Wetpixel asks the Pros: Backup strategies

Cristian Dimitrius and Adam Hanlon carrying out backups during the Bahamas Underwater Photo Week.

Alex Mustard

Alex Mustard has been taking underwater photographs for 30 years and has worked as a full time underwater photographer for the last 10 years. He is also an Associate Editor of Wetpixel.

Download and backup in the field:

I like to download my photos after every dive mainly because I like to see my images properly as soon as possible. I guess this also answers my neurosis, that I rather my photos were safe on my computer, than at risk in a housing. If they are good, they may be worth more than the camera, anyway. Not that I have ever flooded an SLR (digital or film).

I am not one of those photographers who worries about opening and closing my housing. Obviously we had to in the film days. I usually change lens after every dive too, as I find my creativity flows most freely like this. The XQD card of my D4 downloads very, very quickly, so I am able to do this very fast, even when running workshops.

Old school workflow and backup in a hotel room drawer (mainly EBX and RVP).

I download my photos through Lightroom. I like this software because it is fast and the processing tools are well suited to adjusting underwater images rapidly. That said, I am not a fan of Lightroom’s selective tools, which I think lack finesse compared with Photoshop when endeavoring to producing the highest quality output. So my workflow remains Lightroom>Photoshop.

I rename and keyword my images on download. I have been using the same file naming for digital files since 2002, it is not perfect, but I am not going to change now: UK15_am-12345.NEF.

Where, UK is the country or destination code, the next two numbers are the year, then an underscore and my initials, then a dash and the image sequence number. I start with a destination code and then year because that way a folder of processed images can be sorted by name and photos from the same destination over many years will group. I don’t use dates in my file naming, since this is always embedded in image files anyway, and they can always be sorted on date created.

I start a new folder for each trip and a new folder each day. In Lightroom the daily folders are usually invisible, but they can be helpful subdivision if needed. Keywords include my name and destination details for land and sea (e.g. Egypt, Sinai, Sharm El Shiekh, Strait of Tiran, Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea). I also have a standard metadata of my contact details, copyright statement etc, that is added to every file on download.

I keep just two copies of my images in the field. One of the solid state HHD or my laptop and one on a tiny, but capacious USB drive. If I get something super special I might make a third copy one of the large memory cards I have.

I don’t use cloud backup because the upload times are not practical in most field locations, and the connection can be too unreliable.

Workflow essentials. Delete button and tiny USB drive. You can get one that will hold 128 GB for $40, that’s enough for any trip. Zero addition to the luggage allowance. No cable to break mid trip. Super tough. They are so cheap, you could even buy one for each trip. I don’t, but writing that makes me think I should.

I edit my images heavily in the field. I know I will never have time to process most of the images I shoot. I also know that I would not sell any image. I only want to put images out there under my name that I think maintain or enhance my reputation as a photographer. This is more valuable than the quick buck of selling any old image. Following this logic editing is therefore very easy.

I shoot a lot of images. I always have more ideas than time underwater. But I edit very heavily. I keep only about 10-20% of what I shoot. I tend to leave it a week or so minimum before editing, which I think makes the selection process more objective and less influenced by the effort of producing certain images.

I will also pick out a selection of favorites from a shoot and make them into a collection in Lightroom. Usually about the top 5% of images.

I usually try and whizz through and add the latin names to all the subjects before coming home. This is easier when you have destination specific ID books to hand. My ID skills are pretty good, so I can usually do 80% of this without a book. I use Marine Life Keywords for this, which prompts you once you start typing the name. I have manually added my own names into Lightroom for areas that Marine Life Keywords does not cover, such as European Seas (e.g. around UK, Mediterranean etc) and the Red Sea, which is filled with endemic species.

Backup at home:

At home I backup these images onto hard drives. The full set of images gets backed up on a pair of hard drives. I used to use a Raid system, but not prefer a bit more manual control and simply use a pair of hard drives, than the black box feeling of raid.

I only add the favorites collection into the main Lightroom Catalogue on my desktop computer. I shoot a lot and these stops this Catalogue from become too huge. I always export as a catalogue from my laptop and import from another catalogue on my desktop, so that any processing I have done in the field and all keywords are imported.

This means I end up with 2 copies of all RAW files and a third copy of my favorites. I tend to process important images as soon as I can. And then save the high resolution TIFF file on a separate hard drive of processed images and also back this up.

To process an image I do major adjustments in Lightroom. Then import into Photoshop as 16-bit file. I process all my files to longest dimension of 45cm @ 300 dpi (5315 pixels). This is smaller than the resolution of some cameras now, but I prefer images from the D800, for example, at this size as the noise is smoothed a little. I make further adjustments (especially any selective work), spot, sharpen and write caption information I Photoshop. I save as a 8-bit TIFF, I work and save in Adobe RGB. I never reimport processed files back into Lightroom and view my processed folders through Bridge. I also have automatic actions for outputting both Screen Res sRGB jpgs (quality 10) for presentations and web res sRGB save for jpgs.

Amanda Cotton

Amanda Cotton, has never left home without at least one camera in tow for over 20 years. Specializing in underwater and travel photography, her technical abilities and skills were further mastered through rigorous professional education.

How do you backup your images in the field?

I typically backup my images onto a portable hard drive everyday while I’m at in the field. I also keep each card and do not delete or format each card until I am home and the files have been backed up a second and/or third time there.

How do you backup your images at home?

I keep all images I saved on the portable hard drives I used in the field. After I am back in the studio I back all raw files that are usable to a server. I also back the images up an additional hard drive system (RAID) which stays in the studio.

Do you incorporate backup into your workflow?

Yes, it helps with categorizing and locating files after they have been completed and worked on.

If so, how?

I keyword in the metadata most of the worked images that may be used in the future. I also save a TIFF file and a high resolution jpeg file in the same folder listed under the date and destination of the shoot. This allows quick and easy access to the images I’ve worked.

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

I utilize ACTIONS in Photoshop to make several steps in the workflow process faster and easier. I also use Bridge and it’s specific features and tools to help organize and add information to the files to help with the process.

Steve Jones

Steve Jones is an internationally published photojournalist, professionally active since 1996.

How do you backup your images in the field?

I follow these principles for in-field backup:

If I only have 1 copy, it’s not backed up. Mechanical hard drives occasionally fail especially in the environments we photographers take them to, so I make 3 copies of my images in the field. Two backups are stored on external 3.5 inch USB drives and the third is the master, which I’ll store on my laptops internal storage (as it’s faster and more convenient to work on).

Copy and backup once a day. Not everyone will agree with this, but I favor flash cards that are big enough to last the whole day to avoid the distraction of emptying cards between dives, where time is limited and I may have to rush things. Bigger cards mean less camera openings (unless I need to change lenses!).

Keep my stuff organized. I separate the images that I haven’t imported from the ones that have entered my workflow and I clearly name my folders starting with location, time of year and then have sub-folders for day and then camera. It saves time down the line if everything is organized right from the start – especially when it comes to transferring the images to my main computer back at home and continuing the workflow I start on the trip.

Get my workflow off to a flying start. I import into Lightroom, whilst at the same time bulk rename the files & stamp some metadata: copyright, location and basic keywords. More detailed keywording is done at home. Images submitted to agencies need to be adequately keyworded if they are to show up in search results so I use the Lightroom keyword list marine life keywords which contains taxonomical hierarchy for hundreds of species, with both English and Scientific names.

How do you backup your images at home?

Once I get back from a trip I copy my master images folder to my main computer, along with the Lightroom catalogue. Moving from my Mac laptop to Windows PC is seamless – I just need to repoint the Lightroom catalogue to the new folder location. I don’t delete the versions I’ve brought in from the field until I’ve got my copies all established and working at home.

My backup strategy is based on risk. My time is precious and discs are cheap – I do not even want to lose an hours work if I have a system failure, and the only way to prevent this is to use a RAID system (in simple terms this uses extra discs to duplicate data in real time – there are many great articles on the web explaining it more).

It’s not a case of if you’ll ever lose a disc – it’s a case of when! I use the simplest form of Raid Technology known as RAID 1 or disc mirroring (a redundant disc has an exact real-time copy of another). It doesn’t have some of the performance gains of more complex RAID levels but it’s robust and it works well. Recovery in the event of disc failure is simple – the system tells me which one is out of action, I replace it and it rebuilds itself. If my entire PC fails, the discs can be whipped out and still accessed via any other system.

I also keep a complete “cold” backup of my content at home (in the safe) and rotate this every few months with a copy I keep offsite. These cold backups are also a response to a different risk - The offsite backup guarding against a catastrophic but hopefully much lower probability event such as my house burning down, in which case I’d lose at worst a few months worth of content - very much the least of my worries in those circumstances!

Do you incorporate backup into your workflow?

Yes at several points – every time Lightroom closes it’s set to backup the catalogue automatically (to a different disc). This protects against corruption of the Lightroom Catalogue (.lrcat) file, which I have had happen in the past.

I also backup the catalogue to my external discs. Remember that if you are working heavily in Lightroom, all your efforts are represented in that catalogue file – your master image folders may barely be changing but lose that .lrcat file and you lose your work!

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

Lightroom and Photoshop. I use Lightroom for managing the images, metadata, basic editing, uploading to my website, publishing (basically 90% of my work) and use Photoshop for more advanced editing that goes beyond Lightroom’s (ever increasing) capabilities. I don’t use any specialist backup software and I just copy everything using Finder or Windows Explorer – it’s more time consuming but I’ve not yet found any backup software that I’m totally happy with.

Nuno Sá

Nuno Sá is an award winning underwater photographer and videographer living in the Mid Atlantic archipelago of the Azores.

How do you backup your images in the field?

In the field I use a twin set of Lacie Rugged Thunderbolt 2TB portable external hard drives. These hard drives are fast reliable and can take a beating as they are surrounded by a thick rubber protective cover. I download all images to 1 hard drive (actually have them marked with a magic marker: Primary and Backup). I then check images, delete any unwanted image, rename and add metadata and finally make a copy to the “Backup” unit. Only then are the images erased from the memory card.

How do you backup your images at home?

At home I have a stack of 4TB Hard drives (usually WD Elements of MyBook). I make a mirrored copy to 2 4TB hard drives. One of the hard drives will stay in my office while the backup will be kept fiscally in another place (actually my mother in laws house, witch is close by ;-). They are both marked with a magic marker with the year at the top and location and subject in each folder on the side (you can easily erase and change description with alcohol). I then erase copies from the Lacie portable hard drives. And store everything by order at the office, just as a stack of books.

Do you incorporate backup into your workflow?

I do all backup manually.

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

No tools, except when required by the camera for import (in the case of some video cameras).

Cristian Dimitrius

Cristian Dimitrius is a Brazilian Emmy Award Winning cinematographer, photographer, biologist and television presenter specializing in wildlife and natural history films around the world.

How do you backup your images in the field?

For the big productions I use a RAID system that make two copies while I am downloading eh files from the card. This saves me some sleeping time and this i something very important, and sometimes rare, during some serious assignment. For regular dive trips, with more photography than video, I usually use two hard drives and don’t delete the CF card till I get back home, using about 4 or 6 128CF cards, depending on the trip. I usually copy all files straight without any software unless the production request so.

How do you backup your images at home?

I have 2 main 32TB RAID 6 storage while all the files goes straight after the trip. I am working with spare hard drives for some projects backups but considering moving to LTO in the near future.

Do you incorporate backup into your workflow?

Yes, for sure. there is no point spending days, weeks or months in the field and them losing the material due a drive failure. Back-up are part of the work as important as shooting and I leave one or two days on schedule for this depending on the assignment.

If so, how?

There are two types of backup for me and two different workflows:

Field backup: after download the images from the original card make one or two copies. This can be done with a field raid system, which i mentioned earlier saves time and time in the field is precious, or coping the same files to different hard drives. sometimes we ship one hard drive directly from the field back to the production company and only delete when they have made two copies. If I have to travel with all the drives I give one to the assistant. Never travel with the two copies in the same bag :)

Base backup: This is when I spend more time working on the files and after selecting everything, cleaning and organizing it in my system i make the final copies to the RAID 6 storage and after this, soon hopefully , to the lto system.

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

Light room for stills, to organize all my galleries and for video projects are organized in Final Cut Pro X and Red Cine-X Pro. The files are just organized in Bins following the location/year, DP, eng (camera), and date of shooting sequence.

I believe it doesn’t matter the kind of organization you do with your files. The best one is the one you are most comfortable working with. I recently acquired the CAT Dv software to organize my image bank. I discovered this software in a visit to the BBC NHU in Bristol and decided to try a lighter version. Its a great platform, can be used with Final Cut Pro, and saves me time when searching for any images inside my bank. Its is hard at the beginning to label everything, but once that is done, you image bank will be as organized as the big company’s. And of course, ready for more content.

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.