Back Up and Back Up Twice

You hear faint clicks, a few files are slow to open, and there is a long whir when you shut down and then restart. In the pit of your stomach there is an unbreathing blackness, and in the back of your mind there is a sliver of thought slanting towards a moonbeam of reality— your hard drive is struggling, perhaps in a death throes.  Because you have terabytes of can’t throwaway images on your drive(s), you feel a cool chill in the spine and a fire passes in your lungs as you suck in a few anxious breaths.

Then that free-whine sound of the engaged drive suddenly ceases, and at this point, most photographers mutter expressions that are not appropriate for a public blog. The drive has crashed, your options have narrowed, the future of your precious images doing time in a magnetic purgatory. You may be able to recover them at great expense, or maybe not.

If this has not happened to you— it will. If it has happened to you then you know— it is likely that it will happen again. Yes, hard drives are more reliable then in times past, and new solid-state drives less mechanical, faster, and more stable, but they are machines and machines fail.  You need to back up.

In my classes, I’m often asked about back up best practices. The question is too broad for a blog and if you wish know more about back up and digital asset management then I recommend The DAM BookDigital Asset Management for Photographers by Peter Krogh (Amazon ). However, I can tell you about my system in this short space.


I use and recommend Drobo, because it is simple, elegant, and easy to use. Note: I make this recommendation from my experience and I receive no fees or other consideration from Drobo or for encouraging you to own Krogh’s book.

Drobo cabinetThe concept of back up is straightforward. There is an identical copy of what you have on one drive on another drive. If the primary drive fails, then you will be able to find copies of your images on another drive. However, what if that back up drive fails too? Moreover, what if you have images on more than one drive, which many of us do?  I have experienced the first issue and have the second. Here is how my studio backs up thousands of personal and client images with Drobo.

Drobo is a multiple backup drive much like a RAID system (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks). RAID is great, but for most photographers the operational learning curve is longer than Photoshop, and you will spend more time on IT then creating great images to save. Drobo on the other hand is dumb dog simple.

import graphicexport graphicMy practice is to download images to our C Drive via Lightroom 4 + or import them from the laptop with Lightroom if we have captured them in the field.  For transfer between computers we use Lightroom’s Export and Import Catalog Commands. (Hold down the ALT or OPT keys to select while touching export or import in the Library module).

Once on my ‘C’ drive, I click on my backup software, which is Retrospect Express HD, and this copies any new files to the Drobo and runs in background while I am processing images. This software automatically backs up my entire system each night.  Note, that Drobo recommends a number of software programs, some are free, that you can use for your back up chores, l but chose Retrospect HD because it is SIMPLE.

So why not copy your images to another external drive?

back up graphicYou can, but the backup is not redundant. Drobo connects to your computer and provides redundant data protection with two or more backup drives. Like a RAID system you make multiple copies each time you backup. It is also dynamically expandable using any combination of 3.5″ disk drives For example, you can use a 3TB drive with a 1TB drive and you can buy a 3 TB drive at this time for around $100.00.

If one of the drives in the Drobo should fail, you still have all of your data on one or more of the other drives.

Drobo models currently hold up to 36TB, depending on the model, (I’m configured for 16TB and currently have 2 3TB drives on the system). Drobo offers Thunderbolt, USB 3.0, Ethernet, iSCSI, and other connectivity options, so you get the data protection you need along with the speed and interface you want.

In our operation, we also have images on our internal D drive and many external drives, some for TV work and others for still archives. My Lightroom catalog follows these images no matter what drive they are on and we back up all of the drives to the Drobo.   Note: Our Lightroom catalog backs up to our ‘D’ drive which backs up to the Drobo every night.  And remember, backing up your Lightroom catalog backs up the catalog database and previews only; it does not back up your images.

Drobo is cost effective. Most photographers will spend between four to seven hundred dollars or more, depending upon the system selected and the number and size of drives you install. However, once you have your system in place your future costs are less than most external hard drive units.

You can also configure your Drobo to connect to additional on line back up, something that does not work for our studio due to ISP speed issues. For more information, go to

So, that’s how Drobo works for me and other photographers, as well as many of the major movie production facilities. I think it will work for you too, but if not Drobo, then do something; backup and backup twice.

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4 thoughts on “Back Up and Back Up Twice

  1. Yep my hard drive pooped out a couple of weeks ago. And no, despite preaching “backup” to my students, I didn’t backup often enough.

  2. Lost some files here there over the years, nothing too dear to me, but then I was hit by a main drive and a backup drive failure within a couple of days of each other.


    That’s how I wound up buying a Drobo.

    Main Internal Drive
    External Drive kept off-site.


  3. Hey,great post. I wanted to share what I am using. I got myelsf a HP Media Smart. It runs on Windows Home Server which includes Time Machine Backup for Apple so if you work in a mixed OS environment, you’re set with one machine. you can also put 4 drives in there and add extra ones externally. And you can back up the whole thing to Amazon S3, which I am not using, since my data is not super important. I am using the Server, which is also great for itunes streaming, for a few months now without any problem. It backs up once a day and you can go back as far as you set it up to.And no, I do not work for MS or HP I just love the thing.

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