internet browser, go to the bookmarks tab, "organize bookmarks", and then "import and backup". I always back up as a file and backup using "export HTML", which I then email to myself. This also allows me to access my bookmarks through email from any computer I may be on.

Another thing we slightly differ on is file organization. Instead of just relying on a search feature or online organizing tool, I organize my personal files so that I can always go back and easily find them myself. I start with a folder for each year (ex. 2010, 2009, 2008). Then comes a sub-folder for each month (January, February, etc.). In each month, my folders are labeled by photo shoot title, project, event name, etc. Folders that would not be included by chronological dates includes a work folder with other folders for "website", "promos", and other business related files that don't fit into a specific month. Beyond that, I even keep folders organized with things I use often for home such as addresses and printable address label files, or documents to be read and then trashed.

No matter what your preferences, find a system that works best for you, set a schedule for regular back ups, and just do it!

PS- For non-digital files- paperwork, photos, etc. This is a great article on Taking Care of your Personal Archives.