Backing-up should be the first step in any image or video editing process.

While organisning or editing your photos, if your computer crashes – or the files become corrupted through some other misfortune – a backup means you have undamaged original files to go back to. Saving backups to external storage is the best way to ‘archive’ copies of your original, unedited files.

It’s also a good idea to create a ‘working’ folder for the session for storing copies of the images you’ll be working on. Tag each file you’re working on with an ‘ed’ (for edit) or ‘adj’ (for adjustment) label to distinguish them from unedited files.

Creating a ‘working’ folder for images you edit helps keep edited images separate from the archived originals. The files in this folder are tagged ‘ed’ to show they have been worked on. Duplicates created at specific sizes (for framing) are tagged with their dimensions.

Affinity Photo has three saving options, one of which will save the ‘history’ of the adjustments you’ve made. The file is stored in a proprietary format, which allows you to resume editing where you left off. Note: this option will create much larger files than regular JPEGs.

This chapter will cover the main external storage options, including cloud storage. It will also examine the plusses and minuses of automated backup systems, which are often bundled with storage drives.

Recordable media

Recordable media range from the memory cards you use in cameras and smartphones through to sophisticated RAID (redundant array of independent disk) systems and network attached storage (NAS) which relies on having a separate computer dedicated to data storage. Both systems include multiple bays for housing individual hard disk drives.

While memory cards can be great for temporary backups while the photographer is travelling, the files should be copied to permanent storage once the trip is over. USB thumb drives are good for temporary backups, particularly of works in progress.  But files should always be copied to long-term storage once editing tasks have been completed. 

USB thumb drives are great for transferring files between devices, while portable solid state drives (SSDs) provide excellent temporary storage for image and video files while travellers are on-the-move.

Additional storage drives provide an easy way to store extra copies of files. USB cables make them easy to connect, and portable drives are popular with travellers as they’re small and light but convenient for backing-up files in transit.

Portable SSDs are particularly useful for videographers who need to share large files securely between different members of a working team.

Competition with low-cost cloud storage plans has reduced the prices of external hard disk drives (HDDs). Magnetic drives remain cheaper and their capacities are greater than the more compact and durable solid state drives (SSDs) which are replacing them, although they’re still popular for computer-attached back-up storage. Provided they are conscientious about backing-up, most people only need a couple of external drives.

RAID and NAS systems with multiple drive bays are best suited to professional users who have huge quantities of data to store.

RAID and NAS systems are popular with professionals who have huge quantities of data to store. They usually come with software for controlling the storage system and can be set up to backup files automatically. 

Magnetic HDDs typically remain reliable for between five and 10 years and will fail mainly because their moving parts wear out. In contrast, SSDs generally last for more than 10 years and fail as a result of data corruption due to frequent writing and erasing of files. (This can also occur with memory cards.)

Cloud storage

Cloud storage means storing data online, hosted by server banks that are often a long way from the customer. The ‘hosting’ company takes responsibility for keeping the data available and accessible and the storage system secure against hackers and other disruptions. Users can choose from services like Google Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft’s One Drive and Apple iCloud Drive, which have different features and prices.

Cloud-based systems are best used for temporary storage and for sharing albums with relatives and friends.

Companies like Western Digital often bundle ‘My Cloud’ storage with their data storage devices free of charge. Included software provides a web-based interface to guide the user through the setting up process and copying files to the user’s personal account for subsequent viewing and managing.

The device manufacturer should keep your data safe and not on-sell your personal data. Nor should they send you spam based on the files you store or shut down without giving you notice your files will be deleted. This isn’t always the case with independent services.

When choosing a cloud service check what types of files it will accept and how large each file can be. Some services won’t accept raw files, while others will down-size your files or compress them. Either action would be a reason to exclude them as an option for archiving your files.

Above all: don’t view cloud storage as your only storage solution.

Avoiding problems

No backup system is totally fail-safe, although some systems have tried-and-proven reliability.  

Professional photographers use a three-fold backing up system: one copy of the file remains on the computer, a second copy is stored on an external storage device, while a third copy is stored off-site, either in a cloud storage account or on an external storage drive. Your choice will depend on the quantity of data you need to store and how you plan to access it, when needed.

Full backups will save everything in the folder or on the drive you’ve selected. From then on you can rely on incremental backups at the end of each day’s work. Shorter intervals will be safer when you’re working on an important job but make sure the interval between backups isn’t so short it interrupts other things you’re doing on the computer. 

On the other hand, if it’s too long, you run the risk of a disk failure or computer crash that leaves you with recent files lost. Finding the happy medium depends on each individual’s workflow; but it’s well worth the effort.

Useful links

Organise and archive

Backup and print

Excerpt from Digital Darkroom pocket guide, by Photo Review tech editor Margaret Brown

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