2010, Photography

I never wanted to write this down, but today I learned that my hard drive with a large selection of my photographs can not be recovered. The surfaces of the disks were too much damaged. It feels as a real disappointment to me. First of course how silly I was to not keep track of my backups (hectic family life and my broken back). Secondly I regret it that I took my hard drive with my images to a club presentation. The loss is significant and I lost some of my best moments.

It is however also a moment to make changes. I completely changed my backup strategy which is now integrated in my digital workflow. I know use two external G-Technology G-DRIVE mini 500GB. When I ingest photographs from a card in Lightroom I move them to one of these drives. I also move all unedited images to a DVD. On my hard drive I keep the following folder structure: there is an Edit, Export, and RAW folder. Within each folder I keep the structure of year and then months. Within Lightroom I decide which images to pick or reject. The rejected images will be removed from my drive (I still have the originals on the DVD). The picked images are moved to the edit folder. That way I can keep my catalog in Lightroom slim. Additionally I use a smaller external drive where I keep all my export images. I take this drive with me once a week and save it somewhere else.

The second G-Tech Drive will be synchronized once or twice a week depending on the amount of changes. All images I print or post on the web are saved in the Export folder. In Lightroom I also keep track of these exports. Besides that my exports are on both my external drives I also write them to a DVD and upload them to the free Microsoft 25 GB cloud storage, Skydrive. I use SDExplorer to access my Skydrive location from within Explorer instead of the web interface. My friend gave my a great suggestion to upload all exports as full size jpegs to flickr too.

So please people, make sure you backup your precious photographs as good as possible. Use more then one external drives and at least keep one outside your own location.

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma

Just for the clarification. My hard drive was sent to a specialized data recovery company. They investigated the drive in order to know whether data can be recovered. In fact, they had to take it a part. When the drive felt on the floor it was powered with spinning disks. Usually that is the worst case scenario for physical hard drive failure. As a result the disks of the drive where too much damaged and data recovery was not possible.

24 thoughts on “Warning

  1. words of wisdom! nobody ever thinks it’s going to happen to them until it does… those pictures you lost of your little girl breaks my heart even more 😦

    and, a clarification on backing up to flickr: you can upload full size JPEGs and then make them Private so only you can see them (or download them), so your images are protected from anybody stealing them.

    1. Thank you for adding the additional info Cam and that I lost some of my autism series images and my little girl is devastating. Thankfully though my little girl is very cooperating.

  2. Wouter I can understand and empathise. No wonder the film guys always said that it is better to use film. But, seriously, backing up is not only time consuming but expensive. Say 10 years down the line it would be very difficult to locate the hard drive or the DVD. Technology has its disvantages too!

    All my meagre black and white film collection has well marked contact sheets with referenced film sleeves. Takes minutes to locate them, but then I was never a prolific shooter of film as film and developing were always very expensive.

    1. It all depends Sudeep. I mostly think it is time consuming. Film has it’s disadvantages too. Basically you should keep negatives in a bomb shell to prevent loss during fire or whatever. With digital you can keep the images on more than one place.

      I however thought about returning to film though, but then you need a lot of space for storage too.

  3. 1. the images that accompany the horror story are very nice.
    2. #1 can be a good reason for consolation: you still take good pictures. Three zillion terabyte of well preserved crappy photographs with multiple backups are less valuable than the actual joy of taking good pictures and sharing them. No one can take the experience from you. That will stay. And you also have the previous blog entries. So it is not completely gone.
    3. this may actually turn out to be a good beginning, in a strange way…you never know…it can be a form of new found freedom. I feel that every once in a while creative people need this sort of cleansing.

  4. PS: I am almost sure that the data can somehow be recovered. if not altogether, partially…this is a matter of time and money. Have you checked more than one service?
    Also Wouter, I suggest that you keep the bad hard disk: the technology is getting better and cheaper. Few years from now it may become easier to recover it.

    1. The hard drive was sent to a company specialized in data recovery with experience in forensic investigations. The costs to recover data are very high, but only when data can be recovered. Based on the pre-analysis they told me that the surfaces of the disks were too much damaged to recover any data.

      Things will get better with SSD drives, but when a drive falls on the floor with spinning disks prepare yourself for losses of data.

  5. Sorry about your loss. I understand, with having mice get into and destroying a bunch of photos from when our older children were young. I sure wished we had those now. Thank you for your suggestions.

  6. One great thing with Macs is that if you activate The Time Machine function your computer will do periodic saves (usually once an hour, once a day, once a week, and then delete the oldest version – it saves everything on your backup hard disc (nowadays a stand-alone hard disc costs next to nothing, compared to what it cost me when I started out with computers – then 42MB cost me as much I earned in a month or two!!!).

    Specialist companies can sometimes save even a badly damaged drive, but they cost very, very much to hire!

    1. Time Machine is certainly a nice feature of Mac OS X, but when that working hard drive falls on the floor or your Mac and drive are stolen you’re still screwed. It is even better to periodically use an app like Carbon Copy or SuperDuper to make a complete image of your system and store it on another external drive.

      And the drive was sent to a specialist data recovery company.

  7. PS Time Machine is one of the reasons why I nowadays skip both my Linux and my PC – the latter only get used for certain games, the Linux when on the road (small and sturdy). I learned to like GIMP when using Linux, so nowadays I use the X windows version that runs on Macs!

  8. Hi Wouter,
    Sorry to hear about your loss. I have had two hard drives go out on me this month. Fortunately neither of them had any unsaved photographs on them (I think!).

    I also use Flickr for “disaster” backup. For local backup I use one of those little netgear NAS RAID 1 drives with two 1.5 terabyte drives in it. Works pretty well and there are two LEDs on the front to tell you if one of the drives has gone bad in it. Easy to check when you walk by it. I also keep a safe deposit box at the local bank and every few months I rotate some USB drives out of there with ones that have new copies of the data.

    Sounds like you have made some good changes to your workflow.


  9. Sorry to hear about the loss. I recently lost my music collection because of the sudden failure of my external hdd too. It’s just dead. No physical damage to it at all. Thanks god that it’s not the external hdd that I hold all the photos of my kid. Now I’ve got an internal hdd to back up all my pix from time to time. I’ve heard that 3.5″ hdd is more durable and reliable than 2.5″ ones. I’ve thought about ssd too. But I’ll wait for their price to drop.

  10. I’m sorry to hear that you couldn’t recover your photos, Wouter. I think your sad story has at least prompted some of us to look at our own backup strategies. I’ve not been as diligent as I should be. I have a huge amount of data to backup since I shoot RAW. So DVDs seem impractical. I do have the photos from the internal hard disk synchronized with two additional external copies. I need to remember to disconnect and store one of those in the basement storage room (we live in a flat) so I at least have one off-site copy. Maybe I’ll also resort to renting online storage at a site like Zenfolio.

    That last photo is really exceptional. The hands are as expressive as the mouth they cover. Beautiful.

  11. Lovely photos to accompany a sad story! Really sorry to hear that, Wouter.
    This is too bad, but as others have written, most of us had to learn this lesson the hard way. I am still struggling with saving my files on different sites, as I am traveling a lot. On the road, if my stuff gets stolen, my two backup drives will be gone, too… all I would have left would be some basic and old backup at home. Cloud storage isn’t an option either, surfing with 128 kbit/s…
    Anyway, things are getting much easier, and as you write, digital backups certainly have a big advantage over film negatives…

  12. Wouter, wat naar. Het zag er al niet erg hoopvol uit. Maar als het dan eenmaal waarheid wordt is het wel héél erg balen.

    Je hebt naast dat nare bericht wel heel erg moòie foto`s op je blog gezet.
    Ik blijf er naar kijken.
    Vooral de bovenste vind ik helemaal geweldig.

  13. Hi Wouter,

    What a disaster! This is my fear realised by you. I would be deeply upset if this happened to me. But, I think I would recover quite quickly when I realise that my photos are actually crap.

    I think the digital format can become more secure than film as my negatives are located in a single safe location whereas my digital files are located in four,,,

    1) On my Mac.
    2) Back-up drive kept at home.
    3) Back-up drive kept off-site.
    4) Live Drive (www.livedrive.com)

    I think your experience demonstrates the point. More importantly, I hope people learn from your experience. You can NEVER be too sure especially with treasured memories.

    Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Best Regards as always.


  14. That’s scary stuff indeed. I have had it happen. I did have two drives as back up. One won’t work now. I have to replace. it. One time I lost all of my music. Thankfully I had it all backed up on my iPod! I think out of that hard drive failure I lost about 300 out of 8,000 songs, so not too hard a hit, but still a hit enough to really bother me.

    Too bad the hard drive couldn’t be recovered.

    I haven’t a clue about RAID systems. I have one G-Force drive backing up my music and photos. I also use my iPod. I would like to get a few of these G-Force drives, as I hear they are dependable. They are expensive though. Still, it’s more expensive to replace music, and tragic to lose photos forever. That’s the one major thing I hate about digital. It can all go “poof” and then it’s gone forever.

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