Technology, the thing we both love and hate. Everyone has an experience where they lose something digitally. In wedding photography, having to ask the couple if they can have the wedding again because the photos are gone is probably one of the top nightmare scenarios. This is what I do to avoid having to ever do that.
I start off each year by purchasing two new identical external drives. I've been using Western Digital for the last few years, but there are plenty of other good brands. Now that these are up to 4 TBs for a reasonable price, less or no purging is required to put an entire year on one drive.
Both of my primary cameras I use on the wedding day have dual card slots. This means I have two copies of every photo I take on two separate memory cards. The first set of these cards will stay at my house after a wedding, another set will stay in my car.
Immediately after each wedding I'll take the cards that are in my house and import them into Adobe Lightroom and onto the first hard drive. At this point I have 3 copies of every photo.
Once a week, I run SuperDuper! which duplicates hard drive A to hard drive B. Hard drive B is stored in a safe at a secure location. This protects me from a drive failure, so if one of the drives fails, I can easily purchase a new one, and just duplicate it again. This brings me to 4 copies of every photo.
On a side note, when importing to Lightroom, I generate smart previews. These are smaller versions of a raw file that let you edit without having the original version. If I were to lose everything else at this point, I could still use these to deliver a project. Most of my blog and social media posts are generated from these files. They are perfectly usable to make an an 8x10 print. These smart previews get backed up to my Apple Time Capsule throughout the day, so I have two copies of all the smart previews.
When all the editing is completed, I'll export jpegs. These are copied to a fire/flood proof drive that is bolted to the floor, along with being uploaded to a private gallery on the cloud.
To review, I have 1 final copy storied locally, 1 stored on the cloud, 2 copies of the original raw files locally, and finally 2 copies of smart previews still available. At this point, I'll put the the memory cards back into circulation, but will only format them when they are about to be used.
A couple common questions that I get about this system:
Why not use RAID? As someone that came from the IT world, RAID IS NOT backup. RAID solves a specific problem of down time due to disk failure. I don't have this problem. On the flip side, it introduces the issue of a RAID controller failure and you losing all the volumes. For me, it just over complicates the system and the extra expense isn't worth it.
What about cloud backup? My final jpegs are stored on the cloud, but uploading the raws after a wedding is currently impractical. I come home with around 100 GBs of photos every week, so uploading this amount with current technology is not particularly convenient. In an ideal world, I would love to have a disk drive that duplicates itself over the Internet that I could store at someone else's home. Internet speeds are just not fast enough yet.
I feel confident that this system keeps the photos safe from the majority of data pitfalls that I would encounter, technical failure or user error being the biggest threat.
Not a professional and just worried about your wedding photos? Read about How to keep your digital wedding photos safe.