Meditations on programming, startups, and technology

Backing up large amounts of photos

As some of you may know, I dabble in photography, which means that after years of shooting I have a very large volume of RAW files laying around (currently a little over 500GB’s worth).

Adobe Lightroom does a great job at organizing my collection, which is stored on two external hard drives. I have a primary drive and a backup one. When I import new photos in Lightroom, I have the option to “Make a Second Copy To” and specify my second drive.

Having a local backup is important. In fact, the external drive that used to store my main collection died unexpectedly in September and I had to resort to copying everything from my backup drive to a new drive.

A local backup is convenient and allows you to quickly restore your files, should your main drive go awry. The problem with local backups is that they’re not enough.

Fire, flood, burglary, or even a fluke incident like somehow frying both hard drives at the same time, all come to mind.

Now that there are some relatively inexpensive options in which to store one’s files on the cloud, I’ve been looking for a viable solution to this issue on that front.

There are many services offering some form of on-the-cloud photo backup. Unfortunately most of them either don’t support RAW files or cost way too much money (I’m talking $50/mo for the amount of data I have). [1]

In the past I tried using generic backup programs like Crashplan and I found them to be unbearably slow, as the upload speeds were nowhere near what my connection is capable of.

To make a long story short, it came down to Dropbox and Google Drive. Neither of which support client side encryption upon upload, while also both struggling to handle directories that are stored on external drives.

For Mac, there is an excellent program called Arq [2] which enables you to perform your own encrypted, incremental, versioned backups to various cloud services including S3, Amazon Glacier, and Google Drive. They do not seem to support Dropbox at this time. [3]

Arq 4

That pretty much determined my ultimate choice for me right there. [4] With Google Drive I get 1TB of data for $9.99/mo and that same space is shared amongst Gmail, Google Drive, and Google+ Photos, which certainly doesn’t hurt. Unlike Glacier, which would cost more or less the same, there is no waiting period for your files to become available in case a restore in required.

Arq handles backing up external drives without a hitch. Connect to the drive and the backup starts or continues. Disconnect the drive, and all backup operations are put on pause.

The only precaution you need to take is to change the Google Drive settings on each computer you use, so that the Arq Backup Data is not synchronized (otherwise you’d have 500+GB of data downloaded on each computer).

Google Drive settings for Arq 4

It’s an almost perfect solution for me, especially because I’m not limited just to photos. I can use the same software and the same Google Drive space for other folders and files that I need to backup. And with the same application, I can also upload selected folders to S3 or other services I use if needed.

The only downside to this is that the data is encrypted so I can’t just look at the individual files on Something I can live with.

  1. Zoolz appears to be the only photo specific one that fits the bill. ^
  2. $39.99 for the current version, but I recommend buying the $59.99 license with lifetime updates, like I did. ^
  3. I use Dropbox and I think it’s superior to Google Drive in terms of the user experience that’s provided, but unfortunately Arq doesn’t support it, so that wasn’t an option. ^
  4. In insight, Zoolz might have worked just as well. However, it uses Amazon Glacier underneath, so it introduces restore time delays. I also liked the idea of having extra space available for other Google services that I use. ^

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2 Responses to “Backing up large amounts of photos”

  1. Jon says:

    The *initial* backup with CrashPlan on default settings is slow, yes. But tweaking those settings to no longer apply a governor makes a big difference. Besides, who cares about speed when you’re getting UNLIMITED backups for $6/mo or less? Keep your two local backups and toss CrashPlan in the mix and speed is no longer a concern. Incremental backups when you add new files are pretty quick.

    Another option: 1 TB OneDrive storage is included with every Office 365 subscription, cheapest at $7/mo also gives you all the benefits of O365 at the same time.

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