Digital wedding photography presents special challenges to the every day wedding photographer. The risk of losing the precious wedding moments of a couple brings nightmares and anxiety to most photographers that I know.
As a professional wedding photographer and a certified computer systems administrator I will offer some recommendations about the best way to protect digital wedding images.
1. Star by formatting the flash cards and/or micro drives in the camera that you will use to take the photos. Even when it is possible to format the flash cards in your computer using a flash card reader it can lead to compatibility issues and data loss.
2. Although flash cards are very resistant to abuse it is always better to play it safe and keep them away from shock, heat, and magnetic sources.
3. Once you return from the wedding download the images to your computer. Once they are downloaded, browse through the images to ensure they were successfully downloaded and then create backups to CD and/or DVD. Never browse through your images on the Flash card. In our studio we create two DVD copies of the files and we also copy them to two different hard drives on different computers. One of the DVD copies is stored at a different location.
4. A computer RAID (Redundant Array of Independent (or Inexpensive) Disks offers a great deal of fault tolerance to protect your data. There are several levels of RAID and each of them offers different levels of data protection. For practical and common implementation I am going to discuss the most common types of RAID:
· Level 1: Mirroring and Duplexing: requires two drives and the data is written (mirror) on the two drives simultaneously. If one of the drives fails the data can be recovered from the good drive.
· Level 5: Block Interleaved Distributed Parity: This is one of the most common and solid implementations of RAID. It requires a minimum of 3 drives and allows the data to be written across all of the drives. If one of them fails you simply replace the failed drive and the RAID is automatically rebuilt.
Most operating systems allow you to build some form of RAID however if the OS fails you also lose the RAID. The recommended RAID is trough the use of a RAID card.
5. Tape backup offers a very solid way of backing up your files and operating system. It has been around for a long time and has proved to be the most reliable form of backup. Tapes are very portable and make the storage at outside locations very convenient. Tape backups require a backup program what makes scheduling backups and automating the process easy.
6. Offsite FTP Backups: Can also be set automated using computer programs. At a set time interval or continuously the computer that holds the data connects to a remote location server and uploads the files. The main disadvantage is that they create a lot of Internet traffic and in the case of wedding photographers that store gigabytes of images the transfer time can become prohibitive.
7. Drive mirroring through software: Drive mirroring basically means that you can use a program such as Norton Ghost, Acronis or Drive Image to make an exact copy of all of the contents of your hard drive. The process can be done manually or automatically. The data image can be done on DVD, CD, to another hard drive or across the network to another computer. Some programs allow incremental backups where initially you create a full backup and after that only the files that have been changed from the last backup are backed up. One of the advantages of drive mirroring is that it allows the backup of the operating system files along with the data. In the case of a computer crash you can replace the failed drive run a disaster recovery CD or floppy and restore your computer to a working state in a matter of minutes.
8. File synchronization: File synchronization programs have been around for a long time. They allow you to have a real time copy of the data in two places simultaneously. The synchronization can be set to happen at a specific time or in real time. The idea is that if you change a file on the master computer the corresponding file on the remote computer also changes.
9. External hard drives: With the price of hard drives dropping everyday they present a great alternative for backups. Units equipped with USB or Firewire ports are the most recommended. They are portable enough to be taken offsite. You can either buy ready to use units or you can buy an enclosure that holds several drives and populate it with hard drives. Some of the ready to use units come with a basic backup programs that allows one touch backup of specified directories or complete hard drives.
10. Drive Trays: Computers can be easily equipped with hard drive trays that allow the easy removal of hard drives to be stored away from the computer for safety. The advantage over portable USB or Firewire is that internal hard drives use a faster connection to the computer.
11. Backup to disk: As hard drive prices have been decreasing, backing up to disk has become commonplace as a replacement to tape backups. A server or a unit attached to the computer is set up with several disks and the backup software is scheduled to backup the files to a different disk every day of the week. The advange is that there is not tape library to manage and the process can be totally automated. In addition the process is much faster than with tape.
As we can see there are many options for file backups with different levels of reliability, automation and price. Ideally, the wedding photographer will use a combination of the above backup strategies. Relying on a single strategy can be fatal to your wedding files, your business, and professional reputation.
Setting up scheduled backups is a must. With the data volume that the typical wedding photographer deals these days a couple of days without backups can create a big liability in the event of a disaster.
Keeping a backup copy at a remote location is also a must. It doesn’t matter how many copies of your data you have, if all of them reside at the same location they are potentially exposed to the same level of risk.
Some photographers have found that for weddings more than a couple of years old it is wise to give a copy of all the files to the client. This makes the client happy and the photographer gets an extra backup copy.
It is also recommended that you take the outmost precautions at your place of business including an alarm system and that you physically secure your computers with antitheft cables and that you keep all the backup media in a safe. Also, your working computers need to be equipped with surge protectors and battery backup systems to avoid damage due to lighting or electricity spikes.
In addition to the above strategies the wedding photographer must have liability and disaster recovery insurance.
To some, the above guidelines may seem paranoid. However, the wedding day memories are too precious to be lost.