I've had a few friends ask about hard drive backup/ photo library management in the last few weeks and as I was thinking it through I realized that I hadn't evaluated and updated my own setup in awhile. So I did. I sat down and mapped it out on paper. I thought about redundancy, making things automatic, efficient and offsite. I made a couple changes and I'll share it with you.
First let me give you some background so you can see how my particular needs may differ from your own.
What I use and what I do
I don't use my home/ photography machine for my day job. I'm a banker and spend my 9-5(ish) hours on a realtively new, but terribly set-up corporate PC laptop. What's that? You feel sorry for me? Thanks. My real computer more than makes up for it.
My home machine is an early 2013 13" Macbook Pro with Retina display. I've got the 256gb SSD. I use Adobe Lightroom as my primary photo managing app and I shoot all of my photos in RAW format. That means the data grows very quickly. For music I use iTunes connect and have most of our non-iTunes purchased music on my wife's computer, a 2011 15" Macbook Pro. She's backed up, but we also have physical copies (CDs) of all the music that wasn't purchased from iTunes - and iTunes connect has digital copies of it too. All of my writing happens in a text editor and all of these text files live in Dropbox.
I also shoot a resonable amount with my iPhone and like to keep those images safe incase my phone takes a swim or something.
So here's my storage setup-
This is pretty basic. I have an iPhone so I use iCloud backup of my phone and I have Photostream turned on. Photostream saves every photo you've taken over the last 30 days on the server and if I open Photos on my Mac, it downloads all of them. I also plug in my iPhone regularly when there's one I want to share here on the site and it goes through my Lightroom workflow and is backed up there.
There are a bunch of services you can use to backup all the photos on your phone automatically. Apple has iCloud Photo sharing which is a more robust version of Photostream that stores all your photos on the iCloud server. This can work well, but you will need to pay for a larger storage limit. Flickr, Google and Amazon all have services that do roughly the same thing. I have Flickr's Camera Roll Backup turned on too. It's free and has a 1 TB limit.
My machine and external drive.
My RAW images are saved to the SSD on my machine and managed by Lightroom. iTunes content is stored on this drive as well. At the start of each year I start a new Lightroom catalog and move the previous year's Lightroom catalog to a 2TB external LaCie Porsche Designs drive. This drive contains my previous few year's LR and iPhoto catalogs as well as all video footage and iMovie project data. I store movies (not that many) here as well.
First Backup- Synced Folder
I have a free Dropbox account which is around 9.5 gb in size (Thanks friends that have signed up!). I save all documents and finished Images in my Dropbox folder. This is my first backup and not everything is covered, but because Dropbox creates a local folder on my machine and it is all saved to the Dropbox servers, all of my documents and final edited images are backed up once. I really like this setup because I can get to the stuff I'm working on from any computer with an internet connection and I can just log in to Dropbox when I get a new computer.
Second Backup- Cloud and Previous versions
For the next step I chose an automatic offsite backup in the cloud. This second backup accomplishes 2 things. First it is automatic and secondly it is offsite. There are a few options, but I really like Backblaze. They have a really great native interface that runs in the system preferences area of your Mac and gives some great control for upload speed and scheduling. Backing up one machine and attached drives costs $5 a month. That is not a typo. Cheap, fast and complete. Did I mention that they backup attached drives?
I have my entire machine and my 2TB external drive backed up with Backblaze. One of the other great features is that they have a really well made iPhone app that allows you to access most of your saved files remotely (as long as your iPhone has a way to open or view the file).
This backup option is pretty handy for downloading individual files and it also takes care of one really specific scenario. Backblaze keeps up to four weeks of file versions so if you've deleted or modified a file you can still get it back for a month. You can also download a complete copy of your data, but it will take awhile. I have another option for a situation where I need a copy of everything.
Third Backup- Physical Copies
I've already got offsite covered. I've got multiple copies of my most important documents and it's all happening automatically, but I've still got one more backup. I have a second LaCie 3TB drive where I've created a clone of my computer and the main external drive. I update this drive at least once a month and it usually lives at my office, so it is also offsite. I treat this as my bail-out for catastrophic failure. In other words, I don't have to download anything, I just plug this one in and everything is there and ready to go.
Quick Update: A few folks have asked what software I use to copy my data for this clone. I use SuperDuper, but I do it manually instead of automatically as it is usually offisite.
There's a certain level of comfort in knowing that you have a physical redundant copy of everything.
So, to wrap it up, here are the basics:
There are Four important pieces to having piece of mind with backups. Automatic. Efficient. Off-Site. Redundant. This setup covers them all.
A couple quick notes-
Why not Time Machine? I used it for awhile, but it is slow, there is almost no user control and it has always bogged down my system and hogged hard drive space. No Thanks!
You might be thinking that I don't have a lot of storage space for a photographer and you'd be right. I am pretty ruthless with the editing and probably only keep about 4x what I post to the world. I am starting to think about what to do when the archives and my current year are too big for a standalone drive, but I haven't settled on anything yet. I think that I'll likely move away from doing a cloud based backup for older stuff and just move to offsite clones of the archives, but that could change. Could be an array instead. I'll update when the time comes.