Are you backing up your digital photographs? Are you prepared for when (not if) your hard drive fails? Here's a horror story with a happy ending and a lesson learned.
Some of you will have notice that my last article was a little delayed. Did I have to wait extra long for the lenses I tested? Did I have to go through thousand of photos to find just the right ones? Was I kidnapped by black-market memory card pirates and have to make an escape worthy of a Steve McQueen movie?
No. It was far worse: My external drive with the article in question...and all the photos for that story...and much more...had failed.
Pre-Fashion Week Failure
Like many of you, I take lots of photos. Lots. Twice a year, I’ll take between 30-50 thousand in just one week at the various fashion shows I cover during the Spring and Fall fashion week shows in New York City. Like the vast majority of my fellows, I keep all these photos on an external drive for storage. Like many, the day came when my external drive was approaching full capacity. The prospect of burning 1TB of files onto a DVD was not attractive to me, so I decided to buy a nice new 4TB drive. In the meantime, however, I needed to get some cards dumped with my client’s work on it as well as images I shot for my story.
What was I to do? Sure, I could transfer the cards to my local drive, but that was an unsavory idea to me. At that moment my eyes fell upon a small pocket hard drive I owned. This little 500GB drive I had purchased to keep the aforementioned Fashion Week photos. I buy one of these drives once a year and store all the fashion shows I shoot that year on it. Quickly mounting the drive I discovered about 50GB of free space. Ahhh—enough space to place the work I had shot temporarily until my new 4TB drive arrived! I happily transferred my cards over and began my editing and post-production process.
"Fashion Shows Vol. 3": This external hard drive was the cause of my latest neurosis.
The next day, I went to my computer and tried to access the drive known to me as “Fashion Shows Vol 3”. Error. Hmmm…I rebooted my computer. Drive not recognized, would I like to format it? Hmmmm…..I dismounted the drive unplugged it and tried mounting it again. Again the error message asking me to reformat the drive popped up.
Au revoir, photos!
I did the next logical thing: I went into immediate panic! I had just transferred 20GB of client work onto that drive the night before! I had already erased the memory cards, and color balanced and edited some of the shots! 12 man hours of work now lost to the digital ether! What was I to do?!?!?!?!? Reshoot a look book? Not likely. Commit sepuku? Damn, I just sent my sword in for sharpening. Go join the Foreign Legion and hide from my clients? That would mean learning French.
Thankfully, reason grabbed hold of me and I immediately remembered that a far less extreme option than the forced learning of French was available to me: data recovery! Taking a deep breath, I took the drive to Digital Society over on Broadway and 10th. Walking in I felt as if I was walking into a morgue, the dread upon me. Had I lost all the data? Could the data be recovered in anything that resembled coherent files? How much was that Berlitz primer on French?
Saved—and a new Plan "B"
As I sat there waiting for the verdict my mind raced with the sure anger of my clients. All that work lost. However good news came from behind the curtain. They had managed to mount the drive in a read-only mode using whatever magic and technological know how at hand. I rushed home and transferred the drive immediately to my new 4TB drive. I had lost only one file, an old shot from a fashion show, all recently transferred work in perfect condition.
What I learned from all this is that besides an aversion to learning French, I had to develop a new back-up routine. With the volume that I shoot, a DVD was no longer a real option for long term storage. Thankfully Blue Ray disks hold 25GB of data, allowing for far fewer disks to back up. I would highly recommend one such as the one by Buffalo Technologies (photo above). With the size of files today there is no easy answer for backing up your data for when the worst happens, however it is good to know that data recovery does work, and there are folks out there that understand this technology, and can rescue you from angry clients and the need to develop an appreciation for escargot.
A typical 4TB external drive.