Best Practices for the Photography Workflow Backup

In the modern world of photography, presenting photographs digitally is a necessity. This is true for me even though I am a film based photographer. In order to present photographs digitally I make use of high-resolution film scans, in the range of 325 MB each. The high resolutions scans I use are all produced by West Coast Imaging, on their Heidelberg Tango drum scanner. These scans are both expensive and time consuming to produce, so as a result, I seek to protect my investment in them as much as possible.

Almost every photographer has their own backup strategy. Their backup strategy should be based upon their individual needs and consideration. However, there are certain best practices that should be considered when defining a strategy.

Successful Backup Strategy Considerations

A successful backup strategy should take the following into consideration:

Decide what you need to back up. Start with your answer to the question “What can I afford to lose?” As photographers we are interested in our image files first, however, our general business related files are also important to the well being of the photography business.

First, separate data files from operating system files, and place them on either a separate partition or a separate drive. This will make finding, backing up, and restoring the desired files much easier. 

Secondly, set aside your installation disks for all your software and your operating system. I like to set aside the CD or DVDs they come on, as well as copy the disks to an external drive (where re-installation is much faster).

Define the backup techniques and technologies. Not every photographer has the same needs. A large studio or photography business may need an enterprise level solution, while the freelancer can get by with much cheaper solutions. Remember, the more extensive the backup, the more difficult it will be to use, and the less likely it will be carried out successfully.

Consider keeping a backup log. Keep the listing in a book or a file listing on an external drive. This can make it easier to find a specific file if you happen to overwrite or destroy it in some manner. A general listing is sufficient.

Backups should be automatic. Whatever technique or technology you select, it should be automatic; you shouldn’t need to be present to initiate a backup.

Ensure the backups are valid and test restoring your data frequently. Not being able to restore a backup is the same as not having a backup at all. How the backup is restored is dependent upon the technology used, however, the software used should be easy to find and restore files.

Restoring your data on a frequent basis can also give you a good understanding of how long the process takes and how difficult it is. These are handy things to know if a client is waiting on a file, and your computer crashed. Restoring data from a backup also verifies that the backups are indeed valid; after all, backups that can’t be used aren’t backups.

Ensure that your backup copies are safe. Finally, ensure that your backup copies are safe from either theft or natural disaster. Generally, this means to store a copy of the backup some where other than where your computer is located. Some photographers may choose to rent a locked space, or even take their backups to their office.

When you discard your backup media, make sure to physically destroy them, or reformat them in such a way that they can’t read by anyone who may misappropriate or misuse any of the files on them.

A Personal Strategy

My personal backup strategy revolves around Microsoft Windows 7, my primary operating system, and Microsoft Windows Home Server. This backup strategy is defined and configured in a manner that works best for my personal workflow, given the computer hardware that I own.

The backup strategy presented here, only works for those computers running some version of Microsoft Windows , with Microsoft Windows Home Server as an integral part. The Windows Home Servers sold by HP do support backing up Mac computers (via Apple’s Time Machine). However, I don’t own any Mac computers, so I don’t have any real knowledge of how well this works.

On-site storage for my image files are based around an HP EX495 Windows Home Server, with 4 drives and a total of 4.5 TB of storage, as well as an external eSATA or USB drive.image

Backups are accomplished using two methods.

First, a normal system backup. The primary workstation, a Windows 7 Ultimate computer, as well as other other computers in my office, are backed up on a nightly basis, with a 3-day, 3-week, 3 month retention policy. In other words, the last 3 daily, weekly and monthly backups are retained on the server.

Secondly, the HP EX495 has a specialized software known as a media collector. This software finds all files of a certain type, e.g., image – like the files copied from the original DVDs referred to previously – video, etc., and copies them to a central location on the Home Server itself. The files in this location are duplicated on each of the data drives in the system. 

Adding files.

As I receive scans via DVD, the scans are copied to my working computer, and the DVDs put away in storage. These files are copied to the Windows Home Server by the media collector automatically.

This configuration means there are multiple copies of each of my files; on each of the backups, on each of the internal drives, and finally one copy on the external drive.

    Restoring the entire computer. Windows Home Server enables my computers to be restored to a previous point in time, or restored completely in the case of a hardware failure – like a bad hard drive – by using the Home Computer Restore CD.

The client software that is installed on each of my computers, allows a backup to be mounted as a drive or multiple drives. In other words, if the computer being backed up has multiple drives, each of the drives is accessible as a drive to the computer opening the backup. This makes retrieving files from a backup as easy as copying files from one drive to another.

Off Site storage.

I rely on both on-site and off-site storage for my image files (both original and working). I periodically copy the entire backup database from the Windows Home Server to an external hard disk, and then carry that hard drive to an off site location. I keep multiple external hard drives, so that I am able to keep multiple copies off site.

More Information about Backup Strategies

For more information about backup strategies and Windows Home Server see:

Best practices for Backup

Windows Home Server Home Page

Windows Home Server Technical Brief for Home Computer Backup and Restore


About roteague
I’m a landscape photographer, residing on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. I love large format photography, in fact, I love any kind of photography involving film.

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