I realize I started this with a very click-baity headline, but let me explain. I recently wrote about my hard drive configuration and it got a lot of comments. I could have written about the most amazing composition tip in the world and it would have only received half the traffic. But people love their hard drives for some reason. Anyway, in that article I talked about backup, and a number of people felt that my backup process is somewhat undisciplined.
I realized that compared to many of you reading, it is. Later that week, I was chatting with my buddy, Brian Matiash, about why I don’t really care that much if I lost all of my raw files. He agreed with me, and we both felt that some people may actually take this process more seriously than actually doing what it takes to make great photography. So I thought I’d write a little more.
NOTE: I often will ask you not to try to convince me otherwise because I’m happy with my approach. In this case, I have nothing to lose if you convince me otherwise – so have at it in the comments below! 😉
Let Me Explain
First, I AM NOT TRYING TO CONVINCE YOU NOT TO BACKUP YOUR PHOTOS. Please don’t read this post like that. And I am not saying I don’t backup my raw photos. If you take any actionable step from this post, it would be from reading the “Why I Don’t Care” paragraph below.
Next… my raw photos are indeed backed up. If I come back from a shoot they are loaded on to my main hard drive, and I immediately make sure I have a backup on to my backup drive. (read previous post if you’ve got questions on this). However, from that point on, on a normal every day basis, I’m not super disciplined about keeping my backup drive up to date with edits, deletes, etc… that may have happened since the last backup.
Again, if I load new photos on to the drive, I definitely do make a backup right away. But that doesn’t happen that much because I don’t shoot as much as you probably think I do (I have a website/business to run).
As for editing, and saving any new derivative files (PSD, TIFFs, etc…) that may result… well I also think you may think I edit more than I do. If I go on a morning shoot, I’m probably not coming back with any more than 2-3 decent photos. As blog reader Jeff called it… I am a Ruthless Editor. I want less photos not more. Out of those photos, I probably only spend 1-2 minutes editing any of them. At this point in my photography, if a photo needs more than 2 minutes I generally abandon it as I feel like I failed. So if I did lose that small amount of editing… eh well… I’ll redo it. OR… I won’t even have the need to, as you’ll read next.
Why I Don’t Care
In that article, I didn’t mention the NUMBER ONE MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT MY PHOTO BACKUP PROCESS. A very simple thing that I do that helps me care less about the original raw photo.
After I edit a photo that I care about, I immediately save it as a full quality JPG. I have a “Portfolio” folder that I put all of those JPGs into. Right now, it’s got over 500 photos in it from over the years. That folder is backed up in every way possible. Google photos, Amazon Photos, Dropbox, my backup drives, and Blackblaze. If a huge catastrophe happened, I’d be able to get to that folder in some way. And that folder has the only photos I care about.
So if I lost all of my raw photos, I would still have all of my most important photos in that folder and I’d be able to retrieve them. What more do I need? I have full quality JPGs. I can print them if I want. And I can post them anywhere. I can make a book or a calendar. (remember, raw photos are useless to anyone or any website, but us photographers)
SIDENOTE: Please don’t overthink this “Portfolio” folder. I don’t care where it is on my computer (as long as it’s backed up). I don’t care what the color space is, or the ppi, or the keywords, or the metadata or the whatever. When I save the JPG, I choose “High Quality” and that’s it. I’m done. There is no reason to read any more in to this. It’s a high quality JPG and it will serve ANY purpose I have for it, regardless of the color space, metadata and all of the other stuff that has nothing to do with the way the photo looks.
But… I’m Sure There’s a But…
At this point, I think will be a lot of “But… what if” questions back to me, so let me get those out of the way.
But… what if you needed your original raw photo for a client, print, etc…?
I wouldn’t. I can’t think of a reason (for me personally) that I’d need it again. I don’t have clients. If I needed to make a print for myself I could make it from my JPG. And I don’t do any print sales where I’d have to go back and re-edit it. I’m not in the business of selling photos and I turn down 100% of print requests, because it’s too time consuming.
But… what if better editing technology comes out and you need your raw photo?
If I went as far to keep a photo, edit it, save it as a JPG, then I’m happy with it. I don’t need better editing technology.
Editing technology doesn’t make a bad photo good. Period!
So many people say they save old photos hoping that editing technology improves. My personal feeling is that if the photo wasn’t spectacular before that editing feature came out, it won’t be now. And if it was spectacular, editing wasn’t the reason why, and it would have already won all of its awards and received its many accolades.
I’ve had many people send me photos from 20 years ago, saying how much better editing is today and showing me comparisons. I hate to sound harsh, but I’d say 9.5 times out of 10, I see a photo that should have been deleted 20 years ago, as editing was not the answer.
Put simply… you do not “Save” a bad photo with Photo Editing. You finish off an already great photo with photo editing. And if it was an already great photo, it will be no matter what editing technology comes out or not.
BUT… what if you enter a contest and they demand a raw file?
I don’t enter contests. I guess one day if I ever do, then maybe I’d regret it.
BUT… maybe there was a hidden gem in those raw files that you missed the first time?
There’s not 🙂
BUT… sometimes it’s fun to look through old photo shoots. You never know what you’ll find?
I absolutely agree. And that’s where my click-bait headline falls apart. To say “I wouldn’t care” is actually not correct. I would care… a little. But it would not be as disastrous as it sounds because I do have the favorite photos of my lifetime saved in one spot – and please give me a reason why I would need anything else.
But… But.. This is Ludicrous to Say! I’m Sorry, I Can’t Condone This!
I realize this is very hard for a lot of you to hear. But I’m just being real with you about how I choose to spend my photography/computer time and money. My photography is not worth anything to anyone besides me. There are thousands of better photographers than me in the world.
I’m not a legendary photographer and I don’t take legendary photos. I’ve got the same photos as many of you have – landscapes and travel photos – in the now most Instagrammable places on earth. The places I have photos of, there are thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of better photos of those places than what I have. Same goes for wildlife. While I love my photos, it’s a bird, monkey, bear, tree frog, or whatever. Millions of them exist in the world, and many are better than mine.
Ouch… That Hurts!
I promise I’m not being deliberately self deprecating here. I’m just being real with myself and I think Self awareness is really important. My photography is good. And it may sometimes even border on being great. But good or great don’t cut it for anything else but my personal portfolio these days.
Here’s an example… I posted some Alaska bear photos a few weeks ago. I received many comments and even some personal messages from people telling me they were outstanding and I needed to do something else with them. But there were 12 other people with me who all had similar photos. Trust me, we all showed our photos to each other at times, and regardless of whatever great image I thought I had, at least 6 other people had it too. Now, that was just one week in one place to photograph bears. Tens of Thousands of people come to that location. And imagine the numbers that go to other places. See what I’m getting at? They are indeed great photos. But I’m not the only one with those photos. Great Photography is mostly a commodity these days. And that’s okay as long as you’re honest with yourself about why you love photography.
Now, If I had something I thought was “exceptionally extraordinary” then maybe I’d take more precautions. But the perceived value of wonderful photography is the lowest it’s ever been in our lives. I don’t say this to be negative or bring you down. I know from surveys and talking to you, that most of you only take photos for you. So, as a hobbyist photographer, if you take photos thinking they’re valuable to anyone but you, I think you’re not being honest with yourself. I’m sure your friends and family are happy to look at them on social media and your camera club friends are happy to critique them in a meeting. But don’t mistake that none of them would care if you lost all of your raw files.
Matt… This is 100% Reckless to Write! Raw files are Important!
Ok everyone, I’m going to wrap this up by saying that I take backing up my photos and my computer (mostly) seriously. I don’t want you to think I’m telling you not to backup.
I don’t want to lose all of my raw files. But, honestly, I don’t know why. They’re more of a burden than anything. They take up a lot of space. I have folders I haven’t looked through in 10 years and don’t plan to. And if something were to happen to me, I’d just pass this burden on to my family.
Trust me, I sadly get emails every so often from a family member of some one who followed me. They are stuck with tens of thousands of photos that they don’t know what to do with. They ask me if I can go through them for the family or if there’s a service that does it (I don’t know of any).
So I don’t totally know why I save my raw files, but for some reason, I just don’t want to lose them. So I spend time and money every month backing them up. And I’m not in any way telling anyone they shouldn’t.
I always try to take some of the seriousness away from people who don’t rely on photography for their livelihood. It’s okay to take photography seriously, so don’t misunderstand me. I’m a hobbyist golfer, but I take it seriously sometimes. But I often think people take every other part of photography EXCEPT ACTUALLY TAKING GREAT PHOTOS, too seriously. And they lose sight of the fun and important part of it. The final photo is ALL that matters! Which is where my “Portfolio” folder comes in to play – that’s all I really care about.
Sadly, many of the people reading this take all of the other aspects of photography more serious than the process of actually trying to make a wonderful photo, which is evidenced by my most popular post of the year being about hard drives.
When I posted about my hard drives, I had so many people write me and thank me for showing a fairly simple solution – because they go to their camera clubs, or read online, and are made to feel like they’re lacking in some way because other people have these really complicated systems.
So I’m always going to be the guy that goes against the seriousness and “life and death” nature, that hobbyist photographers sometimes try to push on people. That’s it.
I just want you to have fun. If fun for you is dealing with hard drives, RAID, NAS, and having 30 plug-ins to complete one photo. Go for it. But I know for many of you, the fun part is getting out and shooting and editing. And I’m always going to try to help you be better and have more fun with that, over everything else. Enjoy!