Tech Post – Backup & Archiving

chris crisman tech post storage backup archiving

Photography is our business. Everything that we do furthers the common goal of making photos – it’s how we are wired and I can’t imagine that changing anytime soon. It’s an amazing and unique position to be able to inspire and excite by creating and executing our creative vision. We take our creative process very seriously; we derive our livelihood off of our ability to make photos.

An equally serious and important process is how we process and archive the images we make. There’s no doubt that in most cases, celluloid has been replaced by megabytes, but no matter the medium, when you make your living making images, you need know that those photos are safe and secure. How do we do it? Keep reading for the breakdown of how we manage it all, from capture to archive…


It all starts with capture. Depending on the situation we could be shooting DSLR, medium format digital – deep in the woods or tethered in the studio. Either way we have a ton of captures. Most of the time we’re working with compact flash cards, shooting and ingesting images to our MacBooks as we travel around the world.

We could be shooting in studio in NYC or out in the middle of nowhere, but every job we shoot is logged as it’s own unique name and number as an identifier – therefore each capture contains that name. As we edit through the photos and work on retouching, image delivery, backup, and archiving, the job name and number stays the same. When you’re managing an ever-expanding archive of photos that spans close to a decade, having this unique identifier is essential.

chris crisman tech post storage backup archiving

After our job is shot, we’re always vigilant to make sure that it exists physically in more than one place. When we’re on the road our primary storage is the internal hard drive in our shooting laptops, and beyond that we’ll backup across multiple portable external storage drives. We’ll even go as far as making sure that we are physically carrying one of those drive with us at all times. I know it may sound like we’re walking around with nuclear launch codes handcuffed in a briefcase to our wrists, but you can’t argue the value of the digital files those hard drives contain.

chris crisman tech post storage backup archiving

Back at home base, every photo gets backed up onto our active storage archive. Weighing in at just over 70 TB of space, we’re continually expanding to match the demands of the images we create. To get a bit more technical, we’re currently operating on 35TB of Raid 0 storage that is physically mirrored across multiple drives. Beyond that, we continually update our offsite storage to keep physical copies of every shoot separated from our active storage. In other words, our backups have backups.

chris crisman tech post storage backup archiving

No matter how you look at it, the concept of digital storage is not permanent. You’re continually working against drive failure, RAID failure, and a series of untold elements that may prevent you from accessing your photos in the future. When you devote countless hours to creating these photos and your livelehood is based around them, ensuring their security is not something to approach haphazardly.

In terms of storage and archiving – as we move forward, we’re always looking back. As file sizes get larger and storage space gets cheaper, we’re always considering that the creative and physical legacy of the photos we create has a very tangible value, and we need to do everything we can to ensure those images are secure and accessible.

How do we match up to your backup and archiving system? Questions? Let us know in the comments or @crismanphoto and /crismanphoto.

4 replies to “Tech Post – Backup & Archiving”

  1. I’m also surrounded by ever expanding collection of external hard drives.
    On top of this migrating older drives to newer ones is also a pain.
    I’m now convinced more than ever that cloud storage is a definate 3rd archive option where redundancy (should be) built in.
    Only problem … transferring 4tb of data especially as fibre is not fully avaiable here in the Uk.
    Mind you I feel happier after reading of the size of your archive !
    Great work enjoy reading your posts.

  2. “it may sound like we’re walking around with nuclear launch codes handcuffed in a briefcase to our wrists”… and it is!
    You got it Robert, thanks… I share Simon’s feelings…

  3. You followed my suggestion for a post! Thanks Robert!
    So for your onsite storage and backup you use two completely separate 35TB RAID0 systems? Why don’t you just use all 70TB in RAID10? If they’re separate, how do you make sure they are continuous backups of each other? It seems like it would be a nightmare to constantly manage files, especially if one raid system is being used for active files.

  4. Hey Phil, you’re welcome! Thanks for the suggestion, it was a good one to write about. To really technically answer your question, the total 70tb is in a RAID 0+1 setup. Physically there are 4 hardware RAID drives containing 35TB + 35TB (2x 20TB, 2x 15TB). The 35TB is software mirrored and continuously backed up on a nightly basis (physical RAID 0 in a software RAID 1 setup). Hope that makes sense!

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