Google Photos — Bait Meet Switch

Google Photos blog post announcing their new Google Photos service.

In case you missed it recently, Google Photos has decided to end their free unlimited photo hosting service. Beginning in June of next year users will be limited to 15GB of space before being asked to pay for more storage. How much you’ll have to pay will depend on how much storage you use. Unfortunately for me, I have more photos than fit their top tier $100/year plan, so even if I wanted to pay I’d be capped out of the service.

While I don’t begrudge Google, a trillion dollar company that makes billions of dollars a year, from wanting to make even MORE money, I am offended by the bait and switch approach that they took with Google Photos. Offering a user the first hit for free is classic dealer marketing. A lot of time and energy goes into organizing your photos on ANY photo sharing site and when someone spends hundreds or even thousands of hours organizing their photos at a site only to be priced out of the site, those are countless hours that you will never get back.

Fortunately for me I’ve spent a lot less time using Google Photos for the past few years. Google’s consistent bad faith across photo hosting/sharing products has left me very skeptical of anything they do anymore.

Some of you may remember Picasa (Google killed it). I was a user of that. I also was a big user of Google Buzz (they killed that too). Then I put hundreds of hours into my photography on Google+ (once again RIP). We used to do photowalks and hangouts and lots of other fun things around photography with Google+. Here’s my old Google+ url.

Initially I was super excited about Google Photos, but that changed over time. I was disappointed that one of their early features, photo facial recognition, didn’t really work for me. It limited the service to 200 faces and unfortunately for me when the service launched it grabbed a bunch of faces of musicians I’d photographed performing at Coachella and chose those as the ones to tag. There was no way to delete those and have it choose people who were actually my family, friends, neighbors, etc.

I was also disappointed that the hours and hours and hours I’d spent keywording all my photos in Adobe Lightroom were stripped out of my uploads to Google Photos. I’m not sure why Google would want to remove one of the best ways for me to search my photos from their service but for whatever reason they strip this data.

Still, Google Photos was free (even though it downsized my photos). It’s hard to complain about free — until they locked my gmail. Last year I received a rather ominous message from Google threatening that unless I paid them for more storage they were going to turn my gmail off.

It turns out that even though Google Photos claimed to be able to convert my photos to high quality JPEGs with free unlimited storage, that TIFF files generated by the software program Analog Efex Pro (ironically a former Google owned product before they jettisoned that as well) were not being converted by Google Photos and were sucking up my gmail storage which was then demanding payment from me. They actually locked my gmail and I missed several important emails that were blocked during this fiasco.

By this point I was about ready to delete my Google Photos account — except I could not find ANY way to delete my Google Photos account. That’s right you can’t just delete Google Photos. You have to delete your entire Google account including your Gmail!

While this is my unhappy story and experience with Google Photos, many, many users were duped into signing up for a free service that they thought would protect, as Google put it, their “lifetime of memories.” Now Google is demanding money from these users.

To me it seems wrong (even evil — remember their old motto “don’t be evil” that they also abandoned?) that Google would bait and switch so many users on this product. You can’t/won’t get the many hours that you spent organizing your photos on Google Photos back. Some will just begrudgingly pay up. What I see is one of the world’s largest companies who used a classic monopolistic tactic to grab market share by pricing out and hurting smaller competitors and now wants to profit from their move.

Once burned shame on you. Twice, three times, four times, five times, six times burned, shame on me. I will never trust Google with another product again.

Thankfully there is an alternative to Google Photos, good old trustworthy Flickr. Here is a thoughtful analysis done by Jeremy Zero comparing Google Photos and Flickr.

I’ve been using Flickr since 2004 and as long as I can remember my Flickr Pro account has remained unlimited. Flickr/SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill even recently re-iterated Flickr’s commitment to honoring their unlimited service. While Flickr may not be a trillion dollar company or make billions of dollars every year like Google does, they are a small company that cares about photographers and your photography. They also do a great job storing and sharing your full high-res, uncompressed, high quality images (and they even retain your photo keywords when you upload them there). I feel much better supporting an ethical small business than a trillion dollar company using monopolistic bait and switch tactics to try to drive the smaller guy out of business.

You can find me on Flickr here. If you are an American Photographer come join the American Photographer Group I administer on Flickr and say hello.

My Thoughts on the SmugMug Flickr Acquisition

Disclosure: I know people and am friends with people who work at both SmugMug and Flickr.

Earlier today we learned that the photo sharing site Flickr has been acquired by the photo sharing site SmugMug. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Flickr was purchased by Yahoo back in the early days of the internet in 2005 for probably somewhere around $40 million (give or take $10 million). Yahoo managed Flickr for many years, but more recently Yahoo’s core holdings were sold off last year to Verizon. Verizon folded Flickr into a new division called Oath which was made up of various Yahoo and AOL assets (another Verizon acquisition) run by ex-Google executive Tim Armstrong. Now Verizon/Oath has sold Flickr to SmugMug.

As They Pulled You Out Of The Oxygen Tent You Asked For The Latest Party
Flickr Fiesta party celebrating Yahoo acquisition in 2005 at Yahoo Campus.

Flickr Turns 2 (12)
Flickr Turns 2 Party, San Francisco, 2006.

As someone who joined Flickr back in 2003 pre-Yahoo and has been on the site pretty much daily since then, I thought I’d share my own thoughts on what this acquisition might mean for Flickr users and the larger Flickr community.

First off, I have to say that I think that today’s news is *very* good for Flickr users and the Flickr community. While time will tell how this acquisition goes, I have much more faith in SmugMug running Flickr than I do Verizon.

Before getting into the particulars about why I think this is a good fit, I think you have to take a general look at the types of companies Yahoo/Verizon/Oath were/are and the type of company SmugMug is. Yahoo/Verizon/Oath like Google and Facebook are largely advertising companies. These companies offer you free content and use your personal data to advertise at you. One of the things that I always liked about Flickr was that advertising was largely secondary to paid subscription accounts. Sure, Flickr had a free account, but at least as it was initially designed, the free account (which limited you to only seeing your last 200 photos) was really more of a trial for the real thing, Flickr Pro, for which you paid a subscription.

SmugMug has always been a profitable paid photo sharing service. They’ve never had a free option. This has served them well and has kept them profitable. At the same time it is hard to get people to pay for things on the internet so this in some ways limited their user growth compared to Flickr and other services offering a free option.

My own view is that I think people are waking up to the fact that “free” on the internet doesn’t really mean exactly free. The age old adage of if you are not paying for the product, you are the product is becoming clearer and clearer, even to the point of Mark Zuckerberg having to head on up to Capitol Hill and try to explain how all this social media stuff works to Senators and Congress.

Now, does this mean that SmugMug is going to kill the free Flickr account? Absolutely not. But I do think that they might try to nudge people in the direction of paid Pro — which I also think is smart and ultimately more sustainable than simply giving everyone a free terabyte. I LOVE that I have a complete ad free experience for my own use of Flickr AND also for the users who browse my pages of photos. I will happily continue paying for it indefinitely (assuming Flickr continues grandfathering my unlimited storage Pro account). I also think that SmugMug will likely be much better for Flickr from a privacy standpoint as well without having to worry about how to sell off our private information because we pay.

Ivan Makarov, SmugMug HQ
Ivan Makarov, one of my early Flickr contacts (now SmugMug’s VP of Finance) posing in front of a giant wall print at SmugMug’s Mountain View office.

In buying Flickr SmugMug more than anything is buying a community. I think that they are going to be very careful not to disrupt this community and look for ways to grow it thoughtfully. Having known the MacAskills (the family that owns SmugMug) for many years, one thing I can say for certain is that they LOVE photography and photographers. If you ever get a chance to visit their offices in Mountain View do it. What you will find is wall after wall covered with the biggest prints you have ever seen in your life. These are people who are passionate about photography, not advertising.

Baldy Behind the Camera
Chris “Baldy” MacAskill on a SmugMug photowalk in 2013

Flickr Over San Francisco
Flickr Photowalk, Bernal Hill, 2013

For SmugMug I think what is probably most exciting is that they are getting a very large community of photographers by purchasing Flickr. I think that this will allow them to do even more with community, photowalks, meetups, etc. They will need to make sure Flickr is profitable (and it will be) but they will have a much larger group to build a bigger and stronger community with. While Google+ sort of became a place for the photographic community for a bit, before Google largely abandoned it, there really is not a good place for a larger community of photographers today and I think with the acquisition of Flickr, SmugMug hopes that it can build this and I think they have a pretty good chance at doing it.

I think the other thing that SmugMug owning Flickr will do is that it will allow them to be much more nimble in terms of hacking on and developing the site. Big organizations (like Yahoo and Verizon) have layers of bureaucracy that sometimes make things difficult to get done. Small organizations, by contrast, can move much more quickly. While I don’t expect any immediate changes to Flickr, I think that going forward it will improve more rapidly. I also think it’s great that from what I can tell the entire team at Flickr is being retained.

Mostly what I’ve seen online since the acquisition was announced earlier today has been a positive response. Flickr co-Founders Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake have posted positive tweets on the acquisition as well.

As far as I can tell from looking at the new SmugMug/Flickr TOS everything looks pretty much for things to be business as usual at Flickr for the immediate future.

SmugMug and Flickr will be run as two different sites/properties.

Since Flickr is one of the few sites on the web that allows moderated adult content, I did wonder how SmugMug would treat that — at least per the current TOS it looks like that is going to be handled as it always has been at Flickr. Make sure you moderate your adult content, keeping it away from the kids, and it’s allowed.

If you want to read more in depth at what this might mean for Flickr users going forward I’d point you to a thread in the Flickr Help Forum where more details are provided and where the community is currently reacting to today’s news.

A big congrats to both the Flickr and SmugMug teams. I’m looking forward to being an active user on Flickr for many years ahead and am looking forward to all the ways you will continue to improve both sites.

You can find me on Flickr here.

ANKR $25 for Piece of Mind

ANKR

I just installed an ANKR in my camera bag. Over the past 10 years I’ve had this reoccurring dream about my camera gear and my backpack being stolen. I’ve actually had two cameras stolen over the years unfortunately.

When you use your camera every day like I do, it’s a hazard to have to deal with. My friend Trey Ratcliff was jacked of his camera bag earlier this year. So I was very pleased to learn about ANKR. ANKR is a new product that alerts you when you become separated from your gear. The ANKR itself is super small, not much thicker than a quarter. I hid mine in a hidden area of my backpack and now if my backpack and I become separated I’ll get an immediate alert. It boggles my mind why somebody did not come out with such a helpful and useful tool 5 years ago.

Although I’m sure an ANKR is not foolproof, it’s at least a first line of defense against your gear being taken or stolen. I frequently walk around with over $10,000 worth of gear in my backpack and I would just be crushed if I lost it. $25 seems like a very small price to pay for piece of mind.

Setting up ANKR was super easy. I turned the ANKR on, downloaded the ANKR app and it found it right away. It created a “safe zone” so that I will never get an alert if my camera bag is at home (you can set up more safe zones as well), but if I’m out and about and become separated from my bag I’ll get an alert. I can also see on a map exactly where my bag was when we were separated which might be helpful for me to recover it.

ANKR is a wonderful new tool to help combat theft. I have a feeling I’m going to be purchasing a few more of these. I think I’d like to attach one to my camera strap itself, in case my camera is out of the bag and stolen. I can see lots of other applications for this tech as well (kids, car keys, car, wallet, luggage, etc.). Hopefully the more tech like this is used, the less successful thieves will be with stealing stuff.

Want a Great Gift for a Photographer This Holiday Season? Get Them a Scottevest

Brother and Sister Bonding Time
Brother and Sister Bonding Time, by April Joy Gutel.

On Wednesday I spent the afternoon shooting the Oakland Museum of California with my sister April Joy Gutel (her photo of me above, thanks April). I always love shooting in museums and find myself inspired by the art even as I create new art in that sort of a space.

A lot of museums don’t allow photography, but the ones that do almost always disallow backpacks. Because I shoot mostly prime lenses, I need a lot of different lenses wherever I go.

On Wednesday I tried shooting in a museum in my new Scottevest for the first time. It worked great. I was able to pack an iPhone 5s, 4 different lenses (my 8-15 fisheye, 14mm, 24mm, 135mm), an extra battery and two CF cards easily into the vest. This was in addition to the Canon Mark 3 and 50mm lens on my camera. While I definitely felt the weight as I shot (those lenses are heavy), it felt much better than wearing a backpack. The lenses were also much more accessible to me as I didn’t have to take a backpack off to get to them. I simply unzipped the pocket and pulled out what I needed.

Even with this much gear, I still had lots of room to pack more stuff into the vest if I needed it.

The vest has sleeves that come on or off, in case you want to wear it as a jacket. It was very light weight and very comfortable to wear. It’s a great thing to have around for those times when you want more than just your camera, but don’t want to (or can’t) take your whole backpack set up with you.

You can check out photos I’ve taken at the Oakland Museum of California here.

How to Make Your Photo Experience on the Web Better and Faster

As a fan of the new Flickr redesign, I’ve been particularly impressed with how fast so many images load — an impressive feat given the new image rich, justified, mosaic view, with infinite scroll. Seeing more images, faster, invites more engagement and makes the site a more compelling place to visit. I think Flickr engineers have done a lot of optimizing behind the scenes and are continuing to tweak the site in new ways to make it even faster.

There are some users in the Flickr Help Forum, however, who moan about the newer version of Flickr being slow for them. While it makes some sense to me that a more image intensive design would impact speed, as fast as the new Flickr is for me, (on both my own account and other test accounts), I think there is more to it than just that.

In a new image intensive internet, companies can’t always design and optimize for the lowest common denominator. At some point engineers and designers must just let the Internet Explore 6.0 crowd go. If they haven’t upgraded by now, it now becomes their problem not yours.

Staying on top of the most current technology can help optimize your internet experience. Some of these things that I’m doing are free and some cost money. I do understand that not everybody has the money to just go out and buy a new computer and am not suggesting that it’s your responsibility to do all of these things. These are just some ideas that might help you make your internet experience better and faster.

1. Upgrade your computer. My rule is that I upgrade my primary computer (a MacBook Pro) every three years. As a heavy computer user (and as someone who makes money from my photography and must consider time as a resource in that), this is a no brainer. If it’s been over three years, and you can afford it, consider buying a new machine. Get a Mac. 😉

2. Upgrade your computer’s operating system. I’m currently running the latest version of Apple’s OS Mountain Lion, Mac OS 10.8.3 10.8.4. Make sure you are using whatever is the most current OS for your machine.

3. Consider your internet connection. Are you getting the fastest possible speeds? Years ago when I was on DSL, it was announced that they were putting U-verse fiber into the neighborhood. I was the first guy to jump on that and make sure I got it. Survey each of the internet service providers in your neighborhood and find out what their upload/download speeds are. Don’t stop there though. Also make sure you are on the fastest plan that they offer. The U-verse plan that I have is their Max Turbo and provides 24 Mbps download speeds. Consider the value of your time and make sure you are on the fastest plan possible from your ISP.

4. FREE! Make sure you are running the latest version of Google’s Chrome browser. Once you finally get rid of IE, Safari or Firefox, you will learn to love Chrome — it’s faster and better.

5. FREE! Change your DNS settings to Google’s public DNS, 8.8.8.8 or 8.8.4.4 A lot of people don’t know about this trick, but it will dramatically speed up your internet. Google gives you instructions on how to do this here.

6. If you use your computer remotely a lot (like I do) in places where you don’t always have good, fast, wifi, consider getting a Sprint 4G card. Heavy computer internet surfing takes a lot more bandwidth than cell phones. Using your cell phone to tether to your computer probably works if you just need an occasional log in (I use FoxFi for this on my Android phone which is free) — but this data counts towards your bandwidth limits. Sprint is the only current wireless provider that I’m aware of that offers truly unlimited, unthrottled mobile bandwidth in the U.S. Their 4G service, is a bit more expensive, but is generally speaking very reliable and very fast.

Google Unveils Cutting Edge Photography Tools to Make Your Photos Look Better and the World A More Beautiful Looking Place

Through Glass

Google unveiled significant new innovation in the world of online photography this morning, continuing their rapid development pace on Google+. All in, Google+ pushed out 41 new features today.

Much of the new work is focused on post production photography to make people’s photographs look better than they can straight out of the camera.

Some have suggested that part of Instagram’s success has been their ability to enhance users’ photos with very simple, one touch filters. Instagram has focused on a faux film aesthetic which actually highlights the flaws in many photos to give them more of an artistic, old school feel. By contrast, Google’s easily and automatically applied post production tools, released today, work to make photos look more vivid, life like and realistic.

By using simple techniques like skin softening, clarity adjustment, smart vignetting, HDR and other enhancements, Google, by default, now offers an enhanced photo for every photo uploaded by users to Google+. Also, with this new tech, Google will give you the ability to view the before and after results and decide which you prefer to use. For photographers who do not want their photos altered in any way, these users can turn this default functionality off.

Google Releases New Tools for Photographers Using Google+

As a photographer, I have long been a believer of photo manipulation and post processing technology. Ansel Adams said “you don’t take a photograph, you make it,” as highlighted in Google Social Chief Vic Gundotra’s keynote this morning. Much of Ansel Adams’ genius has been attributed to the work that he did in the darkroom with his photos, his zone system, his post production technology of his time.

I post process all of my photos. The photo at the top of this post is the very first photo that I made with my new Google Glass that I bought yesterday. While I was able to get the composition to a point where I wanted in camera, much of the pop of that image is done with my own post production technique and style.

Many of my photographer friends also spend a great deal of time post processing their images — but the vast majority of the people out there really don’t post process at all. These people don’t own Lightroom and Photoshop or Nik Suite or Aperture or whatever else they might use to improve their photos. These are every day non-photographers who are still enamored with photography and imagery.

By applying some very basic algorithmic based enhancements, Google can make photos for the masses look much better than straight out of the camera. This is a very smart move on Google’s part. Where Instagram makes your bad photos look purposefully worse, Google now makes your bad photos look purposefully better! I stole that line from an unnamed source, btw. 😉

Where this new tech is especially powerful is in photos of people. By using basic skin softening post production tech, photos of people will look better on Google+ than on other social networks. By appealing to our vanity, this gives Google a big advantage. If people can post photos of themselves on Google+ that make them look BETTER than on other networks, many more people will choose to post their photos on G+. Just watch as people post photos of themselves on G+ for auto beautification and even download and post them to other networks I bet.

All of this sort of fancy post production *can* be done today by skilled post production photographers who spend hours and hours behind Photoshop. Now much of it will be automated and released to the masses.

There will undoubtedly be some naysayers about this tech. The same folks who moaned about the Instagramification of mobile photography will probably also complain about this new tech too. Google was smart here by giving users a very simple way to deal with this, by simply turning off this feature.

While the photo enhancements were the sizzle of Google’s announcements today, there were many other significant enhancements added to Google Photos.

Google will now begin to analyze your images and auto tag them. This is no trick where low paid overseas workers are manually reviewing your images; Googles’ algorithms now can look at the context of your photo and the actual subjects in your photos to identify possible tags for the images. If you post a photo of the Eiffel Tower, Google can detect the Eiffel Tower in your photo and add that tag for you. If Google gets the tag wrong, for whatever reason, it’s simple for you to just remove it.

What this means is that more of your photos will be seen in search by people using Google products. Many photographers are looking for more traffic and views on their photos. Who better to provide this traffic than Google Search, yes, using Google auto applied tags. This is the future of image search. If you are a photographer, especially one who depends on photography for your living, you cannot afford to ignore the significance of Google Search. Many of my own photo sales are made by people finding my photos while searching on Google. By uploading your photos to Google+, your photos will rank better in search and now even moreso with this new auto-keywording functionality.

Google Releases New Tools for Photographers Using Google+

Google also introduced a new smart algorithm that can analyze your photos and show you which ones Google thinks are the best of the batch, offering you highlights. Oftentimes we will “spray and pray,” taking 20 images of one person or subject. Google will analyze all of the images and suggest the best one for you. Google uses not just technical information about a photo (is it blurry or underexposed?) but they are using human tested aesthetics to look for what is most appealing.

But there’s more! In addition to the tech released above, Google has also added some very easy tools which will auto generate gifs for you of your photos, auto HDR bracketed shots, and suggest other compelling ways for you to present your photography to the world. Almost miraculously, Google can even look at photos of multiple people and merge the photos into a single photo that takes the best expression of each individual from *different* photos.

All of this also comes with an awesome new look and layout of Google+ which better highlights photography on the network. Popular photos will now be featured in jumbo new oversized form across a three column layout. For non highlighted photos, Google also made portrait oriented photos, especially, look better and bigger. In the past, the portrait format was the worst looking photo format on Google+, now it’s the best — that’s worth noting. 😉 For folks who don’t like the three column layout, they can switch back to a single column if they’d like.

A couple of other notes: all of this work that Google does with your photos is done behind the scenes for your eyes only. You can use the tech or not use the tech. If you use the tech and like it, *you* then choose to share the image to Google+. Nothing is shared until you choose to share it.

The new technology will only work with the JPG format (hopefully Google comes out with RAW support down the road). Google increased everyone’s storage to 15GB of online storage, but note that any photo sized 2048 px or smaller does not count towards your 15GB storage limit (you can also buy more storage if you want to). Google allows unlimited uploading of photos that you either manually resize or allow Google to resize to 2048 px. There is an option on Google where you can set whether or not you want to upload full high res photos or resized 2048 sized images.

I upload some of my photos full res, and many of them I resize manually myself to 2048 px.

Google also introduced a free, stand alone hangout app that you can now use with your mobile phone or desktop device bridging text, photos and real time group video into a single app that preserves conversations (at your choice) over long periods of time. Hangouts have been one of the most popular Google+ feature and several photography related shows have been built around them.

More detail on these changes at Google here. More from Matthew Hanley here. Trey Ratcliff wrote insightful commentary here. More from TechCrunch.

William Eggelston’s Advice on Photographing Strangers

Pure.

Fucking.

Gold.

Q: “You never got your ass kicked for taking a picture?”

A: “Occasionally I will. But usually what I’ll say is, [in an overtly upbeat, ingenuous voice] ‘May I take your picture? I’m from Memphis!’ I have found that always works. They say, ‘Oh, sure’. There’s some magic about that, ‘I’m from Memphis!’ I just stumbled on it. Nobody told me that secret. You can use it yourself. Just say, ‘Hey, I’m from Memphis!’ For some reason they know that word ‘Memphis’. You could say some other city, I don’t think it would have the same ring to it. Say, ‘I’m from Savannah’, I don’t think that would work.”

Q: “It works overseas, too?”

A: “Oh, yeah. Memphis is one of the few places… you could go to Tibet, and say ‘I’m from Memphis!’, and they’d say, ‘Ohhhh, Elvis!’ You couldn’t say any other name. Jesus Christ they never heard of…”

The Condition of Music

Don’t Wait Until You Lose Your Photos for the First Time to Begin Working on Your Backup Strategy

“Because I’m a jerk who doesn’t back up data, I’ve lost at more than a year’s worth of photos, emails, documents, and more. And, really, who knows what else.” — Mat Honan

Mat Honan was hacked yesterday and apparently lost more than a year’s worth of his photos. Like Mat, I too have lost photos in the past. If you shoot enough it’s almost inevitable, unless you are very, very meticulous about your backup strategy.

As strong as I think my backup strategy is today, I realize that it can still be stronger and plan on improving it later this year when the Drobo Mini is out. I’ll get more into this in a bit.

First off though, I’m sorry you were hacked Mat. That really sucks. I’ve had my Twitter account hacked before too. It’s not fun. After they hacked my Twitter account, they got into my blog and some of my other sites. It took time and money to clean it all up. It’s misery.

I’m not going to chide you about not having your photos backed up. People that chide you or mock you about that are assholes. It’s like kicking someone when they’re down. So while I’m using your experience to illustrate a point, it’s meant in a very sympathetic way.

I’ve known a lot of people over the years that have lost photos. It’s happened to so many people. The problem is that most people don’t start seriously working on a backup strategy until *after* they lose their first batch of photos. Everybody always means to work on a back up strategy, but it’s not fun. It’s tedious and boring. It’s so much more exciting to be out shooting or publishing your photos to the web than to be working on a backup strategy. Having lost photos though I can tell you that the sinking feeling you feel when that happens is just horrible and you must begin working on a strategy so what happened to Mat doesn’t happen to you.

I always tell photographers that one of the best things that can happen to you is *almost* losing your photos. Almost losing them because you don’t actually lose them, but it’s enough of wake up call for you to take backing up your photos more seriously.

In my case I have terabytes of data and so most cloud storage solutions simply are not economical. The cheaper plans would take years (because they throttle your data — I’ve tried them) and the more expensive plans from folks like Amazon and Google are simply too expensive for me. I don’t have hundreds of dollars per month to spend on storing my photos.

So it’s up to me to develop my own back up strategy and here is where I am today.

1. Photos that I’m working on are on my MacBook Pro. This drive is a 750GB internal flash drive. This is backed up to a time machine drive. If I lose my MacBook Pro or my hard drive fails I’ve got this time machine drive. This time machine drive is kept in a fire proof safe that is bolted to a cement floor when I’m not using it.

2. All of my “to be processed” photos (organized into folder by date) are kept on Drobos (I’ve got six). These are photos that I will eventually move over to my MacBook Pro to work on them. These Drobos are kept in the fireproof safe.

3. All of my “archived” photos that I’ve already processed along with the Lightroom Catalog for that day are kept on Drobos in my safe.

4. All of my processed JPG files, my finished photos, that are waiting to be uploaded (about 22,000 right now) are kept on my MacBook Pro hard drive, which is backed up with time machine and another copy is kept on a Drobo. My photos that I have already processed as JPGs and have been uploaded to Flickr are kept in folders by the month uploaded on a Drobo.

Another periodic backup of all of my processed photos is done and these are kept on USB hard drives locked in a drawyer at my office. Another hard drive of some of my most important processed photographs and family photographs is kept on a hard drive at my parents house in Southern California.

The weakness in my strategy? My RAW files aren’t backed up beyond storing them on Drobos in a locked safe today. Part of this is the sheer number or RAW files that I have. I haven’t added them up but I probably have at least 10 terrabytes of RAW photos.

I feel sort of ok having the drives replicated in the Drobos. I have had drives fail in my Drobos before and was able to simply eject the old drive and add a new one in and have all my stuff back. I’ve also had one Drobo fail. When a Drobo fails you can just put all four drives from your old Drobo into a new Drobo and get it back (this was my experience). Replicated data should be your first line of defense though and not your only line of defense.

Your second line of defense should be against theft, fire, natural disaster, etc. I’m sort of covered here. I feel pretty good about being protected against theft. The safe is huge, almost as tall as me. It took four guys to get it into the basement. I didn’t realize how large a safe I’d bought from Costco and it’s a lot bigger than I really need. It’s bolted to a cement floor in the basement. I’m currently remodeling my basement and am putting up walls that will prevent it from ever leaving the basement without moving the walls. I’m also putting it inside a wine cellar with a locked door on it. I feel pretty covered against theft.

As far as fire or other natural disaster? Who knows. I’m not comfortable with my strategy there. The safe is fire proof, but I’m sure it’s only good up to a point.

My other weakness is when I’m travelling on the road. Right now I dump all my photos on my hard drive which is backed up with time machine. The problem though is that I almost always fill up my MacBook Pro’s hard drive and have to dump some photos on an external USB drives. These files are then unprotected until I get them home and get them on a Drobo.

So what will I do differently this year? Later this year I’m going to buy a Drobo Mini when they come out. These small portable units are ideal to use as primary storage on the road. They use the smaller laptop drives which are more durable and robust than 3.5 inch drives. The new Drobo Mini is a Thunderbolt device so it will be fast. I’ll use this as my primary storage device on the road. This way I’ll have enough storage to always have my data replicated (the first line of defense) on the road.

The other thing I’ll use this new Drobo Mini for though is to fix a glaring weakness in my current strategy. At present my RAW files do not enjoy the ultimate line of defense of off site storage. So later this year I’m going to use the Drobo Mini to make back up copies of all of my RAW files (both “to be processed” and “archive” RAW originals) Because the Drobo Mini takes smaller laptop drives these will take up less space and be more durable and portable. I’ll then rubberband the four laptop drives from the Drobo Mini together and get a safe deposit box in a bank vault. This is where I’ll keep these RAW files. Periodically I’ll go visit my box to add new laptop drives to the box. I’ll also keep a copy of all of my processed photos here as well.

Once I make these changes later on this year I think my back up strategy will be even better. I’m sure it can get even better still, but the important thing is that I’m working on a strategy and that it’s evolving and moving forward.

What is your backup strategy? I wonder what percentage of people are like Mat and would lose precious photos if someone stole their computer or they were hacked or whatever. I bet it’s a pretty high number.

The new Drobo Minis likely will be out by the end of September, along with the new Thunderbolt Drobo 5D. If you want one you should pre-order and get on the waiting list because they’ll likely be hard to get early on. You can pre-order directly from Drobo here. You can pre-order from Adorama here.

Disclosure: Drobo is a sponsor of our weekly photography show Photo Talk Plus. I’ve used them for years though even before that and have been happy with them personally speaking. They are not for everybody though and if you are doing something else, that is fine too. The important thing is that you do have *some* sort of strategy — and if you don’t have some sort of strategy that you plan to start one as soon as possible, whatever that may be.