Lessons learned form the Marshall Fire
As a photographer, most of us are completely focused on creating new work. Whether you shoot landscapes, weddings, portraits or products, we are all constantly amassing new folders of work. Most of the photographers I work with have a hard drive that sits on their desk that gets new files placed onto it once a week, month, or quarter depending on how prolific the photographer is. In the back of our minds, we all know that a hard drive crash is not an “if” but rather an inevitable “when”. It breaks my heart to hear all the horror stories of a computer crash or worse, robbery. More times than I want to think about, I have heard the stories of a photographer losing all the images from a once in a lifetime event or trip. Even sadder is when one of those photographers loses all their work and doesn’t change their backup plan, only to have the story repeat itself at a later date. Recently, you may have heard about the huge fires in Colorado, my home was a mile from the mandatory evacuation zone, and it really hit home the importance of having a good backup plan for my images. Let’s talk about file storage, backups and the story of the Marshall Fire in Colorado.
In the early afternoon hours of December 30, 2021, local news broke about a quickly spreading wildfire in Boulder County, Co. I didn’t pay much attention to the news report because Boulder County was quite a way from my home. The day before, the weather had projected gusting winds as high as 80 miles per hour in my neighborhood, so I had spent time making sure everything in the back yard was tied down, so as to not blow away. What I didn’t know was that the fire would be fed by 100 mile per hour winds and would spread quickly due to extremely late snowfall and kindling dry conditions in the area. I was at home, working on editing some images and was startled when the emergency alert system was triggered on my phone.
Some residents in Boulder County were only given ten minutes notice to evacuate their homes. So many people lost everything because they were at work and could not get home to retrieve their belongings. We spend the next few hours waiting for the call to evacuate our home, and had even made piles of clothing, important documents and supplies for our pets. We agreed that we would grab our computers and laptops when the evacuation order came. We had a very tense evening, but thankfully the fire evacuation zone stopped just a few blocks short of our area. Many families were not as lucky as we were and if you would like to donate to the families displaced by the fire, I’ll put links at the end of this article.
This close call really got me thinking about the importance of having a plan in the event of an emergency. Luckily, we had ample time to get our necessities together, we are likely more prepared than most when it comes to looming emergencies.
I grew up near the San Andreas Fault in California and was home for the Loma Prieta quake in 1989. My dad was always good about ensuring that we had ample supplies (not prepper level) like canned foods and the like – in the case of an emergency. I worked in the videogames industry (for Atari, Accolade and Mattel Toys), and this instilled the importance of data backup scheduling, because losing the source code for a game meant being behind schedule, or worse, starting over.
With all this in mind I built my image backup regiment early in my photography career. I have my images on my primary editing machine, but also on a portable hard drive in my desk drawer. I manually backup new images taken and major edits to this portable drive. I also use a Synology NAS server on my network. Synology have a sync tool which allows you to keep a folder or drive on your machine synchronized to a NAS folder. This takes care of my files locally, but what happens if we have a fire or other natural disaster and my hardware here is destroyed. For the last level of defense, I use a cloud backup solution, but my biggest issue was the staggering number of companies offering online storage, and of course price. So, I tried a bunch of them.
First things first, I’m not an affiliate of any of these companies and I’m not getting anything from recommending them. I’m just creating this article to document a concern that I have for many photographers not backing up their important images, and hopefully narrowing the choices down a bit in the massive online backup field for photographers.
Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Carbonite, iDrive, Backblaze and CrashPlan are just a few of the myriad of choices when it comes to cloud backup for your images. Many of the services offer personal backup plans for a comparable yearly price, ranging from 79-120 USD. The services which do not offer a personal plan have a sliding pricing scale which will increase cost depending on the number of computers being backed up and the size of the data being backed up. Each service offers a sync program, and they all have their quirks and downsides. I tried CrashPlan and Amazon but quickly realized that the number of images I am backing up would be pretty expensive. The upside to these services is that they do tend to backup data to their services quicker than say iDrive (which is one of the slowest in my testing.).
For the purposes of this article, I am comparing the services from the perspective of a photographer backing up files from my primary photos folder. The use case for a personal user wanting to backup their phones and everything else is outside of the scope of this article.
After trying out the above services, I settled on iDrive. Their yearly cost for 5 TB of storage is 79.50 a year USD. This service allows backup of phones and unlimited computers for this price, but I limit it to photos and documents on my main editing machine. The storage is expandible to 10 TB for 99.50 a year USD. The sync utility allows you to choose which folders on your machine to backup and they will trickle to the server anytime your machine is on. After your files are synced, then you can schedule backups for a convenient time. iDrive do offer an option to have them ship you a hard drive which will do all the initial backup, then you send it back and it gets transferred to your account. In my testing the time to backup to the local drive they send is no faster than backing up to the cloud servers over the internet connection. iDrive say that the initial backup to their servers usually takes about a week and this was my experience. Lots slower than many of the other services, but they are cheaper, so you have to deal with a tradeoff.
Restoring deleted files from the iDrive server was a lot quicker than backing them up. I deleted 100 GB of photos from my primary machine equal to a day of shooting for me and restored them in a couple hours. Not the fastest, but I got the files back in a timely manner, so it worked for me.
Many families lost everything in the Marshall fire. Please take a moment to contact the Boulder Office of Emergency Management to see how you can help those affected by the fire. https://www.boulderoem.com/marshall-fire-donations-and-resource-center/
Before you go…
If you don’t have a backup plan, or if you rely on a single hard drive sitting on your desk to backup your important images, then you ate setting yourself up for eventual disaster. I’m reasonably happy with my final choice of iDrive for my backups and I would recommend them. What service do you use to back up your photos? Are you happy with them? Drop me a message here or on my social media links below, I’d love to hear your experiences. I would love it if you followed me on Instagram or Twitter, I will happily follow you back. Now get out there and get shooting!
My photography: https://tahquechi.com/
My Travel Blog: https://www.blindtravels.com/