Backing Up

The most valuable thing I carry around with me isn’t my computer or my cameras. It is my photos. I can replace any of the equipment I have, but I can’t replace the photos I’ve taken.

That raises a pretty big problem for me. How can I make sure that I don’t lose the photos I’ve taken?

What you see on Flickr really isn’t a backup. I shoot everything in RAW which is sort of the equivalent of a digital negative. What you see on Flickr is a compressed jpeg file which may or may not have been touched up with PhotoShop (I will sometimes do small adjustments to shadows). I want to keep all the original RAW files so I can go back at a later date and process my photos. What is on Flickr is maybe 20% of the photos I’ve taken.

I’ve adopted as a philosophy what I heard Alex Lindsay say about the Pixel Corps this week on TWIP: it doesn’t exist unless it exists in at least two places.

I spent all day yesterday trying shore up my photos by backing things up and getting them ready to send back to the US. It has been far more daunting than I had expbought

I have a 160gb external HD I use to store most of my photos. I originally brought an old, semi-broken 40gb iPod with me for photo storage, but I quickly outgrew that (the iPod works, but only when plugged in. The battery is shot. It is basically just a hard drive at this point).

As I was burning DVDs yesterday (a process which takes forever) I realized that this is not something which will work for me in the long run. Each DVD is about 4.3gb. That is about the size of the memory card in my camera. I have a big stack of DVDs burned already, and I still have all of Japan and the Philippines to back up with will probably be another 10 DVDs. Carrying around a stack of 50 blank DVDs is heavy.

I have also had zero luck with online storage. has proven to be worse than useless. Since December, I’ve only managed to upload 200mb of files. Their uploading process takes up all the available space on my HD, and when the drive is full the upload will just quit. All the files which were “uploaded” then appear as files with a size of 0k later on. Worse, it tells me the files were uploaded. Not uploading would be better than wasting time on an upload only to be given false information regarding the success of the upload.

Sadly, I’m coming to the conclusion that the solution might lie in purchasing “cheap” external hard drives. Factoring in the cost of shipping, it might be the simplest and most reasonable solution. As it stands, I think I’m going to have to ship my 160gb drive back to the US. I need extra storage space and I need it now. My 160gb drive has lasted almost 6 months, which isn’t too bad. They keep getting cheaper and bigger while my photo creation is pretty steady.

While I will get another external HD, it doesn’t really serve as a backup. If the HD breaks or is lost, I’m still screwed.

I’m trying to balance cost, weight, and reliability. If anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears.

19 thoughts on “Backing Up”

  1. I use the external hard-disks for backup, I’ve tried CD’s/DVD’s but the weight, bulk and time it took to burn them was just prohibitive.

    What I’ve settled on now is two external USB hard-disks. One large capacity one and the other cheapest price/storage ratio at the time.

    I upload photos to my laptop HD and to the cheap HD. The large capacity HD is a backup of my laptop disk (I use SuperDuper). As the cheap drive fills up I can mail it back and get a new one. If the laptop drive fills up then I archive all the photo’s off onto a HD and send that back as well (safety backup) and clean out the old stuff from the laptop to free up room.

    If one of the drives crashes I always have a backup HD to restore from, also sending the cheap HD back periodically I can check to make sure they arrive and make a new copy if there is any problems (there hasn’t ever been so far). This is not fool-proof as you could loose some recent photo’s if your bags are stolen.

    I like the idea of online backup but have found internet connections while traveling just too problematic (slow speeds, disconnects, spotty connections), especially since I also work with RAW. I’ve had a bit better success zipping all the files into several larger files for upload (works a bit faster then doing the individual files) but due to disconnects you can’t make the files too large.

    I’ve also had some success planning my travel around “hub-cities” that have very good internet connection. So travel for a bit in third-world and then schedule in a major city (Bangkok, Singapore, etc..) where you can get good internet connection and spend a couple days doing all the backup from there.

    Future-Wise the SanDisk write-once memory format might actually be viable ( But it is still costly.

  2. From a designer’s perspective, I prefer working
    with RAW files from photographers for compositions.

    So better keep em’ RAW.

  3. It seems to me like postal service is going to be more reliable than internet access going forward. Uploading 160 gigs of files to an FTP server is going to be slow no matter where you are.

    I’d seriously think about just sending everything back via postal. But look at using CF cards instead of USB drives. Drives are heavier, more expensive to ship and prone to mechanical failure (I have a brand new external drive sitting on my desk and it started dying almost out of the box). CF cards are more expensive but my hunch is that you’ll save money in the long term.

    Also, you can look into replacing your macbook/ibook with a model with a dual layer burner. Gives you 8 gigs a disc and it’ll burn them faster. Once they’re in the states though, they need to be backed up to a reliable system because optical media really isn’t idea for archival.

  4. Depending the space you have with your webhost, that’s what I would do… create a private folder, and FTP away!

  5. My backup and storage problem would still exist if I shot in JPEG, it is just that the numbers would be different. Because I can get HDs in the hundreds of gb now, I don’t think it is that big of a deal.

    The only place where RAW/JPEG file size would matter to me in on the camera, and I have enough memory I carry with me to take over 300+ RAW photos before I have to save the files.

    Even if Flickr did store RAW files, I only upload about 10% of what I shoot to Flickr.

    I’ve gone with RAW this far so I’m going to stick with it. I’ve been getting more requests to use my photos in books/magazines, and I eventually want to sell prints. I think the extra headache will pay off in the long run.

  6. To be honest, I don’t know that you should really be shooting in RAW to begin with. Sure, it’s a nice format that allows you to clean up nearly any mishap with your technical chops, but there are just too many downsides to it

    1) RAW photos are exceptionally large, and if you switched to high quality JPEG you’d be able to take three times the photos in a smaller space.
    2) Flickr stores almost all other formats, so if you had a pro account you could use Flickr as a form of backup.
    3) Your photography is great so far, and after a year of practice you probably don’t need the insurance that you can fix any of your mistakes. Half of photography is taking mediocre pictures anyway.
    4) RAW files require not only more space, but more work if you want to have them viewable or printable or sendable anyway since you have to composite them.

    So although the portable HD sounds like the best option right now, it seems to me that it’s indicative of a larger problem. I’d start switching to JPEG (except for weird lighting conditions) and use Flickr as a backup.

  7. Your better off with buying and shipping external hard drives to the U.S.

    DVD backups aren’t really safe and sometimes they get damaged or warped when shipping no matter how secure you pack them.

    You can also consider getting a dedicated box or like what katty just said; amazon S3 and Transmit.

  8. hey gary,

    thanks for visiting my travel site. I emailed you a couple of questions about the html code you use on your site…

    i’ll keep reading here…keep stopping by mine!!!

  9. If you’re going for small, an external hard drive is your best bet. I got mine from Costco a year ago, and it’s literally smaller than two decks of cards. It’s 160GB and cost less than $100. Since prices go down and storage goes up, you should be able to find something compact but huge and reliable! Getting a giant capacity would probably be nice, but for ease of packing and size, it might be wiser to get a couple smaller ones instead. Good luck with your search!

  10. This isn’t much help, but I hope you’ll find a solution. I would think that online server would be better, but in your case, since you don’t always have a stable internet connection, a portable HD might be better. 1TB drives are relatively cheap these days, so I would just recommend a bigger HD.

  11. I looked into S3 for podcast hosting. The process for uploading seems complicated.

    Ideally, I’d just like an FTP server. FTP is simple and reasonably fast.

  12. You could try using Amazon S3 yourself. Here’s their storage calculator: Keep an external hard drive with you as well. Whenever you are somewhere with fast internet upload to S3. Then, have someone (or mulitiple someones) stateside download them to a big external hard drive (or multiple external hard drives) you own. Leave them on S3 until it gets too expensive, then make sure they are backed up to multiple hard drives and remove them from S3 to make room for more.

  13. A while back, Ben Reichelt wrote about his experience using Jungledisk to interface with Amazon S3. He said it did not do encryption and the speeds were pretty good. I emailed him to see if he can update us on how it’s going. His examples were for Windows, but I’m sure AppleScript can do what Robocopy can do, only better, right?

  14. The problem is getting stuff sent to me. I’m seldom in one place long enough get packages. It took almost 3 weeks to get an air mail letter to me in Australia. I think most places would be worse.

  15. I think you have your options right, It’s either DVD or an external HDD. DVD will be the safest but the HDD will be easier and faster. You can get 250Gb for $100 in Oz now. I’d be that way inclined. If you are sending them to someone in the US you could possibly just have a rotation going sending them back and forth.

  16. 1) Removing a hard drive in my laptop is pretty much out of the question. I have a Mac and no desire to reinstall the OS and every application I run just to back up photos. Also, I store a lot of music on my laptop.

    2) Flickr doesn’t store RAW files. That is my concern.

    4) Burning CDs is just not possible. At 600mb per CD, I’d have to burn 266 CDs to back up my external HD. Carrying around 50 DVDs is heavy enough let alone 5x that amount. It would also mean burning 8 CDs for every time I fill up the memory card on my camera. I may very well have to go the DVD route, but it is less than optimal. I have no issue with DVD reliability. It is a pretty proven technology at this point. You see more blank DVDs for sale in Asia than CDs.

    I suppose I could just try to buy 1TB of storage somewhere I could FTP. Uploading even 1gb can be difficult given some of the places I’ve been. ElephantDrive uses Amazon S3 I’ve found out. They made every file get encrypted which isn’t really something I care about. I just want a safe place to store files.

  17. When I go for my trip, I’ll be backing up like this:

    1. Laptop Hard Drive (will get removed when space is needed).
    3. My web host (i have terrabytes of storage :D )
    4. Blank CD and DVDs that will get sent back home.
    5. External Hard Drives – I will send these back home and buy as required on the road…

    I will also carry around on my person a CD back up of all photos.

    CDs are older and more reliable than DVDs, even though they don’t hold us much. But reliability is what i want when i back up, so CDs it shall be. Unless the reliability of DVDs vastly improves before the end of 2009 :)

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