A lot of people don’t think about computer backups until it’s too late and they have lost something irreplaceable. In today’s world all your videos, pictures, and documents are file based and stored digitally on some type of media. While that makes it quick to access and easy to share it also opens it up for a catastrophic fail. It used to be a glitch in a videotape might mean a few seconds lost. Now a glitch in a SD card or hard drive could mean an entire day’s, week’s, or even all of your footage is completely gone. And as the IT guys will tell you, it’s not if your drive will fail - it’s when will it fail.
So we must create backups. It may take some extra time but it’s a lot better than the alternative. Below are some tips to help you get started. Then at the end I’ll share the backup strategy I came up with for both Sandstone Productions and my home videos.
1. Make A Plan
And stick to it. This can take a little thought as you figure out what will work best for you. My suggestion is to make it as simple as possible. If it is too complicated or cumbersome that you don’t do it then what’s the point? Since my backup plan involves a couple of steps and multiple drives I wrote a neat little cheat sheet to outline the steps in my back up process. It prevents that dumb “Now how was I doing this again?” blank look at my screen.
2. Use Software That Verifies Your File Transfers
In Windows when you copy and paste a file or drag and drop it to a new location the file is usually transferred using the operating system’s built in utility. But it doesn’t compare the old and new files to make sure that something didn’t go wrong in the transfer. The result could be a corrupt backup file that can not be opened. Instead you should use a transfer utility that verifies each file copied. This is usually referred to as file checksum. TeraCopy is one example for this and there are others. Just make sure that what you are using is verifying your files after copying them.
3. Be Redundant
You want more than one copy of your data and your extra copies should not be connected to your computer. The idea is if something happens to your computer it will not affect your backup. At Sandstone Productions standard operating procedure is to always have three copies on three separate drives of all our client media and project files. Two drives stay in the studio, one drive is stored offsite.
4. Be Organized
This is key. Again, create a file structure that makes sense to you. If you aren’t organized than as files start to pile up you’ll lose track of what is new, what is old, and what you have or have not backed up already. Start with where you store your files. For my personal family videos I created a main folder on my hard drive called “Family Videos.” Original, I know. Inside that folder are sub folders for each year and inside the year folders are more sub folders for each month of the year. Then all videos that were shot during that month go into their respective folders. I also have an identical setup for photos.
Next, I rename all my files. For one thing, it’s much easier to find something if it is labeled with a descriptive name like “Trip to the zoo.MTS” instead of 00142.MTS. Another thing is it prevents conflicts from duplicate names if you have more than one camera. Using software that lets you batch rename files makes this much easier. I’ve been using Adobe Bridge to do this and there is other programs out there as well.
One word of warning before renaming your files: Many cameras record to AVCHD. Due to how AVCHD works long video clips are broken up into multiple smaller clips. Renaming these clips will cause a glitch in the playback where the two clips meet. Refer to your camera’s documentation for the correct procedure for transferring your video clips to your computer and look for a future post on this topic.
5. Setup A Routine Backup Schedule
Decide when or how often you will do your backups. For Sandstone my backup schedule varies based on the project. For my home videos and photos I backup at the end of the month or after an event where I took a lot of video such as a vacation.
6. Copy And Delete
Now it’s time for the actual backup. You can either do a simple file copy or use backup software. I back up to three different hard drives. Three drives may sound like over kill but I find it a good trade off between redundancy and convenience. Storage is cheap. You can buy a couple of 1 TB drives that will last you a long time without a big hit to your wallet. It’s also a good idea to double check your backups and make sure you can access the files on them. If you are using backup software do a restore to make sure you can recover your files if needed.
For my family videos and pictures I first copy all the files from my SD card to the “Family Videos” folder on my computer. Then I rename all the files and drag them into their appropriate sub folders. This will be considered my first backup drive so that I can have quick access to my files. I then copy this to my second archive drive that is stored in the house in case I lose my computer. Finally I make a copy to my third offsite drive. This is in case I lose my house! You can keep your offsite drive at work or a safe deposit box. I keep mine at a nearby relative’s house. The price is right and I can access it on weekends if need be. Once - and only once - my video and picture files are on all three drives I format my SD card. Then it goes back into my camera case ready to be used again.
For Sandstone Productions it gets a little more complicated since in addition to just raw footage we also have in-progress client projects and project archives to deal with. For raw footage it’s the same process. The video files are transferred at the end of each day to our edit drive and renamed. Then they are backed up to our raid backup drive and our offsite drive. These are all temporary backups that will be deleted after the project is finished. During a client project we backup at the end of the day any new or updated files on the raid backup drive and online for our third copy. Since these are smaller project files, graphics, and documents online backup makes sense. Once a project is finished it will be archived on hard drives that then get put in storage. Two of the drives will stay in the studio, one will go offsite. Then once all three backups have been made and confirmed we will delete the files from our edit computer and raid backup drive to make room for future projects.