Backup Systems for Mac-based Photographers


If you do digital photography, then a backup system is a critical part of your computer. Here are some ideas on how to set up an automated backup system for a Mac computer. This is basic info for anyone who has recently switched from Windows to a Mac or has had a Mac for a long time but never set up a proper backup system.

As all hard drives fail eventually, it’s wise to set up a backup system that will work automatically and behind the scenes. There are several ways to do this.

First, you can set it up to make a bootable clone of your main hard drive once a day using a program called SuperDuper ($28): SuperDuper!. A bootable clone is the best way to be up and running quickly if your main drive fails.  It is an exact copy of your main drive as of the last backup. If you plan to go this route, then buy this hard drive:

1TB My Book Studio Edition Quad Interface External Hard Drive

This version has a firewire interface which is needed for booting from an external hard drive.  To boot from the external drive, be sure it’s connected via the firewire cable and hold down the Option key while booting. (If you have a Mac Pro, your bootable clone can be an internal drive.)

Second, you can set up your Mac to make an automatic backup of any changes on hard drive using Time Machine (built into OS X Leopard and later). Time Machine keeps:

  • hourly backups for the past 24 hours,
  • daily backups for the past month, and
  • weekly backups until your backup disk is full.

In Time Machine’s preferences, click the Options button and exclude any hard drives that you don’t want backed up by Time Machine.

I recommend these external drives for Time Machine:

1TB My Book Essential Edition USB 2.0 External Hard Drive

Formatting it for the Mac just takes a few minutes using Disk Utility (in the Applications/Utilities subfolder). You can also buy this one, which is already formatted for the Mac (for about $5 more):

1TB My Book Mac Edition USB 2.0 External Hard Drive

Or buy Apple’s Time Capsule, which is a combination external hard drive and wireless/wired router (rather expensive for a hard drive, but saves you from buying a separate router if you need to set up a network):

For extra redundancy and flexibility, I recommend having both backup systems working for you. This requires two hard drives, one for SuperDuper and one for Time Machine.

You can also set up automated off-site backups using Apple’s MobileMe service and the Backup appliclation on your Mac. MobileMe is a paid subscription service and it won’t hold your entire hard drive, but it is good for automated off-site backup up of certain essential folders.

In addition to these automated backups, I recommend making manual backups of important photos and videos onto DVD’s (or BD-R’s disks as Blu-ray burners are becoming more affordable). I use Roxio Toast 10 Titanium to back up to optical media such as DVD’s and BD-R’s. A nice feature in Toast is that large backups can be spanned across multiple disks. It will also make disks that are compatible with Windows computers.

While it’s very unlikely that multiple hard drives will fail on the same day, it can occur from lightning, flooding, theft, etc. Be sure all computers and drives are plugged into surge protectors.

(This article was updated on Sept. 29, 2010.)

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