Somewhere along the photographic journey, you start to ask yourself: what is the best photo data storage solution and data backup system for me as a photographer? If you search the internet there are a lot of storage solutions and data backup software for photographers.
When I originally did this search I ran into a lot of problems with the suggested data management solutions. Even the best ones didn’t fit my workflow because I work per assignment and do not use dates as a label.
I produce 3 to 6 TB of data per year, which I have to store while maintaining access to the previous year’s work with all my devices. Also in case of a hard drive failure, fire, or other disasters, I want an extra data backup.
The problem for us photographers is we have such a large amount of data that creating a backup of your data can be a pain in the ass. In the past, I tried a lot of data storage solutions to store my raw files, and I lost a couple of them because of hard drives failing or bad archiving.
Nowadays, I only delete raw files just after importing my files, and I only delete the raw files that are technically incorrect - like those who are out of focus, some test shots (not all because they can be damn handy when retouching) and over - or under - exposed photos.
I prefer to work with files locally stored on my computer when I edit them. Every single photo in post-processing can take up to 3GB of image size, so the faster my SSD storage is, the better. I also don’t want to be dependent on one piece of software. I have been using Lightroom for years now, but who knows if I will switch to another DAM in the future.
My workflow is designed to work as a hybrid system. Namely my operating system (macOS in my case) and Lightroom (but it can be every DAM you like). Make sure to export all your adjustments into a .XMP file. You also can take advantage of history backup software like Apple’s Timemachine or a comparable product from your cloud service.
My local storage solution is the following: my computer’s internal storage, but you can also use an external HDD/SSD or DAS (which will be a bit slower). For my workflow, 1TB is just enough.
Next to this, I have a cloud backup and a NAS.
For my cloud storage I use Google Drive right now because I have an unlimited plan. But you can use any cloud storage you’d like if it is compatible with your NAS (I’ll explain later). I also have a Synology NAS storage in my home office as an extra data backup with an external hard drive attached to it.
The storage on my computer and thus Google Drive is separated into two folders, one folder is called “current projects” and the other one is called “archive 2020” (I make each year a new folder). In my “current projects” folder I’ll save the current projects I’m working on right now.
As an example, I’m coming home from assignment “X”.
So, what happens with this data? My folders (“current projects” and “archive 2020”) are in my Drive folder so all of this data will upload instantly to my cloud storage. Now, I can also access it on my MacBook, iPad Pro, and even iPhone.
When I shoot tethered on my laptop and I have internet access the computer will also upload my files to the cloud storage! So all my data will be safe.
“Okay and now what?” Well, I told you I also have a NAS storage in my home office, and on this NAS storage, I use backup software to sync with Google Drive. Everything that happens on my Drive also instantly gets synced automatically with my NAS storage (now my data is in triplicate), for this, I use the backup software “Cloud Sync” on my Synology NAS.
This also works with cloud storage services Dropbox, Onedrive, iDrive, etc.
Something I noticed is that Adobe Cloud Storage doesn’t have the software to communicate with the Synology NAS. I think Adobe is very expensive with their cloud storage and they are unfortunately using a closed file system for their cloud workflow.
But wait, there's more! On my NAS storage, I have an extra hard drive that duplicates my “archive 2020” folder from the NAS to the external drive with a Synology backup software called “USB copy” (I’ll tell you later why I do this). I do this for the whole year.
Now... it’s almost 2021 :), “happy new year... but what now?” Well, I’ll start all over! Remember the extra drive on my NAS? It contains the whole “archive2020” folder on it. It’s now ready to disconnect and duplicate it with backup software like “SuperDuper” (MAC) or “AOMEI Backupper professional” (WINDOWS).
Once I duplicate my external drive with “Archive 2020” I’ll store it in my safe while the other one I store at a different location (your brother, parents, etc). It’s an additional but important backup in case you have a hard drive failure, fire, or burgling.
When you have those two backups you can either delete the “archive2020” data from your cloud storage and NAS storage or don’t. You can expand your storage space on those and go on to the next year so all your data is stored in one place, but in my workflow, I don’t need this. In my case, I rarely need data from 2 years or older.
Maybe you don’t want to work with a cloud service and you have the ability to use two NAS systems on two different locations. This will give you unlimited storage and full control over your own systems. Now I’m working from home and don’t own a studio anymore, so for me, this is not an option.
When I used to own a studio I used two NAS systems and kept them in sync (you can also rent a rack for your NAS in a server park if you don’t have another location to store the second NAS). You can use the “rsync” option in your Synology preferences to sync them, and I bet other manufacturers are using the same kind of solution.
Make sure to use 2-step verification, keep your NAS systems up to date, and always use an HTTPS address for safety purposes. I also advise you to sync the two devices in the night when you aren’t working or (streaming a nice movie) to conserve internet bandwidth.
Also, like the first method, you can choose to keep your storage size updated if you finish a year, or use external hard drives. I choose to use external hard drives because I don’t often need my data older than one year.
While cloud providers usually don’t offer unlimited storage, they can offer you 1TB, 2TB, 3TB, 5TB, and even up to 20TB options. Of course, you have to pay for this but as a professional, I don’t think you have to economize on your workflow and file safety.
Renting a rack in a server park to store your own NAS storage can be a cheaper option, and you have the full control to expand your storage. What to do if you don’t want to or can’t pay for more storage? You can divide your archive folder into separate sections.
If your cloud storage is 3TB, you can limit your archive folder to 2TB. Store this on a 2TB hard drive attached to your NAS and use the method I described in the earlier workflows. At the end of the year, you’ll end up with 2, 3, or even more hard drives. This is not an ideal solution because it will take longer to find an older assignment.
Until now we’ve talked about Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, iDrive, etc. These are expensive compared to Crashdrive, Backblaze, and other unlimited storage backup services, but I like to access my photo’s anytime and anywhere I want on all my devices.
Don’t get me wrong, Backblaze as an example is really great if you just need an online backup. While they offer unlimited storage, it’s just not easy to archive data and dig it up when needed.
Options nowadays are overwhelming, we are photographers, not IT technicians. It’s hard to choose. I use a NAS storage system because back in the day you didn’t have any DAS storage systems and I don’t want to have my computer online 24/7.
The difference between those two is that the NAS is attached to your network router and the DAS to your computer. In my case, I use NAS storage so I can back up to the cloud without the use of my computer.
Because I mostly don’t work directly from my NAS storage I don’t need the speed of the DAS. Also, a NAS is more a stand-alone storage solution, while a DAS needs a computer.
To be honest I only have experience with Synology. But there are different systems that are all great like Qnap as an example. You also can choose between desktop models and rack models. If you choose to install a NAS in a server park I advise you to go for a rack model.
I use a RAID 5 setup so if one drive crashes you can replace it easily without losing any data. For a RAID 5 setup, you need at least 3 hard drives in your NAS. It’s wise to explore other options for RAID setups, I know Synology also has its own great RAID system.
There is also a difference between HDD’s and SSD’s. A hard drive is much cheaper compared to a solid-state drive, while a solid-state drive is much faster and is more reliable because it doesn’t contain moving parts.
The other downside is that the lifespan of an SSD is much shorter, namely 3.000 to 100.000 write cycles (but that might not be a problem if it is just used as a backup).
There are different types of hard drives you can put in your NAS storage, and we have to remember that a NAS will make sound, will use energy, and is online 24/7. Durability, low sound-producing, and low energy consumption are the key points to look at when you choose your hard drives.
Because hard drives are used continuously I suggest conducting thorough research on the internet about which one to choose. For me, it was 5 or 6 years ago when I bought my Western Digital drives. I use the Barracuda from Western Digital because of the reasons I mentioned.
Whatever method you choose as a photographer to store and backup your data, always be conscious about what you are doing. Losing a file is very easy and having a tight-ass workflow will help you a lot without spending extra time on it. I learned my method by trial and error.
While I don’t think my workflow/solution is perfect, it has worked for me since 2012. Cloud storage is getting cheaper and will have more capacity in the future.