I could have lost my entire digital photo library yesterday. Fortunately, it was just a days worth of images. Unfortunately, it was my day at the Taj Mahal. The image you see above is one of only two images that I have a copy of left. I'm glad it's that image, as it was my favorite from the day, but there were several others that I'm disappointed I won't ever have again. Something that I have had to teach myself over and over is that the photos on my HDD are the most valuable thing I own as a photographer. Cameras can be replaced. Moments captured cannot. It's why I tell people to get their camera gear insured, so you don't have to worry about it if it breaks or gets stolen. You can't repurchase your images off Amazon.
So I think it is a fitting time to take the time to talk about my gear and what I'm traveling with to manage all of my photographs I create. This isn't meant as a shock and awe post, but rather a discussion of how I manage and protect my images on the road, something I had planned to do anyway at some point, with a healthy dose of timely reality. Digital photography introduces amazing flexibility, with the risk that in one electronic glitch, it could all be lost. Here is my (updated) digital work flow while traveling (sorry for the cheesy graphic):
When I set out on the trip, I bought 2 LaCie Rugged 1TB hard drives and set them in a mirrored RAID arrangement (a way to make duplicate copies that update themselves automatically). That was it. Well, I had to do a RAID rebuild because something got out of whack on one of the drives, and then my computer shutdown on me unexpectedly in the middle of it. When I started it back up, the drive that got out of sync was corrupted. I'm feeling very very lucky that the other drive was not and that my photos and files were all intact, except for one days worth of images for some reason. So I realized two drives are not enough and I immediately went out and bought a third 1TB drive (the Western Digital). I had considered a third drive before I left on the trip, but figured to cut down on weight and things I have to carry, two drives would be sufficient. The third drive is for a copy of ONLY my RAW files, straight from the camera, and nothing else, as a fail safe that only gets used when I import from my memory card. Lightroom makes this easy to do on import by selecting "save a second copy" on the import screen. It will make a copy right off of the memory card to the separate drive.
That's my photo storage setup. This arrangement provides for protection against hardware failure only but it is not necessarily a "back up strategy." The back up portion comes in by separating copies of files in two physically different locations. I do this by separating the two RAID drives, having one on me at all times, and the other in my backpack (in the room, the roof of a bus, chained up in a train, wherever I am not or am prone to not be even for a few minutes).
Even if photography is just your hobby, and all you have are family photos (which I would consider just as or more important) have some sort file protection system, even if it is just to protect against hardware failure. Loss of images, important documents, etc. is becoming more and more of an issue, as more things move into the digital realm. I'll point you to two resources that helped me think about what I was doing with regards to backups.
Most people know Chase Jarvis, but if you don't grab a cup of coffee or tea and sit down and cruise his blog. Here is his complete workflow and digital file management system. While it is way more than you or I probably need or can afford, as we are not working on multi million dollar advertising campaigns, it is something to consider and learn from.
The other place I will point you to is something you have to pay for, but is very very detailed. I have purchased this (maybe a year ago) and found it extremely helpful. It is Gavin Gough's ebook called The Photographer's Workflow. I highly recommend it if you are interested in protecting your images. (It also includes a whole lot more than just the ebook)
Another option to consider is the cloud. Flickr gave everyone a free 1TB not too long ago. Unfortunately, I can't use it, as the internet connections in this part of the world aren't sufficient for that type of data transfer. I've found that my system should protect from most problems (drive failure, theft, damage in transport), and now with the 3rd drive added in, this will give me an added layer in the event that something goes wrong with the RAID arrangement again (something I didn't put enough weight on before I left). For those that already have a backup strategy, how do you do it? Take time to play the "what if" game, and see if you're covered.