Backing Up Your Digital Files
We’ve been focusing on organizational issues this month, so it’s time to have “the talk.” You know, the one about backing up your files. You hear it all the time, don’t you? “Have you backed up your files lately?” You’ve also heard all the horror stories. People who have lost all their photos, digital pages, digital supplies. It’s so sad when you hear of that happening to someone else, but do you back up regularly? Or are you one of those people who think that the inevitable will never happen to them? I’m here to give you some tips on backing up your digital files. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro at back ups, this article is for you . . .
Back Up Methods
There are several methods for backing up your digital files – including DVDs, External Hard Drives (EHDs) and online back up services (also known as Cloud Services). It won’t take long for you to outgrow the DVD method of backing up. Given the size of most digital kits and pages these days, you won’t be able to fit more than a few on each DVD, so it is a method best reserved for special occasions where you want to package specific materials such as a digital album that you want to give as a gift or keep for yourself. I’m going to focus on EHD storage and online (or Cloud) storage.
External Hard Drives
Most people use EHDs as their first (and sometimes only) level of back up. You can get portable EHDs that range from 2-3 Terabytes (TB) in size for a very reasonable price now. Desktop EHDs (which are about the size of a small hard back book) are available with 4 or more TBs now. To put things in perspective, 1 TB = 1,048,576 Megabytes. Assuming the average size for a digital kit is 250 megabytes – a 1 TB EHD would hold approximately 4,194 digital kits. Although the size of a layered PSD file varies greatly, depending on the number of layers it has, assuming an average size of 500 megabytes, a 1 TB EHD would hold 2, 097 layered files. And you get the idea. Depending on how many kits you buy and how many pages you create on a weekly (or monthly) basis, even a 1TB drive will last you quite a while. There are many different brands of EHDs, some reliable some not. I suggest you research the market before investing money in one. I also suggest that you go with the largest amount of storage you can afford at the time of your purchase. I remember the first time I bought an EHD. It was 750 gigabytes and I thought it would last forever. It wasn’t long before I wished I’d gone with the 2TB model. Also keep in mind that you’re storing photos, digital pages and digital supplies – which eat up storage space much more quickly than you think.
While EHDs are great because they can hold large amounts of digital material in a very portable form, the problem is that they – like computer hard drives – sometimes fail. If you’re using it as a back up source, that means you should still have a copy of all your files on your computer hard drive. But what if something happens to both your computer and your back up source? This is where online back up services come into play. They protect you from natural disasters and other things that might destroy your computer and EHDs (which are generally stored in the same location).
If you’re already using an EHD, you might wonder why you need online back up too. The truth is, EHDs are great, but if your house burns down, or is destroyed by a tornado, or [insert natural disaster] – it doesn’t matter how many EHDs you have your files backed up on, they will all be destroyed (along with your desktop and laptop computers). Online backup solves this problem, because your files are backed up offsite (i.e. in “The Cloud”). Many people today rely solely on Cloud back up services. Depending on how many files you have, there are some free back up services. However, if you are looking for an on line back up service, it is likely that you have too many files to qualify for the free services.
As with EHDs, there are many different online back up services available. The three most common ones that I hear mentioned in the digital community are Backblaze, Crash Plan and Mozy. Some services allow an unlimited amount of storage, others base their prices on the amount of storage you want. The monthly fees range from $5 – $10, and there are discounts if you pay for an entire year at once. Some services also have an option where you can have a EHD with all your files overnighted to you if your computer hard drive fails. Another factor to consider is whether you want to back up from your computer hard drive or from an EHD or both. Some services only allow back up from the hard drive, while others allow you to back up from an EHD. Depending on your particular needs, $5 a month is a small price to pay for the security of your digital files and photos. After all, it’s the price of one grande vanilla latte from Starbucks, right? Again, I suggest that you research the market before deciding on a particular cloud service.
What to Back Up
Now that you’re familiar with the different types of back up methods, the next question is what do you back up? Photos (yes), digital pages that you create (yes), digital supplies (yes). If you are working with limited space, you will need to prioritize – maybe limiting it to one of the categories listed, or only backing up your favorites from each. And, of course, you need to go through and purge your digital supplies regularly (whether you have back up space limitations or not). Lisa talked about purging digital supplies in her post HERE, so if you missed it, be sure to check it out. Since she covered purging digital supplies, I’m going to focus on photos and digital pages.
The digital age has given us a lot of freedom in the photography process. When you’re using film and the paying for the development costs, most people don’t have the luxury of taking 20 shots of the same pose. But with a digital camera, you can take as many shots as you want (or that your memory card will hold) without incurring any extra cost. And we do take lots (and lots) of digital photos, don’t we? But when we download them to the computer, we notice that maybe 5 out of every 20 are really “keepers.” Even if you managed to take 20 great shots of the exact same thing – do you really need all of them? Or are 2-3 actually enough? Sorting out the bad and extra shots can save you lots of space on an EHD or limited online back up plan – especially if you shoot in RAW format (versus or in addition to JPEG).
As opposed to digital supplies, which you purge after you’ve used them or when they don’t fit your creative style anymore, photos shouldn’t be purged on an annual basis. Instead, they should be sorted and purged right out of the camera. In fact, I’ve started deleting the really bad photos while they’re still in my camera. That way, they never make it to the hard drive (or any back up). I also sort through my photos when I download them and immediately weed out the ones that looked OK on the small camera screen, but not on a regular size computer screen and the duplicates. I shoot in RAW format, so this sorting process ends up saving me lots of valuable EHD space. Unless you have a gigantic photo shoot, or wait until your 32MB video card is full to download, it should be a pretty quick and painless process.
What you do with your digital pages is a little more complicated. Depending on what program you use to create your pages, you’ll probably end up with a layered file (such as a PSD or TIFF), a much smaller 72 dpi web size compressed file, and maybe a larger 300 dpi flattened file (if you print your digital pages). Which ones do you keep and back up? The web sized files don’t take up much room at all so they’re easy to keep, but what about the larger layered and print files? You’ll probably want to keep at least one of them (until you actually have the page printed). I keep the web sized files and my layered PSD files and delete the larger flattened files once the pages have been printed. However, I know that many people choose to delete their layered file (the largest one) as soon as it is printed, or as soon as the web version is posted if they don’t plan to print. It’s really a matter a personal choice. I tend to save the layered files in case I decide to print a page later, or if I want access to the individual layers on a page later. There have been several times when I’ve gone back to a layered file either to make changes or because I decided to print a page after the fact.
Process of Backing Up
Once you have decided what to keep and what to purge, it’s time to think about back up plans. Many EHDs come with software that automatically backs up certain files for you. Some computer security programs also have this option. Online services generally back up on a set schedule. If not, you need to do it yourself. My suggestion is that you back up as soon as you download files to your computer hard drive. That way, you don’t have to worry about remembering which files need to be backed up. This is good practice for digital kits, photos and digital pages.
For example, I back up my photos as soon as I download them from my camera. In fact, I won’t delete them from my camera’s memory card until they’re saved to at least two different sources (usually my computer hard drive and an EHD). They are also backed up regularly through an online system. I also back up my digital pages immediately after they are saved to my computer hard drive.
Whatever process works best for you is fine. Just make sure you do it on a regular basis.
I hope this article has been informative and, at the very least, has inspired you to do some backing up!
Until next time ~