Photography Backup Process

myFedora Backup Process

Oh, the devastating scenario of loosing all or even some of your hard work!  I don’t know what I would do if I were to loose all of my pictures and documents.  However, it is a necessary evil when being so dependent upon personal computers (PCs).  As an aspiring photographer, you would think that I would be on top of backing up and protecting my images.  Nope.  I neglected this incredibly important workflow step for far too long.  Thus, I spent a good deal of time in early 2012 researching various processes of backing up your data to find a method that works best for me.  The most important requirements for me were, ease of integration into existing workflow, cost and 100% protection of my files.  I finally settled on one pretty common, simple, reliable backup process that will guarantee file security without breaking the bank.  This article shares my current backup process at home, my backup process in the field and verification plan for verifying the integrity of my data for years to come.

My goal is to ensure that I am protected from loosing my important pictures and documents, as it would be impossible for me to replace them.  So how do I implement a process that is reliable, simple and equally important, affordable?  Let’s discuss what I already had available to start off with:
  • My laptop running Windows 7 64-bit
  • (1) 2TB networked Western Digital external hard drive
  • Read/Write DVDs, which I was burning my original JPEG + RAW files to.

Not a bad setup, had I been using it properly.  I could easily make a simple backup from my laptop to the external hard drive on a routine basis (riskily I wasn’t even doing this).  Using both the (1) external hard drive and DVDs, they would give me potentially (2) layers of backup protection.  However, I was not addressing my operating system backup, nor was I even copying the same files to the external hard drive that I was to the DVDs.  Yes, I know I was setting myself up for failure and I knew it.  Researching both what others are doing and what the recommended ‘best practices’ are, I found one process from American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) that I felt could be manipulated to fit into my workflow and utilizing my existing equipment.

The one consistent recommendation I found was that everyone should practice a backup process with at least (3) layers of protection.  The most common instantiation of this is:

  • (2) External Hard Drives
    • (1) External Hard Drive for local backup
    • (1) External Hard Drive for offsite storage
  • (1) Disc copy (DVD or Blu-Ray)

Made sense to me.  So, all I needed was an extra external hard drive to implement the infrastructure to support a reliable backup process.  I ended up buying a 2TB Western Digital USB 3.0 External Hard Drive so that I could back it up locally and have the option to put it in a safety deposit box or fireproof safe for offsite storage.

Now that I have the (3) layer backup protection hardware infrastructure implemented, how do I make it work in practice?  This is easier said than done because of the variables that I had, which were the fact that I am using a laptop so it’s not always home, no backup software chosen, I was undecided on what exactly to backup, and I had different external hard drive interfaces (1) network drive and (1) USB drive.  Since I travel with my laptop half the time, a regular scheduled backup isn’t really practical.  So, I required software that permits me to schedule backups to both the network and USB external hard drives either on a regular schedule or manually.

I asked Tom Bourdon, a fantastic professional travel photographer, about his travel photography backup process and he uses SyncToy from Microsoft.  ASMP recommended SyncBack for PC users and ChronoSync for Mac users.  Reviewing them, I felt SyncToy (FREE) worked better for my simple process.  Although I am a PC user, ChronoSync is operationally similar to SyncToy.  So, the backup concepts presented herein are synonymous for Windows and Mac users.

Using SyncToy, I created folder pairs to backup specific folders from my laptop to the target external hard drives.  Folder pairs, set as ‘echo’, are used to generate exact copies of my laptop folders on the external hard drives.  This is used for my Working folder, which contains my plethora of images to be edited, and specific folders from my laptop Users folder.  In addition, a ‘contribute‘ folder pair, which only appends files, is used to copy my laptop Transferred folder to an archive folder on the external drives.  The Transferred folder contains finished images that are archived to DVD(s) before removal from my laptop, thus continually maintaining (3) layers of protection.  Presently for offsite storage, the archived DVD(s) are stored in a local fireproof safe; however a safety deposit box or online storage is very effective for addressing this requirement.  The below Figure depicts SyncToy and the folder pairs utilized either individually or all at once.

The Microsoft SyncToy software with the folder pairs used

The Microsoft SyncToy software with the folder pairs used

In addition to SyncToy, I use Windows Backup and Restore (In Windows 7 for under Control Panel -> System and Security -> Backup and Restore) capability for backing up my System Image should my Operating System (OS) experience major problems.  The entire backup process implemented is shown in the below Figure.

This describes the backup process performed at my home office for my System Image, User Files and both Working and Archived Pictures.

 

Equally important is having a process for backing up your images in the field and verifying the integrity of your images years in the future.  On travel, I use a 160GB HyperDrive COLORSPACE UDMA from B&H Photo and Video for backing up my CompactFlash cards.  It can perform some integrity checks as part of the backup process, in addition to quickly downloading your pictures.  As a nicety, you can view your photos as they are downloaded or after they are downloaded on its mediocre screen.  A very handy device for backing up in the field.  My only complaint is that it does not backup video files, only pictures files (RAW, DNG, TIFF, JPG, etc.).  Not that I shoot a lot of video, but that would be useful as I do use video to capture moments.

Finally, how do you verify the integrity of your files for years to come?  If you shoot RAW and convert them to Digital Negatives (DNG), then all you have to do is convert your DNG files through Adobe’s DNG Converter (FREE) and it will automatically check to ensure the integrity of the file by checking that no bits have changed.  The reason for this is that DNG files, besides being 0-20% smaller than proprietary RAW files, it also stores an MD5 hash for the raw image contained in the DNG.  The MD5 algorithm can also be used for validating the integrity of all of your other files and/or folders full of files.  I settled on the MD5 Checksum Verifier utility from FlashPlayerPro ($15) because this program can quickly generate a separate MD5 hash file for an individual file or an entire folder full of files that I can keep with the files and folders.  In addition, you can then at some later date recheck the file(s) for comparison against the MD5 hash stored for verification that nothing has been modified in the file(s).  Because my working pictures are, well, being worked I only use this on my archive pictures.

With a few external hard drives and some free software, you can easily have a reliable, simple backup solution at your home office.  In the field, it can be a bit more costly but there are some very effective solutions such as using your laptop and external hard drives.  Then for future verification, a simple MD5 hash checker and DNG converter works out great for validating the integrity of your backup files.  Here are a few references to assist you.  Hope this helps saves you from loosing your data in the future.

A revision of this article was published in the Mile High Wildlife Photography Club (MHWPC) May 2013 newsletter.

Park’s Barbeque – Los Angeles, California, United States

Park's Gal-bi

When I am in Los Angeles, California for work, I always try to visit Park’s Barbeque to clog my arteries with their perfectly marinated, tender and fresh Korean barbeque meats.  It’s not a Travel Channel stop by Adam Richman or Anthony Bourdain, but it is an establishment that my colleague thankfully introduced me to and definitely worth a detour to this famous restaurant.  And I do mean famous.  As you walk in, you are greeted on the right with a wall full of celebrity photos.  You have famous Asian sports stars, Olympians (Apolo Anton Ohno) and actors (extremely beautiful Jessica Alba for example).  And how can we leave out an Executive for World of Warcraft who also made the wall of fame?  Yes, all types, sizes and trades have tread their feet through those fish protected doors.  You can find this local, famous establishment at the following address in Koreatown, Los Angeles.

S Vermont Ave # D
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 380-1717

So how about that atmosphere, service and food shall we?

Outside Park’s Korean BBQ restaurant. They always have some nice cars parked out front and have valet parking should you go. I recommend parking on the side streets as it’s free.

Walking in, you enter a small corridor of an entry with the restaurant on the left behind a 5foot half wall and 100 or so photos on the right of the famous personalities who dined at this place.  The restaurant is located in a strip mall and spans two floors.  There’s valet out front, which you’ll have to do if you want to park in the front of the restaurant.  You might have to compete with the expensive sports cars typically parked there though.  You can find parking on the side streets instead, so take advantage of those free spots.  Downstairs is nicer than upstairs (and from my experience you get better service).  But, the restaurant is clean, busy and has great BBQ tables for cooking up those meaty morsels.

This is the view of the main floor right when you come into the restaurant and are greeted by the hostess.

Service is usually very good, with the servers/cooks conscientious to your food and needs.  They are quick to bring out the included Korean side dishes and your main courses.  Usually the servers are all very attentive and take turns throwing your food on the barbeque, cutting it up, flipping the meat and adding the vegetables.  However, during our last trip (which happened to be Valentine’s Day) we had horrible service at our table upstairs.  We usually sit downstairs and have always had great service, so I don’t know if it was the result of being busy, the upstairs service or some other vendetta against us.  But, our water was never filled, food was left to burn and I had to ask for our check instead of them bringing it when we were clearly done for quite some time.  Really disappointing for this type of restaurant.  Again, the service is usually much better, but this did leave a terrible taste in our mouths for sure.  I did not return on that trip, although I am sure I will sometime in the future to give it one more shot.

If not familiar with Korean food, the menu can be a bit daunting.  Thankfully I was introduced to the place by someone much more familiar with Korean barbeques.  Once you get there and sit down, you are greeted by the complimentary spread of various Korean side dishes such as numerous kimchi dishes, rice noodles, sauteed broccoli rabe, sauteed sea plant, marinated radish, Korean coleslaw, wonton wrappers, cabbage and other odds and sods that they decide to bring as it changes some each time you go.

These are the free Korean side dishes you receive prior to your succulent meat gorgefest. They get you started with various kimchi dishes, rice noodles, sauteed broccoli rabe, sauteed sea plant, marinated radish, Korean coleslaw, wonton wrappers, cabbage and other odds and sods that they decide to bring as it changes some each time you go.

Once you get past the party in your mouth Korean side dishes, it’s onto the main courses.  They don’t hesitate to start delivering these in a well oiled assembly line fashion.  Without much delay, the raw beef entrees, Seafood Pancake and Kimchi Stew and sticky rice come out.  The pancake is like a thin, dense (you can use chopsticks to pick up the pieces) seafood frittata filled with rock shrimp, green onions, and asparagus that you dip in a mild soy sauce.  Then the scrumptious Kimchi Stew, full of spicy kimchi seasoning, beef and pork part and cabbage that you scoop over your sticky rice and indulge.

These lovely morsels are the Kimchi Stew on the left, Bulgogi (Seasoned Sliced Beef) top right and Pancake with rock shrimp and green onion on the bottom center.

Then there’s the beef.  Yes, those wonderful marbleized bovine morsels that are flown in daily for as fresh as you can get.  Our staples tend to be the Bulgogi and Gal-Bi.  Bulgogi shown above, is a delicious thinly sliced sirloin/prime cut beef that is marinated to perfection.  Served with some grilled garlic, scallions and enokitake mushroom, quite a delightful combination.  Unless they get fried like our last visit when they neglected our table.  Note, you can grab the utensils yourself and flip them if Park’s employees are attentive to it.  Oh those lovely marinated prime beef short ribs, Gal-Bi (aka Galbi).  Short ribs tend to be tough and difficult to come out tender, but Park’s has it down perfectly.  They thinly cut the spare ribs around the bone so the chef can just unroll the meat on the grill.  In addition, the meat is scored so that the marinade just gets sucked into the meat.  They grill them unrolled for a little while before getting the good o’l kitchen scissors and cut up the meat.  The part of the meat closest to the bone is the toughest though, so focus on the other tender chopstick size pieces first.

This is the scrumptious Bulgogi (marinated sliced sirloin/prime beef).

 

These short ribs (Gal-Bi) are full of flavor, tender and oh so good!

I have also had the fish and special pork belly.  The fish was just alright.  The pork belly was good, but just thick bacon really.  I would stick with the beef.

Neal’s Ratings:

  • Atmosphere = B+   (limited parking, love the famous photos, clean grills, in a strip mall)
  • Service =  C    (normally a B-A grade, but horrible the last time)
  • Food = A    (really fantastic beef, stew, pancake, side dishes and good other entrees)