Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

Time for backup

Time for backup

“Backup,”  the most important word when it comes to computers. Unfortunately, it’s one of the least-used words for most of us. It’s one of those put-it-off-for-another-day or it-won’t-happen-to-my-hard-drive attitudes that can cause a problem. Also, it may be a little confusing to figure out, with so many options out there.

The first question is how much storage space is enough? While hard drives are getting cheaper, which is great, cameras are churning out huge raw photos and HD videos at a ravenous pace.

It’s a fast-paced race with no end in sight. I decided I needed to limit myself to a 1 terabyte external hard drive, which houses my photographs and videos. This means it’s time to clean up and get organized.

Drive space continues to get cheaper, so I’m sure I will be up to 2 terabytes in no time. It’s hard to believe how large that amount of storage is, compared with my first computer with a 1.4 MB floppy drive and about 4 MB of RAM. Of course, Photoshop was just around the corner, and digital photography for the consumer hadn’t been invented yet.

People always ask if I miss the old-school darkroom with fiber-based paper and the chemistry. My simple answer is no, although my backup system was very simple: just shove negatives and prints into boxes in the closet, never to be heard from again.

Taking pictures back then was certainly more complicated and limiting because of the cost of film and processing. Now it’s endless. A short vacation may entail thousands and thousands of snapshots, making archiving a real hassle.

The next question is: How do you back up those precious digital files? Simply put, you need a backup strategy. OK, I’m sure that’s not what you wanted to hear. It’s starting to sound complicated. Good backup isn’t simple, it will take some time and effort to consider the options and put them into place.

You do have options, and most experts agree that one backup system isn’t enough. Also, one of those backups needs to be off-site, because having one backup hard drive is better than nothing, but it’s not enough.

Most computer systems have some type of backup built in. Apple with Time Machine and Windows 7 are shipped with built-in backup solutions. These are your first line of defense and definitely should be used. Go buy an external hard drive for this backup. It needs to be at least the same size as your computer’s current drive, but larger is better for providing more backup space.

These are simple once set up and should run automatically. Always check to make sure your backup is working. Seems simple, but it’s an important concept. Backups need to be checked on a regular basis. It’s part of your strategy.

For my Mac computer, I use Time Machine plus software called SuperDuper, which makes a bootable clone on an additional hard drive of my main computer drive.  This works great because if my computer is broken and needs to be repaired, I can boot up with the backup hard drive on another computer and start working with almost no down time while my computer is out of commission.

Additional off-site backup is very important. A hard-drive backup that sits next to your computer is a nice start, but it doesn’t give you protection against fire, theft or flooding.

Off-site backup can be as simple as copying your info to a hard drive or DVDs and dropping the drive off at your friend’s or Mom’s house. If you don’t have a lot of photographs or video, one of those high-capacity flash drives might work.

This type of backup does take a lot of thought and consistency in your schedule. Usually not a great option for me because of my procrastination.

One simple option is a “cloud-based” system, which provide an easy, affordable and automatic backup system. And for most people, it may be a great solution.

Companies such as Carbonite, Backblaze, Mozy, Amazon S3 and SugarSync provide cloud-based solutions. These systems back up your data over the Internet. All the companies promise they are secure, and your information is encrypted. The prices start at about $5 per month.

I don’t use a cloud-based system yet. I sort of wonder about where all my data are going and the security aspect. The worrying isn’t based on any fact but more of a philosophical reasoning. SugarSync is a little different from the others because it will sync your work across multiple computers and provide backup.

The disadvantage to online backup is that it’s very slow to get your data uploaded to the cloud. It could take a day, weeks or months, depending on how many photos or videos you’ve accumulated. Also, you have no control of where or how your info is stored;  it’s on a giant hard-drive somewhere. But it does have major advantages: It’s off-site and automated, making it very convenient.

At a certain point, I need to start editing and get rid of stuff. This will certainly keep the backup under control. It’s just important to make the decision and start backing up your important photographs.

It’s going to take some time, but hopefully after reading this, you will start your own backup strategy.

Photo: There are a lot of possible ways to store your photographs, including hard drives, DVDs and online. Credit: Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times.


  1. October 14, 2010, 2:05 am

    […] Time for Backup on Framework My latest blog post on the LA Times website […]

  2. October 14, 2010, 9:47 pm

    Is that Jack Howell in the picture?

    By: kittybarfola
  3. October 15, 2010, 12:22 pm

    The black-and-white photos are of singer John Mellencamp and the Angels' baseball player Wally Joyner breaking his bat.

    By: Robert Lachman
  4. October 14, 2010, 10:13 pm

    i use a program called cdfinder to catalog my data on my macbook pro and various external hard drives. it works pretty well and allows me to see whats on a particular hard drive without having to connect it to my computer.

    as for external hard drives, i have several usb 2.0 bus-powered hard drives and two FW 400/800 drives i assembled using the OWC kit, like the one you have pictured. Price per MB/GB is falling, however, I've wondered if buying a hot-swappable hard drive solution would be even more economical.

    another cloud-computing backup service that's worth mentioning is Dropbox. you get 2gb free and you can access via the web and via applications created specifically for apple's iOS, android or blackberry.

    By: Phil
  5. October 15, 2010, 12:26 pm

    I do use Dropbox, which works great. I use it mostly as a cloud storage location to transfer files between my computers.

    By: Robert Lachman
  6. October 15, 2010, 6:03 am

    Well timed article for me. While reading I wondered if a fireproof hidden safe or bank deposit box might be a safe place for your data?

    By: Rollo Watkins
  7. October 15, 2010, 12:29 pm

    It's a fine solution, especially with the smaller physical size of the hard drives today.

    By: Robert Lachman

Add a comment or a question.

If you are under 13 years of age you may read this message board, but you may not participate. Here are the full legal terms you agree to by using this comment form.

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they've been approved.


Required, will not be published

Browse All Photos »