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BACKing up photos and managing a photo archive

This article details my backup process refined over the years using combination of QNAP NAS drives, Amazon’s cloud service and Dropbox. Once setup, backups are automated regardless of where I’m working and it also allows me to quickly retrieve images from my archive. I’m not saying this will suit your working methods perfectly, but I’m confident there will be elements of this system that you can add to your own workflow.

When it comes to digital photography there are those who have lost data and those who will lose data. It’s one of those simple facts of life.
However, It’s not just backing up photos that causes anxiety and stress, it’s the ongoing management of thousands and thousands of digital files usually across multiple machines and locations.

Where to start?

Prerequisites

I have 4 main requirements from a data management perspective:

  1. Storage across 3 separate locations. It might seem like overkill but even if you have a shoot backed up on multiple hard drives at home and your house burns down or gets robbed you’re in trouble.

  2. Automated backup - I don’t want to have to remember to backup across these 3 locations. I want a system that does it for me.

  3. Instant access to photos, as if they were on my hard drive whether I’m working from my home or the office.

  4. Automated synchronisation of files between home and the office. Changes made at one location need to be reflected at the other.

DEFINe YOUR HABITs

Sitting down and understanding how you like to work is key to developing a process that will fit you. It’s hard to change working practices and habits you have formed over a number of years. Much easier to formulate a system around the way you work.

My typical shoot day can be broken down into the following steps :

  1. Travel to location

  2. Shoot day 1 - Backup at end of day

  3. Shoot day 2 - Backup at end of day

  4. Travel home - usually editing on my laptop on the plane

  5. Head to office - transfer files from laptop to desktop and continue edit on desktop

  6. Head home - continue editing on laptop

  7. Submit files to client

  8. Archive shoot

From the list above you can see I’m dealing with 3 key locations - location, home, studio. I’m also working across two workstations (laptop/desktop) across the life of a shoot and need to keep files in sync in all locations and across both machines.

CATALOGUE

I use Adobe Lightroom for editing and file management and create a new catalogue per shoot, saving it to Dropbox which keeps it in sync regardless of which computer or location I’m working from. Any changes made on my desktop at the office will sync to my laptop at home because the catalogue is stored in the cloud.

I keep a consistent naming convention for each catalogue: WORK-YEARMONTH-CLIENT-SHOOT

See screen grab from my DropBox below:

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BACKUP WORKFLOW ON Location

Whilst on location I stick to the following storage/backup workflow:

  1. Shoot to Compact Flash using a separate card for each day. Backup location 1

  2. Return to hotel and download files to laptop hard drive. Backup location 2

  3. Make secondary copy onto a SSD HD. Backup location 3

This temporary backup process is all well and good on the road but it doesn’t cut it in a studio environment. I have tried manually working with multiple hard drives in the past. You soon run out of space and need to buy new ones. I forget to maintain multiple backups and as a result they fall out of sync with each other. It also makes retrieval of images further down the line a pain.

Quick retrieval of images from an ever expanding archive is as important as backing up. Time is money.


BACKUP WORKFLOW AT HOME

I use a NAS to store files both at home and my office. A NAS (Network Attached Storage) is basically a high capacity hard drive attached to a network and the internet. It is semi intelligent in that it can perform basic operations like backing up files without any input from a human. Once given a task it just cracks on with it - even if you shut down your computer. Since the NAS is attached to a network (via my WiFi router) I can access it over my WiFi connection. It acts just like a hard drive but without the wires!

Another difference from a standard external hard drive is that a NAS is comprised of multiple hard drives working together as a RAID - Redundant Array of Independent Disks. For example, my 16 TB NAS in the office is made up of 4 x 4TB hard drives. The RAID constantly makes sure your drives are replicated so if one fails, data is saved on the others. It’s like a backup within a backup if you like.

Anyway, I’ll stop singing the virtues of NAS and get back to process:

Backup LOCATION 1 - HOME NAS - MANUAL

As soon as I return home from a shoot I copy files from my laptop to my home NAS, much like you would an external hard drive, although the NAS is accessible across my WiFi network so I don’t need to plug anything in to my laptop. It just pops up in my finder and I drag the folder across.

Backup LOCATION 2 - CLOUD - AUTOMATIC

As soon as the files have copied across to the NAS it detects their presence and immediately begins uploading them to my cloud storage account using a fast fibre connection. For cloud storage I use Amazon Prime Photos since they offer unlimited storage for images.

Backup LOCATION 3 - OFFICE NAS - AUTOMATIC

A second process kicks in overnight. The home NAS copies the new files down to my office NAS ready for me to access when I get there in the morning.

Since I work between two locations (Home and Office) I need my data stores at both locations to stay in sync. Files modified after a day in the office need to be reflected at Home and vice versa so I can seamlessly work between both locations and on both computers.

Both my Home NAS and my Office NAS talk to each other over the Internet. My home NAS compares date/time stamps of it’s own files with those on the office NAS and synchronises whichever machine needs updating with the newer versions. This is called a two way sync and means I can work across both locations making changes to files and the NAS drives automatically.

REQUIReMENTS

2 locations each with decent fibre connection e.g. Office / Home
2 x 16TB NAS
1 x subscription to Amazon Prime
1 x subscription to DropBox
Adobe Lightroom for cataloguing and managing assets
Consistent naming convention