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If your Backup System was Tested?

September was an absolutely crazy month for me. Crazy as in who on Earth would try this many life changing things all at once? Who?!?!? Certainly not me… Not on purpose anyway. September started with coming home from teaching my first workshop – the workshop was amazing – teaching was incredible – I was on cloud 9… Right up until I walked back into the house after a wonderful weekend in Seattle to find water flowing out of the can light and pouring into the kitchen. I knew exactly where that can light came frome – the kids bathroom. I went bolting up the stairs, fears of little people who left a sink on all weekend danced frantically in my head. It turned out that a pipe behind the toilet had never been installed properly. It had only been a matter of time and this apparently was the perfect time?!? So we called and started getting things taken care of – the worst part of all of it was that my office shared a wall with the kids bathroom and the water had crept under the wall and into my prop closet. Everything had to be ripped out, all the carpet had to be torn up and my office was off limits for three days. I wasn’t prepared for that….

But things happen, so I took deep breaths, was grateful for the very minimal damage that took place to personal properties and laughed it off. Besides I had way too much other stuff to think about and focus on. Both girls started school next week and I needed to be packing and I had to do it all alone. You see Taylor had his second round of board exams (insane – horrible tests that come in 4 parts that will eventually award him his license to practice as a doctor). So he was spending every waking moment (and probably a couple not awake) in the library on campus while I tried to manage moving. The board exams were over and finals week began so again Taylor spent every waking moment (and probably a couple not awake) in the library and taking his exams while I drove all over town with three kids scrounging for boxes like a crazy lady and trying to get them filled. On Friday he had his last test, on Friday night we got the keys and took our first load over to the new house.

We got everything in and than we were supposed to have two weeks of Taylor being home and I would be able to get us settled… Except that he got an email. His dream and sort of my nightmare. Someone was offering us a dog and not just any dog but his dream dog, the one he makes up songs about with the children and tells me almost everyday I will be getting him for his birthday. She is a German Shorthair, 7 years old with more money that you want to imagine invested into her training– she’s a champion hunting dog and everything my husband dreams of at night… And I don’t think that’s much of an exaggeration to be honest– and we can have her for free because she needs a good home. Now he seems to have this idea that a dog completes a home while I have this idea that a dog creates even more work for mommy in a home but… With this kind of an opportunity and knowing I would eventually lose this battle (and add to that the fact that I always give in to Taylor ’cause he’s really cute) and well, he’s driving on our first Monday in the new home 6 hours round trip to go pick up our new dog.

Life continues to get crazier… Now I have learned that we all handle craziness in different ways and Taylor and I handle it in completely opposite fashions. When things get crazy for me I want to work harder, take less breaks in between and basically hunker myself down with a built in toilet on my desk chair and some bread and water on the table and not remove myself until I’m caught up. Taylor on the other hand always longs to escape, get as much time as he can possibly find away and deal with it some other day. Now I’m not saying one of us is wrong * cough – Taylor -cough*. It’s just how we each do things and well Taylor decided he needed to get away just the two of us so he started making it happen. Now although part of me really just wanted to stay home and conquer the chaos that I’d been feeling for weeks and week until I could stab my pitchfork into it and dance like a wild woman over the blazing flames…. There was another part of me tough that longed for Taylor to whisk me away from all the craziness and gently sit me by a pool for a few days.  Off we whisked me (and my laptop) to sunny Las Vegas. We had a GREAT time… You don’t realize just how bad you actually need to be removed from it all until you’re away. I felt clarity, I felt energized, life was good and the weather was hot. We spent our nights with great friends watching fabulous shows and eating anything I could and our days laying at the pool. …And we celebrated our 9 year anniversary.

We flew home late Thursday night. With as much fun as I had I’ll admit that I was very anxious to get home and get to my new office (the first room after the kid’s that I unpacked)… and finally get to work. I was going to stay locked in my office on Friday and get caught up and I was excited to do so! After making the kids breakfast and enjoying the morning with them I went up to get to work — I was ready — I had my list, the agenda was set, productivity was mine! {Insert evil “moo ha ha ha” laugh here}. As I collapsed into my black Ikea desk chair I felt a sense of calm, this is my throne and I love to be in my throne room! Off to work I went, I started opening windows, pulling files and loading up Photoshop… Something wasn’t right. My happy place turned frustrated than angry and on to livid. What the heck was happening, why was it taking minutes to load each page, why was it locking up… Why is the screen grey with a file folder and a question mark blinking at me as if to challenge me to throw it out the window?!?

After a not so quick call with Apple Care, I loaded up my desktop into the car, finished putting the roasted chicken in the oven and left my cute family to begrudgingly go find out what was wrong. After a few minutes with a genius who asked if my lip was okay which unbeknownst to me was bleeding after I’d bumped it on the stinking corner of the computer when I was walking in to the mall trying to carry the gargantuan thing. So while I was writhing in that awful tingle pain that makes your skin crawl and an inner rage you didn’t even know you had begging to jump out and assuming all the stairs were just because it’s weird to carry a computer through the mall it was actually because it’s even weirder to carry a computer through the mall and have a bloody lip while walking in the opposite direction of the apple store. Umm, yes I got a little lost for a moment. But now I had a genius in front of me, I’d dabbed at my lip and was ready for the prognoses. Turned out that the logic board that was installed in August had never been serialized so that was the answer to the file folder and the question-mark but as to why it was running so slowly… the fan had gone out while I was away and the hard drive had essentially been toasted.  I walked out of the apple store empty handed. defeated. on the verge of tears. Even stopping in at Godiva didn’t help, I barely ate one chocolate on the 40 minute drive home.

You may be thinking – was that the short version???!!!?? Well – umm no – it wasn’t. When I got home I asked Taylor what I was going to do do? They said I wouldn’t get it back till Tuesday (p.s. it’s Wednesday and I don’t have it). ‘I can’t wait that long’, I cried. ‘I have so much work to do!!’ Now here is where the lesson comes in. Taylor pulled up my hard drives and got them attached to see how well my backup system had worked. HUGE FREAKING MISTAKE!!! What if it hadn’t been set up properly, what if it didn’t work … Breakdown, serious unequivocal, no messing around – BREAK.DOWN. That’s what!

Thank goodness Time Machine really is as amazing as everyone says. And there it was a perfect copy (minus the toasted hard drive) of my computer! Time Machine makes a backup everyday and saves it on my 2TB external hard drive. I’d never thought (or maybe had the time) to test it out and in case the day came when I did need it. But as I sat at the Genius bar and he told me that they may or may not be able to recover anything my heart began to pound as I felt the wave of fear rush over me – what if I’d done it wrong?

So when it comes to backing up… What should you do?

1. If you have a backup system in place – TEST IT! Today! And make sure that if you had to turn to it, it wouldn’t leave you stranded on nothingness island.

2. You should ideally have 2 to 3 forms of backup depending on how secure you want to feel and they can’t be in the same form!

Backup #1) My first form of backup is 1TB external hard drive, that has all my 2009 images along with my current shoots and need to survive files. Only problem I hadn’t remember to update it in a while so it was useless to me. This is not a secure form of backup!

Backup #2) Some sort of automatically set backup system set to an external hard drive. I’m not sure what to use for PC, someone feel free to leave a comment and tell us! For mac people that would be Time Machine. (Note from Kathy for PC users: Windows Backup comes pre-installed with Windows XP Professional and up.  Here is a link to’s article on backing up.) Which for me makes a backup everyday and every hour and saves it on my 2TB external hard drive. Why this is so critical… We’re not depending on me to remember to do it and well that in itself is HUGE! Here is what Apple has to say, “Time Machine works with your Mac and an external hard drive. Just connect the drive and assign it to Time Machine and you’re a step closer to enjoying peace of mind. Time Machine will automatically back up your entire Mac, including system files, applications, accounts, preferences, music, photos, movies, and documents. But what makes Time Machine different from other backup applications is that it not only keeps a spare copy of every file, it remembers how your system looked on a given day — so you can revisit your Mac as it appeared in the past.”

Backup #3) What if the damage takes place because of a calamity that damages within the space? Your external hard drive sitting next to your computer will no longer be of any comfort. That’s why you need to have a remote system in place as well. There are several online companies that will backup your systems. Here is a review that was put up this week, it’s the top Online Backup Systems created by

Backup #4) Burning DVD’s of archived data such as Session Archives from years past and keeping them at a separate location for added safety. Think safety deposit box, your parent’s house or an elements proof safe.

So there you have it… I know I’ve had many of you ask this question via email, comments and formspring and finally – after disaster struck – I have an answer which I hope will serve you even better than if I’d written it way back when you first asked – cause if I had – I would have never thought to tell you to TEST YOUR BACKUP SYSTEM.

Lesson Learned.



  1. Morgan says:

    Wowzers! September was a crazy month for you! I hope that October is better. Thanks for all the great ideas on backing up our systems. I often have nightmares about my computer crashing and what I would do without it and everything on it.

  2. Marla says:

    Yikes! Glad everything is safe for you!

  3. Amy says:

    Wow! After reading this post I had to go have a drink… Glad to hear the back up worked, this is an excellent reminder, because a lot of the time we don’t think of these things until it is too late. Cheers to a better October!

  4. Oh Leah- Hugs. I will be getting my backups into place this week. Sheesh. Crazy month. Hopefully things will calm down for you.

  5. Holy smokes Leah !
    I knew you were busy and moving but the added water problems and the hardrive crashing …. That would have put me over the edge !!!
    Also – for you to have completed my kit during all of that is incredible… I love it even more than I already do !!!! 😉
    Hopefully things will go a bit smoother in the weeks to come …
    Thank- you for all you do .

  6. Krystal says:

    I still need to have a double backup for the photos I’m currently working on but I use smugmug to put up my galleries and eventually (when I get it done) my website will all be through them. They have several backup methods including off site through Amazon that’s all included. It’s wonderful to know that all those photos are backed up and I don’t have to do a thing!

  7. Carol says:

    Wow great ideal about backups.I normally don’t forget to backup all my crucial files online and i do it online with an online backup solution called Safecopy backup.Safecopy has helped me alot in keeping all my files so secure.

  8. Brad says:

    For scheduling backups to a 2nd external drive on Mac systems I would suggest SuperDuper. It will schedule your backups just like Time Machine and will give you a bootable option. This is a great recovery option in addition to Time Machine.

  9. Carrie says:

    Wow Leah…crazy! So happy it all worked out! Time Machine saved my life a few months back with tons of files that got accidentally deleted. love it.

  10. Nadine says:

    Hey Leah,

    I am using time machine as well and thanks to your article i just checked for the first time if it is actually doing its work properly – thanks! I have a question for you: how are your policies and procedures on past client sessions. Do you keep all of the final files, or only the ones that were purchased? Or only the ones that they got as prints, not the digital ones because they are now responsible for them since they purchased the CD?
    Thanks so much,

    • Hi Nadine! So glad you checked it and that it’s working! Doesn’t that make you feel so good!! I keep all of the final images and in their contract it states that I will have them for 1 year (in reality I don’t get rid of them after a year) but just in case something catastrophic happens they are promised for one year. Just recently I “cleaned” out some hard drives when I was already needing a new one after filling 3 of them. So I purged all of the originals from 2009 and before. All I have left of those are the finials and that is it.

      Because I’ve had 2 young clients pass away recently where I was preparing the large prints for funerals, I’m very careful about keeping the finals. Just store them on external hard drives and periodically burn folders alphabetically to disks to store.

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