If you’re shooting on location for a few days, you’re probably bringing a laptop. But are you backing everything up? A few years ago when file sizes were smaller, I would bring a pile of CDs for backup. The routine would be to download the memory cards to the computer via Firewire cardreader, and then burn a few CDs. Two years ago on a 6 day shoot in New Mexico my laptop died. I sent it into the shop and no data was recoverable. All of the sudden that time I spent burning CDs every day didn’t seem so bad. I didn’t lose a single image.
Now that it’s 12-15MB every time you press the shutter release, CDs aren’t a good option. DVD burners are even slower. There are two general types of solutions for backup — portable hard drives, or a portable storage device. Portable storage devices are battery powered drives, some with an LCD screen that lets you review images. Some of these have amazing screens and are easy to use, but cost a lot – like the Epson P-4000. While the portable storage devices seem like a great way to skip bringing a laptop on location, they are not a good solution unless you can buy two. You always need at least 2 copies of your files.
I like to have the ability to organize, rate, and add metadata to images on location so I have less to do when I get home, which makes a laptop plus a small hard drive a better solution for backup. If you use a Mac, have a look at the One World Computing (OWC) bus-powered drives. These are small, lightweight, simple drives for around $100-150. Just download your images via cardreader to your laptop, then backup to the OWC drive via Firewire or USB2. Very simple and fast.
Now if you’re really careful, when your laptop is back in the hotel room, you can keep the little OWC drive on you at all times. Two people I know have had laptops stolen out of hotel rooms this year. Carrying a little drive around is called paranoid until something bad happens, and then it’s called smart.
Here’s another good idea if you’re on a Mac — SuperDuper! SuperDuper! is a really easy to use backup program that creates a clone of your harddrive. Let’s say your laptop has an 80GB drive, and you have a OWC 80GB drive for backup. SuperDuper! will make a bootable clone of your laptop drive on the portable harddrive. Not only are you backing up your precious images, you’re backing up everything on your laptop, including those Photoshop settings you spent so long fiddling around with to get right. Hard to believe, but it’s only $27.95.
I use SuperDuper! on my home computer, too. Downloaded images are backed up right away by dragging and dropping to a firewire harddrive that lives on top of my computer. Then once every week or two, I run SuperDuper! to make sure I didn’t miss anything. If my computer takes a dive, restoring is easy — my firewire backup is a fully bootable clone. Get in the habit of using good backup strategies now, and spend less time crying later when your laptop falls in a lake or your computer starts making funny sounds and dies. Anyone that’s had a data disaster will agree that it’s worth the effort. And if you haven’t read Peter Krogh’s The DAM Book, there’s no time like the present.