Wedding Photos Stolen! Why Backup Systems Are Important

Wedding Photos Stolen! Why Backup Systems Are Important

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Once the cards are on the EHD #1, also back them up on to a handheld backup device like this from B&H Photo
  3. At the end of the reception, backup the rest of the photos to EHD #1 and handheld backup device.
  4. 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

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That can't be a good day in the office... damn. although i'd be VERY suspicious of the person who "found a leather case with cards in them"...

get a lotery ticket... you got REALLY lucky!

Matt Kennedy's picture

That's for sure!

JOE DDD (Daniel Dalin Drechsler)'s picture

Yes sir, offsite backup is crucial for a photo business.
GRATS :) on getting the pics back :)

Matt Kennedy's picture

Thanks Joe, you got it!

Jerrit Pruyn's picture

I am a big fan of backblaze. Nice open source company!

Matt Kennedy's picture

Great to hear!

Jeremy Hohertz's picture

It is worth the 10 minutes it takes to watch how Chase Jarvis and his crew deal with data management:

Not everyone's studio is quite so large (or has the financial resources), but its a good start. Also, this video pre-dates the current popularity of massive cloud storage, so keep that in mind.

Matt Kennedy's picture

I remember this video! Awesome stuff! Like you said, big budget and pre-cloud, but the principle is the same for sure.

For the thief to steal all of the gear and hard drives too, seems like they would be essentially worthless. Were they hoping to hold the photos as ransom for money? I understand stealing camera gear or computers but it makes me think someone was really angry with you or it was an inside job (for a reason I can't come up with).

Glad some of the items returned! What about other clients files?

Matt Kennedy's picture

They pretty much took everything of any kind of seemed like they had boxes that they dumped everything in to. It puzzled me too as they took my pens and rulers :) All other photos were backed up off site...just not the ones from the wedding a couple days prior...hence the new immediate off site storage solutions.


I don't know if Backblaze has changed but when I was first looking into my offsite backup solution one of the things I found out is that Backblaze will not include a lot of the metadata for files when it backs them up. For example file permissions, timestamps, date of creation, things like that.

Due to Backblaze wiping the metadata on it's backups I decided to go with Crashplan+ which also allows me to not backup just my stuff to their servers, but also from the office to my house.

I did a quick Google search to see if this metadata thing was still an issue with Backblaze but I couldn't find anything pointing to it still being a problem or anything saying it had been fixed.

Here is a quick post I found about the issue, like I said though this post is a few years old:

Matt Kennedy's picture

Interesting discovery Regner! I'll look into that as well...especially the creation date as it's essential for organizing between multiple cameras.

If you find out that has changed please report back and let me know. I try and make it clear I haven't checked in a long time but if it's not true anymore I would hate to be telling people this still. >.<

Glad to know that you got your files back. I know the feeling of loosing photos. I lost 1 cf card during a wedding once way back, and it contains the bridal/entourage march. After the wedding I counted all the cf cards and I was missing one. Never found it. All you can do is damage control on these situations. Since then I added a crew who automatically back-up files on a laptop and portable HD. After the wedding we turn over all images in DVD to the couple so they already have a copy. Its a total of 5-6 DVDs in all. While transferring images to the laptop my crew is already removing all that are not pleasant like closed eyes, awkward expressions, bad light and all. This guarantees that couple already have a copy of their wedding right after the event.

Went through the same thing about 6 weeks ago. Thieves got my iMac, MacBook, camera bag, laptop bag, and external drives. I've just started getting my work noticed and was devastated that it was all gone. After stuff got replaced, I started reinstalling my software on my new computer when I came across a pile of DVDs. Had completely forgotten about backing all my photos to DVD a year earlier. Recovered some off an old computer. Im still missing the last years work. Today was hard. Had some stuff selected for a show. Had submitted a while ago and the photos selected are among the missing. Now that things are back to normal, I need to explore options for backing up online.

Matt Kennedy's picture

That's terrible! Thanks for sharing dukecityjim! Wishing the best for you this year!

Wow. I can completely relate. I have been using backblaze for 8 months. Amazing, affordable and the piece of mind:priceless

Matt Kennedy's picture

That's for sure! Be sure to check out my next article about Lightroom 5 smart previews...major piece of mind REALLY quick!

I may weigh in on the safety and security part of the story : Apart from a group of ruthless burglars rifling and ransacking through the office what comes to my mind is : a mundane fire burning down the house, an earthquake (Californians are pretty much aware of that), a tornado (ask someone in Ohio) or some jerk messing around with a gas conduit. To name just a few.

That said, I think there are many very compelling reasons to sign up for a cloud service.

I would also suggest an audible alarm system and separate cage/storage closet/room with a high quality locking system for vital electronics.

It may sound paranoid, but I store my gear (cameras, card, hard drives) overnight in an inexpensive gun safe. My servers are behind a separate dead-bolted steel door in a dedicated small room (formerly a large closet). These are relatively minor expenditures— a few hundred dollars— and can be done even in rented office space. Also, my insurance premiums went down when I showed these arrangements to my agent.

I'm so surpised to hear lots of this stories from lots of professionals... How can you sleep at night with a workflow like that? Will you hire someone like you knowing the risk? This is not called having a workflow nor being smart. It's a basic requirement to run a business (and to be correct with your customer) Keep a copy of your undelivered weddings under your pillow, you owe this to your couples. Then we all know bad luck is on its way...

Matt Kennedy's picture

Do you actually keep a copy of your undelivered images under your pillow Massimo? or is this an exaggeration? Definitely a huge part of being a professional is rock solid workflow.

Not under my pillow but in my 500gb hd, always in my bag... but if once happened once back from a wedding and I was too tired and the risk of a mess was high. I slept with cards besides my bed. Rock solid.

Dennis Titov's picture

I had the same issue. Somebody someone broke into my apartment and stole my IMac, Macbook and 4 of my external drives. I've lost all of my photos from10 years of shooting digital.

Before that i was really happy and felt secure with my backup workflow. Had i external drive with Aperture fault. And another external drive with Time Machine backup in other room. But they've got all of them. Thanks God they don't like film:)

Now i'm a backblaze customer. And just start working on my new portfolio:)

Matt Kennedy's picture

WOW, I feel your pain Dennis!

I had a terrible experience last October. I had gotten back from a wedding, and checked all the cards. grabbed two pics real fast one from the bride getting ready/formals card and some from the bride/groom shoots. I started backing up the photos on one of the cards. I left to go run errands, When I went to back up the other card it wasn't working. I took it to multiple places to get checked out. No one could recover the pictures. It just stopped working, burnt out one guy said. I cried. I broke the news to the bride who I had become really good friends with and she took it well, until her groom flipped (to him the family formals were the most important part). After she saw all the other lovely photos she became very sad wishing she had the others. She hasn't really spoken to me since. What I felt when I was told they were "gone" was probably one of the worst feelings I had ever felt.

Matt Kennedy's picture

Oh my goodness, I totally feel for you! Take solace in the fact that this happens with technology and there's really nothing you could do to stop it. Hopefully they are able to forgive and forget.

Matt - glad you got your photos back! That must have been terrifying.
Quick thought: if you were using Backblaze, our service has a Locate My Computer feature that may help you capture the thieves as well. Good luck!


Matt Kennedy's picture

Hey Gleb! Are you saying you work for backblaze? I wasn't using backblaze at the time, but that's an interesting feature still!

Hi Matt - yes, co-founder and CEO. And yes, that feature has helped recover $1m in counterfeit cash (, find a drug dealer, and much more wackiness ;-)