I'm enjoying the new series on backup strategies at Outback Photo and it got me thinking.
I have three kinds of images.
a) those from film negatives
b) raw files which are then edited in Photoshop
c) stitching jobs which come from several raw files and are then edited in Photoshop.
If I have the negatives, then I only have to decide if the edited version took enough trouble to create and would be a great deal of trouble to recreate and is therefore worth the trouble preserving.
With images from a single raw file, the obvious thing is to back up the raw file and redo the editing. Now, Ansel Adams did exactly that with every print he made, and arguably styles of printing change, we get better at editing and so perhaps there are advantages to not having the edited version to recreate.
With stitched images, I'd need to remember which original raw files were used to create the stitch (currently that would be difficult for me), or I'd need to save the stitched image (which is the same size as the edited image) so I might as well save the edited image.
There are some edits which were so complex that recreating the edit would be next to impossible and there is enough about the edit that I would be lothe to lose it.
Lastly, since often disasters befall entire hard drives, not just one or two images, if I lost all my edits and had to start over, each edit taking hours of work, would I be willing to take that risk.
Given that hard disks fail and the issue is not if but when, it sounds like I need the following:
1) an absolutely reliable way of preserving the raw files since anything that took out both the edits and the raw files would mean total loss of images - NOT ACCEPTABLE.
2) a pretty reliable way to protect the edited images so that the odds of loss of many edited images is low. I would interpret this as a hard drive detached from the power between uses to store all edited images and two backups of raw files, one onsite, the other away (that could be with a relative or at the office or even online). Any really tricky edited images and stitches should perhaps be saved the same as raw files.
By raw files, I mean those raw files which have led to useful edited images. Whether there is a role for saving the hundreds if not thousands of raw files which never inspired you enough to do anything with them is a whole other matter. People sometimes quote the newspaper photographer who happened to capture a picture of someone completely unknown but who years later becomes famous or infamous and suddenly that old image becomes important. Frankly, if I haven't found a use for a raw file within a couple of years, it isn't very likely that I ever will, and the simple fairly reliable backup will be just fine thank you.
The risk of a hard disk failure should be considered 100%. It may well be that most times you buy a new computer before a hard disk fails, but frankly that's mostly luck, like seeing storm clouds and not taking your umbrella.
The risk of a power surge getting past your rudimentary power bar is basically the risk of a nearby lightning strike. While such risks vary with climate and power grids, you should plan that once in your life you are going to have a power surge that destroys any storage device currently hooked to the electrical grid.
The risk of losing both the computer and the hooked up backup drive and the disconnected backup drive isn't zero. All you'd need is something to go wrong in doing the backup which said problem gets propagated to the backup before it gets disconnected - not impossible, so you don't have to think house fire.
I'm a family doctor. My medical records are irreplaceable. My income depends on them staying intact. If your income depends on your images, then you need a pretty darn full-proof system to protect them and in that situation you probably won't have time to re-edit your images so all decent edited images need saved connected, disconnected and off site.
One issue I struggle with is whether it's easier to back up all raw files securely or to select out only those that pertain to important images for backup - all my edited images that come from a single raw file retain the raw file number so it wouldn't be impossible to search out those. My stitched images don't, and I have a lot of them - so this is a problem, meaning that saving all raw is certainly easier, if not as cheap. Easy beats cheap every time for me!
It's possible to break down backups another way.
Always backed up - basically we're talking a raid drive or similar, and while that will help in the future, won't deal with the 4 drives I have almost full already. I'd need a big expensive raid system to deal with those. But it's probably more important to start backing up continuously with new images and do intermittent backups of the old stuff.
Intermittent backups - if it's nightly, then I don't want to be plugging and unplugging a drive - as likely to cause problems as fix with all that wear and tear, shaking and static. So nightly backups need to be kept plugged in. A suitably big backup drive(s) is what's needed. If it has redundancy, so much the better, though arguably redundancy in a backup isn't needed.
Occasional backups - given the concerns of long term stability of dvd's, not to mention the hassles of burning a hundred of them, this really means an unpluggable hard drive. How often you do this comes down to how much time you are willing to commit to do it, and how much work you are willing to lose in case of a power surge sneaking past your protection.
How do I do it? Badly and not often enough, but at least I do have a system.
Raw files are offsite and backed up seldom - I should do this monthly.
Edited images are backed up and then unplugged - again it should be monthly
As for continuous backup - well it hasn't happened yet and sooner or later it's going to cost me. Raid systems are cheap enough that I will do something to correct continuous backups within the next month or so. As I'm running out of drive space, a new large raid system seems the way to go.
Nightly backups, well if I back up new work continuously, this isn't as needed but as I'm constantly editing old images, I guess I'm going to do a nightly backup of changed files on the existing drives.
Sure is a hell of a lot more complicated than throwing your negatives in a drawer - though the number of famous photographers who lost negatives to processing errors, floods and darkroom fires is pretty impressive, even after the days of nitrocellulose film stock. All my wedding pictures succumbed to a humid basement in Kentucky.