I have seen so many discussions lately both on forums and on Facebook regarding how to best backup the files on your computer. I thought I would share the system that works for me. There are certainly many ways to do this and I am not saying my method is the best, but I have found this to be pretty straightforward and relatively easy to set up. I am using a PC with Windows 7. I am not sure if the software I describe in this article is compatible with Mac, but if not I bet there is something comparable (or perhaps superior as most mac enthusiasts will be likely to chime in, ha!).
I only backup my data, not my software. Data is the term for my actual files – photos, word docs, excel spreadsheets, photoshop templates, lightroom catalogs, lightroom presets, etc. This is the stuff that I created myself and definitely don’t want to lose. Software is the programs (Photoshop, Lightroom, Word, Excel). In a total system failure, I can reinstall software since I have purchased it and have licenses for it. I am most concerned about backing up my data.
To simplify this discussion, let’s define original data, backup, and archive.
- The original data is, as it sounds, all of the original stuff you have created and want to backup. I have two sets of what I will call original data – my current daily data and my archive. The current daily data is what lives on my computer’s hard drive. An example of something in my current daily data is 2013 photos.
- My archive lives on an external hard drive in my office. This is stuff that used to be current daily data but I no longer access on a regular basis. An example of something on my archive is photos prior to 2013.
- A backup is simply a copy. I run a backup every day of my current daily data and also a backup of my archive. If this sounds confusing, maybe the flowchart diagram below will help.
To simplify my backup process, I put all of my data into subfolders inside a master folder called “Jessie’s Data.” Everything I use on a regular basis and need to backup is in subfolders in Jessie’s Data. This includes all of my digital photos (both personal and business), Lightroom catalogs, word docs, excel spreadsheets, Quickbooks data files, all photoshop actions and templates I have purchased, Lightroom actions, etc. It is simple to tell my backup software to simply copy Jessie’s Data.
This is what my folder tree looks like. To keep things looking neat for purposes of this article, I did not expand the Jessie’s Data folder, but if I did you would see that there are many subfolders in there that keep things organized and easy to find.
I use a free program from 2BrightSparks called SyncBack to run a nightly backup of Jessie’s Data to an EHD in my office. I use CrashPlan for cloud backup. My current daily data is essentially getting backed up twice: once to an EHD here in my office and once to the cloud via CrashPlan. Right now my archive is only getting backed up once to the cloud. If I wanted to get a third EHD I could set up a local backup for the archive as well.
Here is a flowchart showing how my current backup process automatically works each day.
I like that SyncBack makes an easy-to-use exact copy of the folder I specify, which in this case is Jessie’s Data. Unlike other backup programs, it’s not some compressed backup file that I have to unzip and figure out how to access. If for example I accidentally delete Grandma’s Birthday Party photos from May 2013 on my computer, I can easily navigate over to the May 2013 subfolder in Jessie’s Data on EHD #2 because SyncBack will have created an exact copy of the C: drive’s Jessie’s Data. Make sense?
If you are curious, here is a screenshot from SyncBack. I have this scheduled to run every day at 2am.
I have not yet had to recover data from CrashPlan’s cloud so I cannot tell you yet how easy it is to do. One thing I do like about CrashPlan is that they do not delete your data from the cloud as long as you are a paying customer. Other cloud-based services will delete your data if they are unable to connect to your source for 30 days. This means that if you unplug your EHD, you could lose your cloud backup. Yikes! This was a really big concern for me since I moved cross-country this summer and was not exactly sure how long my computer and external drives would be in boxes. I doubled checked with CrashPlan support and was told ” We do not delete anything from the cloud unless you specify the files to be deleted. Other cloud services will remove your external hard drive data if it doesn’t connect within a certain number of days. We don’t do that. If you have an active subscription, and put your external drive onto the cloud, we won’t take it off. Ever. So you have no need to worry about that.” Wow, who doesn’t want CrashPlan now? I have a 20% off discount code for new CrashPlan customers. Click here to get it.
I have heard some photographers say “I didn’t remember to backup my files for a couple of months and now I lost so many photos.” I have enough to think about that I don’t want to have to remember to run a backup every day. I want it to just happen automatically, and SyncBack and CrashPlan do that for me. If you are having trouble getting a good backup and archive plan set up for yourself, I cannot say enough good things about Ben Lilley at Qualutions. Many photographers work alone as sole proprietors or maybe have one or two employees. Qualutions can function as your studio’s IT Department. You can pay an hourly rate as needed for technical advice or computer support. Qualutions is located in Michigan, but via online meeting software it’s very simple for them to access your computer while you talk to them on the phone. They are wonderful to work with and will get you up and running.
As I said earlier, there are many ways to configure your backups but I hope that sharing my method will help someone!