September 18, 2013

Pancake Session: How We Protect Our Images

When it comes to wedding photographers, I think if there is one thing that collectively keeps us all up at night…it’s the idea of losing images.

But like all things in life, we have two choices: We can let that fear take over & bump us off our game….or we can use it to get better! :)

Justin & I have used our joint paranoia over protecting images to come up with a workflow over time that has a few built in fail-safe’s throughout each of the steps to make sure that we are handling our images the safest way possible. Some of these items have definitely been a pretty big investment for us…but this is what it is to be professionals. All of us as professional photographers, have to be responsible for guarding those little electronic files that translate into people’s memories, and making sure we’re delivering them safely. And if we’re not ready to make the investment to make sure we can do it safely, then we’re probably not ready to be trusted with that responsibility quite yet. Whew! There is some tough love happening up in the Pancake Sessions today! :) But I would rather be a little tough on you today than ever have you be in that awful position!

So here we go, our backend workflow for protecting images!

1. Redundant cards while shooting.

One of the features that we love the most about the D4 is that it comes equipped with two card slots. Which means that we can put a 32 GB card in each slot and we’re writing the RAW files twice. So that if one card ever goes corrupt, the other one is still safe & sound.

2. Shooting RAW

While I’m on the topic of cards, with as much as the cost of memory cards has come down and as affordable as good storage can be….If you’re shooting weddings, I don’t think there’s an excuse not to shoot RAW. Period. Even if you’re the most technically proficient shooter in the world, and you nail your shots in camera 99% of the time….there is still that 1%. And Murphy’s Law tells us that sooner or later that one shot you can’t bring back because you were shooting in jpeg is going to be the most important one. While shooting RAW, we’re still of course trying to nail every shot in camera so we’re not editing them for hours. But we can rest a little easier knowing that if something happens really quickly and we shoot it with the wrong settings, we have a MUCH better chance of bringing it back because we were shooting RAW.

3. Back up onsite.

While on site at the wedding, usually when things slow down during dinner, we will start a download & back up of the cards since most of the big things have already happened at that point. For portable hard drives, we really love the Lacie Rugged drives that come with this rubber case to help protect them if they get dropped. And then we’ll also use these again later when I’m pulling jobs to work on for the blog, so that I don’t have to be working off of our main copy on our RAID system. So by the time we leave the wedding we have two copies of the files: on our cards & on a hard drive. One other thing that I would add, is that we got this Think Tank card pack which can hook right to your belt loop or lens bag so that the cards are always attached to us.

4. A Redundant Storage System

Once we get back home that night, Justin will go ahead and get the files copied to our main server which is made up of a series ofLacie 2Big Thunderbolt drives. Each one of these has two 3TB drives which have been set up to mirror each other. So that if one goes down, the other one is still safe. This becomes the main version of our files, and we try never to work off of these files so that we’re not taxing the drives and also so that we keep the originals untouched.

5. Storage in the Cloud

Finally, once we’ve edited a wedding then we upload the edited jpegs to PASS where we are able to have off-site, high res storage in the Cloud. Which means that if something happened to our house, God forbid!, then we still have access to all the high res images. Which is why we also try to get them edited & uploaded pretty quickly so that it shortens that time before we have that off site storage. In the mean time, we usually try to keep a copy of the images out of the house in small cooler that we bring with us just to be safe.

Wow, that last part totally just made us sound like Newman in Jurassic Park. Why don’t we just go ahead & get a Barbasol can full of CF cards and call it a day! :)

So that’s pretty much it! Pretty extensive, I know.

But I’ll tell you this…it definitely helps us sleep better at night!

Happy Pancake Day y’all!

PS: If you have any questions, feel free to leave them below! And if you found this helpful, we would love it if you would share it on Facebook/ Pinterest so more people can benefit too. Spread the Love y’all!

  1. Rosie

    Sounds wonderful! We have a similar system for most of the backups. How do you transfer your cards onto the Hard drive? There does not seem to be a card slot…? (We have two Nikon D3s cameras)

  2. Urška Majer

    Love this post! I have a quick question…how long do you keep ALL the photos from the wedding(including those that you do not give to your clients) after a wedding & how long you keep the raw files of the images you give to you clients? :)

  3. Nat

    Guys, thank you so much for sharing these! Very helpful! I have a few questions:

    (1) I am wondering what is the main reason for your need to backup onsite? You already are shooting with two memory cards. Was it mostly for being able to pull data to edit on the go from the Lacie Rugged Drive?

    (2) When you mentioned a series of Lacie 2Big Thunderbolt. How do you connect them to your computer? Do you daisy chain them? Really curious how much storage do you have altogether?

    (3) Wouldn’t you guys consider storing RAW files in the cloud too?


  4. Janice Day

    Great post! I often see people with those card wallets hanging from their bags and it freaks me out that all it would take is for one little piece to snap and the cards could all be lost at once. I feel much better with them zipped in side a bag (that I never take off on the wedding day)

  5. Thomas Boutwell

    Great System! We use a very similar process, but we actually take it one step further. On import, we create 2 copies, one goes on our servers and the other goes on a high speed "working drive" that is always connected to our computer, which in return is automatically backed up through Backblaze cloud storage. Redundancy and off-site storage is a must! :) Thanks for the great posts!

  6. Matt Kennedy

    These are all great points! Perfectly laid out and easy to understand. Great job J+M. Hope to see you guys soon

  7. MM

    @Rosie: we are hooking the hard drive & card reader up to a laptop (which we bring with us anyway if we want to do a slideshow at the reception)!

  8. MM

    @Urska so far, we’ve just been keeping all of our RAW files always. We just put them on hard drives and store them.

  9. Joel and Amber

    I’m slightly confused on #3. Do you have a laptop that you bring along to transfer to the external drive? Or is there a super cool device you use to do it automatically?
    Assuming you use a laptop, how long does it typically take?
    And finally, what size cards do you use? I prefer to use a card large enough that I don’t have to remove it from my camera. I don’t like the idea of physically losing a card when I remove it (hence all the precautions on keeping cards safe). And I’m not worried about the card corrupting as the probability of that is so very low, plus they’re backed up on the 2nd card.

  10. Tori

    I totally bring a copy with me everywhere too, so you don’t sound crazy to me at all.

    I was wondering how many LaCie 6tb drives you have at home and where you store those when not in use? I was also wondering why you don’t work of them and what you do work off while editing.

  11. MM

    @Nat: 1) Yep exactly! This way we have extra back up and I’m ready to start culling for the blog right away. Also, we do tend to keep all the cards in one place, so we just feel safer having two different mediums 2) We have two 3TB drives that are daisy chained with thunderbolt cords 3) We’ve definitely tried it through Backblaze and it just took FOREVER. We feel pretty safe just having the edited jpegs up there

  12. MM

    @Janice: The Think Tank ones are built super rugged, so I don’t think there is much worry of them breaking and this way they are super accessible. But what Justin does is clip them to the Think Tank Lens Changer bag which has a) a place to clip it and then b) a little pocket that the card wallet then sticks into. So it keeps it extra secure

  13. MM

    @Thomas: we have tried Backblaze and felt like it was soooooo slow!! We have super fast high speed internet so that wasn’t the problem….do you have any tricks on making it go faster?

  14. MM

    @MattKennedy: we can’t WAIT to hang out with you guys in Feb…and hopefully even before then! xoxo

  15. MM

    @Joel: Ours is a hard drive that goes through the laptop (which we bring anyway for reception slideshows). We have the thunderbolt Lacie rugged drives so the transfer is super fast…I can do it during dinner. And finally we use larger cards (32 GB) so we don’t have to use that many, but I still like getting it on a drive so it’s in two mediums and another big reason is that I already have a jump on that downloading process so I can get to blogging right away & we can also just upload to the main server from the hard drive versus having to download individual cards when we get home

  16. Justin Marantz

    @Janice Here’s the Think Tank bag I carry on the wedding day:

  17. Ashlea Terhune

    Thanks for this post. Have you done any pancake sessions on white balance? It seems I spend more time "tinkering" with white balance in post production then I should. UGH.

  18. Judie

    Thanks for this post!!! I learned the hard way two weeks ago when my external HD crashed. I didn’t have a back up of it. I just didn’t think I would need it and nw I lost 3 whole years of hard work that I will never get back. I cried a few times but at this point there is no hope in recovering any of the files but believe me when I tell you it was a hard lesson learned. This couldn’t have happened at a worse time. I am getting ready to launch my Showit site at the end of the month and have no work to show :-(

  19. Rici

    Thank you for the insights! It´s soo good to reflect on your post workflow and see what improvements there be for me!
    I really love to see that you now use Pinterest to get the word around! Sooooo good!

  20. Morgan Leigh

    After reading this post, I got the LaCie Rugged right away, and I LOVE it!!! I don’t go to a wedding without it now! Next on my list is the Thunderbolt!

  21. Tamara

    Hi! Great post, quick question, to get the files from camera to the Lacie, do you use the cable that has the camera connect to the usb that would normally connect directly to the computer? Thanks!!

  22. Kathrynne

    Hi guys! I was just wondering how using the D700 affected your backup process since it doesn’t have dual card slots. Did you guys just count on the fact that both of you were shooting and so you would have reasonably the same coverage of the day in case one card failed? I ask because I’d really like to get one, but I shoot alone and I don’t want to put the images in jeopardy by only having one copy in camera. What if I backed up each part of the day on a portable right after that part is over? Thanks!

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