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I can’t stress the importance of having a solid backup workflow for your photography and video work. I’ve been doing video production for nearly thirteen years and keeping our footage safe is something that used to give me nightmares. Early on in my career, I was copying my video footage and photography over to a single hard drive and didn’t think much of it. In Austin, we have this amazing coffee shop called Mozart’s, and one day, I spent the day working outside on their deck that overlooks the lake.
On my way home, I decided to stop by one of the scenic overlooks and quickly timelapse the evening traffic. Since I had been working on projects, I had brought several of my hard drives with me. I hid my backpack in the backseat and hiked to the overlook. Turns out this is a prime spot for break-ins; someone broke into my car and stole my backpack. And with that, I lost probably a year’s worth of previous projects and almost all my photo files. I was devastated. Almost none of it was backed up.
From then on, I got serious about learning the best practices of media storage and backups to make sure that never happened again. I really doubled down on it when I started shooting weddings. The thought of possibly losing someone’s wedding day still makes me cringe. I currently run a production company in Austin and with some projects, we can walk away with more than four terabytes of footage.
Over the years, we’ve had several hard drives fail or get corrupted. The workflow I’m about to share prevented the loss of critical data and client projects every time. Whether you’re considering this for a video or photography backup workflow, I hope this guide gives you the tools you need to never experience data loss from accidental deletion, theft, or hard drive failures.
It’s one of the least exciting parts of the job but one of the most important. It’s something that anyone with client projects and data should understand: importing, storing, and backing up your precious media.This workflow is geared towards anyone who creates digital media (photo, video, graphic, etc) and is easily scaled to grow with your media and budget for storage.
Of course, what you’re about to read isn’t the only way to do this. For some creatives, it may be using just passport drives – for others, it may be RAID arrays or large networked storage arrays. Either way, the basics remain the same and scale accordingly for storing photos and data.
Table of Contents
1. Purchase your media from reputable businesses
Your media is the weakest link in any video or photo backup workflow. I’m a member of several creative groups on Facebook and every week I see people desperately looking for help with recovering footage from their memory cards or hard drives. Reading the comments, it’s almost always the same story – They bought them from Amazon. You’re risking a lot if you’re buying your memory cards or hard drives from anywhere other than a reputable camera store.
I know that 40% off discount on that expensive memory card looks promising, but it’s not worth the risk. Sites like Walmart and Amazon have independent sellers and it’s an easy target for scammers. These counterfeit drives often have a cheap flash drive chip inside that’s programmed to look like a much bigger drive. Your computer might see it with 2TB of space, but it’s really only a 16GB drive. Once you start writing data onto the drive, it’ll fill it up and start writing over it. The same goes for your memory cards. I always recommend purchasing your media from a site like B&H or Adorama. Here’s an example of Walmart selling a 30TB harddrive that really had two small SD cards inside
2. Be Organized When Creating
Being proactive with protecting your memory cards goes a long way in your backup workflow. Especially when I was working weddings, I saw so many photographers pull a full memory card out of their camera and put it in their pant pockets or drop it in a camera bag. 😬 Keeping your memory cards safe and organized is the first step in making sure you don’t lose your footage.
I have two Pelican 0915 SD Card cases, one with green tape (unused cards) and one with red tape (used cards). The moment a card comes out of a camera, I immediately use a red strip of paper tape, write the card name/number on it, and cover the contacts. It goes right into the red case, which is then on my person for the rest of the shoot. That way, it’s not lying around in a bag that could get lost/stolen, and they are protected from the elements. Once it’s time to import them, I discard the red paper tape and immediately copy the card, giving me a visual indicator of what cards haven’t been copied yet.
3. Use the 3-2-1 backup Workflow
When it comes to safeguarding your valuable footage, following a robust backup workflow is essential. One proven effective approach is the 3-2-1 strategy, which involves having at least three copies of your data.
What is the 3-2-1 backup strategy? Two copies are your backups, an exact replica of your original footage, and one is your editing drive. The two backup drives are never altered. Ideally, you should keep an additional copy off-site to prevent loss in case of a disaster.
4. Use check-sum backup software
When handling your footage and ensuring it is backed up properly, using reliable software solutions can make a big difference. The cornerstone of my backup workflow is an ingest software called OffShoot, formerly known as Hedge.
OffShoot offers a simple yet powerful way to ingest all your footage, ensuring that the copying and verification process is handled smoothly and efficiently. As it copies the original footage to your backup drives, it performs checks on every single file to ensure that the copies are exact replicas of the original footage. If something goes wrong during the transfer, it will stop the transfer and notify you. This guarantees that your backup copies are accurate and reliable.
One of the most significant advantages of using OffShoot is its speed and user-friendliness. The software is designed to be intuitive and easy to use, even for those who may not have extensive technical expertise. This means that you can get up and running quickly and spend more time on your creative work.
In addition to OffShoot, several other software backup options on the market provide similar functionality. However, in my experience, OffShoot is the fastest and most user-friendly option. So if you’re looking for a reliable way to ingest and backup your footage, I highly recommend giving OffShoot a try in your own backup workflow.
5. Keep a clean copy of your media.
Simply having multiple copies of your footage is not enough. It’s also crucial to ensure that the copies are reliable and accurate. Therefore, it’s recommended that you create backup copies of your original footage before transcoding or manipulating it in any way.
In other words, don’t make the mistake of transcoding your media first and then backing it up. If something goes wrong during the transcoding process and the resulting files become corrupted, you’ll be glad you still have the original copies to fall back on. By following this approach in your backup workflow, you’ll be able to protect your footage from any unforeseen events, ensuring you can access and work with it whenever necessary.
6. Consider online backups
Online backups are a great option for further securing your backup workflow, but they should NOT replace any part of your 3-2-1 strategies. You don’t own or fully control the storage space with online services like Google Drive or Dropbox. They could change their pricing, and policies on storage or have a system failure where your data gets lost. I used Google Drive for years under G-Suite, but they substantially changed their storage pricing last year, and I had to migrate over to Dropbox.
We use Dropbox Business, which gives us unlimited storage space. Our Dropbox has nearly 16TB of footage backed up from the past two years of projects. We have a RAID system for storing our footage (I’ll talk more about that in a bit), which automatically syncs our footage in to Dropbox. In addition to the original backup workflow of the footage, I also sync all our project files and assets at the completion of a project.
We also use BackBlaze to back up all of our computers and editing drives. Backblaze is a cloud storage and data backup service that automatically backs up all your files and external hard drives. The only note is that you’ll need to plug in any editing drives ever 30 days to be synced. Backblaze provides unlimited storage and the ability to restore lost or deleted files, making it a reliable and cost-effective option.
7. Keep your Media & Backups Safe
The importance of protecting your media at all stages of your work is highlighted by my story at the beginning of this article. Losing important footage or data due to theft, loss, or hardware failure can devastate any business, especially those in the creative production industry.
One essential precaution in your backup workflow is to ensure you don’t leave your media in a place that could be easily lost or stolen. Memory cards that haven’t been backed up yet are particularly vulnerable, and it’s best to keep them on your person rather than in a camera case or bag. This way, you can avoid the risk of losing or damaging them during transportation or storage.
When traveling, it’s also a good idea to bring an extra hard drive that you can make a copy to and then ship that copy home. This ensures that you have a backup of your data that’ll be waiting for you when you get home, even if something happens to your drives while you’re on the road.
The cost of hard drives and digital media has dropped dramatically over the years. I rarely delete footage because hard drives are cheap enough to just budget for new drives with each project. Another consideration is that not all hard drives are created equal! Even with a good backup strategy, it’s key to use name-brand drives that are less likely to fail. For field drives, I use Samsung T5 SSD drives. SSDs are much faster than a hard drive and don’t have mechanical parts that can get damaged from being bounced around.
For long-term storage, we use have a QNAP 6-Bay NAS (Network attached storage) RAID array. RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks, and it essentially combines multiple hard drives into one logical unit to improve performance, reliability, and capacity. If one hard drive in a RAID array fails, you can still access your data because it’s spread out across multiple drives. Quick note: a RAID system does NOT replace your 3-2-1 backup strategy. It can be one of the copies, but a NAS backup on a RAID are not failproof.
In the past, I relied on Finder to transfer data from my camera cards to hard drives. However, this approach sometimes resulted in errors, leaving me uncertain about the integrity of my media. Discovering a corrupted file weeks after shooting is a terrible feeling. As I mentioned earlier, OffShoot is one great option, and I’ll show some samples of the workflow below.
To use Hedge, you just need to drag your media cards to the “Sources” section and your hard drives to the “Destinations” section. To keep everything organized, it’s important to use a consistent naming scheme for your cards. Our team typically uses a combination of the camera name, card number, and camera model, such as “A01_C300” (referring to Camera A, Card 01, and the C300 model). Of course, every studio has its own system, so it’s essential to find what works best for you and your team.
Once you hit “Start Transfers, Hedge gets to work importing and verifying your media. It will show you the time remaining, as well as the transfer speeds to help you find any bottle necks in the transfer process (Slow hard drives, USB hubs, etc)
Hedge will do it’s thing and you will get a confirmation and the option to eject your media and add new cards!