Trust The Backup
So, the other day my buddy Ken Hoops tagged me in a post on Facebook. It was from a friend of his, she must be a photographer and she had a digital card that went corrupt and she couldn’t recover the files from one of the shoots that she did. He tagged me if I have any advice to help her.
Have you ever gotten to one of those moments when you just see something and your body kind of seizes up because you remember something that happened in the past that is a rehash and awful memory that you went through? This post did it for me. Doing this podcast is kind of crazy to me, especially doing a daily show because the stories and things coming out of my mouth that I don’t think I’ve ever talked about, but I am now because of this. And I love it because to begin with there are people listening but even if there wasn’t, this is therapy for me because it gets it out. I get to tell story. Hopefully I get to help some people.
So not that long ago, it probably was our second to the last full year of shooting weddings, we had a nightmare happened that had never happened to us before and it is a photographer’s biggest fear. So late in this wedding season I was shooting a wedding alone. They hired a one photographer package, not Elizabeth and I. So, I did the entire thing myself. It was a beautiful day, great couple, great venue. I mean from start to finish it was picture-perfect. and to that point, we probably shot close to 400 weddings and you get a real good sense for how things go when you do that often. There is really no cause for concern after the wedding. And the first thing we would when we come home is to download the images. We make sure that we secured all the images on the backup site, actually multiple locations. So, if anything went wrong with the card or hard drive, it was backed up. I did the same thing that night. The only thing that caused any concern for me was that during the reception while they were dancing. I pulled one of the discs out of my camera and before he could secure it in my bag, it fell to the floor and hit the wooden floor on the edge of the disk. That’s happened before but it really hit in a certain way like “Ugh. Don’t do that” like I didn’t want that to happen. I secured the disc away and I shot the rest of night and everything was fine. At that point I did my side of the business and Elizabeth would do hers, which was editing and toning all the images and getting them ready to be sent to the client. I would work on the slideshow and we put the whole package together.
A couple days later and I hadn’t thought about it all, Elizabeth called out to me and said we have a disc here with no images on it. And it was an immediate concern because it was in the pile of discs from that specific wedding. So, any of that don’t have the images could be a problem. We put in the computer. We kept getting error messages. So, I start to get really concerned because I shot this wedding alone and whatever I would’ve shot Elizabeth would’ve gotten something similar because she wasn’t there with me. so, anything that’s missing is really missing now. It could be worth a small part of the reception or getting ready and you can get away with missing some images, which is not ideal and it’s never happened. Or it can be what happened that day. And what happened was we truly had a disc that went corrupt it didn’t just have a random smattering of images. It was the disk that at that day had the most images that I shot. Not only that, it was a very big card that held a lot of data and from that one camera it had images that span from before the ceremony through the entire ceremony and into the reception, including their first kiss and their first dance.
And I don’t know how it feels like to have a heart attack, but this is probably as close that I have ever felt. I felt my chest just seize up. We immediately started calling some data recovery centers and we’re getting not a quick enough response that we wanted. We are looking at the cost and we’re pretty concerned by that as well. When I called my friend David Burke, he didn’t live a little bit far from us. He said to bring on over and we will see if we could figure it out. He spent a couple of hours trying recover the images and all of a sudden, he got something to work and it’s downloading now. I could see the images and I felt such incredible relief. We went into his kitchen. We opened a couple of beers and a few minutes later we went to check on it and he was like “oh no.” I said “What?” He said it is not working anymore. So, I was able to see the images that were downloaded. I knew exactly when on the day it was from. That’s when I realize how many other images were missing. We tried and we tried but we couldn’t get any more data to come out of it. So, I’m sitting here flipping out trying to figure out how to tell this couple that one of their discs went corrupt and we lost these images.
So, I couldn’t sleep that night. The next day were on the phone with every data recovery center that we can get a hold of. We found one who was to be the most reputable of all of them but they cannot guarantee that they can be able to recover it. But they had the best percentage. The price tag was over $1800. You just sit back and take a deep breath and you go. There is no choice. we got to do this. So, we carefully packaged it up shipped it out and waited. We waited and we waited. Ironically about a week and half later, I was assigned to photograph the President of the United States Barack Obama when he came to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. And whenever I got to photograph the president I was so excited but not on this day. Because this is the day that we’re supposed to find out if they can recover the images. So, while I was photographing the president, all I am thinking about is if we would destroy the reputation of our business because of this. And as the announcement was made that the president was minutes away from speaking, I got a phone call from the number that I have been waiting for almost 2 weeks.
I remember stepping down from my chair and moving behind the riser and my hands shaking and my heart racing and anticipating them saying we couldn’t recover anything. But instead they teased me, they said the good news is it doesn’t look like it’s permanently disabled so the chance of recovery is pretty good but it’s still not a guarantee. We won’t know for another day or two. I was like, “Ugh. Please just let me know what’s going on here.” and luckily we were ahead of the games so the couple hasn’t been asking yet for the images. We had a little bit of time and two days later, they called again and I just couldn’t handle it. I had Elizabeth pick up and answer. I sat there just waiting as she was talking to them again. Do you have that situation that you are watching somebody talk and you know exactly what was said on the other line but that person is not saying anything to you? And I could see Elizabeth’s face, the tension and anticipation, the waiting and that slow look of relief coming across her face. Then the half smile and the full smile and then the thank you that she said and the look towards me and the big thumbs up, which said that we have the privilege of spending over $1800 to save these awesome people’s photographs and to save our reputation for our business. After we realize that everything was going be fine, we took the rest of the day off to do absolutely no work and just to relax and decompress.
What’s really interesting is Elizabeth busted to get those images and get them all toned up and get them ready. We went as fast as we could because we’re almost on the exact day that we promised we have the pictures for this couple. We worked start to finish, to not only get all the images done but also to get the slideshow done, to get it online and have it ready for them. And timing is just funny sometimes because as I was putting the finishing touches on the last part of the slideshow which is the last thing to get completed, the bride emailed and said “We’re just curious on how the pictures were come along.” I nonchalantly said “It’s fantastic. It will be ready tonight.”
We send them the link and the next day, we just took the day off. We drove the kids to one of our favorite parks, New Germany State Park over in Maryland where was no internet access and it was just heaven. When we left there to go to dinner where I got a series of messages from this couple that were just bawling about how beautiful the images were. They have tagged all their social media and they praised us like you wouldn’t believe and they have no idea what the hell we went through emotionally and a tiny bit financially, to not lose those images.
So, all’s well that ends well I suppose but it’s bigger than that because there is always something to figure out and learn from. What I learned is this. After all those years of shooting weddings, I got a little lazy. I got lazy because our cameras were equipped with dual slots to put discs in and for years I always made sure that there were two empty formatted discs in their so that even if a disk went corrupt, there was another backup disk waiting there, capturing the images. Well I got lazy. I didn’t use that for backup. I use that disk for overflow so I can keep shooting without changing discs. It was lazy but was also because I knew the less we handled the discs, the better. So, I was trying to be efficient and safe but it shortsighted. By not having a backup, I left myself and our business exposed to a possible major disaster. Even though that company bailed us out and this couple got all their images, it cost me two weeks of stress, nearly $2000 and it taught me a lesson that no matter how long you been doing something to always backup your files and your data. I know people who’ve lost their books because they didn’t backup their data. Folders of podcast episodes everything you can imagine, because we tend to take the easy way out. So, let this be a warning to you if you have files that are not backed up, back them up. Spend the money on the hard drive, spend the money on the storage, get it into the cloud because it’s all fun and games until the files go corrupt. I got to say it that even though there’s a silver lining and a lesson that comes from it, I still hate that story. I’ll be back with you tomorrow.