It should go without saying that a solid image workflow and backup solution is key to any successful wedding photography business, yet every month I seem to hear of some data loss horror story. If you hop into any wedding photography forum, Facebook group, reddit conversation, or bar full of wedding photographers, there is no shortage of sad stories about a client’s images being lost and never to be seen again.
By having a simple, fool-proof image workflow in place you’ll never have to worry about that happening to you or your client’s images. The workflow I’m going to present is fairly simple, and what I posit to be the minimal amount of security needed to prevent disaster. The most important aspect of any backup solution is redundancy, and you’ll see it throughout each step of this workflow.
Step One: Shoot to a Backup Card In-Camera
A good image backup solution starts as soon as you press the shutter release on your camera. By using a professional camera that has dual card slots — and most importantly, setting the second card slot as a backup — you are saving two copies of your image directly onto two separate pieces of media at the time of capture. While the failure rate of SD cards, CF cards, and other in-camera media are relatively low, the risk is still there. If the risk of a single card failing is 10%, the risk of both of your cards failing is only 1%. Shooting onto two cards also allows you to physically separate the cards when heading home from a shoot, just in case something happens in transit.
Something that goes in hand with this is to buy a lot of memory cards. Storage is so cheap these days, and there are always specials to catch them on sale. I shoot a lot of gigs back to back, and being able to grab a new card for the next gig (versus clearing the cards I just used) helps immensely in case there is any misstep you need to correct.
Important side note – If you are shooting with a camera that only has one memory card slot, you just need to take a few extra precautions to ensure your images are safe. If possible, bring a laptop or portable backup drive and backup your cards on site as soon as you finish. If you ever run into a problem with a card stop shooting immediately. Get the card to a computer that has recovery software installed and try to recover the data; ideally, use the recovery software provided by the card manufacturer.
Step Two: Cloud Backup
This is putting the cart before the horse a little, but talking about cloud backup in general is important to set the stage for the next step in your data security workflow. If you don’t currently have a cloud backup solution in place, it’s the first thing you should implement after reading this article. There are a few solid solutions out there, with the two top dogs being Backblaze and CrashPlan (I personally use Backblaze and love it). Whatever you choose to use, the important feature you need to look for is something that automatically backups up all of your files (or even just a specific drive) in the background while you go on with your life. Just like Ron Popeil expounded upon, you want to “Set it, and forget it!”
Having your files magically float up into the cloud means you always have a backup to recover from and more importantly, that it’s in another physical location. This means your house could go up in flames, your hard drives melting down to putty, and you could still recover your data and keep on ticking. An important thing to note about any cloud backup solution is that they do take time to back up your files. This means that when you import new files into a drive you have being backed up, there will be a window in time where they are not yet in the cloud. Keep reading, because this is where step three comes in to close the gap.
“Set it, and forget it!” – Ron Popeil
Step Three: Import Two Copies Locally onto Separate Drives
In an ideal world, cloud backup would be instantaneous and we could just import our files to one location on our local machine and be good to go. But because of the lag discussed in step two, we need to have a temporary, second local copy of our import to close the gap in exposure until your cloud backup solution actually gets those particular files up into the cloud.
I use Photo Mechanic to ingest all of my cards, which has the handy ability to create two copies directly upon import. I set my primary destination to be my primary working drive, a Drobo 5D, and my secondary destination to be a 1TB SSD external drive (aptly named “LOCALOHF*CK”). The 1TB drive is more than enough space to hold gigs until the cloud backup window has passed, and I just occasionally clear the oldest gigs from it manually as needed. To fully eliminate all risk of data loss, you should exchange this secondary drive with a friend, stash it in a fireproof box, or store it off-site.
Step Four: Lightroom Catalog
Once images have been copied onto my primary working drive, I then cull within Photo Mechanic to select the set I actually want to edit and deliver. The next step is to bring those images into Lightroom to perform my post production.
I create a separate catalog for each shoot that I do, and the important thing here is that I create each catalog within the folder of images from that gig. For instance, this particular gig is in a folder named “20160427 Elopement Jenine Paul” and I create a catalog named “20160427” within that same folder. This way everything related to a single gig is within a single folder and can be archived together. By creating separate catalogs for each gig, I’m also reducing the risk of a catalog becoming corrupt and ruining multiple gigs.
Step Five: Image Delivery
Once I’ve wrapped up post production, it’s time to deliver those files to my clients. The first step I take with the final set of images, before exporting, is to rename all of them to a client-friendly format.
This serves two purposes: 1) the filenames make sense to my clients, and 2) it allows me to trace back any image to my working catalog should they have any issues. For example, if my client says, “Hey Jon, in image ‘Elopement-JeninePaul-20160427-0100.jpg’ there’s a weird fold in my dress, can you fix that?,” then I can open up their catalog, search for that filename and go to work. If I simply renamed my files on export, my working catalog would have totally different filenames than what my client sees.
The final step is to upload all of my final files into my client’s online gallery for delivery. I use Pixieset, and because this is a remote service, this basically serves as an archive of the final JPEGs. I don’t archive JPEGs locally because I can always regenerate them from the RAW files within my archive, but it’s nice to have them in a remote hosting service that has its own backup solution.
The most important lesson here is simple: redundancy. It’s important to have multiple copies of your files at every stage in your workflow, and equally important to have them in separate locations. Space is so cheap these days that there is really no excuse to not have a great data security workflow in place, especially when dealing with something as important as the memories you capture on a wedding day.