I was driving to my studio on a Monday morning after a long wedding weekend, ready to bust through some culling and rock the socks off my clients with how fast I would turn around their images from their wedding, then I got a phone call. “Matt, there’s been a break in at the building, are you on your way?” My heart sank, my brain went into turbo mode, and my mouth got all clammy... you know that feeling before you’re about to throw up? That's exactly how I felt.
I think I drove a little bit too fast, but I got to the studio to find the landlord and business owner from next-door standing outside pacing. My eyes were drawn right to the drilled out deadbolt in the main entrance to my second floor studio. I walked up the stairs to find an HDMI cord stretched across 3 steps, and a power strip hanging out of the kicked-in steel door. It was my worst nightmare: someone had broken in and stolen everything.
They stole my Mac Pro, my camera bag, my backup camera bag, my external hard drives, my backup external hard drives from the closet in the second room... I felt violated. I felt angry. I felt like screaming, but that would do me no good.
I quickly filed a police report and started the search for my gear on foot, and then online.
But now the worst part: I have to tell two of my favorite people that their wedding photos from just 2 days ago were stolen and I have nothing to show for them. I knew it would break their hearts and their trust in me, so I had to make sure that they were gone before I broke the news to them.
A few days later, after exhausting all resources, I sent them an email detailing what had happened and letting them know that I would be calling them that night to talk about it. They were gracious and understanding, even though it was such devastating news. We quickly contacted Global BC and CTV news, our main local television stations, and sent out a plea for the return of the photos.
After 2 weeks, we decided to move on and do a reshoot of the portrait session portion of their wedding, even though I offered to do much more, again they were gracious. We had a great time shooting and got some great portraits, but of course there was still a pit in all of our stomachs. All we could do was pray for the return of the images.
Then, 2 weeks after that portrait session, I got a phone call.
“Matt, you were the one who shot a wedding at our church in Maple Ridge about a month ago right? Somebody from Home Depot just called us to let us know that he found a leather case of memory cards in their loading dock and he dried them out and looked at the images on them and saw pictures of a wedding at our church and thought they might be important so he called me, it’s Shelyse’s wedding!”
You have no idea how excited I was! I was on top of the world and very excited for my next phone call, to the Bride and Groom!
“YOUR PHOTOS ARE BACK!!!! I’m going to pick them up right now!!”
It was honestly one of the most exciting moments in a long time for me, rivaling the birth of my first child (well maybe my second).
I raced over to the Home Depot, gift in hand, and met with the manager who had my soaking wet leather case of memory cards, all of which were perfectly in tact and working after he dried them.
So, what has this taught me, you might ask?
Since this incident, I have learned many valuable lessons relating to weddings, photography, business and relationships. In this post I’m going to explain the steps I’ve taken to make sure that this doesn’t happen again, and if you follow this solid system we’ve developed, you can do your best to ensure this doesn’t happen to you and your clients.
Something that we are responsible for is the proper storage of the images we take at a wedding or photo session. This is important because our clients aren’t paying for us to be present at their wedding (although that is part of it). We need to deliver a product along with our service. After all, they are trusting us with capturing the most important day in their lives. As a wedding photographer, I often shoot between 60-120 GB of photos for a one-day wedding. These photos need to be backed up at the wedding to ensure nothing goes wrong like before, and also to speed up the post-processing system. So here are the steps I use:
- At the beginning of the reception I back up all photos to my External Hard Drive #1 and use this for the same-day edit.
- Once the cards are on the EHD #1, also back them up on to a handheld backup device like this from B&H Photo
- At the end of the reception, backup the rest of the photos to EHD #1 and handheld backup device.
- Send your EHD#1 home with your second shooter if possible
Now your RAW files will be on your external hard drive in a separate vehicle in case something happens on the way home. You will also have the RAW files on your handheld backup so you can start working with them right away if that’s part of your post-processing system. You also have a third backup of the RAW photos on your memory cards, and these should not be formatted until you have your RAW files backed up onto a fourth location (Remember that the safest file transfers are always from the cards themselves, just in case some files are damaged on the drive for some reason, you don't want to transfer a damaged file). I always recommend that you keep your files on at least 3 sources. This may mean buying more memory cards, but that’s a small price to pay for the safety and security that you get in having a proper backup system.
Now, what if all of your backup drives get stolen? This is where Cloud Storage and online backup systems come in. They are costly but necessary in order to properly protect your files. I would suggest you look into a system like Backblaze as an option for your RAW storage. For more peace of mind, you can consider backing up your Lightroom 5 smart previews to an online system right away so that you have workable RAW files that can still export to an acceptable size for most people. The smart previews are 95% smaller than the original RAW files, but I will go into this more in depth in another post. The most important thing is just having off-site storage of your files as quickly as possible.
There are many other points to talk about in this system, but I will be going into more depth on them in future articles. I will also try to update the links below as they are published.
- Lightroom 5 smart previews – editable and exportable small RAW files
- What is high-resolution, and how should you deliver images to your clients?
- Same day slideshows to bring in referrals and spoil your clients
- Image workflow and storage from capture to delivery…and beyond with PASS