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.

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Jeff Goe's picture

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.