Back up your photos! Do it now!

Apple has enough P.R. problems to deal with without me piling on, but some of you know I was more than a little dismayed when my only-18-month-old iMac died suddenly with a hard drive failure of the mechanical variety. All I can happily say is that my photos were on an external drive, and anything that WAS lost* bordered upon the inconsequential.

But the episode brought into clear view a couple of should-have-been-obvious things. 1) It’s easy to back your hard drive up, and therefore 2) Not doing so is at best negligent, and at worst, for a photographer, potentially ruinous to your business.

Starting with the first point, operating systems these days come with straightforward utilities that take any hassle or confusion out of backing up your data. In Mac OS X, there is Time Machine, which creates rewind points so you can recover your files at any save point in the past. The interface is simple (a little too simple, I wanted more flexibility than only hourly backups, so I found a third-party tool, TimeMachineEditor that utilizes the underlying Time Machine mechanisms), which is what users sometimes need in order to do the smart thing. The other thing you need is an extra disk drive to save to, and I’ll just say that spacious hard drives are cheaper than they’ve ever been on a per-gigabyte basis, so there really is no excuse. Just do it!

As to the second point, well it should be pretty obvious. Lose photos from a few portraiture sittings, you might get your clients to come back into your studio to do reshoots. Lose photos from a wedding, and you’ve potentially lost an important record of someone’s big day. Oh yes, they’ll have their happy (but now tarnished) memories, and a trusty marriage certificate, but they’ll be calling up any friends who brought point-and-shoots, and they’ll be cursing your name. Good event photographers swap out memory cards (to spread the chances of a failure to a smaller set of photos), immediately upload and back up their raw images once they get them onto a computer, and only edit on copies of the original files. Anything else is asking for real trouble.

So I’ll admit to getting caught losing some data, even as I breathe a sigh of relief that my photos were unharmed. It’s easy to let the task slide (I even had purchased a new external just for backups but hadn’t actually set it up yet), but these days it’s just as easy to do what’s best and gain that piece of mind. I hope anyone that reads this is prompted to review their backup procedures, avoiding problems in the future. We all have easy access to some form of a time machine to make sure we don’t lose those valuable photos!

* [Technically, the data from my drive is potentially recoverable, but only after sending the it to a company in California with a special clean room where they can open it up, transplant the platters into some other drive, and THEN evaluate the recoverability of the data. All for likely $1000-3000 minimum, which I suppose could be a small business expense/write-off for a successful photography business, but for the time being, not really what I want to spend in order to recover (what I remember to be) non-critical documents, etc.]

Posted in Business of Photography.