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Backup and Backup Drives for Photographers

In working with my consulting clients, I have found that many are taking on risks that could ruin a professional’s reputation (consider a wedding photographers where the job can never be re-shot). Rarely, this is no backup, but often only one backup is made, and it is connected to the computer, so that if the computer is stolen, burns up, is flooded, fried by a lightning strike, or eaten by a dinosaur, then all is gone.

Another risk is only one backup: if the computer vaporizes, then that one backup is now an original and if anything Bad happens to it, then all is lost. Furthermore, with one backup, it’s at risk while backing up!

If you’re a professional photographer or similar, a disciplined backup strategy is just part of the job. If you’re not making a living in that sense, you will still have images and related files that are of considerable personal importance, even if having no economic value.

Ask yourself this one simple question

If your computer and everything near it were stolen tonight, what would tomorrow be like? As a secondary question, how old is your backup (how much stuff is not backed up)? And what would happen if that backup is no good, or you dropped it on the concrete floor before you could restore from it? Or it failed while restoring?

Quick tips

You can of course engage me for consulting to go over your backup strategy, but here are some tips:

  • See my articles on data safety and backup here at MacPerformanceGuide.com.
  • Use Apple’s TimeMachine for everyday protection (Macs only), but since it is attached to the computer, it is NOT a backup that protects your data from the perils of theft/fire/etc, since it too would be lost. Thus, it does not count as a real backup.
  • Maintain at least three (3) external backups, stored safely away from the computer (ideally at another site e.g., home vs office).
  • For those with modest data storage requirements, consider online “cloud” backup in addition to regular backups.
  • Burn DVD or BluRay disks of your originals after each job and store them elsewhere as Plan B, hoping to never need them. Burn 2 or 3 copies if the value is high, and store them separately.

External drives for backup

OWC Mercury Elite Pro
OWC Mercury Elite Pro

Bargain bin drives are cheap for a reason: generally a very low quality power supply that fails after about a year, along with a plastic case that runs the drive hot. I hear about failures from my clients, and it’s an ugly world out there.

Backup (and archiving) can get complicated for terabytes of data, but for most users it’s simple, and for that there is one drive I like enough that I recently bought six of them: the 2011 OWC Mercury Elite Pro (follow that link for my review).

I prefer the 3TB quad-interface* model. The 3TB capacity offers a lot of space which can be used to backup both your boot (system) drive as well as your data. See Using Cloning as a Backup Strategy.

For travel with a laptop, the OWC Mercury Elite Pro Mini is what I use, preferably with an SSD inside to forestall damage from bumps and shock during travel. Remember, a laptop is easily stolen, so store the backup drive separately from the laptop.

* Quad-interface means it can be connected using eSATA, FireWire 800/400, or USB 2.


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