MATTHEW NORDHAGEN :: PHOTOGRAPHY

YOU'RE (PROBABLY) BACKING UP TOO MUCH DATA: A SIMPLIFIED BACKUP STRATEGY FOR YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS

March 13th, 2019

The internet is spoiled with options for ways to backup your data. There's Backblaze, CrashPlane, Dropbox, Google Drive, iDrive, Amazon Prime, Carbonite, just to name a few. Most offer unlimited while some offer tiered ranges of limited data. The ideal backup solution is one that is painless, or as pain free as possible, and reliable without costing a fortune. Thankfully the options mentioned above and others found elsewhere are often reasonable in their monthly costs. BackBlaze, for example, still maintains their $5 per month for unlimited storage while Amazon Prime members get unlimited storage. It's often not the cost of backups that is a barrier for entry, however, but rather the workflow used to maintain those backups. For years, I've struggled with maintaining such a backup and all I have to show for it are fragments of complete or partial backups across various external hard drives and online storage. To say it's a mess is an understatement. It wasn't until recently that I realized that it wasn't so much my workflow that was the problem, but rather that I was backing up too much data.

Obivously the lure of unlimited data backup is the idea that you can backup ALL of your data. But just because you can doesn't mean you should. For anyone that has been through the initial steps of uploading an enormous directory of files to their chosen service, that first upload is not only time consuming but also somewhat unpredictable. Large transfers of data, especially the kind that can take days to complete, in my experience, tend to test not only the consistency of upload speeds and internet connectivity but also the applications ability to complete the upload uninterrupted. I make it sound worse than it really is but it's a reality to be aware of if approaching online data backup for the first time. What is a way to mitigate some of these issues? Backup up less data.

As a photographer with an extensive library of images it's tempting to backup everything. Since I have that option I might as well use it. While true, backing up my entire catalog of photographs that sits at 750GB when only a small percentage are actually edited and released is a total waste of time and resources. For simplicity, let's say in a year there are 24 images that I am happy with (2 images every month). My current camera, the Fujifilm XT3, has a RAW file size of approximately 58MB (this can vary depending on exposure). Multiplying 58 by 24 equals 1,392MB or 1.3GB. If I were to extrapolate this across my entire catalog I would conservatively estimate that I have 15GB of photographs that would be eligible for archiving online. This is a far more manageable and efficient number. Obviously this isn't a one size fits all scenario. This is meant as a suggestion for personal portfolios but I think the basic idea can be applied across all aspects of photography whether commercial or personal, only archive the photographs worth keeping.

What this system requires is to be brutally selective during the curating process. Which takes time. Thankfully, any modern Digital Asset Management software like Lightroom or Capture One provides tools to help make this process easier. Ratings sytems can be color based or on an illustrated scale from 1 to 5. Whichever option you prefer, rate photographs based on whether they're worth a final edit or can be passed over due to poor exposure, composition, or lack of sharpness, just to name a few. Often you will know right away which images are worth editing versus those that are not. Once you are confident that you have identified the photographs worth archiving, you have several options to consider. Are you going to archive the RAW file only, or pair it with a high-quality JPG? At this point it's all a matter of personal preference, but I only archive a RAW file with its associated sidecar file. If a photograph required Photoshop, I will include the PSD as well. PSD files can balloon in size quickly so keep that in mind.

Speaking from experience, this method of selectively archiving my photos has paid off for several reasons. First, my cloud-based backups are FAR more manageable and consistent. In my case, I worry considerably less simply because I'm backing up far fewer photos. These backups happen considerably faster too. Secondly, and most importantly, is that I'm uploading on a regular basis which means my online backup and my local backup are nearly 1:1. Usually within one day of one another. A backup is only as good as your last one, so the sooner you can bridge any gaps the better.

Everyone's backup needs will depend, of course, on scope and scale. It's very possible that you'll have no choice but to backup everything you capture, whether personal or commericial. Sometimes it's unavoidable. On the other hand, if you do have the flexibility, consider a selective process to your photography backups. It could, literally, save you time and your photographs.