Warning, this is about to get super nerdy with some photographer talk. Backups are something that play a big role in any professional shoot I’m doing, especially weddings. Here’s a quick breakdown of the system I’ve put in place. Admittedly, it may be slightly over the top, but it makes me sleep better at night after a shoot.

Step 1:

Except for a couple of extremely specific situations, I will photograph professional jobs with my Canon system. This allows for me to have two cards loaded in camera that are mirrored. This means that when I push the shutter button, the camera saves a copy of the image to each card.

Early on when I would shoot with single cards I would spend the day rotating them out in case of a failure. That way if you lost something, you wouldn’t lose the whole day. There was a risk to dropping, damaging, or losing the cards during the exchange, but it was best practice

With this, I put in 2 128gb cards in each camera and shoot all day. They never come out, they never are in danger, and I don’t touch them.

That is until…

Step 2:

The day is over and it’s time to go home. I will take one card from each camera and put it in a card wallet that goes in my pocket while the remaining cards stay in their respective cameras.

This step is important because I have seen multiple stories about photographers who’s car was broken into or outright stolen while they stopped for gas, food, etc on the way home. If I have to go into a store for any reason and something happens to the cameras, I’ve got a copy on me.

Insurance can replace the cameras, but those photographs can’t be replaced.

Step 3:

I have had numerous systems for this step, but currently this is my favorite setup. I have a DJI Co-Pilot that comes out of the bag and sits in the front seat with me. This is a small portable hard drive that I could drop a dozen times on the concrete and not have an issue. It also has a card reader, usb port, and it’s on internal software to run backups.

As I leave for the final drive home after any possible stops along the way, I start backing up the images from the memory cards in my card wallet to this hard drive. By the time I get home that will give me 3 copies of the photographs.

I leave the DJI drive in my car in the garage, bring the camera bags inside, and use the cards from the card wallet for the rest of the steps. We’re not to an offsite backup yet, but leaving that hard drive in the car gives a little separation if there was a fire or some other issue in the night.

Step 4:

This step is partly about backup, but also about organization. I use a program called Photomechanic to import the files from the memory cards. When this process takes place a few things are happening.

The first of which is that the files are copied to two different locations giving us 5 copies at this point. These two locations are on Drobos, which I will get to in the next step.

They are also automatically (thanks to settings I’ve added to the software) put in subfolders by the date and job name. The files are also renamed from the default camera names to something more identifiable. Here’s a look at my naming scheme.

201107-111433_Mullins Wedding_39-X-T3_WesBrown.RAF


These will be renamed one more time down the road when I sync the times, but that’s not part of this process.

Step 5:

We now have five copies of the photographs and two of those reside on separate Drobos.

A Drobo is a physical box that has an array of individual hard drives inside of it. Mine each have five hard drives and to my system sees them as a single hard drive. Without getting too deep in the weeds, when I copy a file to that drive it is spread across multiple drives for safety.

This means if a hard drive files in the Drobo that I simply pull it out (without even turning the power off) and slide a new one in. That new hard drive begins have the data it was supposed to store copied back over from the remaining drives. It’s a slower process than I would like, but it’s safe.

Step 6:

This is where we start the offsite backup process. Once the files are on the Drobos they begin backing up to the cloud, but that takes a few days for a wedding. I’ll get to that in a bit.

The other offsite step is that I copy the files to either Mobile A or Mobile B. These are two duplicate drives that are never in my possession together. That means if Mobile A is here with me, then Mobile B is at an offsite location (shout out to Mom’s house).

That puts us up to 6 copies of the files and this is the time when I actually go to sleep after a wedding. I’ll admit I’ve dozed off in the chair while all this is happening and over the years I’ve actually automated most of it. However, until I see copies of files spread across everything I can’t go lay down.

Step 7:

I wake up. I grab the Mobile A drive, get in the car, and drive it offsite. Once there I leave Mobile A and bring Mobile B back home. Technically when I get home I plug in Mobile B and it gets a copy too, but until it receives the next job I don’t really think of it as being part of the backup chain.

Step 8:

With an event as large as a wedding, I come home with an absurd amount of files. As I mentioned in step 6, they begin uploading to the cloud immediately once they are on the Drobos. That is late Saturday or early Sunday depending on how you look at it. It will be Tuesday before they’re fully online, but again that’s automated in the background. I don’t have to think about it.

These files reside on a server a few thousand miles away and I assume they have redundancies in place as well. Therefore if the house burns down, the offsite where my mobile drive is stored is flooded, and all is lost…then the company I use for online backup (Backblaze) sends me a hard drive in the mail and we’re back at it.

At this point we have a minimum of seven copies of the files. Two of those are protected through redundancy. One is located offsite locally. One is located offsite a couple thousand miles away.

This would be the first time I’d be comfortable formatting any memory cards from the event, but I still generally won’t do that until I’ve edited them.

I didn’t bring it up, but a lot of this is made super easy because I use a program called Carbon Copy Cloner. It compares drives, folders, and files in groups that I’ve setup. So when I plug Mobile B for example, CCC recognizes it, and inspects the folders. If it sees that the drive doesn’t have the new files already it starts copying automatically.