The Importance of External Storage, with Photographer Dan Carr

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Photographer Dan Carr, from ShutterMuse.com, shares his personal data backup workflow and explains how a recent hard drive failure caused him trouble, despite routine redundancy efforts.

What’s your usual method for transferring photos from your camera to your computer?

I ingest all my cards through a Lexar card reader using Photo Mechanic. The photos get stored on a Drobo 5D.

After you transfer your photos to the computer, do you back them up to a separate location?

Every night I run a program called Carbon Copy Cloner, which mirrors my main Drobo onto another Drobo 5D. If one of them fails, I still have a second unit with everything on it. Every couple of weeks, I bring in a set of hard drives that I keep offsite and I load my new images onto those.

We heard that you had an unfortunate incident regarding an iMac and a solid-state drive. What happened?

Yes, that's true. I boot my iMac off an external SSD, as this gives me the ultimate speed for launching my programs and also the best place to store my Lightroom catalogs. This SSD failed recently. I use a 4GB G-Tech drive as a Time Machine backup to the SSD, but you can't boot off Time Machine, only restore from it to a new drive. If it was a HDD, I'd go right to the store and buy one, but the high price of the SSDs means waiting for the warranty replacement was my only option.

Has the loss of the solid-state drive caused any changes in your method of backing up your data?

Yes. I added one more drive to my routine, another G-Tech drive that sits alongside my Time Machine. This one runs Carbon Copy Cloner every two days and creates an exact replica of the boot drive. If the boot drive fails again, I can start the computer from this mirrored drive while the SSD gets replaced. Time Machine is great for recovering a lost file, but Carbon Copy Cloner is much better if you lose the whole drive.

Have you ever considered using cloud storage as an alternative to backing up your data?

There's just no way I could use it with the number of images I create. Also, here in Canada the upload speeds for Internet services are severely limited. It would take me several weeks to upload just the contents of one 32GB memory card. It's just not practical.

What advice would you give to aspiring photographers regarding backing up their data?

It doesn't exist until it exists in at least three places! Make sure you have at least two copies of your images at your home or office, and then another copy off site. The extra precautions that I take by mirroring my Drobo and my boot drive are necessary for me as a professional. I can't afford to have my business stopped in its tracks while I wait for new drives to arrive in the mail.