I've been trying to catch up on processing my recent images, but a hard disk crash earlier this week forced me to reach back into the archives for today's image. I stood for two hours in a white-out blizzard (with no guarantee of anything) waiting for the storm to clear. And clear it did, just 30 minutes before sunset. Next to me for that entire wait was another pro photographer I'd never met--we started chatting and really hit it off, so when the show was over we exchanged contact information and promises to stay in touch. Aminus3 members know this photographer as Don Smith, a great friend, great photographer, and great workshop partner who assists many of my workshops, and I assist most of his.
A few words about backups
On Sunday I'll post another image from this evening, an almost identical composition taken about 15 minutes later, to show you how much things can change in a very short period. I'll return my discussion to photography then, but this disk failure is a great reminder that a regular, redundant, and automatic back-up scheme is an essential component of a successful photography business or hobby.
Here's a fact: Every hard disk will eventually fail. Disk failures usually happen without warning, and never at a convenient time. When a crash happens, the difference between inconvenience and catastrophe is largely a function of your backup system. At the risk of dating myself, let me just say that I've been a computer owner since before computers came equipped with hard disks (Let's have a show of hands--how many remember Kaypro and CP/M?). While I've been fortunate to avoid a crash until this week, before professional photography I spent many years in the computer industry and witnessed firsthand the tragedies (and I don't use that word lightly) of a hard disk crash. The failure I remember most is the guy who lost every word of a novel he'd been working on for years. For him, a simple daily backup would have made all the difference in the world.
But merely having a single backup on an external hard drive sitting next to your desktop, no matter how current, is no cause for comfort. Thieves, fire, flood--there are many reasons to have at least one offsite backup in addition to your primary backup. A few years ago Francis Ford Coppola lost 15 years worth of data (including a script for a movie that was about to start shooting, and countless family photos) when thieves broke into his home and stole his computer and all his external hard disks which were (quite conveniently) sitting right next to the computer.
Fortunately, my own story has a much happier ending. Monday evening I walked into my office and found that my computer had unexpectedly shut down. When repeated attempts to restart it failed, I made a service appointment at the Apple Store for Tuesday morning and enjoyed a quiet evening free of Internet and e-mail. My appointment was for 11 a.m., and by 11:05 the problem had been diagnosed as a failed hard drive. Even though I was nearly a full year beyond my warranty, the technician told me there would be no charge to replace the disk. Because my most important data synchs to my laptop, I was able to accomplish essential tasks until the technician called Tuesday night to say my computer was ready. I picked it up Wednesday morning, reconnected everything at home, fired it up, and answered "Yes" when asked whether I wanted to recover my data from my Time Machine (an auto backup program that's part of Mac OS X) backup. I walked to Starbucks with my laptop and returned two hours later to find my computer exactly as it was before the failure: same programs, same data, same settings--if I hadn't experienced the failure myself, I'd have never known anything happened.
I don't want to get into the whole Apple/Windows debate (both are fine systems, and they use the same hardware, so the likelihood of failure is identical), but my Apple service desk and Time Machine recovery experience sure made me feel good about my switch to Apple.
Regardless of your computing platform, do yourself a favor and right now make sure at the very least that your data backup is current and automatic. If you're on a Mac there's no excuse for not using Time Machine (unless you have something else automatically backing up your system)--it backs up everything--data, programs, system settings--and is so easy to set up that you don't need to be technical to do it. And if you're on Windows, take advantage of one of the many automatic, easy, and inexpensive backup programs (most external hard disks come with decent backup software) available (unless Windows 7 offers something).
As soon as you have your primary backup in place, come up with a plan for regular offsite backups. If you're disciplined, you can backup to DVDs or external hard disks and transport them to another location (office, friend's house, safe deposit box, etc.) yourself. I use an Internet backup service called Backblaze (there are others). It's easy, automatic, inexpensive ($5/month), secure, and (like all online backup solutions) really slow. It took four months to backup my terabyte of data, but it happened entirely in the background without affecting my Internet or system performance. And with the initial backup complete, Backblaze continues backing up any change automatically and pretty much instantly. Backblaze is my backup of last resort; unless I have a theft, fire, or flood I'll probably never use it. But $60/year is a small price to pay for the peace of mind it buys.
The moral of this story isn't to suggest that you duplicate my approach; it's to suggest that you implement a backup plan that works for you. Whatever you end up with, just remember: regular, redundant (including offsite), and automatic. Okay, I return you now to your regular programming....
* Website: Eloquent Images
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