How I Keep Client Photos Safe

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There was a terrible story making its rounds online the other day about thieves who broke into a photographer’s trunk and stole all of her gear. And while that alone is bad, it gets worse. The memory cards from the day’s wedding were with the gear, so the thieves stole all of a couple’s wedding photos, too. Unfortunately, the only way the couple will see their photos again is if the memory cards are returned.

I read another story once about how someone broke into a photographer’s studio and stole everything, including his backup hard drives with an unfinished wedding on it. The police eventually caught the thief, and although most of the gear had been sold off, the photographer was able to recover the hard drives.

Things happen. I totally understand. No matter how hard you try to prevent it, something can always go wrong.

Over the years I’ve become ridiculously obsessed about backing up all of my data. In high school, my computer crashed and I lost a ton of photos and memories. Then, in my first year of shooting weddings, my external hard drive (the one that stored all of my raw wedding files) failed. Luckily I had backed the photos up onto another hard drive, so I didn’t lose anything, but after that experience, I knew I had to re-work my system. Here’s how I keep your memories safe:

Memory Cards

The second an image is made, it is saved on a memory card in the camera. These are the original copies of every photo made during a wedding. Newer professional cameras actually have dual card slots for mirroring of photographs. Basically, every time the shutter is pressed, the data is written to both a CompactFlash memory card and an SD memory card. This creates redundancy from the second the photo is created – two copies of every image from the get go. There are also differing schools of thought regarding memory card capacity. Some photographers believe you should always shoot on small capacity cards (8GB or 16GB), so that if a card becomes corrupted, only a small percentage of the images are potentially lost. However, other photographers swear that the act of removing and inserting memory cards is actually what increases the risk of failure, so they say you should shoot on a single, massive capacity memory card and only remove the card once you are in a controlled environment (like your office). I don’t know who is right, so I shoot on small capacity CompactFlash cards and a large 128GB SD card. Again, regardless of card size, the second a photo is created, there are two copies. (I also keep my memory cards on me during the day, and on the drive home they are in my pocket or purse, separate from my gear.)

ColorSpace UDMA2

Thankfully, before the Great Hard Drive Failure of 2012, I started looking into options for backing up memory cards on location without a computer. Enter: the ColorSpace UDMA2. This little device is a card reader + external hard drive + computer in one little 3in x 5in x 1in package. This is also what saved me when my hard drive failed. I usually start backing up cards onto the ColorSpace at the reception, and always make sure every card is downloaded before I go to sleep that night (about 10 minutes per card). That means I already have at least 2 copies of your wedding photos. (This process takes about an hour total – about 10 minutes to download each card.)

External Hard Drive

That night (or the next morning if it was a super late night) I also download the cards onto a Western Digital external hard drive. Now I have three copies of your wedding photos. (This also takes about an hour, so we’re two hours into backing up files!)

Lightroom Smart Previews

Once the photos are downloaded to my external hard drive, I import them all into Photoshop Lightroom (my editing software) and create Smart Previews. Smart Previews are a small copy of the raw image file. These Smart Previews are then stored on my computer and backed up online to my Dropbox account. If, for some reason, someone broke into my house and stole my external hard drive, my ColorSpace, and my memory cards, I’d still be able to deliver your wedding thanks to the Smart Previews. So, we’re up to three on-site copies and one online copy. (It takes about an hour or so to create the Smart Previews, and then the time to upload depends on the internet speed. At home, it can be uploaded in about an hour. Elsewhere, probably 2-3 at minimum.)


The final step of backing up wedding photos is to backup my external hard drive on Backblaze. This process takes the longest, which is why I do the Lightroom Smart Previews first. A typical wedding can have anywhere from 50-100 GB of raw photos – that takes a LONG time to upload (usually about 24 hours)! The Smart Previews condenses that into about 5 GB so it is online (and safe) sooner.


After The Wedding Is Delivered

What about after the wedding photos are edited and delivered to you? Once you receive the link to your online gallery from me, you’ll want to download all of the photos to your computer. I also recommend having a relative, who does not live with you, also download them. This is called an off-site backup. If, God forbid, your house were to flood or burn down, your relative that doesn’t live with you still has them safe and sound. The other great news is that your gallery is online for TEN YEARS, so your wedding photos are safely backed up in the Cloud as well.


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