When it comes to crucial photographs for a paying customer there is one step that is almost more important than capturing those wonderful photographs we all love so much... Backing up those precious photographs in such a way that we know, under no circumstances, will we ever lose those client images.
Yesterday we captured a wonderful wedding day for a lovely couple. 14 hours of shooting, 2286 different images totaling 57.89 GB of data; and that's before we even start the editing process! An average wedding for us will end up being somewhere between 350 GB and 500 GB in total, more than most computers have in total storage these days. As you can imagine, even a large external hard drive doesn't last us very long in our studio when we are accumulating over 100,000 pictures every year and an uncountable amount of data. And yet, we still follow through with our full backup process no matter how large those folders ever get, because we know our average customer doesn't follow as strong of a backup process as they should (frankly I would be surprised if 10% of people even made one backup of those files).
So let us get into it and let you see into our world of backups.
1. During The Shoot
We have 2 backup processes, one if we are shooting in our studio and one if we are on location. If we are shooting in the studio, our process is very simple: we shoot all our studio photography running a "tethered" system. This means the camera is actually connected directly to a computer, and also uses a memory card. When we take a photograph, the image is instantly moved over to Capture One Pro, the software we use in our studio for capturing, organizing, and basic editing. That software makes a copy on our working machine, which has 3 hard drives inside, and it makes 1 copy of every picture on 2 of those 3 hard drives, giving us a backup copy instantly. We could have 1 hard drive die in the middle of our photo session and the client would have no idea, we continue shooting as if nothing happened and if one hard drive did fail on us, the 3rd hard drive instantly becomes the new backup drive. Fail safe, and no risk of data loss. Should that entire computer die on us, we still have the memory card inside the camera capturing the images, so we are able to continue shooting while another team member switches out that computer for another (we have 3 tether machines in our studio ready to go at any time). In the studio, there is never down time for equipment failures, we have backups of everything.
If we are shooting on location, we use a laptop as our tether computer and the same principles still maintain. The only difference is instead of having 3 hard drives on our laptop, which is not possible with the current lines of Apple laptops, we have multiple external hard drives. One of those external drives has 2 separate hard drives inside doing the same thing, instantly making a backup of every file that gets put on that drive giving us an immediate backup, and then we also have a second hard drive connected taking another copy. So on location, from the moment we take a picture we actually have 4 copies (memory card, external drive 1 that has 2 physical drives and 2 copies, and external drive 2). Once we get back to our studio those files get moved over to our main backup system and we move onto the next step.
2. After The Shoot
Once we have captured all those wonderful images in our studio and our client leaves, or else we have finished on location and made it back to our studio, we then take all those irreplaceable images and copy them onto 2 identical drives in our studio. This gives us another 2 backup copies of those images in our studio (total of 5 copies at this point, of every single image). We then take those files and upload them to our cloud storage system hosted by Amazon S3 (lets just say they don't lose files, ever). Once we have our cloud backup complete, we then erase the memory cards to be ready for the next photo shoot and clean off the external drives as well. So by the time we are ready to start editing, we are now sitting comfortably with 3 copies of every single file, 2 in our studio and one in the cloud.
3. During Editing
During the editing process, we still work with 2 copies of every single image. One copy never gets touched, it remains an original digital negative, and the second copy is our editing piece. Once the image is finished being edited, it gets saved to both our local drives and at the end of the day we upload all those newly edited images to our cloud storage. When we have finished the entire project, we take all the final edited files and make one big zip file of all the completed images and upload that again to our cloud storage.
4. After It's All Complete
Finally, after we have edited all our images and uploaded that final zip file of all the complete images to our cloud storage, we copy those finished photos over to yet another external drive that sits in our storage room not hooked up to power or a computer. We take the drive out of storage, plug it into the computer to copy the images, then disconnect it and put it back on the shelf. This way if we ever had a bad power surge or something happens (say a virus or a failed update) we have no risk of losing those images as they aren't actually connected to any computers. We then call the project complete and upload copies of the files to our online customer gallery on our website (which is not technically another backup as they are not the original files or the working copies, but they are a full resolution copy of the final product which we supply to our clients).
So as you can imagine, we don't lose images for customers. We have had clients come back 10 years after their photo shoot asking for copies of their digital files because they lost the USB key, or broke the disc, or their computer died. Whatever the reason, we are able to go back and get them new copies of all their files to cherish forever and ever.