As I finally catch up on tasks after completing my 2020 Japan Winter Tours, I have just organized the images from the three trips and took stock a little, and being as so many of us are spending time indoors at the moment, I figured I’d share some thoughts on the process, in the hope that it might help you with your workflow too. Now might be a good time to enjoy your photography introspectively, and taking a look at your organization can lead to a deeper appreciation of your work as well as making it easier to get to.
If you’ve been following how I work, you may recall that I keep all of my current year’s images on one SSD drive, which includes everything I’ve shot, and then copy all of my final selects into a second SSD drive. My entire year drive is called my Traveler, because it not only travels the world, but it travels nicely between my computers too, as I also keep my Capture One Pro catalogs on the drive, so I can just catch up where I left off simply by moving the drive between my computers. I won’t go into as much detail as my previous posts, such as episode 466, so check out that post if this isn’t just a top-up for you.
My Finals drive also travels everywhere with me, but that is where I store everything that I feel is worth showing people, and images that I will actively use going forward. From this year’s trips, I ended up with 96 images from my Hokkaido Landscape Tour that I’m really happy with. 77 of them were shot with my EOS R and 19 of them shot with my Rolleiflex medium format twin lens reflex camera. From the first of my Japan Winter Wildlife tours, I came back with 270 images that I am really happy with, and from my second Japan Winter Wildlife tour, I found myself with 179 images. The main reason for the reduction on the second tour was the warm winter affecting the behavior of the sea eagles. Although we did still get some great shots, it wasn’t as productive as the first tour.
During my tours I try to show the group what I’ve been getting from time to time, to hopefully inspire them, but also to encourage them to share their own work, as that really helps us to inspire each other as we travel together. To facilitate this, and to help me speed up my workflow, I create a Smart Album at the start of each tour, that will automatically gather all images of two stars or higher during the dates of the tours, so as I go through my images each day and make my selections, they automatically appear in this Smart Album. Here is a screenshot of the settings, and although this is in Capture One Pro, you can do something very similar in Lightroom.
You can’t, unfortunately, select multiple Smart Albums at once, although you can create a new wider-ranging Smart Album, but I’ve just selected the albums individually and right-clicked the images in each album, and selected Export > Originals to copy them to a 2020 sub-folder on my Finals SSD. I usually specify to Prefer Sidecar XMP over Embedded Metadata in the Capture One Pro Preferences > Image dialog, as well as selecting Full Sync for the Auto Sync Sidecar XMP option. This, coupled with selecting the Include Adjustments checkbox during the Export of my Originals ensures that Capture One Pro includes all of the edits I’ve done to my images.
Capture One creates a few extra folders in the export directory to include some cache and settings files, including masks that I’ve drawn on images to make adjustments etc. When I open my Finals catalog, because this is the first time I’m copying images across for 2020, I initially have to Import my images at their current location, selecting the 2020 folder that was just created in my Finals folder on my Finals SSD. The important thing here is to ensure that the Include Existing Adjustments checkbox is turned on under the Adjustments section.
You can’t actually see the adjustments in your images in the import dialog, but once you have completed the import, all adjustments will be applied to the images and so we don’t have to redo any work that we did on the images on the original drive.
I actually recalled that I’d shot a few movie files while traveling as well, and so went back into my Traveler catalog to copy those over, and that reminded me that if you do have movies in your selection, you need to turn on the Include Movies option in the Export dialog, otherwise these will be ignored. I hadn’t even rated my movie files yet, so there were not included in my Smart Albums anyway, but that is something to keep in mind if you do shoot movies and use Capture One Pro.
That did give me the opportunity though to show you how updates are handled for the rest of the year, as I now have a 2020 folder in my Finals catalog, so all I have to do after copying any new work across is right-click my 2020 folder and select Synchronize. I find that it works better to select Show Importer on this dialog, as some changes to files have not been reflected when I haven’t done this in the past, although I haven’t checked recently to see if that is still a problem.
Once this process is complete, the beauty of my workflow is that I now have all of the current year’s work on one SSD, and I keep that with me at all times, until my cloud backup is completed, and we’ll touch on that shortly. In addition to the current year though, I also have one more drive that essentially has every image I’ve ever shot that I consider being worth a hoot. So with more than twenty years of my favorite shots in one catalog, I can get to images easily to send to people, for example, even if I’m traveling, or to use in demonstrations during my workshops or talks.
Brief Summary of Backup Process
As we came so close to this during the last paragraph, I’ve updated my Studio Backup workflow slide and included that here for your reference. To summarize, I shoot my images and initially store them in my Traveler SSD, and although it’s not on this slide, if I’m actually away from home, I do daily backups to a second drive, just in case anything happens to the first. I will then keep the Traveler in my pocket or a locker for the entire time.
When I get home from a trip, I plug the Traveler into my iMac Pro, and that kicks off a Chronosynch job I’ve created to synchronize my new images and updated Capture One Pro catalog to my Drobo. On my iMac I’m running Backblaze which then starts to transfer my new images and catalog into the cloud. This can take a while, and I have to choke the upload speed a little so as not to get my Internet connection crippled by my stingy provider, but even after a wildlife trip with thousands of images, within a few weeks of getting home my new work will be backed up in the cloud.
Being slightly paranoid, I actually have a second Drobo which I turn on occasionally and run another Chronosynch job to synchronize my first Drobo with my second. This is just to save me waiting for a cloud backup to be delivered from Backblaze should I ever have anything go wrong with my Drobo. The cloud backup is really my ultimate disaster recovery plan, should something happen to my entire house, taking out both Drobos. My entire back is currently around 17TB though, so downloading it over the Internet is not really an option. I’d have to pay for physical drives to be sent out to me.
I also backup my Finals SSD to the Drobo, including the Finals Capture One Pro catalog, as I make most of my final tweaks on there, and it also contains lots of Collections for things that I’ve done over the years, including my yearly Top Ten selections, which I love to go back through from time to time. I also use it to create temporary collections like this Want to Print collection.
Printing Our Work
I’m not sure if I’ll have time to do this during the coming week, but I was thinking that I’d love to print some of the medium format work that I did during my Hokkaido Landscape tour in January. so I’ve just dropped twelve images into a Want to Print album. I might tweak the selection too, but there is something about the tactility of the format that makes me want to print at least a selection of images. I found it so interesting and calming to work with film after almost twenty years and also developing the film myself using the Lab-Box. There is something about deciding how to complete this analog work in the digital darkroom though that has me thinking a little harder than I have so far when printing digital work, so I’ll try to nail that down and talk about it once I’ve come to some conclusions.
Whether you shoot film or digital though, printing can be incredibly fulfilling, so I wanted to suggest that if you are staying safe and healthy during these times of crisis, and find yourself with some time at home to enjoy your photography, printing can be a great way to do that. It might be hard to source a new printer at the moment, but even if you have an inexpensive A4 inkjet printer hanging around, the results can be surprisingly good, so maybe give it a try.
It’s been two years since I explained my image management strategy as a traveling photographer, and I’m finding myself explaining what’s changed a lot in email conversations, so today, I’m going to walk through this with you again, and update you on the changes I’ve made.
First of all, allow me to explain the problems that I’m overcoming with my workflow, so that this all makes sense as we work through my thinking.
Problems to Overcome
One question I get asked about a lot, and why I often send people to this post, is how do I move smoothly between computers when I get back from a trip. People tend to make the process of getting images from a trip back into their main library a very painful process.
The good news is, if you build your workflow around the premise that you will travel, you don’t have to do anything special. I’ll go into details shortly, but basically I have to click one button when I get home after a trip, to initiate a backup of my images, and I’m done. In fact, I have to click that same button whenever I go to my desktop computer, so nothing changes. I literally transition between my laptop and desktop computer with zero effort, as I’ll explain.
Another problem people often come up against, is keeping track of what is backed up to where. I’ve found that it’s very important to decide which hard disk contains your working data, and which hard disks are just a backup. If you work on images in separate locations it soon becomes a real pain to keep them synchronized, so we build this into our strategy.
Finally, I think it’s vitally important that we have a multiple backups of our precious photos at home, as well as a copy in the cloud. Having everything under one roof could be a recipe for disaster, if indeed, disaster should strike. Should something catastrophic happen to your house or business premises containing all of your local backups, having the ability to contact someone to receive a backup of all your data could be the only possible way to rebuild your image library, as you rebuild your life.
Same Strategy, Different Software
One other major change over the last few years, is that I’m now using Phase One’s Capture One Pro as my raw processing and image management software. The details regarding what I did in Lightroom are still in the original post, so you can certainly still reference that post for details, and as you’ll see, most of what we’ll cover doesn’t really change depending on the software you are using in your workflow.
Move Catalog Drive Rather Than Synching Computers
The cornerstone of our digital workflow is our image catalog, or now that I’m using Capture One Pro, catalogs, in the plural. I have more than one now unfortunately. But, I’ve found that keeping track of multiple catalogs and keeping them backed up has not been a problem.
The important thing is that I keep my catalog on an external hard drive, and this needs to be relatively fast. A USB 3.0 hard drive generally won’t cut it. I’ve actually changed my hard drive twice since my fist post. I used a Drobo Mini over Thunderbolt, and then 4TB Western Digital Thunderbolt drive a long time, but as I bought a new MacBook Pro with USB-C ports at the end of last year, I picked up a Sandisk Extreme 900 portable SSD drive, and have been very happy with it. These are expensive drives though, currently retailing at $787 on B&H.
These external SSD drives over USB-C 3.1 Gen2 are incredibly fast though, and remove any and all stress related to running your image catalog and images on an external drive. The Western Digital thunderbolt drives were fast too, but nowhere near as fast as these SSD drives. The Extreme 900 comes with both a USB-C to USB-C cable and a USB 3.0 Type-A to USB-C cable, so I can plug it straight into either my new MacBook Pro or my older iMac. The speed is actually pretty respectable over USB 3.0 on my iMac as well. The problem with other USB 3.0 drives is that the 2.5 inch hard drives are slow, but that isn’t the case with SSD.
The downside, is that the largest available volume at this point in time is 1.92TB, so I had to rethink a few things. I can just about fit my Finals and current year of images on this drive, although it will be tight. I’ll explain this in more detail shortly, but the important thing to note here, is that I have all of the work that is important to work on at the current time on this drive, and I run my Capture One Pro catalogs from this drive. When I move computers, I simply unplug the drive from one, and plug it into the other. When I reopen Capture One, I’m taken right back to the location that I left off when I closed the catalog on the other computer.
When I moved to Capture One, I found that it couldn’t handle all of my images in a single catalog, so I split my images into multiple catalogs. Each year of images has its own catalog, except for the first six years, from 2000 to 2005, because I didn’t have that much work, and so I was able to fit this all into a single catalog.
So, I currently have one catalog called 2000-2005, and separate catalogs for each year from 2006 onwards. These year catalogs contain every image that I shot for each year. I do all of my initial editing and image rating in these catalogs, until I have finalized my selection. Once I have finalized my selection, I copy my images to another catalog, called Finals. This catalog contains a separate folder for each year. I also copy the physical images to a Finals folder with one subfolder for each year. I’ll cover this in more detail later.
Catalog List in Capture One Pro
Although I wasn’t happy about having to split up my catalog initially, in practice, it hasn’t been that bad. You can easily get to each catalog from a pull down in Capture One Pro (right) and I have all of the photos that are worth a hoot in my Finals catalog anyway, so most of the time I tend to flick between my Finals and the current year catalogs.
Master and Backup Copies
As I mentioned, I learned from experience that it’s really better to avoid having multiple copies of folders and catalogs that you work on, so it’s really important to decide where you are going to put your catalogs and folders of images, and decide which on is the master, and which ones are just for backup purposes.
If you work on a copy of your image library on one computer, and then work on a different copy of your image library on another computer, at some point you are going to wonder which copy is the most recent, and you’ll have forgotten. Even when using software such as ChronoSynch that we’ll look at later, which has the ability to synchronize the latest files between locations, there will come a point when you have two copies of the same file that have both been worked on, and when you select one copy, you throw away what you did to the earlier copy, or you keep both copies and that’s avoidable, so I prefer not to.
My Master and Backup Copy Strategy
For me, I’ve found it best to have my current years worth of images and all of my Finals on my Sandisk Extreme 900 SSD drive, and I have all previous years on a Drobo 5D, which is attached to my iMac in my studio. I never need to access my original photos from previous years while traveling, and I because I do travel with all of my Final selects, I can get to those if necessary.
Let’s map this out and start to visualize my strategy, starting with my desktop computer, in the studio. When I have my Sandisk Extreme SSD drive, which I call Traveller, attached to my iMac, I can see, open and edit every image I’ve ever photographed. We’ll build this out like a presentation slide deck, so excuse the blank space on the right side of Diagram #1 (below).
Studio Workflow and Backup Strategy Diagram #1
At it’s bare minimum, my workflow starts with shooting images, and transferring them to my Traveller drive. This drive contains the master copy of all of the current year’s images and all of my Finals, which is every photo I’ve ever made that I consider good enough to use, and my current year and Finals Capture One catalogs. These things all live on my Traveller drive, so that I can easily move this to my laptop, as we’ll see shortly.
I use an application called ChronoSync from Econ Technologies to synchronize my files and catalogs around. I used Robocopy when I was on Windows, but it’s not all that intuitive. Other Windows applications that were suggested following the last post I did on this are SyncBack and GoodSync, which is multi-platform.
With ChronoSync you can create synchronization jobs and bundle them together, and schedule a batch of jobs to run whenever a specific drive is attached to a computer. Let’s walk through this
I have two sync jobs that mirror my current year and my Finals folders to my Drobo. Here is a screenshot of my current year sync job (below) and this is simply going to copy everything new in my 2017 folder on my Traveller SSD to a 2017 folder in a folder called Photo Originals on my Drobo.
Using the Mirror option will also delete anything that I have deleted from my Traveller. This is important, because as I remove images from my main copy, I don’t want to leave them in my backup. I also create a Rule to not copy the hidden .DS_Store files to my Drobo. They are specific to each drive, so I don’t want them to be included.
I have a similar job to Mirror my entire Finals folder to my Drobo as well. I don’t Mirror just the current year of my Finals, because as I work on images, I sometimes change images from previous years, so I want to keep this all synchronized with my Drobo.
I also have two special jobs that synchronize only things that have changed inside my Finals and current year Capture One catalogs. To do this, turn on “Allow package file selection” when you are locating the drive and folder to synchronize, and then ChronoSync will treat the package files as a folder, and synchronize the contents.
Sync Package Contents
If you don’t do this, ChronoSync will synchronize the entire package, and that would cause a very large file to be copied to my Drobo every time I sync, and it would cause the entire catalog to be unnecessarily backed up to the cloud every time I sync.
Group Jobs Together in a Container
Once I have all of my sync jobs created, I wrap them up in what’s called a Container, as we can see in this screenshot (below). After adding all of the relevant jobs to a container, you can click the Add to Schedule button and schedule these jobs to run automatically.
You can schedule sync jobs based on various actions, or simply have them run at a set time each day, but for this purpose, I select to run the job “When An Independent Volume Mounts” and this enables me to select my Traveller drive (below). I also select “Prompt user before running”. I want to be prompted, because I don’t necessarily want or need to synchronize my drive every time I plug it in to my iMac.
Schedule Sync Jobs
Once I have this set up, whenever I plug my Traveller drive into my iMac, I see a little popup like this (below) that asks me if I want to synchronize my Traveller with my iMac.
So, although it takes a little bit of time to set up, I can now with one click automatically backup my images and catalogs to my computer. Let’s continue to build out the slides to check where we are in our backup strategy (below).
Studio Workflow and Backup Strategy Diagram #2
We now see that as soon as I attach my Traveller drive to my iMac, my catalogs are automatically backed up to my iMac. I keep a backup of my catalogs on my iMac hard drive for a number of reasons. The first is because if I put them on the Drobo, it would take me longer to backup my Drobo, because I’d need to create separate ChronoSync sync jobs to avoid copy entire catalogs, as I mentioned earlier. The second reason for doing this is that I also set up Time Machine to backup my iMac drive, so that would be an easy way to get back to a working copy if anything went wrong.
We can also see from this diagram that as soon as any new images are copied to my Drobo, they are automatically backed up to my Backblaze account. Backblaze has been great, and for just $50 per year, you can get unlimited storage in the cloud. If I ever had some kind of catastrophic disaster that took out all of my local copies of my images, I could have Backblaze send me hard drives with my 12TB of data on them, and I’d be back up and running in no time.
Location of Files
Let’s also recap on where everything is now. The master copy of my current year’s work and my Finals library of images, and the working catalog for this work is all on my Traveller SSD. The master copy of all of my previous years work is sitting on my Drobo, and whenever I reference these images, I launch the catalogs from my iMac hard drive.
An easy way to look at this, is everything from previous years is based in my studio, on my desktop workstation. Everything that travels with me, is on my Traveller drive.
Local Fault Tolerance
Let’s move on to look at one last slide from my studio setup (below). Although my Drobo has fault tolerance built in, and I can have one drive fail without losing my data, there is always a slim but real chance that more than one drive dies at the same time, or that the entire device could die on me. Because I don’t want to rely on Backblaze sending me my work on hard drives just for a drive failure, I actually have a second Drobo 5D, which is a straight mirror of my first.
Studio Workflow and Backup Strategy Diagram #3
I have a reminder scheduled on my computer to remind me to turn on my second Drobo once a week, and mirror my first Drobo to it. I use ChronoSync for this as well. When I set up my first Drobo 5D I used drives that turned out to be very noisy, so I demoted that Drobo to the backup, and have bought quieter Western Digital Red drives for the main Drobo, as that’s turned on most of the time. They also use quite a lot of power running five 3.5 inch hard drives, so I only turn on the second one when necessary.
I know that some people have had bad experiences with Drobo drives, but I have been very happy with mine, and have never had any problems. But, technology does fail, so I just don’t want to have my main copy of all of my work to exist in just one place locally.
Mirroring Entire Drives with ChronoSync
To close the loop on the last diagram before we move on, please note that to mirror the contents of my first Drobo 5D to my second with ChronoSync Task, because we will mirror the root of the drive, I set up a few Rules to prevent ChronoSync from copying and overwriting some important system files, as we can see in this screenshot (below).
Sync Drobo #1 to Drobo #2
Let’s Get Mobile
OK, so now let’s move on and look at what happens when I’m traveling, or simply working away from my studio. As you can see, I just plug in my Traveller SSD drive, and continue working. If I had actually closed down Capture One Pro on my iMac with that Snow Monkey photo displayed, it would have opened at the same location when I move to my MacBook Pro.
Travel Workflow and Backup Strategy
I also travel with three USB 3.0 hard drives. These are too slow to run my catalogs and images from, but as backups they work fine. One is just a Time Machine backup, that I plug in at the hotel every few days, usually over night, if I can leave my MacBook Pro plugged in to the electricity.
Carry Spare Backup Drives
I then have two backups, which I once again automatically synchronize with ChronoSync. I have a schedule set up to detect each drive as it is attached to my computer, and it asks me if I want to mirror my images and catalogs to the hard drive. I make two backups, simply because one drive could fail. Actually, all of my drives could fail, but having spent many months on the road, over the years, I’ve actually had just one drive fail on me. That was in Antarctica though, and believe me, when there are no shops around, having a spare is very important.
It’s a little nerve racking to only have one master copy and one backup of my images while traveling, but if my second backup drive was to fail, I’d kill my Time Machine backup, and continue to make a backup of my images. Thinking of it this way, carrying these three drives is more to give me backup drives, than an actual backup of my images, but as it’s all automatic once I’ve plugged the drive in, I just keep them up to date at the end of each day.
Keep Your Copies Separated
One other important aspect of having these backups, is that I feel it’s very important to keep these separate as you travel. I always travel with a photographer vest, and keep my master copy in my vest, on my person, at all times. Even when I go to the bath when traveling domestically here in Japan, I take my Traveller drive with me and put it in a locker.
Having three backups of your images isn’t going to help you at all if they are all in the same bag, and you lose that bag. I generally keep one backup in my bag, and the second in my suit case. These means something would have to happen to all three copies in separate locations for me to lose my entire library of images while traveling.
Turn Off Cloud Backups While Traveling, Please!!
I don’t do cloud backups while traveling, partly because I only pay for one computer on Backblaze, and it’s better to make that my iMac as it’s always on and connected to the Internet. Also, hotel Wifi is usually not good enough to bear up to uploading large numbers of raw files. Many people have automatic backups turned on now, and you can literally watch the network go down as a bus load of photographers get to their rooms after a days shooting. I wish more people would turn this off while on the road.
Synching Settings Files
One other thing that I need to mention before we move on, is that to make moving between computers totally seamless, I also synchronize my Capture One Pro settings folder by moving it to my Dropbox, and creating a symbolic link in the original location. This isn’t officially supported by Phase One, but I’ve been working this way for 10 months now, and haven’t found any problems.
Here is the code I use with my name replaced by USER_NAME. This assumes that you’ve moved the “Capture One” preferences folder under the “Application Support” folder to a folder called “Capture One Prefs” inside a folder called “Capture One” in your Dropbox. This code only works on a Mac, and please do this at your own risk.
ln -s "/Users/USER_NAME/Dropbox/Capture One/Capture One Prefs" "/Users/USER_NAME/Library/Application Support/Capture One"
You of course have to do this on all computers that you will work on, to ensure that your preferences are copied between each via your Dropbox. If you don’t know how to create a symbolic link in Windows, this tutorial will probably help.
Set a Hard Drive Letter for Windows
If you use this strategy in a Windows environment, you’ll probably also need to ensure that the drive letter of your Traveller drive doesn’t change as you move it from computer to computer. Here’s another tutorial on how to do that. Just ensure that you select the same letter on all computers you work on. Give yourself some room too, so that you can still have lots of dynamically lettered drives on your desktop. T for Traveller would be a good option.
Not Really a Cross Plastform Solution
I should also mention that this solution may not ideal if you switch between Windows and Mac regularly. The catalog can be taken from one operating system to the other and will open, but Windows and the Mac OS reference drives differently, so you’d need to tell the other OS where your files live each time you open the catalog on the other system.
Once you have all of this in place, you will literally be able to move your Traveller hard drive from computer to computer, and continue working as though you were on the same computer. Because you have your Capture One Pro settings syncing too, even all of your presets are available on both computers. They essentially become identical.
Exporting Original Format Images
Export Original Images to Finals
Let’s start to wrap up now, with a few other pieces of advice based on my own workflow.
To get my final select images from my original photo folders to my Finals folder I select the images that I want to export and right click one of the thumbnails, and from the shortcut menu, select Export > Originals. You can also get to this option from the File menu.
I don’t change the image name on export, because I change it on import. After checking the destination, I ensure that Include Adjustments is turned on, then click the Export button, as you see in this screenshot (right).
I don’t package my images as EIP or Enhanced Image Package format files, because the thought of wrapping my images in something non-standard scares me. I just want my raw images in a new location, that’s all.
Synchronize Finals Folder
Once the export process has completed, I switch to my Finals catalog, locate the folder for the year I exported my images to, then right click that, and select Synchronize. Capture One will then go and look for anything new in my current year folder, and import them into my Finals catalog. As long as you turn on the Include Adjustments checkbox on export, any changes made to your images will also be applied to your new copy.
Starting a New Year
At the start of each new year, I have a little bit of cleaning up to do, to prepare for starting to photograph the new year. First of all, I ensure that I have completed all edits that I want to do on my previous year’s images, and ensure that I have run my backup to mirror these images to my Drobo.
Then, I close the catalog in Capture One Pro, and delete the folder from my Traveller drive. After that, when I reopen the catalog in Capture One, my folders all show up as missing, as you can see in this screenshot (below).
Locate Missing Folder
To fix that, and complete the process, right click the top level drive or folder, and select Locate from the shortcut menu. You’ll then be able to navigate to the copy of your year folder that was your backup copy until a few minutes ago. After spending some time locating all of your images in the new location, you are ready to continue to use your catalog. From this point on, this becomes your master copy, along with all of the other previous years.
Create a New Year Folder
And of course, you also need to create a new year folder to ingest all of the new work that you’ll make. Remember that this will live on your Traveller drive for the current year, along with your Finals, if that’s how you work, and you’ll just proceed as you did in the previous year. It’s all quite easy once you have gotten your head around it.
Having spent many years tweaking and developing a smooth workflow, I’m very happy with how I work, so I hope this helps you to smooth out any possible kinks that you might have in your own workflow. As I mentioned earlier too, if you don’t use Capture One Pro, the techniques and strategy that I covered should be pretty transferable to whatever program you use to manage and edit your photographs.
Today I’m going to walk you through my data backup strategies at home and in the field. This is in response to a listener question from someone that heard me talking about this briefly on This Week in Photo. I should precede this with the disclaimer that I’m perhaps a little bit paranoid with my backups, but I should also add that I’ve never lost an image in 18 years of digital imaging, and that includes scans of slide film from way back when.
I’ve been running behind a little this week too, hoping to release an Iceland update a little earlier, but I’ve been struggling with some new software that I had hoped to use to show you my new Iceland portfolio images with. It’s almost ready now, and you can see my selected 50 shots on my site already, although I need a little more time to finesse the presentation. If you want a sneak preview, go to https://mbp.ac/iceland2013, and click the little arrow at the bottom right of the gallery to view the images full-screen.
So, before we jump into my backup strategies, I’d like to talk about how I synchronize my files between the various hard drives that I’ll discuss. When I first switched to the Mac OS, I initially used a product called Sync, Sync, Sync, but a couple of serious bugs introduced via upgrades and a few corrupted files that were possibly caused by this application got me looking for a new solution about six months ago, and what I decided on was an application that I’ve been very happy with, called ChronoSync.
ChronoSync is very powerful, and can be used to create all kinds of synchronization jobs. I’m not going to go into details today, but you can specify various types of Synchronization jobs, some of which could result in your deleting files by mistake if you don’t understand how a specific synchronization type works, so you have to be careful with applications like this, but as long as you read the help and set things up correctly, ChronoSync will serve you well. Another great thing about ChronoSync though is that you can click the Trial Sync button, and it will throw up a dialog that will tell you exactly what will be copied, what will be deleted and everything like that, so you can check your sync jobs before you actually run them.
Here’s a screenshot of one of my Sync jobs, which I use to synchronize my September 2013 raw files from my MacBook Pro drive to my Drobo 5D. I’ve selected Mirror Left-to-Right as the synchronization type, so that anything I delete from my local hard drive as I edit, is also deleted from my backup when I sync the two. You can also select to move deleted files to an archive folder if you don’t want to risk automatically deleting something by mistake.
The other good thing about ChronoSync is that you can create Containers that are basically batches of Sync jobs, so for example, I have one Container that holds all of the Sync jobs that I run between my two Drobos, so when I’m ready to sync, I can run individual jobs, or just run the entire batch, syncing everything that I’ve built individual sync jobs for.
On Windows, I used to use Robocopy, which is included in the operating system to sync between files. I created text based command files that I would just double click to run the sync jobs, and the result was very much what ChronoSync is doing, but without the interface and ease of configuration. You basically have to read the help and figure out all the commands you need, and write the scripts yourself with Robocopy. It’s not difficult, but it’s too complicated to try and cover here, especially as I no longer use it.
So, when I talk about running a sync job, or synchronizing between drives today, just understand that I’m talking about running a ChronoSync task, but this could be whatever you chose to use to synchronize between your own storage solutions. Another thing to note though, is that I do not recommend manually moving files around.
Manually copying files is OK for an initial backup, like say when you get home from a trip, and just copy an entire directory structure to your main hard drive, but once you have to start doing incremental backups to save changed images and deletions, any new files you create for black and white versions or other edited images to your backup drive, it quickly becomes a pain to do this manually, and it’s error prone. Do find and use a good synchronization solution for this part of your workflow.
Let’s first touch on how I organize and access my images at home, and then how I back up my images. Initially, every photograph I shoot is first copied to the solid state drive in my MacBook Pro. Because of this, I always get the largest internal drive I can afford when I buy a new computer, so my MacBook Pro Retinal has a 750GB solid state drive installed. This generally enables me to save all of each months images locally, before I clean that out as I move into the following month.
It’s totally up to you how you organize your images, but for me, having everything in a three layer year, month and day structure works well, especially when backing up. I’ve seen people that use location based folder names, but that relies on you remembering what you’ve already backed up and what you have not, or manually comparing your backups etc. which is error prone, not to mention a pain.
If everything for this year is under 2013, and everything for September say is in a directory named 09, each in their own day numbered folders, it’s really easy to check that you are backed up. With the keywording and collections that we now have in Lightroom and other media management software, it really isn’t necessary to include the location or shoot name in the folder structure, unless you have some sort of process imposed on you at a workplace or something.
Anyway, I shoot away for the current month, and create a Sync job for that month that I can run after each shoot, and that automatically copies all of my images, including any changes or deletions to my main storage, which is now a Drobo 5D. This is connected to my MacBook Pro, which is currently my main computer, via Thunderbolt. The Drobo 5D with an mSATA SSD Accelerator drive installed is lightening fast. It’s almost as fast as the internal SSD drive in my MacBook Pro, so backups are very fast, even with 100+ Gigabytes of data.
Drobo 5D Screenshot
Now, I know that Drobos provide a certain amount of redundancy/fault tolerance, in that with my current configuration, if one hard drive fails, I can pull it out, and replace it, and my data will be safe, but I’ve had a drive fail, and with the amount of data I have stored, which is currenly 5.12TB, it takes two to three days to rebuild the data once you put the new hard drive in. That means there is a two to three day window in which a second failed drive would cost me all of my data, and I don’t want to take that risk.
So, I have two Drobos, basically one is a copy of the other, but there is a second very important reason for having that second Drobo, which is Cloud Storage. My second Drobo, a 2nd Generation USB connected four bay Drobo, is connected to my old MacBook Pro, on which I have Backblaze installed. Backblaze currently costs just $50 per year, or $95 for two years, and that is for unlimited storage. As I say, I have over 5 terabytes of data and every byte of that is uploaded to Backblaze, so if I lose any files, I can download them from Backblaze at any time, and that has happened in the past.
I did a portrait shoot for a client and when I came to work on some prints for them, I found one of the images was corrupted. I believe, though I can’t prove, that this was caused by my last synchronization application during a few synchronization back and forth, so all of my backups were corrupted. Of course, the Backblaze copy was also corrupt, but Backblaze keeps up to four weeks of versions of files, and because I found this issue within a few weeks, I was able to roll-back to an uncorrupted version of the image file.
Had I gone past the four weeks, I’d have lost the file and had to deal with the embarrassing task of telling my client that I lost one of their precious portrait images, so it’s important to ensure that things don’t get corrupted, and that is why I switched synchronization software and touch-wood, nothing has been corrupted since.
So, to recap, my main workflow at home is to shoot for a month, keeping everything on my MacBook Pro, and then after each shoot everything gets backed up first to a Drobo 5D connected via Thunderbolt, and then a second backup is done over the network to a second Drobo connected via USB to my old MacBook Pro. As long as my Backblaze backup is up to date, I can usually backup around 20GB of data per day, so unless I have done a really big shoot, I’m usually backed up in the cloud too within about 24 hours.
Once I’ve finished processing each month’s images usually within the first week or so of the following month, I run one last synchronization from my local MacBook Pro drive to the Drobos, then I delete the images from the local drive. At that point, Lightroom sees that the local images are missing, and I point it to the new month directory on the Drobo 5D, and continue to access my images as normal.
I also catalog the images on my old Drobo over the network, so if I need anything while I’m not at my desk with the Drobo 5D plugged in, I can still access it over the network from anywhere in the house. This is important as if you recall, my office and studio are on the 3rd floor of our apartment, and our living space is on the second floor, and so I don’t spend too much time in the studio, I work from our living room or dining table for a while after breakfast, and then in the evenings, and it’s nice to be able to get to stuff over the network if I need to.
In the Field
That’s my basic home/office workflow, but now let’s look at what I do when I’m traveling. Right now I use four portable hard drives in the following way. I have two 2TB Western Digital My Passport Studio drives that are my main backups in the field. These are the two drives stacked together in this image (below).
Every day when I get to the hotel, I transfer all of my images to my local hard drive first. Then, I synchronize that to my first 2TB hard disk. I usually try to do at least this much before dinner, and I put the 2TB drive in my pocket before I leave the room. If I don’t have time for that, I still put the drive in my pocket because it contains all the previous days backups, but I also put the compact flash cards from that day in my pocket too, rather than leaving them in the hotel room.
Once I get back to the room after dinner, if I have shot any video on my GoPros that day, I back them up to a third 1TB hard drive, that I connect to the computer via Thunderbolt. This is the white Buffalo drive that you can see to the left in this photo. This isn’t much faster than the Firewire Drives though, because it’s a slow 2.5in hard drive. Thunderbolt is kind of wasted on standard 2.5in hard drives, which I guessed would be the case, but I bought this to try it anyway. I won’t buy any more unless they boast very fast hard drive speeds to keep up with Thunderbolt. In fact, I think if I buy anything else for portable backups, it will probably be a Drobo Mini, because they have the same SSD acceleration that the Drobo 5D uses, and that screams along.
Once I have my video backed up to my 1TB hard drive, I run a synchronization between that drive and my first 2TB hard drive, and then, I synchronize my first 2TB hard drive with the second 2TB hard drive. That gives me my two backups in the field, so if I need to, I can delete the images from the local hard drive, although I try to avoid this if at all possible. As I mentioned earlier, I have a 750GB internal solid state drive so I can usually shoot for around three to four weeks before I have to start deleting stuff. This is also why I backup my video straight to an external drive, as I’d fill up my local drive too quickly otherwise.
Finally, usually before I go to sleep, I plugin my fourth portable hard drive to my computer, that you can see at the back in this photo (above), which is my portable Time Machine backup. This means that until I delete anything from the local hard drive, I actually have four copies of everything while traveling. This is enough to keep me happy. 🙂
Note that for the last few versions of the Mac OS, you can now have multiple time machines. In the photo here (above) you can also see a Belkin Thunderbolt hub, into which I basically plug everything, including my Drobo 5D which chains to my external monitor via Thunderbolt, and all of my other USB3.0 and USB2.0 devices, as well as my Firewire card reader, Wacom tablet and speakers etc. all plug into this, so when I sit at my desk, I actually only have to plug in the power to the MacBook Pro, and one thunderbolt cable, and everything just connects. The reason I mention this is because I also have a USB3.0 external hard drive attached to this hub, which continuously updates a Time Machine backup of my computer when I’m at my desk. The portable Time Machine copy is only used when traveling.
The main thing to note about these hard disks now, is that I always carry my main 2TB backup disk with me everywhere when I’m traveling. It not only goes to dinner with me, but it stays in my photographer’s vest all day long. When possible, I also carry my 1TB hard drive that you can see at the back of the photo. This disk is very tough, even withstanding a bit of a dunk in water if necessary, so as long as I haven’t deleted my local copy of my images, they are all in there, inside my Time Machine backup, so if I lost my computer, I could get all my information back, including mail and other personal data to the point of the last backup.
Note too that my 2TB drives are large enough for me to keep a backup of all of what I call my Final images. These are images that I have selected for my portfolios, or stuff that I feel is good enough to show people. If I have done a black and white conversion in Silver Efex Pro for example, I will have the original RAW file, and the converted TIFF or PSD file in my Finals folders too. These are organized by year, so I basically end each year with a new folder, with all of my best shots and original RAW files for that year. This means if I’m traveling and someone needs a few images from me, the chances are I can get them to them from on the road. I can also access all of my RAW files for my best work to give demonstrations of software etc.
I also keep all of my RAW files from every shoot that I do during any given year on this 2TB drive, because when I get home from a big trip, it will take a while for the backups to upload to Backblaze, especially if I have video to upload too. This means that I can carry my hard drive around with me for a while after I get home, and if anything should happen to my house while I’m out, I don’t lose all my recent work.
So, one last summary here, I have all of my images, and all of my documents, email, music and everything that I value, all on my Drobo 5D, which is my main storage. That is backed up to a second Drobo and that gets backed up to the cloud using Backblaze. This is three copies of all of my data, which is currently 5.12TB and counting. When I travel, I have at least two external backups of my work, as well as a Time Machine backup, in case I lose my computer.
Off Site Backup
Now that I have this much redundancy in my backups, including the cloud backup, I don’t do off-site backups as much as I used to. When I was still in my old day job, I would keep a backup of all my data on a few 3.5 inch hard disks that I would load into an external bay occasionally, and sync from my main data, then take that copy back to the office and just leave it in a drawer. This was still Tokyo though, so every year or so, I would also copy my entire library to a series of old hard drives, and send them to my brother in the UK, and would just store the hard disks somewhere for me.
This is less important to me now that all of my data is in two places at home and the cloud, but when I can, I still like to do this. It’s just one more backup that could save my ass if something really nasty happened here in Japan, at the same time as Backblaze turning pear-shaped, although I can never see that happening. Realistically though, if anything did happen to my local backups, I’d probably request a my data to be sent to me on hard disks from Backblaze rather than my brother, as the copies he has area never going to include my latest work.
As I said, I might be a little bit paranoid about my backups, but if even a part of what I do gives you a hint on how you might improve your own backup strategy, that’s great. The most important thing to remember is that all hard drives fail at some point, so you should never trust your images in just one place. The minimum you should do is backup to an external hard drive, and if possible, make a backup of that to keep away from your home, or sign up for a Backblaze account or a similar service, and ensure that your precious images are also backed up in the cloud.