Protecting your most valuable assets
This marks the commencement of a two-part series dedicated to empowering photographers in securing their most valuable assets—their images. Part 1 concentrates on fortifying against data loss and establishing a resilient IT infrastructure to ensure uninterrupted access to your entire image collection. In Part 2, we delve into the realm of cyber threats, exploring preventative measures to shield against image theft and hacking incidents.
In our progressively digital landscape, photographers encounter distinctive challenges when safeguarding their precious digital images. Picture this scenario: after investing numerous hours in capturing and refining breathtaking photographs, the realization dawns that your private IT infrastructure is susceptible to security threats and potential data loss. To address these concerns comprehensively, our extensive two-hour training course on IT security for photographers aims to equip beginners, ambitious enthusiasts, and seasoned professionals with the knowledge and tools necessary to fortify the security of their digital photographs.
The Multifaceted Threats to Your Image Portfolio
Photographers confront various threats to their image portfolio, including theft, data loss, and cyber attacks. Data loss concerning your images can manifest in diverse forms, such as losing the image file, the applied edits, corrupted files rendering images unreadable, or losing access altogether. The causes may range from hardware failures and accidental deletion to external factors like cyber attacks.
In this blog article, I delineate my data security concept and workflow for managing digital images.
Data Storage Concept
From an IT perspective, your digital images are merely files containing information, akin to many other files on your computer's hard disk. Yet, for you as a photographer, these files constitute your most valuable assets. They encapsulate the essence of your images, in their unedited RAW form and edited formats like TIFF or JPEG. The loss of these files equates to the permanent loss of your images, often impossible to reproduce.
Securing Original Image Files
Initiate your data security strategy with the media used to store images in your camera. While most digital cameras use SD Cards or Compact Flash Cards, some feature internal SSD drives. It's essential to recognize that in-camera memory (cards) is not intended for long-term storage of your images.
Memory Cards Best Practices:
Adhere to your camera producer's recommendations.
Prioritize quality over price to ensure optimal data writing speed.
Refer to independent tests for reliable card performance assessments.
Choose a writing speed that aligns with your camera's requirements.
Opt for a card capacity suitable for a half-day shooting session.
Label memory cards with the corresponding camera to avoid confusion, e.g. SL-2 #001.
After each shoot, or at the end of a day working on a more extended assignment, transfer all images to Adobe Lightroom Classic (LrC). When on the move, use an external SSD drive for storage. Format memory cards only after the initial backup to the SSD drive. In-studio backups are performed daily to a Network Attached Storage (NAS), while remote work involves daily backups to a cloud drive or a separate SSD stored in a secure location, such as a hotel safe.
Storage Locations and Security Architecture
My storage and security architecture, explained in the accompanying video, centers on preventing any loss of image files. LrC serves as the hub for organizing my image catalog, preserving RAW files in their unaltered state during the editing process. Editing information resides in the corresponding LrC LRCAT-file, necessitating regular backups to prevent any loss of catalog and editing data. Further details on how I organize my files in LrC will be explored in a subsequent article.
My storage solution evolved from a challenging experience when a hard disk failure jeopardized my entire image collection. The subsequent data recovery process incurred significant costs. Below, I provide recommendations for an IT architecture designed to ensure minimal security risks and avert accidental data loss.
Similar as mentioned for memory cards above, also carefully select your SSDs. In principle the same criteria apply:
Prioritize quality over price.
Refer to independent tests for reliable card performance assessments.
Choose a writing speed that ensure fast backup performance.
Opt for a card capacity suitable for the anticipated size of your catalogue for the next two years.
Label all SSDs meaningful to avoid confusion.
My current recommendation (November 2023) for external SSD are either Samsung T7, Samsung T9, or Crucial X10 Pro. Recently severe problems in regards of reliability and data integrity have been reported with external SSDs from SanDisk and Western Digital.
Long-term archiving of your image files is another critical aspect. Your archiving concept and tools must preserve the integrity and accessibility of your photographic archive over time. Backup and archiving are both essential practices in managing digital image files, but they serve different purposes and involve distinct processes. Here's a breakdown of the differences between backup and archiving:
Backup: The primary purpose of a backup is to create a copy of your data to ensure its availability in case of accidental deletion, hardware failure, or other data loss events. Backups are designed to restore your files to their original state at a specific point in time.
Archiving: Archiving, on the other hand, focuses on preserving data for the long term. It involves moving data that is no longer actively used but still has historical value to a separate storage location. Archiving helps in maintaining a record of past versions and is not primarily intended for immediate data recovery in case of loss. I archive all RAW files and final images (TIFF, JPEG) from completed projects.
Backup: Backups are performed regularly, with a frequency determined by your needs. This could range from daily to weekly, depending on your shooting and editing frequency. I do daily backups as I am shooting and editing daily.
Archiving: Archiving is typically done less frequently, usually based on a predetermined schedule or when data becomes inactive, e.g. when a project or assignment is completed. The archived files are retained for an indefinite time.
3. Retention Time:
Backup: Backups are subject to a rotation schedule, where older backups are replaced by newer ones. The retention period for backups is usually shorter, and the focus is on recent versions (not just the latest version) of the image files and editing information.
Archiving: Archiving involves a longer retention period, and data may be kept for years, decades, or even an indefinite time.
Backup: Backup data is readily accessible, and the emphasis is on quick recovery. Backups are designed to be easily restored to the primary system in case of a data loss event.
Archiving: Archived data may be less immediately accessible, as it is usually stored in offline storage. Accessing archived data may require additional steps, and the process is not optimized for quick recovery but for long-term preservation.
5. Storage Infrastructure:
Backup: Backups are stored on systems that are quickly accessible, such as external hard drives, cloud storage, or NAS, depending on your desired infrastructure.
Archiving: Archived data may be stored on more cost-effective and less accessible storage solutions, such as dedicated external hard drives or dedicated cloud solutions.
In summary, while both backup and archiving involve creating copies of digital image files, they serve different purposes and are part of a comprehensive data management strategy. Backups focus on data recovery in case of loss, while archiving emphasizes the long-term preservation and management of data.
What To Include in an Archive?
I keep all my RAW files indefinitely for several reasons:
In case I am losing the final edit, I can always go back to the RAW file and edit it again.
With the RAW file I am always able to prove authenticity and authorship of a particular image.
Editing software is constantly evolving and new features are added, like recently AI supported editing tools in Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop. These tools may make a significant difference how I would edit a particular image or project, leading to consider an alternative edit.
I may use a particular image from my catalogue for a new project, but in a new edited version, e.g. black& white instead of color.
For the reasons mentioned above, RAW files of completed project are archived. Also included in the archive are all finished files in TIFF (for high quality prints) and / or JPEG format (internet publishing). In order to find a certain image in my archive, the archive is managed by Lightroom Classic as well and all images contain full EXIF data and keywords.
In conclusion, the backup and archiving of digital image files are crucial components of a robust data security strategy. Backups provide a safety net against unforeseen events, such as accidental deletions, hardware failures, or cyberattacks, ensuring the timely recovery of essential image files. On the other hand, archiving plays a pivotal role in the long-term preservation of digital data, safeguarding against data corruption or loss over extended periods.
Together, these practices form a comprehensive approach to data security by addressing both immediate recovery needs and the preservation of historical valuable information. In the face of evolving cyber threats and the ever-growing volume of digital content, a well-executed backup and archiving strategy not only enhances data resilience but also contributes significantly to the overall integrity and confidentiality of digital image files. Ultimately, the combination of backup and archiving safeguards against potential data breaches, ensuring the continued availability and integrity of critical image assets.
What Comes Next?
Part 2 of this article will talk about how to safeguard your photographic catalogue against hackers and data breaches. We will introduce essential security measures such as password management, encryption, and network protection to prevent unauthorized access to your digital assets.
We will also address the increasingly relevant issue of image theft and explore techniques and tools to protect your photographs from being stolen or used without your permission, ensuring that your creative work remains secure and attributed to you.
All these topics are discussed in my workshop Securing Your Digital Images in the Cyber Age, where we will discuss all these topics with the real life scenarios provided by the participants. You will always find my next workshops here: https://www.thomas.halfmann.photography/photography-courses
Whether you are a beginner seeking to establish a solid foundation or a professional looking to reinforce your existing security measures, this workshop is designed to help you protect your valuable images and preserve them for years to come.
Based upon my background as photographer, but also as IT expert in global positions, I offer a health check of your current data security concept and design and implementation consulting of a robust data security concept and infrastructure, including recommendations for hardware and software. Please contact me for an offer or first chat at email@example.com.