dead hard drive-1
[A]s I am writing this someone’s going to get a punch in the face. That someone is me. I know what backups are and I know how to do them, but the question is, why didn’t I do any?………… The answer? Laziness. It’s like knowing you should pay a bill and yet never doing so. I broke my main hard drive, and now I lost most of my photography. Here’s what happened.

I have a 4tb external hard drive, and I have a personal server of 4tb (4x2tb mirrored). I put everything on the first external hard drive and VAGUELY setup a backup to the personal server. Today I was working editing a client job……. I put the hard drive on the bed so that the USB cord could attach to my computer when I heard CRACK. Holy crap. HOLY CRAP! Hard drive. Concrete Floor. DAMN!  The first thing that hit me is “I have a backup” the second is “That I never properly implemented”. My heart was pounding, I have multiple versions of my “disposable files”, my music and ebooks and stuff, and my Magazine and Website files, but that drive contained my photography, the whole year 2013 and previous years . At least I have everything else backed up to my server right? I had to check to see if it still worked.
I plugged in the hard drive in my computer……THUTHUNK! Sweet sound of windows recognizing drive YES! It’s alive, yes yes yes!!!! and then I hear this sickening sound……the drive made the sound of an airplane taking flight. Then it stopped. I’m screwed. Damn damn damn I’m screwed. I quickly reached for my LAN cord and plugged my server in my computer, I should have a backup of my stuff. Let’s see 2011-2012-2103 fiew! YES they are all there I ain’t that bad after all!!!!……I opened 2013 to see the last backup was April, my heart sank, but at least my old photography stuff was there right, right? I opened 2012 only to freak out: It wasn’t all there. I remember ALL the times I put the backup to the server off and didn’t because of my laziness. I only had the patience to copy a few files and never the whole set. I only backep up 30% of my photography, the rest was put off for tomorrow.
The cost of Laziness
The problem is not the computer, it’s not the hard drive, it’s MY fault. I kept pushing the backup to next time and it never happened.
Pushing the catalogs backups away
I remember as a kid “Olivier, did you do your homework?” would ask my mom, I would automatically say yes, it would be a don’t-think-just-say-yes response. I was of course playing video games or whatever. This is the same thing for the Lightroom catalog, every time that thing would pop up, “Do you want to back up”, I would ALWAYS postpone, I’ll do it next time I tell myself but it was a just-click-postpone-and-be-done response. It’s always the next time the next time and so on……Never realized my last catalog backup was a year ago in my server, and I never took the time to fully backup my files to the server. I kept pushing it away because it was so slow.
But my loosing the catalog doesn’t mean too much to me, I have everything as presets and all of my images have a sidecar XMPs, so everything is not really in the catalog, but in a file accompanying the pictures. All of my photography is within a folder structure system, so I don’t loose much by loosing the catalog, but what I don’t have anymore is the original images the catalog points to.
Be diligent to know the state of your flocks
That’s a nugget of Hebrew wisdom for you, translated to 21st century: Be diligent to know the state of your backups. I know what to do but I just didn’t because I was lazy, I put off my backups to tomorrow. That was not diligence, that was laziness. I lost a chunk of my photography. And you know what REALLY pains me? As much as I love my work, what really saddens me is loosing my family pictures. I can’t believe how much these mean to me…..only when they are gone… I’m trying to do everything I can to recover them, but if I can’t i’ll probably cry. I really want to break down right now. My kid growing up, his life DAMN I lost it. Well I’m teary eyed right now because I wanted to do a collage of his life in a book, I pray that I can recover them. Forget it, I’m crying now, it’s my kiddo’s pictures man and I probably lost them forever.
1GB catastrophe folder
I have a 1GB “catastrophe” backup folder that contains my portfolio and select few family pics. It’s in my Google Drive and my Motoactv runner’s watch that I had for a crazy deal. It’s there, I was adamant to have some stuff backed up always with me in case of a catastrophe, but there IS no catastrophe. It’s like being hungry and being presented with a bean to eat. I’m hungry, I want my whole photography back, not just these few pics I have in my catastrophe folder. I still can’t believe I lost mostly all of my photography.
Client files
Right now I’m working with a client for her clothing line. Gone. But good thing I have a policy to backup in the field  (Buy the case and slap in a hard drive) and to NEVER delete an SD card until needed. So I didn’t loose that client’s files, it’s still in my memory card. In my contract I tell my clients that I am not responsible for their files when I am done delivering them, so I have no responsibility in case something happens and can’t give files back. I don’t mess with paid assignments that’s why I always backup in the field and clean my SD cards only in the next one. So what I really lost is my personal work 🙁
Finding hope
What is done is done, I accept it. Actually that’s a lie, I’m in complete denial. But I have hope that I might recover my stuff
Hope 1:
Repair the hard drive, I think and hope it can be repaired. But data recovery is expensive, and having a 4tb sent for recovery is going to run me in the 4 digits. Family priorities makes this not feasible right now. It’s that recovery that makes me hopeful but too far in the future to even see when I’ll be able to do it. But if my disks are scratched, which I think happened but don’t want to entertain the idea. I’m 100% screwed.
Hope 2:
I have a bunch of hard drives, sometimes I leave files in them, hopefully I backed up some photography in them. Update: Yes I did! Recovered my Nicaragua files and Haiti files. Missing everything else.
Hope 3:
I had a Iomega Rev once, it gave up the ghost and don’t remember what’s in the carts. I hope some of my photography, but don’t think so. I’ll have to buy another REV and find those carts.
Hope 4:
Since I have a bunch of hard drives, I hope to run recovery software in them, and all of my SD cards to see what I can recover that once was deleted.
Bestest Best Scenario:
I completely recover the 4tb, loose some money but files are ok.
Moderately bad scenario:
4tb hdd dead, I scrape some stuff from my REVs and my other HDDs by recovery
I’m screwed scenario:
4tb hdd dead, nothing usable in anything. Dread. Despair.
What I should have done
– Backup regularly to all of my devices
– Backup on-line (I used to but got too expensive) (Now I see expensive does not compare to loosing your files)
– Be diligent to do all of the above
– Be diligent to be diligent
Knowing vs Doing
I can tell you about backup types, Raid arrays, media lifespans but they are all bunk because I didn’t do it. There’s a tremendous difference between knowing and doing. I’m sure you know you should back up, but do you do it? I didn’t and when it comes to it, it doesn’t matter if you know everything in the world and don’t do it. I’m sad to be the proof. I let my backup laziness get the best of me and now look what happened. I am so mad at myself.
Don’t let this happen to you
Right now I’m in denial. I can’t believe it. It’s a bad joke. I don’t want to think about it. I’m writing this article so that I can sort of face the consequences of my laziness. I hope I can recover my lost files somehow or else I am screwed. Please don’t let this happen to you. It’s horrible, I’ve been pretty much frozen since yesterday. I’ll be working on my magazine to put my mind off it but it’s like a part of my history has been erased…..I feel like just going to bed for a week. Non photographers won’t understand it but, it’s my work, my pain, my pleasure, my ups and down, my life darn it, and I lost it. My fault. Don’t let this happen to you. Don’t make this painful lesson go to waste, please backup. Please make it worth loosing my stuff  by backing up yours.
I want to cry my tears out for my foolishness. I knew what to do but never did. I think I need a beer or two 🙁

Join the conversation


  1. Oliver, I just subscribed to CrashPlan a couple days ago. Seems to be a boatload quicker than Carbonite was on doing the initial backup. I only use offsite storage for what is on my laptop. What is NOT on my computer is on 2 different external hard drives before it comes OFF of my computer. It’s a crazy assed very manually intensive backup system but it works for me. I got burned about a year ago by a failing WD MyBook Harddrive. I don’t blame WD. I pushed that particular drive way beyond what I should have timewise. I now try to replace my drives once very 2 years. What would be ideal is some automated backup system, but I haven’t found anything that works for me at a price point I can afford.
    I also try to keep VERY Important stuff on my SmugMug Account. They have unlimited uploads with their paid plans. Granted you can’t keep RAW files on there (unless you buy the SmugVault, which is very expensive) but you can store unlimited JPGs and a Full Res Jpg is better than losing something totally.
    Sorry for you Loss 🙁

    1. I had a system, or at least the plan of a system. I just was too lazy to implement it.
      My thing was letting my laziness get in front of my backing up. I can only blame myself. 🙁

  2. Hi Olivier,
    I was just thinking today that I need to find a good cloud server soon so that images are kept off site. I have 10 3T external drives and use blue ray discs etc but if those are kept in one place such as in my home it does not mean much. We have earthquakes in Japan.
    I would suggest that you do not touch your problem disk by yourself and use an experienced vendor to recover your files. I hope you can find a reliable one soon so that a peaceful life comes back to you shortly.
    Best regards

    1. Yeah, that’s what I hope to do. I hope the platters are not ruined.
      I was always putting off that Blu-ray writer purchase too 🙁

  3. Hi Olivier
    I have often wondered what it would be like to lose all of my photography this way. However, anything of real value is backed up on an external drive & also online, although only as jpeg files, which, to be honest, is good enough for me. It’s very rare I go back to RAW files as there are usually better things to do (like make new RAW files).
    I’ve considered how I’d feel many times & always come to the conclusion, I wouldn’t feel so bad after all. My very best photography is what I’ll be doing tomorrow…everything else is just learning.
    Lets hope if it does happen, I can still feel the same way. Hopefully you can eventually, once you’ve limited your losses.
    Good luck!

      1. Yep, that’s a real problem…have you not emailed many of them to friends & family? Maybe you can get them emailed back, although you won’t get the originals at least it would be something.

  4. Been there, done that…… fortunately no professional stuff, but a lot of family stuff.
    Since then I BACK UP like mad! Got Time Machine on my Macs running constantly, shoving stuff to the Time Capsule, then again running Dropbox with a 100 meg space that costs some money, but keeps all my documents save in the cloud (at least I hope so). Then a periodic 1:1 copy of my harddisks…. should be enough.
    I hope you can recover those files from the disk!

  5. FWIW, don’t rely on mirrored disks on RAID 1, especially a LaCie, as your only backup solution. I had a LaCie network drive running RAID 1 (2 disks mirroring each other, so if one drive goes bad, the other still has a mirrored copy). The drives were fine, but the hard disk controller went bad and wouldn’t read either disk. With Lacie, you cannot simply swap the drives into another identical LaCie drive enclosure–the new unit will NOT recognize the existing drives, and ask you to reformat them. To make matters worse, many fora posts advised that if you send the unit to LaCie for service, they will ERASE/reformat the drives and reinstall the RAID software as the “soluton”!
    In the end, I had to take out the drives, reinstall them into my desktop machine, run a third party program to read LaCie’s format (it’s not Windows format, its ZFS or UFS or some variant) and back everything up. I then had to reback everything to a new network drive. All told it must have been a week or so. This may be simple to a techie, but not so intuitive to me.
    Fortunately, I was able to save most of my photos but it was very uncomfortable while figuring out he solution. I learned all about various file formats, about putting together my own RAID server using FreeNAS and NAS4Free and some old, obsolete hardware, about the crap LaCie puts out in nice and pretty wrappers, and about keeping everything on a RAID array PLUS at least one other place such as a hard drive or remote location/cloud.
    BTW, run of the mill CDs and DVDs are NOT archival, often becoming unreadable in a matter of several years. The gold plated CDs and DVDs apparently are more archival, but are pricey. I think if someone comes out with a device that burns the digital image into a negative or slide for archival purposes, I might just buy it.

  6. Just pay the expensive recovery, you will be sooo sorry in a few decades when you realize that you didn’t save your precious images!

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