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Tips and techniques

Backing Up

By February 23, 2018No Comments

View from atop Hunt’s Mesa in Monument Valley Tribal Park of the Navajo Nation, AZ. © Jerry Ginsberg

Story and photographs by Jerry Ginsberg


To apply some advice that I received several years ago, one hard drive will annoy ya….two are a paranoia. The hard truth is that only three things in life are certain: death, taxes and hard drive failures. They all have finite life spans. No matter how sophisticated your drives may be, given enough use over enough time, they will fail.  Not if, but when.

Pink rhododendrons blooming in the spring in Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Redwood National Park, CA. © Jerry Ginsberg

In the days of film photography, we had the negatives and original chromes upon which to fall back. However, when those pixels evaporate, they’re gone! What to do to safeguard our precious images? We worked hard and often paid dearly to get many of these shots. We cannot afford to have them simply disappear. The answer is – back-up, back-up, back-up and then back-up some more.

For those of us who have experienced Murphy’s Law, there is no substitute for safety. Storage devices have become so inexpensive compared to their prices of just a few short years ago, that there is no excuse not to take every precaution to protect our irreplaceable data.

What do I do? Let me tell you.

Whenever I complete a location shoot, whether a full day or just a couple of hours, I immediately make one or more folders on the desktop of my laptop and download all cards into those folders, then I copy those folders onto at least one USB drive AND one (or two!) external hard drives.
Since I do not yet re-format my cards, I will be returning home with at least four or five sets of image files. I make sure to keep the cards in my briefcase and the USB drives in my pocket; never, but NEVER putting them in my checked baggage. That way, no matter what diabolical plan an airline might have in store for my luggage, I can be confident that my images will make it home safely.Grizzly bear enjoying a salmon in the Brooks River, Katmai National Park, Alaska.

Grizzly bear enjoying a salmon in the Brooks River, Katmai National Park, Alaska. © Jerry Ginsberg

Once back in the office, the real fun begins. First, I download all of the actual cards into my big workstation computer on which I run Photoshop, plug-ins and related software. After putting the image files into folders labeled by location, arranging into logical order, renaming, numbering, ranking and a lot of keywording, I make a duplicate set of these RAW files converted to Adobe’s open .dng format.

My next step is to start creating multiple sets of copies of the RAW files in both native and .dng formats. For each set, I burn archival gold DVDs with a 100 year guarantee. (If those disks should fail a mere century from now, the manufacturer is going to get a very strongly worded letter!) Once that task is completed, I begin copying the same folders to two separate NAS (Network Attached Storage) boxes.

Wait! There’s more.

Those NAS boxes contain multiple hard drives and are set to operate at RAID 1 (Redundant Array of Independent Disks). That means that everything saved to one disk is automatically mirrored in full to a second disk.

Remote Cape Krusenstern National Monument on Alaska’s northwestern coast juts into the Bering Sea. © Jerry Ginsberg

So, two hard drives in each of two enclosures plus a set of DVDs makes five copies. Then there are the .dng files. Doubling those five makes a total of TEN sets of the same files. Lots and lots of redundancy. Overkill? Maybe, but those pixels are as perishable as milk on a hot day.  I want to make very sure that whatever happens, those files are retrievable in the long term.

After all of these steps are completed, I finally process the best selected images, save the resulting layered .psd’s to yet more DVDs and hard drives, flatten the layers, save as Tiffs and upload to the cloud. This final step gives me the last leg of the stool; the all-important location diversity. So if, Heaven forbid, my office where the disks and hard drives live should burn down to the ground, I still have the selected images.

Yes, overall it does seem to be a bit of overkill, but at the end of the day, I can feel reasonably confident that I have taken every prudent step to protect my images.

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they’re not out to get you,” loosely quoting Henry Kissinger.


Jerry Ginsberg is a freelance photographer whose landscape and travel images have graced the pages and covers of hundreds of books, magazines and travel catalogs. He is the only person to have photographed each and every one of America’s National Parks with medium format cameras.
His works have been exhibited from coast to coast and have received numerous awards in competition.

Jerry’s photographic archive spans virtually all of both North and South America.  More of Ginsberg’s images are on display at  Or email him at