The $16 Purchase I Wish I Bought Sooner as a Photographer

The $16 Purchase I Wish I Bought Sooner as a Photographer

There are an infinite amount of photography-related items you can spend your hard-earned cash on. Sometimes, it's the small and insignificant purchases that can really save the day.

I recently talked about the many things I regret as a professional photographer. One regret missing from my list that I'm sure is very common to a lot of photographers is that of losing data due to a corrupt hard drive or accidental deletion. The reason for this omission is because my backup strategy is actually pretty good. All my work is stored on several drives, kept in multiple locations, and the very important stuff is also uploaded to the cloud. It really does give me peace of mind that short of a major catastrophe, my precious work will always be safe. Even though I'm pleased with my backup strategy, there was one area I quite liked the idea of improving upon. While I do use Apple's Time Machine to regularly back up my whole laptop to a separate drive if my machine was to suddenly die, it would be a real headache for me to get things back up to speed quickly. This is in part because I use Hackintosh computers, which means the whole recovery process is a little more involved than it would be on a regular Apple machine. If computer failure were to happen while I was on a shoot or away from home, then I could find myself in serious trouble without any quick fixes. All of these circumstances are far from ideal for a photographer with clients that would have little sympathy for any technical difficulties. This was why I needed to add some sort of extra security to my backup strategy and had the idea of creating a clone of the main drive in my laptop and having it with me at all times. This would mean if the worst were to ever happen to my laptop, I could literally swap out the drives and be working again in minutes rather than days.

Cloning Drives

My main backup strategy involves using the Inateck SATA Hard Drive Docking Station, which for those that are not familiar with such a device, is essentially a small box that sits on your desk into which you can directly slot internal hard drives. What's great about having a docking station with two slots in it is you can clone drives without the need for a computer or any third party software. You put your master drive into one slot and your empty drive into the other, and then, it's just a matter of pressing the "Copy" button for several seconds until the LED starts flashing and the cloning process begins. It really is as simple as removing the drive out of your laptop, putting it into the docking station, and pressing a single button. The beauty of cloning offline like this is that you guarantee an actual carbon copy of your drive as it basically copies each individual sector on the drive like for like. If you were to try and clone your laptop while you were still using it, then you wouldn't get a true clone, as the drive would still be in use, and you would also run the risk of various hidden and system files not being included in the copy. To be able to literally plug and play, we need both drives to be completely identical.

A few things worth noting about cloning drives is that depending on the speed and size of them, it can take quite a long time to perform. As you have essentially removed the drive out of your laptop to make this clone, you will obviously be without a working machine while you do this procedure. For this reason, it might be a good idea to do this task overnight. The other point worth mentioning about cloning drives without a computer is that the drive you intend to clone onto must be larger than the source disk. This second point really isn't a big deal, as the price difference between your current storage size and the next one up won't be much, and you can use the excuse to make an upgrade to your storage. In my case, I was going from 250 GB to 500 GB for the princely sum of $16. If you do want to keep the drives the same size, you will just need to involve a second computer to do the cloning process. If you're on a Mac, I would recommend using Disk Utility for such a task, while PC users could use something like Clonezilla.

After the Cloning Process

Once I had successfully cloned the main drive in my laptop, I decided that instead of having the larger clone with its additional storage doing nothing, I would take this opportunity to upgrade and switch the two over. Now, the original master drive has become the backup that I carry with me when I'm shooting on location or traveling. Even in a protective hard case, it takes hardly any space in my camera bag, and the piece of mind it brings is huge. It really is great to know that if the drive in my laptop decided to stop working for any reason, I could quickly and easily install the clone and have an operational laptop again. While I appreciate the clone would be a snapshot of a time in the past, it would still be my familiar machine with all my programs and most of my files on it. In an emergency, this would allow me to continue to work until I could do a full restore from the Time Machine drive that I installed into a caddy and have where the optical drive used to be in my laptop.

This might sound crazy, but I really do hope I'll never need to use this cloned drive. It's just nice knowing I have a backup if things were ever to go down. It's funny how such a small purchase and a little bit of work could help save the day if my computer was to suddenly die. While I appreciate backing up drives might not be the most exciting thing you can do as a photographer, it really could help to avoid any major headaches further down the line. For just $16, it does seem like a worthwhile investment. I know I would pay considerably more to avoid the stress and inconvenience that comes with trying to fix a dead laptop.

Over to You

Would having a clone like this be useful to you? Do you already have a similar backup strategy in place? Can you see any problems with this approach? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Paul Parker's picture

Paul Parker is a commercial and fine art photographer. On the rare occasion he's not doing photography he loves being outdoors, people watching, and writing awkward "About Me" statements on websites...

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Forgot to mention that you should carry the right screwdriver with you in your kit bag so you can always get into your laptop...

Most people like to buy the slick, lightweight laptops that have everything integrated. But a lot of business laptops are modular and one could pull a drive out fairly easily. The boot drives are often protected with at least one screw from accidental removal (especially while live).

Often one could put a second drive in place of the dvd-r drive, and that one is easily removable.

But yeah, for a local backup, it's probably good to have a NAS running at least a RAID5. A cloud backup guard against some kind of catastrophe at the office.

What would be nice is snapshotting, something that's often found on enterprise configurations. That would prevent something silly like an unintended modification by snapshotting by the hour.

I have two of these, we call them toasters LOL

This is advice needs some stipulations - do not use as a backup method for important photography work, this cloning runs on hopes & prayers that it works and it needs to be tested regularly for integrity.

You must be good with screwdrivers and keeping track of things, cloning B to A instead of A to B will push you back in time X weeks from the last sync and probably ruin your day/destroy saved work/new plugins/actions.

You know what, the risk is too high and has some pretty major pitfalls, this clone method is not recommended at all under any circumstance, I work in IT, do NOT do this! I repeat, this is bad advice and should not be utilized.

The modern method on PC's would be to use a program like Macrium Reflect or Disk Utility on Mac can be used to capture an image/virtual disk containerfile of your computer's drive.
Which you should store on your backup drives and storage array.

This allows you to fully restore should something bad happen at a later time, but those are manually run methods, you have to do this yourself regularly to keep the system current. Or use a Vanilla base image with just your OS, Apps, and useful programs.

There's also a bit more advanced program called Veeam Endpoint Backup & Replication, but it does the same thing and is designed for automated regular system backups.

Time Machine on Mac is pretty much automatically updated system imaging and restoration.

Image, backup, restore, this is the proper way to do it.

This is the industry standard.
This will provide a reliable way to view, test, and restore accidentally damaged data.

I would not even trust automatic sync software. Unless you can switch it to a mode in which it would only add data to a 2nd drive. Never sync in a way that it would try to delete stuff on the 2nd drive that was removed on the primary one.

The apps mentioned don't sync, they are programs that run backups.
I do not recommend just a syncing program without another backup app too.

You can use Dropbox, OneDrive, Synology etc. to collaborate and share files between co-workers, clients, team members, and second shooters. This is the most efficient way to use file sync.

The backup workflow looks like this:
Photo Production data - Preferably on a NAS that has a backup drive attached.
NAS runs backup/file versioning/snapshots of important client/personal work to the drive.

Computer backup drive - This is where Veeam or Time machine would run to save backups of your system which you could then restore from in the event of a total disk or system failure.

You could then push your computer backup file/image to the cloud using something like Backblaze or to the NAS.

I don't even use a RAID backup -- I use two separate drives, so I can look into my File Explorer and confirm that what I copied is on both drives. I never wanted to have a drive fail and only then find out that, oops, the data didn't copy to the other RAID drive after all

It seems you haven't have understood the RAID technology. The RAID controller has built-in features, that checks the consistency of the data. That's because of a simple reason. If the data not consistent, then the RAID fails. With RAID 1 you have a pretty save solution. The controller writes both disks simultaneously. In your szenario, you are the RAID controller. But how do you check the files? How do you make sure, that the data is consistent on both drives?

Dude, that's not very smart, and your workflow is only going to cause headaches later.

RAID is not a syncing program, it is designed to read and write from multiple drives at the same time.
RAID reduces your overhead and increases data reliability...

Like Gion said, RAID does all the hard work for you

You may want to consider a Synology DS218+ or a DS418 or 918 series server.
They're not very big, take whatever size drives you want and are much faster than a single drive.

RAID is not a backup, per se... it's a failsafe, designed to keep high-availability environments running at all times. You then supplement RAID with two backup strategies in mind: 1) Data Recovery 2) Disaster recovery. Data recovery involves things like "damn, I overwrote that file content and want to go back to yesterday at noon with this file" whereas disaster recovery is "my house/office burned down and I need to start over, without losing anything or at least not much." The strategies for dealing with all this are very different and if you read 10 articles, you'll get 10 opinions on what is 'best'. But the overarching principle is simple: 3 copies, 2 locations. RAID doesn't change this requirement for external (to the machine) backups one iota.

I do a complete clone every time I upgrade my Hackintosh to a new major release and let TimeMachine take it from there.

Restore process:
Clone a new drive from the latest copy and mount it in the computer.
Do a complete update of the computer.
Restore all user data and applications from TimeMachine.

Yes, it adds some extra time to the restore process, but all that time spent cloning can be put to a much better use.

So which item in this rambling post costs 16 dollars?

I was also curious to know. 500Gb SSD for $16, cool...

I believe he meant the difference in price, not the total price.

My time's worth $120/hour. I simply cannot afford to save money by setting up a hackintosh, because all of the workarounds will certainly suck up more than 10 hours of my life during the life of the hardware. Just pay the extra $1,200 for a Mac if you want to use osx. It's cheaper in the long run

I agree. Pennywise and pound foolish. My 2011 Mac Pro 13" is still running on 16gb Ram and 2 internal Samsung SSD and still useful as a backup at home. Macs are so cheap when you compare them to the life you get out of them. Our company used to use Dell laptops which would be useful for about 1-2 years and the service was horrible. My business depends on reliable gear and I can't see why people would risk their livelihood on something that can go south fast. BTW, Carbon Copy Cloner and Superduper if you ever switch to real mac.

Over the past 25 years, my Macs have averaged 7 years of reliable service.

I hate Apple - loathe them, actually. And I'm going to be converting to Windows over the next 12 months. But I cannot deny that when it comes to reliability, uptime, and total cost of ownership, Apple hardware is the best hardware available.

The key advantage for my business is widespread service via Apple Stores. If anything catastrophic happens to my gear I know there is usually an Apple store that can help. My iPhone was once subjected to water damage in Baltimore during an important job where cellular service was important for our safety. Under Apple care I was able to swap the phone for $80-90 IIRC at an Apple store and restored my contacts/notes quickly thanks to icloud. If my laptop or accessories are destroyed or damaged I know I can go to local apple store as a last resort and purchase a new one and reinstall or run from bootable drive. Or I can have them ship it to whatever location I am in if there is no apple store in the region. Support is key when things go wrong.

BTW why do u hate apple?

"BTW why do u hate apple?"

Can't speak for Scott, but I support the right for a person who buys a device to open that device and get it repaired wherever they choose. I do not agree with Apple's view that they should be in sole control of just about every aspect of a device from purchase to the end of its life. If all I need to replace is a resistor, I shouldn't have the Apple Store telling me that the entire "logic board" (it's always the effing "logic board") needs to be replaced. I don't support a trillion-dollar company going after small businesses who are keeping alive devices that Apple refuses to service themselves or claims are "beyond repair" when they are only beyond repair because of Apple's own refusal to provide the components they need.

Apple's greatest strength is the fact that they run an extremely tight and controlled ship when it comes to their devices and software. What makes them reprehensible is how they abuse that strength to screw the consumer out of money on their already premium products at every turn. Apple stores are notorious for misdiagnosing problems, misrepresenting them as far more serious than they are, and pushing for unnecessarily expensive remedies and consumers are pretty much SOL when the Apple Store lies because there are few other places to turn to. Apple makes it even more difficult by engaging in completely unnecessary practices in their manufacturing that are designed to do nothing other than hamper third party repair efforts.

Anyway, I'm sure none of this is news to you and I'm sure you don't care because it works for you. That's fine. Everyone has different levels of tolerance to things. Not being able to open up MY OWN COMPUTER to swap out an SSD because they can't be bothered to use the normal screws everyone else in the world uses and because the SSD is freaking soldered (WHY!?) to the board is just asinine. I realize that Apple is no longer the only company that engages in this nonsense, but they are pretty much the standard bearer for these types of consumer-hostile business practices.

I watch a lot of Louis Rossmann vidoes and definitely see your point. I was in the Apple Store trying to get a screen replaced on an out-of-apple care warranty Macbook for less than $575 and they were playing hardball. I have had a number of Apple care warranty repairs such as logic board replacement, free battery replacement on Macbook and iPhone swap for premature battery wear,... and these have been performed in a timely manner compared to the Unisys guy who would end up with screws on the table after "fixing" my Dell at home or damaging the eject button on the laptop DVD.

While I do miss the inability to remove the DVD player on my macbook pro 13" to swap in an additional SSD the portability and weight of their 12" is amazing. In the perfect world I would be able to swap out my internal ssd and upgrade the ram to 16gb on my 12".....

In a perfect world, Apple computers (Laptops, Desktop, and AIO's) would be constructed the same way every other computer is, components would only be soldered if there's a significant performance benefit that outweighs the ability to change it if something goes wrong, the screws used to assemble everything would be the same standard screws that everyone else in the world uses, they would make spare components available for purchase (I don't even care if they don't release schematics), and they would rely on some sort of tamper detection system to detect and void warranties if you opt to open the device yourself.

Aside from this issue, I think Apple computers are actually great and they have an awesome OS. I don't really mind that they run a tight ship with limited hardware choices supported since it leads to less bugs, but the hardware that they do select should be available to purchase on the market and user-replaceable whenever feasible.

If Apple didn't have its customers death-gripped by the balls, I might be inclined to purchase one.

What you said! I am in the Apple world and dislike these same aspects. I sort of get it that they don't want to be supporting your computer if you use crappy RAM or incompatible bits or some such, and because their warranties are top-notch they do have a point, but RAM testing machines are cheap nowadays and they could just do a service charge to you if it turns out to be that. Easy solutions, if they were motivated to implement them.

I also think that design overtook practical to the point of ridiculous. Seriously, make the MacBook 2 mm thicker and bring back SD Card readers and normal USB ports! They pulled the pin on all old USB ports way too fast. Then, with this slightly thicker MacBook, fill the gap with battery. I know of nobody that wouldn't buy it because it's 2mm thicker, but I know lots of people that would be impressed with even more battery life!

Mostly it's their business practices and the inability for the customer to upgrade components as they see fit.

My wife's initial response to our daughter dropping her iPhone was "lucky she invested in AppleCare". When they handed our kid the new & restored device it was missing 60-75% of her 14000 image files (cloud backed video & stills).
No end of pushing the "up" button at the Apple Store resolved the data losses.

Hard copy back up's everyone.

Is that common core math?

I think that's backup philosphy.

If you are using a Hackintosh, more than likely you have a free drive bay. If you do you don't need to buy a duplicator, you just need to learn how to use UNIX command line tools like dd:

Yes I do a very similar process, but slight difference, I use a portable 4TB Segate to carry my lightroom catalog on, so I never have my catalog and images local on my laptop, always kept on external drive, my lightroom catalog actually go directly to my dropbox first this way i can access my lightroom catalog from 2 different computer, then when I do a big shoot ill backup to my 5TB seagrate desktop drive that sits in a 2 bay doc so I have multiple layers of backup always going, always create lightroom backup, you never want to deal with a corrupt catalog.