The Complete Photo and Video Media Backup Workflow

The complete workflow for data storage

It’s one of the least exciting parts of the job, but one of the most important. It’s something that every single creative should understand: importing, storing, and backing up your precious media. This workflow is geared towards anyone who creates digital media and is easily scaled to grow with your media and budget for storage.

Of course, what you’re about to read isn’t the only way to do this. For some creatives, it may be using just passport drives – for others it may be networked storage arrays. Either way, the basics remain the same and scale accordingly. Among the many work-related nightmares I’ve had, losing footage is one of the worst.  Fortunately, I’ve only had one “test” of my backup strategy when a passport drive was accidentally knocked off a table by a client. Fortunately, everything on that drive was backed up on multiple other drives, so it was easy to just create another copy and keep moving along – No expensive recovery services needed.

Storage and backup workflow

1. Be organized.  The weakest point of a workflow is going to be at the import.  Ideally, when on larger sets you hire a DIT to manage your media, but that’s not always possible. When you’re on location with a client, be sure you have a good system in place to make sure that all your cards are 1) marked and not going to be overwritten and 2) not missed when it comes to importing.  I have two Pelican 0915 SD Card cases, one with green paper tape (safe cards) and one with red (used cards). As soon as a card comes out of a camera, I immediately use a red strip of paper tape, write the card name/number on it, and cover the contacts. It goes right into the red case, which is then secured with me for the rest of the shoot. There are a number of ways to do this well, but this method gives me the most confidence.

2. Make redundant copies. Whatever you do, do not make one copy of your media and then duplicate that copy. If there happened to be any issues with the transfer, you’ve now duplicated that issue to all your copies.  I use Hedge, an all-in-one media backup suite made for video. (It works for any kind of transfer though!) It’s built around best-practices for media backup, including making individual copies to each attached drive, high-speed transfers, and media verification through check-sums.  The reality is that hard drives will eventually fail, and you don’t want to find yourself with no backup copies.

3. Keep a clean copy of your media. Before you start transcoding media or dropping it into any software, make sure at least one of your copies is left unaltered.  If you run into any issues with transcoding, make a mistake, or your proprietary software alters something, you want to make sure you can start fresh.

4. Keep everything separate. We work from the concept of 2 +1 for the number of copies we make at a minimum – by the time we are done with a project we usually have 4 or more copies. Two copies that live here at the office (one for editing, one on a backup drive) and then a third copy that is kept off-site.  This helps protect you from not only drive failures but also the less likely scenarios such as break-ins or physical property damage from fire or weather.  If you have a RAID array on site, that can act as your redundant on-site backup – just make sure you have something stored off site as well. We also use cloud storage as another form of backup for extra piece of mind.


The complete photo video workflow for data storageThe complete workflow for data storage

Media Storage Basics

The cost of hard drives and digital media has dropped dramatically over the years. I almost never delete footage because hard drives are cheap enough to just budget in new drives with each project.

Hard drives: Not all hard drives are created equal! Even with a good backup strategy, it’s key to use drives that aren’t going to force you to test your strategy often.  BackBlaze, a data-center company posts data about hard drive failure rates for each brand and size of drive offered. It’s an interesting read, but if you want the summary- stay far away from Seagate Drives and go with brands such as G-RAID, Hitachi, or Western Digital. For field drives, I exclusively use La Cie Rugged drives which offer a high level of protection from bumps, spills, and drops. For long-term storage, I use a combination of a RAID array (we’ll get to that later) and external passport drives.

Software: While using your OS’ file browser to transfer files gets the job done, it offers very little protection against errors, whether human or technical. If you’re going to go that route, be sure to copy each memory card to separate hard drives. If you copy your cards to one hard drive and then duplicate that backup to another drive, it will carry potential errors with it.  The best addition in the past year to my software toolkit is Hedge, a tool that handles simultaneous backups AND performs Check-Sum verification of your drives. Check-Sum verification is a foolproof method of ensuring that what was on that memory card, is now on your hard drive.


And finally for the gear list: