Ever since I started using Apples Aperture software, I’ve been looking for a good backup strategy that wouldn’t break the bank. Like most people I’ve lost some data in the past; since then, I’m pretty paranoid about keeping backups.

The first strategy I ever used for backup up my images was old-fashioned, but worked well when a digital photo was less than a megabyte in size: writing them to DVDs. Since switching to Aperture I’m using their Vault facility, which allows me to easily back up my picture library to a separate external disk. But this didn’t satisfy my backup needs: I’d still need to keep that disk offsite to protect against fire, floods and theft. 

Offsite backups with Mozy

The first thing I tried was Mozy. They offer an excellent service, at the right price. For $5/month you can upload an unlimited amount of data to their servers. I tried backing up my Aperture library (or actually a small test-library) with their software, and I was able to successfully restore that data. Backups can run automatically, and once the first backup is complete don’t take too long to finish. This method does have a couple of drawbacks:

 

  • The upload speed to the Mozy servers was limited to 1 Mbps. This won’t be an issue for most people, but the first backup of a 100+ GB library will take weeks at this speed. Since I have access to 100 Mbps connections at work, this was a major issue for me.
  • Earlier versions of the software were not that stable and caused a lot of CPU usage; later versions improved this. 
  • Restoring a large library will take lots of time and diskspace; you get a disk image containing your files, so you’ll need double the diskspace while restoring.

Offsite backups to image gallery

My second method has advantages over Mozy, but also some drawbacks. I’ve included a new step in my workflow: any new photographs that I import into Aperture are also exported to an online image gallery (Menalto’s Gallery2 to be exact). Exporting is a breeze with überminds plugin; it performs the export in the background just like normal exports in Aperture, and will add any keywords you assigned to the images when exporting. 

My current workflow is:

  1. Import images to Aperture
  2. Remove the bad ones
  3. Make necessary alterations to the good ones and add keywords and other info
  4. Export to gallery
  5. Backup to vault

This backup method has several advantages over Mozy:

  • It is faster (I’m getting about 10 Mbps of upload speed from the EU to Dreamhost’s servers)
  • Restoring is easy and fast, all images are stored on-disk in an easy to read format
  • I have enough free diskspace on my hosting package to do this for free (or at least it doesn’t require me to pay for extra storage)
  • I’m exporting to a private set of albums by default, but I can easily grant anyone I want to access to one or more photo shoots
  • I can access all my images when on the road. Anytime. Anyplace I can get an internet connection.

It also has some drawbacks:

  • I can only restore JPEG versions of the images, I don’t store RAW versions
  • Keywords and any alterations I’ve made to the images are lost; I only store the final result after editing

Still, it’s good enough for my needs: I have a local backup in my vault, and if that ever fails or is lost I can still restore all my images, and I get the added bonus of having access to all my photographs over the internet. 

If you want to give this a try: I highly recommend signing up with Dreamhost. Their hosting package currently offers 500 GB of diskspace, which grows with two gigabytes per week. That is more than I shoot in an average week, so for me this is working out great. I can keep adding images and the amount of free space just keeps getting bigger. Using that space for backups if not allowed by their Terms of Service, but since you’re uploading them to a webbased gallery that you actually use for showing and viewing these images, you’re using it for “webhosting”, not “backups”. And they even offer a way of automatically installing the Gallery2 software!

If that sounds interesting, give them a try; you can cancel your account anytime within the first 97 days and get a refund. No questions asked. If you use the promotion code “SECNETDISK” when signing up, you’ll start at a whopping 750 GB of diskspace; if 500 GB is enough you can use “SECNET50” to get a $50 discount. 

Future plans

I just might try to automate synchronizing my Aperture library and my gallery. I’m sure this could be done with some relatively simple shell- or AppleScript code. If you have any suggestions feel free to leave them in the comments below!