Wetpixel asks the Pros: Backup strategies

Sometimes our “office” is by the sea…

Wetpixel asks the Pros: Backup Strategies.

There is a well established principle that unless you own digital data in at least two independent places, you don’t own it at all. Hard drive failure is inevitable, and if we are storing important information, we should accept this and plan for it. Backup is a key cornerstone of digital imaging and is as vital as ensuring that our housings do not leak!

This is especially true for those who rely on their images and footage to provide their livelihood. Hence, we set out to “Ask the Pros” how they backup their images, so that we can all benefit from their knowledge and technique.

Wetpixel asks the Pros is a new monthly feature on Wetpixel that aims to tackle questions about underwater imaging by asking industry leading professionals how to do it! Many thanks to them all for their time, input and above all else, willingness to share their extensive knowledge. Please stay tuned for our next Ask the Pros article in May.

Stephen Frink

Stephen Frink is the publisher of Alert Diver magazine and has enjoyed a successful 35 year career as an marine photographer.

On the road I typically edit daily and archive keepers on laptop and two portable hard drives. I make sure drives and computer are spread between hand-carry and checked baggage.

I call my workflow “tripod”, with each leg doing a different task better than another:

  1. Photo Mechanic for first edit and to kill the detritus, and assign file name protocols and IPTC data. 100% of images are touched in PM.

  2. Lightroom for any processing required on select images, whether for web or high res. About 20% of images touched individually in LR.

  3. Photoshop CC for any cloning or extensive backscatter removal. Perhaps 1 or 2% of images touched in PS (as rough guess).

Erin Quigley

Erin Quigley is a Adobe ACE certified digital imaging expert, award-winning underwater photographer, and creator of GoAskErin.com, which provides resources and training specifically developed for underwater shooters.

How do you backup your images in the field?

My backup strategy depends on whether I’m just shooting on a trip or also teaching.

In the first scenario, when I’m just shooting, I travel with two 2TB external HD’s. One is the working master and the other is emergency backup. I keep both my image library and a Lightroom catalog created specifically for the trip on the master drive. When I import to Lightroom, I choose to copy image files to the master and make a second copy to the backup drive simultaneously. I also backup the Lightroom catalog (.lrcat file) to the backup drive when I close Lightroom, so that not only are my photos saved - all the editing work I’ve done in Lightroom is saved as well. This strategy works for anyone who travels with a laptop and synchronizes to another machine at home.

In the second scenario, when I teach, I travel with 2 mirrored external drives. They both have a current copy of my entire Lightroom catalog and originals. When I import to Lightroom, I choose to import image files to the master catalog and make a second copy to the backup simultaneously. At the end of the day, I use a backup utility to re-mirror the drives, so that the Lightroom catalogs (and thus any editing or deletions) are identical. This strategy works well for those who only have a single machine, and don’t need to synchronize Lightroom (or other) catalogs when they get home.

As an aside, in either scenario, If I’ve shot a significant amount of video, I download video files directly from the media card to a folder on my master drive, bypassing them in the Lightroom import panel. Lightroom’s import engine is painfully slow if you’ve got lots of video footage. I look through the clips, get rid of the chaff, and then I copy the the video folder to the backup drive using a backup utility. Finally I ADD (instead of COPY) the remaining clips to the Lightroom catalog for reference.

How do you backup your images at home?

My image library at home resides on a 4TB internal drive in my desktop machine, which is scheduled to be backed up nightly to another 4TB internal drive using a backup utility. At my studio, I have the same image library and Lightroom catalog mirrored on a couple of Pegasus Raid arrays, which are also scheduled to backup automatically. I also have 2 mirrored external drives that I use when I teach, which both contain my entire Lightroom catalog and originals.

Do you incorporate backup into your workflow?

Definitely! I have to make it a habit, or I’ll forget to do it. Consistency is key, and I automate as much as I can.

If so, how?

I have varying travel workflows related to a couple of backup scenarios I mentioned earlier, as well as a regular routine that keeps my home and studio machines synchronized. All the workflows are based on my strong opinion that Lightroom works best with just a single master catalog.

In the first travel scenario, I arrive home with new images and a specific trip catalog. I want to merge my trip catalog with my master Lightroom catalog at home, and transfer new originals into my existing image library.

  1. I connect the master field drive to my desktop machine and open my home catalog.
  2. In the home Library Module, I go to File>Import from Another Catalog, and navigate to the trip catalog on the field drive.
  3. In the ensuing dialog box, there’s a New Photos section. From the dropdown menu, I choose “Copy new photos to a new location and import”, and point the new images to the desired destination in my existing image library. In this way, any metadata or editing work I’ve done in the field, including flagging, collections and virtual copies is retained.
  4. I do the same thing with the primary studio machine and my teaching drives. When the trip, home, studio, and teaching catalogs are merged, I reformat both field drives in preparation for the next trip.

In the second travel scenario, I arrive home with external drives that contain my entire existing Lightroom catalog and images, plus any new ones that I shot on the trip.

  1. I connect the primary external drive to my home desktop and copy any new originals into my home image library, making sure that their location is identical to their location on the external drive.
  2. Overwrite the existing home catalog with the more current one from the external field drive. Since I made sure an identical file path existed on the travel drive, Lightroom sees the new images and all their associated catalog information automatically.
  3. After checking to see that everything’s copacetic, I take the drive to the studio and do the same thing there.

My home and studio are only a 5 minute drive from each other, but it would still be a drag to have to cart one of the Pegasus arrays back and forth to keep things synched. I use Lightroom regularly in both places, so I have to continually update one system or the other. I know there are sexier ways to do it, but over time this method has proved to be the most efficient.

  1. At the end of a work session in either location, I create a collection called “Transfer” of new or existing images I’ve worked on, and export it as a catalog including negatives (new originals), to an external drive.
  2. I bring the external drive to the other location, plug it into the system and merge the Transfer catalog into the Master catalog.

What tools do you use Lightroom/Photoshop/Photo Mechanic/Offload/Bulletproof etc.?

I use Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC 2014. I use my own ftp as cloud storage for my portfolio shots. I use Dropbox to transfer or hold files for use on both systems, and I use Chronosync, SuperDuper or CarbonCopyCloner as backup utilities, depending on the job. I don’t use Time Machine to backup my Lightroom catalogs or Photos.

Allison Vitsky Sallmon and Andy Sallmon:

Andy and Allison Sallmon are professional marine photographers based in San Diego, California.

  1. When in the field, we download by importing images to Lightroom - images are imported to a laptop and simultaneously to a portable backup drive. I use a little G-drive, and I can’t recall what Andy uses offhand, not sure if you want that level of detail.

  2. Same as above - we download to our respective primary computer by importing to LR and simultaneously to a backup drive. Ultimately, my images are shuttled from my computer’s hard drive to a separate dual raid system that I use for long term storage - my initial download backups are kept intact on the first backup (a completely separate drive), so I always have material on two drives. Hope this is clear. I used to backup via one of those wireless automatic systems, but I learned the hard way that these are not foolproof when I lost some of my early images, including the raw file from my very first award-winning image :(. I do, at least, still have a high-res (tiff) file, but it was still a bummer.

  3. Yes, right away at the time of import. That way, we don’t forget. Diving is an expensive investment both locally and remotely, and this is a non-negotiable step. Andy actually uses the backup SD slot in his Canon 5DMkIII, too, so images are backed up as they are taken - I need to start doing this and in fact am going to buy one now. This step saved some images he took in Lembeh over the Xmas holidays when his primary (CF) card was downloading images that were appearing as “corrupted” in LR.

  4. Detailed above.

  5. Lightroom and Photoshop. God help me if I have to learn any more programs, as I can barely figure out these two!!!!

One thing I would add is that our gear - cards, drives, computers - get heavy use. We update these items as needed and certainly on a regular basis - it is just as much a part of our gear kit as our cameras, housings, strobes.

Norbert Wu:

Norbert Wu has been working professionally as an underwater and wildlife photographer for 30 years.

How do you backup your images in the field?

I bring several portable 1.5Tb and 2Tb USB3.0 drives made by Western Digital or Seagate. After a day of diving or when necessary, the contents of my camera’s memory cards are dumped to my MacBook Pro, and from there onto at least two different portable hard drives.

I have been sticking with a relatively old (2013 or 2014 model) MacBook Pro 13” that came with a Superdrive and hard drive, no Retina Screen. It’s been great for traveling and taking photos because I put in a 500Gb SSD drive and 1Tb laptop drive in it, so my laptop has 1.5Tb of space.

How do you backup your images at home?

My backup system at home is based around hard drive docks and bare hard drives. I do have two SATA/USB enclosures that contain four hard drives of 2Tb each, but those are mainly used for video projects and files when editing. My backup system consists of perhaps two dozen 2Tb and 3Tb bare hard drives that contain video and still images. I simply put a bare hard drive into a hard drive dock when I am backing up and when I need access to images. I have a master set in the office and then keep three more sets of hard drives in various places such as our summer house, etc.

Do you incorporate backup into your workflow?

Absolutely; it is imperative.

If so, how?

I believe I answered the question above. But an important part is naming your original images according to a system first, then all backups get those re-named images. Eg CAL_20150406_dddd for images shot today.

What tools do you use Lightroom/Photoshop/Photo Mechanic/Offload/Bulletproof etc.?

I use Photo Mechanic to take a quick look at images. Among other things such as its speed and simplicity, it is able to pull the JPG out of a RAW image from a newer camera when Aperture and other programs cannot. I still use Aperture, and I use Photoshop only when I have to (to get an image ready to send to a client).

Julian Cohen:

Julian Cohen is constantly traveling and rarely without a camera. He likes flowers and puppies and longs for world peace.

How do you backup your images in the field?

I always carry a 2TB backup drive that runs on USB3 for better transfer speed. I use CarbonCopy Cloner on my Mac to backup on a daily basis, or whenever I have downloaded RAW images or done some post work. I also backup the main laptop on a regular basis whilst on a trip

How do you backup your images at home?

I have two hard drives. I keep my main photo library on one and back that up to a second on a weekly basis for redundancy. I also keep a backup of my laptop at home, which I sync just before a trip, so should the worst happen I can still have something relatively recent to use on a new machine.

Do you incorporate backup into your workflow?

Yes, I just do it instinctively now and when on a photo trip always have the backup drive plugged into the laptop.

What tools do you use Lightroom/Photoshop/Photo Mechanic/Offload/Bulletproof etc.?

Lightroom and Photoshop CC. I backup the image folder as well as the Lightroom folders and then the main hard drive all separately.

David Salvatori:

Diving for passion since 2007, with the greatest aspiration to raise awareness of our endangered nature. His website.

How do you backup your images in the field?

I have a MAC (with its own HD) and two external 2TB HD; I make three copies at the end of every shooting day

How do you backup your images at home?

I review the images soon after the trip but then I let some time pass before selecting them; when it comes to the selection process (typically a few months after the trip) usually 60% of the initial RAWs are thrown in the bin, remaining ones are classified with 1, 2, 3 stars, the latter being the best; usually 3 stars images from a two-weeks trips are not more than 10 pictures

Do you incorporate backup into your workflow?

3-stars pictures are immediately post-processed with Camera RAW/Photoshop after the end of the selection process; post processed files are archived with LR, my workflows include a final backup of the LR db every time the db is updated.

What tools do you use Lightroom/Photoshop/Photo Mechanic/Offload/Bulletproof etc.?

LR for archiving, PS for post-process, BR for browsing

David Fleetham:

David Fleetham is one of the most published underwater photographers in the world. He began diving and photographing underwater in 1976 and his photograph of a sandbar shark appeared is the only underwater photograph to feature on the cover of LIFE.

How do you backup your images in the field?

I travel with 3 hard drives. All images I shoot are duplicated on all three drives and these are never in the same piece of luggage.

How do you backup your images at home?

Not well. I have multiple drives in my office, which is a separate building 150 feet from my home. I buy new drives each year and backup everything. There is a better way.

Do you incorporate backup into your workflow?

Just when I am on the road. Once I get home I have multiple copies/drives and annually back everything up.

What tools do you use Lightroom/Photoshop/Photo Mechanic/Offload/Bulletproof etc.?

I use Photo Mechanic for my initial dumping of files and then Lightroom and ultimately Photoshop to create final TIFFs. I can’t seem to get away from using layers at some point in most of my underwater work.

Tony Wu:

Tony Wu is permanently disoriented and more often than not, waterlogged. See his journal for miscellaneous ramblings and occasional images.

How do you backup your images in the field?

Originals on my laptop. Two copies to two external hard disks.

How do you backup your images at home?

Two copies on two Drobos. Processed images to Photoshelter. Still looking for a viable online backup for RAW files.

Do you incorporate backup into your workflow?

Not sure what you mean by this. Backup along the way while I’m in the field to two external drives. Backup everything to two Drobos when I get back.

What tools do you use Lightroom/Photoshop/Photo Mechanic/Offload/Bulletproof etc.?

Photo Mechanic for quick sort and download. I was an Aperture user. I’ve obviously had to switch to Lightroom. Only use it to catalog, view, churn out quick jpgs. All proper editing in Photoshop. In Lightroom, I create a separate Catalog for every trip (Library in Aperture). I don’t believe it putting all my eggs in one basket (i.e., having all photos in one single Catalog), and I incorporate images by reference, not by import. The reason is that I want to always have my images in original condition, in case software changes, like the discontinuation of Aperture. I don’t have the time to figure out how to import/ convert tens of thousands of images from one software to another and migrate associated data. It’s much simpler for me to have the original data and just work with that data in whatever software is current on a project-by-project, image-by-image, as-needed basis. Software should be a tool, not the master of your images’ fate.

Page 1: Stephen Frink, Erin Quigley, Allison Vitsky Sallmon, Andy Sallmon, Norbert Wu, Julian Cohen, David Salvatori, David Fleetham, Tony Wu.
Page 2: Daniel Botelho, Douglas Seifert, Howard Hall, Michelle Hall, Franco Banfi.
Page 3: Alex Mustard, Amanda Cotton, Steve Jones, Nuno Sá, Cristian Dimitrius.