Always Backup Your Work: Oakland Photographer Has Life's Work Stolen from Home

Always Backup Your Work: Oakland Photographer Has Life's Work Stolen from Home

Always backup your work, and then backup your backups! This opinion is brought to you by the recent news that Oakland-based photographer Jennifer Little lost her "life's work" when 21 hard drives containing over 70,000 photos were stolen from her home. To go along with the hard drives, she also lost eight cameras leaving only one left.

As reported by KPIX, the burglars took everything except for 30 images from a recent shoot and a single large format camera. Little was able to find one camera at a local flea market a couple days later but is still searching for the rest of her equipment. Among the photos were several ongoing projects, including one very time consuming and expensive one.

I’ll probably have to write off the project from China completely because it’s so expensive to go there and I’ve sort of lost all the groundwork documentation that the whole project was based on.

She believes they entered her house through the bathroom window, but that's not what's really important here. Let's ask the question we're all thinking inside our heads: With all the online backup options available these days, why weren't all these photos backed up somewhere else? There's no excuse for not having your photos backed up online. With such a standard precaution, you can keep your photos safe from house fires, floods, and even burglaries. Keep it secret, keep it safe, Fstoppers.


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Aaron Brethorst's picture

I feel bad for Jennifer Little, but Backblaze is *five dollars per month*: — have a continuous remote backup, people!

At home, I have a full local Time Machine backup, and I also continuously backup to Backblaze. As long as the three following issues don't occur at the same time, I will never lose a single image:

My computer can die or be stolen: no problem.

My backup drive can die: no problem.

Backblaze can go out of business: no problem.

Eric Lefebvre's picture

BackBlaze | 50$/month
Amazon Cloud | 100$ (or less) a Year
Google Photos | FREE (shrunk down to 16MP)
Flickr 1TB Jpegs | FREE (good for around 100,000 or more)

Heck ... get a couple of archival drives (8TB 5200RPM ... about 200$) and keep at least one copy at a friends house or a bank safety deposit box!!!

All her groundwork documentation should have been stored in Dropbox or google Docs ...


I mean, Google Photos is FREE! Sure, you lose some resolution especially when shooting medium format but what is better? Going from 50MP to 16MP or going from 50MP to 0MP?

Greg Benz's picture

I love having an online backup, but have personally been very frustrated with extremely slow upload speeds (running at less than 10% of my bandwidth, still working with the vendor to see what's going on, but after ~10 months of back and forth troubleshooting, I'm probably done with them - it keeps coming back to a conversation where they tell me that 4TB of photos really isn't the business they plan to support, most of their customers have less than 500GB). So I'm curious, for those of you with large amounts of data, who have you found works well for overall experience (robust, fast, easy to use, secure)?

Mad Marv's picture

Crashplan. I don't use the cloud storage option for the exact problem you're having with uploads, but I've heard other photogs that do use the unlimited online backup option. Crashplan does offer to seed your backup by sending you a hard drive, which you use to create a local backup. Then you physically mail the hard drive back and they copy the back up off of the drive. Then you just have to link that back up to your computer and only sync the updates going forward.

I would do that if I had to, but I keep one on-site backup drive at home and have another off-site backup drive at work. I physically move my laptop between the two locations and keep the backups more or less in sync.

Paul Ferradas's picture


Eric Lefebvre's picture

That's why I have an actual business account for my Internet Access. Also, if you get a service like BackBlaze they can send you some external drives for you to fill up so your initial upload doesn;t get you calls from your ISP.

PrettyGreen Parrot's picture

The original story is a real shame.

4TB is a sizeable amount to backup.

I maintain a backup of close to 2TB with BackBlaze. Just under 300GB of on-Mac data and the rest RAW, JPG, & MP4 files from amateur photography. The first backup to BackBlaze took a while with a 20mbps upload speed at home.

Storage and backup policy?
I maintain my original image files on a Synology NAS.
I use Synology's hyper backup program to a local HDD.
I use Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) to back up the images from the NAS to an external HDD plugged into my Mac. This drive backs up to BackBlaze.
I use CCC to do a separate HDD backup one night each week. I take that HDD off site the following morning until the backup is due the next week.

Alex Cooke's picture

What if there's a fire or natural disaster? Never keep all your copies in the same physical location.

Alex Cooke's picture

Yes, there're definitely drawbacks to the online route as well, bandwidth and privacy being the big two.

I personally try to follow a hybrid model: I have Time Machine running continuously in the background, so I can instantly access anything I might need, I run an offsite backup to Backblaze every night while I'm sleeping (you can't beat $5/month) and every 2 weeks, I bring home a very large external drive for the night and create a backup, then store it in my office.

But yes, all the local backup in the world will make no difference if something like a robbery occurs, sadly.

Justin Sharp's picture

"I guess my house and my garage could be swept up in a fire...But I don't see that really happening." Jerry, everybody that suffers a devastating house fire rarely sees it happening. Its advisable to have backup hard drives stored in a different structure miles away. I keep backups stored in a safe deposit box.

Eric Lefebvre's picture

I have 2 X 3TB backup drives plus a copy on my workstation (at least until I am done with the project) plus two online copies.

Imagine my house going up in smoke in the middle of my wedding season. Not only do I have to rebuild but I've lost all my clients once in a lifetime photos? would rather not risk it. even if my contract protects me against that kind of loss, it won't protect my reputation.

Prefers Film's picture

I have one safe in my house, and a second one being customized as I write this. Since my home is brick over cinderblock, I have faith in the location as well as the fire rating of the safe to prevent a loss of the contents of my safe. There is just not a lot to burn where it sits. Water damage may be more of a concern, but that's addressed by not leaving documents or electronics in the bottom of the safe.

Marcin Gil's picture

The IT admins (I'm a software dev, hence the bias) have this 3-2-1 rule: 3 backups, on 2 different media type, 1 in an off-site location. Having NAS with RAID-1 (mirror!) drives gives you 2 backups on the same type of media. Adding CrashPlan (I use that) gives you 3rd backup, on "different media", in an off-site location. 3-2-1.

Doc Pixel's picture

I'm going to piggy-back on your "perfect answer" comment, just to add that for anyone interested in "rolling their own" off-site backup without cloud storage companies in the middle, you should give Bittorent Sync a serious look.

I've used personally and have installed it for the last couple of years for other and it is a very good solution IMHO.

Willard Kennedy's picture

Because of the time it takes to backup on line (especially if you shoot RAW with a D810) I have my files backed up to drives in a safety deposit box. The drives in the safety deposit box are synced monthly.

At home the main drives are RAID 1 arrays on a MAC, but everything is also on USB drives on a Windows machine. That gives me three locations where everything is stored. If the MAC crashes I have the Windows machine. If the house burns I have the safety deposit box.

With disk drives being so cheap having copies in a safety deposit box is a no brainer to me!

Prefers Film's picture

Are you saying you take your physical drives to a bank's safe deposit box, or is this some digital link to these boxes?

Joe Schmitt's picture

Yes, I want to know about that too.

Alex Qrea's picture

It's a physical box. In a physical bank. And it's the best way to do it.

Willard Kennedy's picture

I physically store a set of backup USB drives at the bank in a safety deposit box. Once a month I go get the latest one and update it by syncing using a program called Goodsync. Because I live in a small town and the bank is only 4 miles away it is an easy process for me. If I lived in NYC that would be another matter entirely!

Prefers Film's picture

So you have a month's worth of images at risk! And it's safe deposit box. Not safety.

Willard Kennedy's picture

I don't consider a month's worth of photos a big risk. I'm an amateur, not a professional.

Alex Qrea's picture

It's exactly the way to do it. That's how I do it ;)

Mariusz Buras's picture

Sync by BitTorrent is fantastic for backups, local and offsite. And it's free for basic version, which I good enough for me.

Felix Wu's picture

What does Cloud backup mean? Photos stored at some companies' servers that are equally prone to fire if not more? Think about that for a sec. So I feel having local backup is essential.

Daryl Watkins's picture

You're kidding right? Do you actually think companies like Crashplan or Backblaze operate out of a shed? I feel MUCH better with my data there vs my house or yours.

Eric Lefebvre's picture

1- These companies have redundant server farms usually.
2- Cloud backups are only ONE PART of your backup strategy (multiple redundant backups on location being another).

If you ONLY have one backup at home then you are prone to loss like this photographer was either through fire, theft, water damage ... you NEED a diverse backup strategy for client files.

Markus Konow's picture

I know how she feels. Since a malfunction with my external hard drive last year, I always back up to my NAS, and then from my NAS to Google Drive. I am also planning on getting another NAS that I will install at my parents’ house.

Daris Fox's picture

Some Synology NAS's will automatically sync between themselves when configured to do so. I'm currently reviewing it for the DS415+. A lot more secure than cloud storage as the NAS encrypts the data so it's as secure as it can be with the pitfalls of physical access but one nice feature is that it also supports offline 2FA to help prevent unauthorised access.

Jay Jay's picture

I've always had TERRIBLE transfer speeds from my DS410 and stopped using Synology bc of that. Also had an error on one of the drives and bc of how their file format works, it won't let me move the files to another drive- i can copy (until the transfer fails) but can't cut and paste files. My DS410 is slated for the trash bin.

Daris Fox's picture

A NAS is only as good as the LAN you that it's connected to. I use a LAG and can pull about 180-220Mb/s transfer speeds. When you use four bay NAS's you really need strong backbone to support it with good network controllers for your rigs and a managed switch. Also optimising your LAN is also recommended by using Jumbo packets and other settings.

As to file format, it's a standard Linux system nothing proprietary and Anandtech has an article on how to recover data if you need to. If you have an issue with a drive swap it out and it will rebuild the array. I use RAID certified drives and had no issues with those.

Jay Jay's picture

Thanks for the information! I'm using 2 identical sized drives and doing manual syncs to them now in place of the synology. i'll look into the recovery info and see what i can do! :)

Daris Fox's picture

The reason you want RAID drives is that if you have two drives with two different firmware it can potentially cause vibrations resulting in data drops or spin downs to prevent damage to the platters, RAID drives can counter this it to a degree often with special firmware and in many cases with extra stabilisation for the platter. It's one of the reasons they are more expensive.

Always buy the amount of drives you need when you first build the array and it's always recommend to replace all drives at the same time when one fails unless you have a rack mount array as when one degrades it can increase stress on surrounding drives.

Nuno Palha's picture

Eric Lefebvre's picture

BackBlaze | 50$/month
Amazon Cloud | 100$ (or less) a Year
Google Photos | FREE (shrunk down to 16MP)
Flickr 1TB Jpegs | FREE (good for around 100,000 - 200,000 or more depending)

Since Flickr and Google photos are free those are no brainers and could be used in conjunction with a paid service like Amazon or BackBlaze.

That's what I do: Amazon Clopud since I have Prime anyways and Google Photos + 2 backup drives at home.

Joe Schmitt's picture

I used to use Carbonite but once you hit 200GB of data, they pretty much throttle your uploads. Switched to CrashPlan a few years ago and it's been perfect me. I've never had to access any of those files for any reason yet but I have spot-checked some files every now and then to make sure I can access them.

Thomas Schütz's picture

2 Synology NAS, 1 at home, 1 at my parent's home, 300km away, both RAID 5, weekly backup from "mine" to "theirs" + daily backup from "mine" to an eHDD. Should do the job.

Nuno Palha's picture

The cheapest cloudstorage i know is Pogoplug.
unlimites. Good for all RAWS. around $3 a month.
The problem is the speed.

Brian Dowling's picture

I have Amazon Cloud drive, but the upload speed is deathly slow. I get 750K/s to my FTP server and about 15k/s to the cloud. I was even in the Amazon Pop-up shop in London last week and it was slow in their office. Can someone report back some Backblaze upload speeds?

Joe Schmitt's picture

I perform local weekly backups (sooner if I have photos processed) but I also use CrashPlan. On top of that, I store my hard drives in 230 pound media safes for security. And I'm not even a full time pro. I just realize how important my memories and those of the clients I photographed are to secure properly. I feel bad for her loss...but that was totally preventable with some easy and inexpensive adjustments.

sheri kowalski's picture

I am traveling around the world for a year and use a Lacie drive to store my photos, I don't delete my SD cards at all and I have Backblaze. It's not a solid plan though. Backblaze is slow as hell and I always have at least a thousand images that are waiting to be backed up. If anyone knows a faster plan, I'm all ears.

Alex Qrea's picture

You make me laugh with your "cloud" backups.
A cloud is some else's computer, therefore as it has been proved before, it can be hacked.

No system is flawless, but If you want my opinion on the best way, here's how I do it:

1 - All my files are stored on a NAS server at home (RAID system, 2 hard drives that are cloned)
2 - I have external hard drives that are my backup of my NAS server. These hard drive sleep in A SAFE IN A BANK, and every couple of month I go there, get the disks, backup in one day, and bring them to the bank the same day.

That's right, but for that to work, you mustn't be lazy and move you ass from your chair and move to your bank. This simple step is not done by people who get robbed.

The bank safe in the safest option by far. And It costs less that 100bucks a year.