How I Backup my Aperture Library (Part 1)
Today’s guest post is by Mel Ashar. Mel is a landscape and architectural photographer based in San Francisco. His clients include architects, designers and real estate professionals around the Bay Area. You can read more about him and see Mel’s work at melashar.com, read his blog at melashar.com/blog or follow him on Twitter @melashar.
How I Backup my Aperture Library (Part 1)
by Mel Ashar
As professional photographers, we constantly have to consider how to protect the image libraries that we have poured so much time, energy and expense into building. As software, hardware, bandwidth, file sizes and business models evolve, so do our backup needs.
When I first started shooting professionally 6 years ago, a backup of my photo library would easily fit on a single DVD-ROM (4-5 GB). Later, I switched to a 16 GB USB thumb drive, which I carried everywhere on a keyring with my house and car keys! I enjoyed the comfort of keeping my data attached to the two things I would want to escape with in case of a fire or earthquake. That comfort was short lived, and I quickly outgrew those 16 gigs.
As my collection grew, I started backing it up to an 80 GB USB hard drive that stayed connected to my desktop PC. Over time, I upgraded to faster, larger USB 2.0 drives, which ended up costing the same as the 80 GB once did. I also tried the many online backup services that have popped up over the last few years, including iDrive, Mozy, Carbonite, Backblaze etc.
Today, we’re in somewhat of a golden age of backup with countless reliable, inexpensive options available for protecting our data. Unfortunately, all these options have tradeoffs when the amount of data being backed up approaches or exceeds 100 GB. Anecdotally, most professional photographers have 200 to 500 GB or more of data in their professional libraries, which pushes them against the limits of disk space and bandwidth that is conveniently available for backup purposes.
I would like to share the challenges I ran into when trying to backup my own images, and what my current backup strategy is. This is not meant to be a prescriptive article, nor is mine the only way, or the best way to do it. This is simply an explanation of how and why I backup my photos in a certain way today. You may wish to adopt a part of this strategy, or suggest improvements. Your feedback and criticism is encouraged so that we can all learn from each others’ workflows.
First, a little background. I use Aperture as my DAM tool, but most of what I describe applies to Lightroom as well. There is very little Aperture-specific data in this article.
I currently have about 200 GB of professional photos in my working library. As a landscape photographer, I shoot roughly twice a week, and a typical shoot for me results in about 100 keepers. At 25 MB per file, the average size of each shoot is 2.5 GB. Therefore, I’m adding about 5 GB of new data every week. I realize that this is where my needs as a landscape photographer differ from, say, a wedding photographer’s, who might produce many more gigs of data per shoot. However, the strategy I describe below should easily scale up to at least a terabyte.
My main (and only) computer currently is the 15ʺ Retina MacBook Pro with a 750 GB SSD drive. With that large drive, I’m able to easily fit my entire Aperture library on the MacBook. I avoid external drives so I don’t have to sync libraries, or worry about not having access to certain RAW files when I’m traveling. I travel frequently on photography assignments, so it’s important for me to be able to “pack and go” at the last minute without worrying if I have all the photos I’ll need on the road.
Now let’s discuss the three components of my backup strategy: offline, offsite, and online.
Offline is the easiest, cheapest and most straightforward. Because all my photos are on a single drive on the MacBook, I use the simplest tool available to back them up — Time Machine. This comes free with every Mac, and is the closest thing I’ve found to “set it and forget it”. I have a 500 GB external USB drive connected to my 27ʺ Thunderbolt display. Every time my MacBook docks to it (at least 2-3 times a day when I’m home), Time Machine kicks in and automatically backs everything up. I don’t even have to physically plug/unplug the drive since it uses the USB connection on the back of the Thunderbolt display. If necessary, it’s easy to recover single files or an entire drive, since the Time Machine backup can be browsed using the Finder (or its Startrek UI).
Hats off to Apple for making Time Machine so simple, reliable and hassle free. My only gripe with this is having to manually eject the drive before undocking the MacBook. Forgetting to Eject brings up one of the ugliest dialog I’ve seen on any Apple software:
Anyway, that is my first line of defense. The next step is offsite backup to protect against, say, my house burning down.
Part 2 will be posted next week.