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Hard Lesson About Backing Up Your Photos: From A Customer’s Perspective


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My email box fills daily with all sorts of questions.  And I try to help when I can, at least in FAQs, if not directly. Unfortunately this email I received has no easy answers, and it can serve as an “important,” scratch that, “crucial” reminded to back up your images.

I heard about your blog through the Pioneer Woman, and I love it! I read your blog faithfully and have learned a lot about Photoshop and photography through your posts. Thank you!

At work, we have professional photographs taken of the directors and employees of our family business.  We put these on our wall so when our customers come in, they can see who works our company.

Over the holidays we had photos taken of our staff to update the halls and our website.  Everyone was in town so it was a good time to do it. The photographer took weeks to get the family picture to us and she finally sent the family picture over to us as a digital copy. She said she wanted to edit the other photos (taken of each person individually or as a couple) before sending them over.

Many weeks passed and we got a call from the photographer saying that her computer crashed and that she had lost all of the photos she took of us.  She said it would be approximately $2,000 to try and retrieve the data and that she could not afford to.

As you know, the session cannot be duplicated. One member of the family lives out of town and two of them are kids.

Nothing was signed at the beginning, but there was a verbal agreement that we would pay for a sitting fee in addition to the digital file and copyright to use the photo on our website. We only received ONE of all the photos taken.

As a photographer and a business owner, how would you recommend that we approach this? We are upset that the photographer did not bother to back up the photos when they were downloaded onto her computer.  This is perhaps too long of a question. I hope you can give some insight to this.

Thank you – and thanks again for all the informative blogs you post. I really enjoy your work and am inspired to be a better photographer and do more with my photos in Photoshop after reading your posts.

I emailed her back, and explained that she is in a difficult situation.  I am not sure legally how this would play out, but since there was nothing in writing, that may not work in her favor as a customer.  She could consult an attorney, start over with a new photographer, or see if she can work out something to get the photos recovered.  $2,000 seems high to me for that – but maybe it would take that.

As far as the lessons…  Make sure you get things in writing, both as a photographer or as a customer of a photographer.  Having things in writing covers both parties. And remember, as a photographer, back up your photos. Back them up to a hard drive.  Back them up off site too. Even if you are a hobbyist and do not sell your photographs, they are your memories and you should value them.  Life is too short.  You never know what is around the corner.  Make sure you preserve memories for those you photograph.


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  1. Heather on February 17, 2010 at 9:04 am

    A hard lesson to learn indeed! I have mine backed up on a hard drive and then I also use BackBlaze “_ couldn’t be simpler! It’s worth it!

  2. Ginger McCabe on February 17, 2010 at 9:14 am

    I had this exact same thing happen only I was the photographer. I had a major computer crash and though I had 99 percent of my stuff backed up I still did loose a full senior session. I thought I had it backed up but I guess I just missed it. I looked into getting the session back and yes the cost was over 2k with no guarantee that I could get it back! I did not pay it. I offered to redo the session but ended up giving them their money back and loosing a client over it. I cryed and cryed over it for days! It was a hard lesson to lean. I will never ever let that happen again.

  3. aimeeferguson on February 17, 2010 at 9:25 am

    jodi, do you have some recommendations for off site back up? thanks!

  4. Alan Stamm on February 17, 2010 at 9:37 am

    Amen to crucial reminders that extend to valued non-image files as well.And once more, Ms. Philosopher-Photographer, you present actionable advice in the frame of Universal Truths: “Life is too short. You never know what is around the corner.”

  5. Linda on February 17, 2010 at 9:46 am

    One thing that concerns me about this is how the client (who wrote the letter) said that it took weeks just to get the digital copy, and that it was again several weeks later when the photographer told them her computer crashed. I’m guessing 6 weeks, or thereabouts. Really? Either this photographer is so extremely busy that she can’t process her photos, or she doesn’t manage time well. I’m not going to guess whether the photographer is busy or not, but I think six weeks is an improbable time for providing photos. Even old-fashioned film photographs don’t take THAT long to process.I’m venturing a guess that either the photos did not turn out well, or that the computer crash occurred WAY early on and the photographer was too ashamed to admit her error.But I am in total agreement with you on both points…always get a signed contract, and always back your photos up!

  6. Pamela on February 17, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Thank you for the post. I’m a wedding photographer, and I make sure to not only backup my files to an external harddrive, but I also use Carbonite. It automatically backs up everything that has changed on my computer (new files, etc.) and stores them off site. I love it because I don’t have to think about it, and I always know my files are constantly being backed up. Best $50 ever spent!

  7. Kristin on February 17, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Another vote for Carbonite. It’s awesome and has given me so much peace of mind that it’s worth every penny I spend on it! Once when I was on vacation, Carbonite even sent me an email saying they hadn’t been in contact with my computer for several days and wanted to make sure my settings hadn’t accidently gotten changed or turned off, so they are always watching out for me.

  8. Tricia Carter on February 17, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    I lost everything on my “external, backup drive.” Thank God I have Carbonite, but it did not have EVERYTHING that my drive had on it. And yes, when I went to Geek Squad to do a “Level 3” recovery, I can tell you by my own personal account it is costing me $2000 to recover my data and it is taking weeks to handle. And I’m not even a professional photographer — just an extremely avid photographer who has THOUSANDS of photographs and actions and PDF files that I cannot stand to lose. Carbonite has helped me recover some of my data — but I’m spending $2000 to get it all back — I can’t stand the thought of losing my data or photographs.

  9. Kerri Tindle on February 17, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    This also happened to me but I was the photographer. My hard drive where I store all my files crashed. I had everything except my most recent 2 sessions backed up. I sent my hard drive to see if it could be recovered. It was able to be recovered but the cost would have been $1,600. Since I only needed two sessions recovered, I asked how much that would be. They charged me $200 for those two file folders so I went ahead and did that. Saved me from losing any clients and taught me a lesson about timely backing up! Maybe your photographer can just ask for your session to be recovered for a smaller fee? Just thought I would offer my experience in case it could help you out. BTW, I use Mozy and it works pretty well but am looking into other alternatives now that I have a Mac.

  10. Sandy J on February 17, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    First of all I agree that the issue of lost data seems suspect. It may well be that there is another issue and the photographer won’t admit it.If the disk is not physically damaged it can often be recovered with a simple software recovery, which should run less than a couple hundred dollars if having it done by a professional. Or do it yourself with a program called GetDataBack. If it is physically damaged (like it was dropped or something inside is broken) it may well run that high depending on the size of the disk. Gillware does a great job of data recovery when there is physical damage. It is way more likely that it’s not physical damage (unless you know it’s been dropped or something like that). The problem most people face is in not being able to determine whether it’s physical damage or not, they assume the worst and send it off for expensive service that they don’t need.

  11. Jim Poor on February 17, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    While professional data recovery can run into the thousands of dollars, programs like DiskWarrior are worth their weight in gold for DIY recovery options.

  12. Adam Woodhouse on February 17, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    Sounds to me like the Photographer needs to give a refund as the job was not completed successfully.

  13. gell on February 17, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    I’ve been searching for such a long time a site like this. I so amazing! you have the finest quality of renewing I going to purchase annuity to have my own business and like to have business with you…thank!

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