Dec 29, 2012

Get organized (and backed up) for 2013

Digital photos are great, but it does not take long to have a digital pile of images that is almost useless.  I know because I was pretty careless for a while with our family photos after getting a digital camera in 2005.  By 2008 when I started shooting seriously (and for other people) it was time to also get serious about taking care of the digital archive.

Here is a quick overview of my file organization and backup strategy for the thousands of photos I take each year.  The key is to make a system that works for you, and to be consistent in following it.

To be effective, any system needs to be easy to follow, searchable and secure.  The standard for backups is to have at least two copies of original files, and another copy in an off-site (or on-line) location.

With the current low price of hard drives and the size of digital photo files, creating DVD backups on a regular basis does not make sense for me.  That is still a good idea, but only if you also have a good place and organizing system for them as well.


Primary copies of my photos are located in my office.  I use one computer for both home and business archives, but I have separate external drives for each archive.  Each drive is actually a mirrored pair of drives, so no single drive failure will lose images.
2x 3TB drives for client images
2x 1TB drives for family photos
1TB drive in my iMac is backed up on another drive using Apple's Time Machine app.

Another 500gb drive is a Time Machine backup for my Macbook Pro.

In total that is 6 external drives.  Yes it is a lot to buy if you are just starting, but they build up over time as needs demand the storage.

My current offsite backups are on my Zenfolio site, but for 2013 I am going to use BackBlaze to back up both my photo archives and my other important data. At $5 per month it is peace of mind for both me and my clients.  If they lose their photos, I can replace them.

Other sites like flickr can be considered part of your backup solution as well, but it is a clunky way to go, and only for .jpg images.  Facebook and other social media sites re-size and compress images.  Do not think of that as part of your backup unless it is absolutely worst-case-scenario.

There is no way to predict hard drive failure.  They just fail.  Sometimes data is recoverable (for a fee).  Many times, it is not and all you have is what you printed.  Which is likely very little, am I right?

Also good... label your drives.  After a few years, capacity and purchase dates are hard to remember.  That way you can pick out the one you want if you need to replace it or move it.  Also, a good contact number just in case it gets lost or taken.

File Strategy
There are lots of ways to organize photos.  Apps like Lightroom, iPhoto, Aperture and whatever comes on a PC these days will import and organize your photos.  The apps alone become disorganized after a while (and they get slow) so I find it better to organize on the hard drive before moving the images into any editing or organizing platform.

Current work is stored on my iMac's hard drive as soon as I get it home.

Desktop Folders

Separate folders from my desktop hold business photos, family photos, and other files related to the photo business.

Within those folders are additional folders containing a calendar year.  Then a folder for each month of the year.  Notice that the folder names start with a number to keep them in order.
2012 Folder

Finally, within each month are folders containing the files from individual projects.  Descriptive names make it easy to find projects within the given timeframe.
December Folder

Also, I create a new Lightroom catalog for each month so that the software does not bog down.  That catalog is stored in that month's folder so that it travels with the images.

As time goes by and I no longer need ready access to a month's images, I move the entire month at once to the external drives to conserve working hard drive space on the computer.

Other considerations...
Add keywords and descriptive info to your photo files when you import.  Along with copyright information, I try to add good descriptors to photo files when I import into Lightroom.  This metadata is attached to the photo files and travels with them (and new versions that you create) whenever you send them out.

I like to keep my photo numbers intact, as well as including the original photo number on edited files.  That allows you to keep track of which original file you were working with to create the new one.  If someone needs a copy or revision of a file, you can easily find it by number rather than scrolling through dozens of images.

There are other ways to go, of course.  A quick search will find you other methods and strategies.  The key is to do something and be consistent.

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