Today’s typical photographer is a curious being. Cameras are cheap, computers are easy to use, and the Internet makes sharing photos so incredibly easy. So many people are into photography, but I’m willing to bet that over half of us don’t know why we do it or what we’re after.
Seriously, take a step back and look at yourself. How much time do you spend doing photography-related activities? Shooting, processing, posting, reading, participating, drooling, etc.
And why do you do it? Are you making a living from photography? Are you making anything from it? Do you truly enjoy the whole process? Do you actually print your pictures and hang them on your walls? Or do they sit on your hard drive while you tell yourself that you’ll need them someday? Why do you do it???
I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer with all of this. I’m just contemplating what it is that compels us to pursue the art of photography so enthusiastically. As I sit here in front of a computer screen most nights scanning film, processing photos, reading blogs, and writing articles… I’m curious to hear what all of you have to say about this topic.
In the last part of this series, we talked about internal hard drives as backup hardware. As promised, this time around, we’ll be exploring external hard drives for backing up your photos. Throughout these in-depth discussions of hardware solutions, I’ll try to keep the same format and flow so they’re easier to follow.
An external hard drive is simply an internal drive that is housed in some type of case and connected to your computer via external data cables. Some external drives require auxiliary power, while others are powered by the data connection (such as some compact USB 2.0 drives). External drives serve as good backup hardware because of their storage capabilities and portability.
Like internal drives, external drives come in various shapes and sizes. Some are considered “compact” drives (typically housing a 2.5″ drive) while others are slightly larger (typically housing a standard 3.5″ drive). While the casing may look different between brands and models, most external drives have the same basic anatomy.
Also like internal drives, external drives may have several variations on the data connection interface — but these connections are different than those discussed on the internal drives. One typical connection type is USB, and most often USB 2.0. But external drives can also come with Firewire connections and even eSATA connections.
Again, my point is that you need to be aware of the capabilities of your computer(s) before purchasing an external hard drive. Maybe the one you’ve got your eye on is a Firewire drive, but your computer doesn’t have Firewire connections. This will result in you having to either return the hardware or purchase additional hardware in order to make it work.
Just like with the internal drives, external drives will give you a few options for methods of backing up your data. There are two basic camps of people who use external drives: connected all the time, and connected only when backing up files.
If you decide to leave your external drive permanently connected to your computer, it may be possible to use the drive as a mirror, or RAID 1 configuration. Sometimes the software included with the drive will allow you to do this, while other times you’ll have to use third party software. If you’re interested in doing this, check the manufacturer’s website for RAID documentation prior to purchasing the hardware. The advantage to this method is that it’s easy and you get real-time backups. The disadvantage is that the drive is constantly running and constantly attached to your computer.
The other mentality of external drive users (including myself) is to only attach the drive when backing up photos or other data. This method would require that some type of backup schedule be adhered to, otherwise your backups can quickly become out of date and nearly useless. The advantage of this method is that you can store your external drive separately from your computer in a safe or off-site location. The disadvantage is that your backups may not be completely up to date on any given day.
External drives are fairly cheap, reliable, and portable. They don’t cost much more than internal hard drives, and they can have about the same life expectancy (possibly better if not constantly plugged in). But the real benefit of an external drive is the fact that it can be removed from the computer and stored elsewhere. Storing the drive in a fireproof safe or in an off-site location can add an extra layer of security to your backup solution.
External hard drives are still hard drives and they’re prone to the same failures as internal hard drives. The disk may just give up one day without warning or reason. And if you decide to leave the drive connected to the computer at all times, it essentially has the same weaknesses as your computer (lightning strikes, fire, theft, etc.). External drives also tend to be a target for other failure modes, such as being dropped or knocked off the desk. Hard drives don’t like that.
External hard drives can be great backup solutions, and many people utilize them for doing just this. I, myself, use an external drive to store one copy of my photos and other vital documents. The great thing about them is that they can be truly separate from your computer between backups.
And as with any backup solution, I’d suggest keeping more than one. So an external backup drive is good, but it’s not complete by itself. The next section of this series will discuss the infamous RAID tower, including the Drobo.
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In the last big part of this series, we talked about working drives — the various options and their strengths and weaknesses. In the next few sections, I’ll be diving a little deeper while discussing various options for your backup hardware. Once we make it through the hardware, we’ll talk software. And finally, we’ll finish off with a discussion about strategy.
An internal hard drive is simply a hard drive housed within your computer case and attached to its power and data connections. All computers have at least one internal drive to run the operating system, but an internal backup drive is one separate from your main drive. Simply creating a copy of your data on the same hard drive won’t give you much data protection. On that same note, most computers have more than one power supply cable and hard drive data connection, so installing a second, third, or even fourth drive should be no problem.
Hard drives come in all different flavors. Common form factors include 3.5″ (commonly found in desktops) and 2.5″ (commonly found in laptops). Let me just interrupt the flow to state that this article is based on the assumption that you’re using a desktop computer with 3.5″ drives — laptops don’t usually have too much extra space for additional drives. Hard drives also come in a multitude of disk interfaces (or the shape of the data plug). The SATA interface is most common today, but some computer are still supporting the old ATA drives. SCSI (pronounced “scuzzy” if you’re a geek) is not terribly common, but some people still use them. And I’m sure that by the time I publish this article, the next best thing will have obsoleted the SATA drive.
So my point is this: make sure you know what type of drive you can plug into your computer. Don’t jump on that ATA drive because it’s cheap, only to find out that you can’t even plug it in. Also beware of differences within a particular interface — for example, we’ve got SATA 1.5 Gb/s, SATA 3.0 Gb/s, and now SATA 6.0 Gb/s is in the works. So again, figure out what you need before you buy.
Internal hard drives can be used as backup drives a few different ways. The simplest method is to install the drive as a secondary drive, or extra storage space, and use some type of software backup utility to make a copy of your chosen data from your main drive. We’ll talk about software options later, but most operating systems (excluding Vista) give you the ability to make backups of specific files and directories.
Another method is to use the drive as a mirror, or RAID 1 configuration. A mirror is simply a disk that is a duplicate of another disk or portion of a disk (like your photos), usually updated in real-time. For this, you’ll either need a piece of software or hardware (like a RAID controller) to manage the mirror operations.
The last major method of internal drive backup I’ll talk about is a full-blown RAID 5 configuration. This method will require at least 3 separate internal drives and a RAID controller to work (though I believe that some distributions of Linux can do this via software). A RAID 5 setup utilizes these 3 or more drives as a single drive with the data split between them in a manner that allows one drive to fail and your data to remain in-tact (of course the failed drive has to be replaced though).
Internal hard drives are fast, cheap, and they stay out of your way. They won’t clutter up your desktop or get knocked off the printer stand because they’re bolted to the inside of your computer case. They also have fairly high capacities given the cost — 1TB drives are not so uncommon. Drop down to 500GB or so and you can pick one up for much less than $100.
Well… for starters, it’s sitting right next to your main drive. This means that you’re not protected against theft, fire, lightning strikes, computer viruses, and spontaneous combustion. If something happens to destroy your main drive, it’s probably going to destroy your back up drive. It does protect against a random hard drive failure though, which is more common than most other catastrophes. The other downside to the internal drive is that you can’t pack it up and move it around or store it off-site without lugging your whole computer along or ripping it apart.
Extra internal drives can be a very feasible backup solution. They’re certainly better than nothing, and you have a couple of options for how you set up the drive to interact with your other internal drives. If you do choose to go this route, I’d strongly suggest a secondary backup plan (which is something I’d suggest anyway). Just don’t get stuck in the notion that you need an external hard drive to backup your photos — which is what we’ll be talking about in the next article for this series.
Long exposure of traffic on Interstate 5 where it splits into the 5 and 805. Can you believe that there are 22 lanes at this point and it’s backed up during rush hour every day?
I’ve never done one of these long-exposure traffic shots before. It turns out that the white lights are much brighter than the red ones. Plus there wasn’t much traffic, so it probably could’ve turned out better. Here are a few others from that night as I was messing around with different amounts of focus and shutter speed:
To see the rest of my February Challenge photos, check the “Challenge” category here on the blog or visit my Flickr Set.