Data Storage and Backup: My Workflow

My current iMac setupYesterday I was touring some Flickr groups when I stumbled into one dedicated to engagement and wedding photography. In that particular group, there was a photographer who, through an unfortunate hardware failure, lost some photos they had just shot for some clients. Immediately, I was sympathetic because lets face it, as a photographer this is one of the worst things (if not the worst) that you can tell a client.

It was after that when I started thinking the importance for having a digital workflow to control and backup your data. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and surfing all across the web and I’ve found countless articles on post-processing, shooting tips, working with clients, but sadly the backup and data storage articles are few and far between. How you manage your files is very important...not just for you, but for your clients as well. Your images are just too important to risk by not having a dedicated digital workflow and backup solution.

I take my storage and backup very seriously. In this post, my goal is to share my workflow from start to finish and hopefully give you a few things to think about as you develop or refine yours. Remember that your workflow doesn’t have to be the same as mine. Yours could be smaller or larger, but just make sure that it really works for you. Finally, make sure your workflow includes a step that requires you to store multiple copies of all your data. Lets dive in...

Here is my current workflow:

workflow pt.1 workflow pt.2 workflow pt.3

PHASE ONE 1. Completion of Photoshoot. Once the photoshoot is completed, I take the memory cards out of the camera and place them in an aluminum case which then gets zipped in my camera bag. When the cards are locked away, I take them back to home to begin the importing process. 2. Import Photos from Cards. Once at home, I stick the cards into my card reader and begin the import process. I never store my photos on the hard drive that's in my computer. The reason behind this is mainly because it eats up a lot of space and I would rather use that hard drive space for the system and programs. Another reason is because I like the idea of having my files portable so if I needed to take them with me, I can just grab a hard drive. 3. Import Photos into a new Lightroom Catalog. I use Lightroom to rip the photos off the cards and store them on my external drive by using the "Copy files to new location and add to catalog" feature. I really like this because it basically takes the two steps of copying and importing photos and combines them into one. Each time I do a photoshoot, it gets a new catalog in Lightroom. This is just a personal preference that I have set up to keep me organized and ensure that I'm only working on the photos I need to. I go to great lengths to keep my file structure organized so that I am able to find things quickly and easily. Within the photos folder on my hard drive, I have other folders labeled with years (e.g. 2010). Within that folder are all my shoots for that particular year. They are labeled with reverse dates and a description so I know exactly what shoot I'm looking at. For example, if I shot the Miller Wedding on September 18th, 2010; the folder name would be "20100918_Miller Wedding." This ensures that when your computer organizes the folders, the events are put in the correct order. Inside the event folder I have the Lightroom catalog file and another folder called RAWS which contains the RAW files from the card that Lightroom imported.

PHASE TWO 4.Write Photos to Both External Drives. As Lightroom is copying the and importing the RAWS, I take this opportunity to begin my backup process. When I open Lightroom and select "Copy files to new location and add to catalog," I select Hard Drive A as my main storage. At the same time, I tell it to write all the photos to Hard Drive B as well so instantly I have multiple copies of all my RAW data. I then tell Lightroom to backup the catalog to Hard Drive B every time I start Lightroom so that I have a backup catalog that contains all my ratings, color codings, and most edits. As you can see, all of this is an important step. I make multiple copies of my files as soon as I can because they are just to important to me and my clients. Plus, I really don't want to have "the talk" with them to tell them I lost their files. 5. Upload to Off-Site Server. Now that I have multiple copies on different hard drives, I begin uploading the photos to an off-site storage for added security. This protects all my files in case of fire, theft, or some kind of natural disaster that could potentially destroy my files at home. No matter what, I know I have a copy of them somewhere that is safe. For an online backup solution, I've chosen CrashPlan. For less than $5 a month, I can have unlimited storage to a secure, off-site location. There are many features that come with CrashPlan that I customize to make the online backup a bit easier and more accurate. With CrashPlan I can select the folders I want to backup, select the frequency of the backups, and even have it upload only the files that have changed. One one hand, it's like Apple Time just runs in the background doing automatic backups. On the other hand, it's better because you can fine tune it to only store what you want. 6. Organize and Catalog Images. Once I have my images uploaded and backed up, I begin going through them. My first step is to cull the images to select the ones I will keep. I go through all of them giving them star ratings based on how much I like them, then I tell Lightroom to filter out a specific group (e.g. 3 stars and under). Now that I'm seeing the photos I want to keep and present to my clients, I further organize these by using color coding and flagging. Currently, I put a red color code on photos that will be used for a blog post and among those I'll flag the images I want to use for my portfolio.

PHASE THREE 7. Edit Photos and Export. After everything is backed up and organized, I'll begin making my edits to the photos. 95% of my editing is done in Lightroom. I typically edit by doing some color correction, adjusting the exposure, contrast, color, clarity, sharpness, and adding a vignette if needed. Once I have all the photos edited to my liking, I'll export high-res jpegs into a folder called "LR Exports" within the event folder. 8. Final Touches in Photoshop. Sometimes I'm happy with the images as they come out of Lightroom and sometimes I think they need a little punch. This is why I sometimes bring them into Photoshop to modify them using some custom actions to help define my style. Images intended for blog use are also modified at this stage by adding some finishing touches, resizing, and sharpening for the web. They are then saved in a folder called "Blog." All the other photos are tweaked in Photoshop and then saved into a folder called "PS Exports." This folder contains all the final high-res images that will be presented to the client. 9. Blog Photos and Present to Client. After all the editing is done, it's time to show the images to the world. I make a blog post and upload the blog images to share and use for promotional purposes. At the same time, I take the final images in the "PS Exports" folder and burn them to a disk. Once the disk is made, I package them to make a nice presentation and arrange to deliver them to the client.

So there you have it...that's a run-down of my workflow from start to finish. It may seem simple or it may seem complex to you, but it really works to keep me moving efficiently. Lets recap some of the more important things to keep in mind when designing your backup solution: • ALWAYS have multiple copies of your files both on and off-site. You want to keep yourself covered in case one or both hard drives fail. • Backup fast and often. As soon as you can, make sure you create your backups, you never know when something might fail. • Copy both your RAW photos and your edited photos. You never know if you'll need to go back and make more edits. • Backup everything, not just photos. Make sure you copy your emails, business documents, branding materials, etc. • Keep everything organized. It does no good to have multiple copies if you still can't find what you want. • Stick to your workflow. It only works if you follow it. An effective workflow and backup solution can keep your files safe for years to come.

Thanks for hanging with me through this long post. Hopefully you found this post informative and I hope it gave you some ideas to help you develop or refine your workflow. Please spread the word by sharing with your friends and colleagues. If you've got questions or comments, feedback is always welcome so drop me a line.