Using a NAS to secure my photo workflow
03 Sep, 2017

Using a NAS to secure my photo workflow

Photography workflow is something you develop and refine over years of trial and error. Basically it is the process of what you do with your images after you eject the memorycard from your camera. This process includes a lot of steps for some, and are quite simple for others - it all depends on your target destination, audience and usage of your pictures. However - one specific problem should be properly addressed by all users: Backing up and securing your images!

 My photo workflow can generally be divided into the following four steps:

  1. Import of images from memorycard
  2. Culling/sorting to find the keepers
  3. Editing and perfecting the best images
  4. Publishing or printing the best images

Across these steps are several important points i require from my workflow:

  • Once imported, my images should be protected from ANY single major hardware failure.
  • Any culling i do should eventually be reflected and propagated to all copies of my data
  • Any editing should be nondestructive to the original
  • All the images not published or printed should still be available to me and my family.
  • Within 24 hours my images should be protected from ANY major disaster such as fire, theft, ransomware, human error and so on.

"One specific problem should be properly addressed by all users: Backing up and securing your images"

So choosing technologies for storing and editing images is rather important as it can both enable and prevent the optimal and fastest way to complete the entire workflow. This article is about the data and how I achieve fast and safe storage of this, because one thing has always haunted me: How to ensure a proper backup and disaster recovery solution without too many manual steps and within a reasonable budget?

Let's start with the very basics:

  • Raid/Mirrored disks is NOT a backup
  • Snapshots on its own is NOT a backup
  • Syncronous replication is NOT a backup
  • Proper backup follows the 3-2-1 rule:
    - You should have at least 3 copies of your data
    - At least 2 different mediums should be used (Disk/Tape/Optical/Cloud)
    - One copy should be off-site

With this in mind lets have a look at what can be done with your data to secure it.

"Once imported, my images should be protected from ANY single major hardware failure"

I used to import my images to my computer, and after culling I would make sure a copy was made to an external drive and/or a cloud service. The latter is easy with dropbox/onedrive or a similar service, but the large quantities of data would require me to have my computer powered on for a very long time. In that timeframe the data would be at risk to diskcrash, electric shorts and such. The external drive copy solution solves that, but that is at risk from fire or theft, which would loose both my computer and the external drive. A combination of the two alleviated the risks, but was also a rather troublesome process to complete every single time.

Bringing a NAS into the equation removed all these manual steps and optimized my workflow considerably. And not only that, but it also solved several other "nagging" problems I had with my old way of doing things. Here's what I did:

  • I purchased a great little QNAP NAS box (a review on this will follow).
  • I introduced this NAS on my home network with two harddrives setup in a mirror.
  • I setup Qsync - an app that comes with the NAS - to mirror a folder on my computer to a folder on the NAS.
  • On my NAS I setup hourly snapshots of the mirrored disk volume with a one week retention.
  • On my NAS I setup nightly backup of my images folder to my Dropbox cloud account.


My little QNAP TS-453B NAS My little QNAP TS-453B NAS


The beauty of this setup is as follows:

  • Immediately upon import of a file, it is both stored om my computer and on the NAS (Due to Qsync). This gives me both general computer and harddrive fault-tolerance right away.
  • Every hour the NAS takes a snapshot of the images folder so any accidental deletes, ransomware encryption or such that happens afterwards can be recovered from the latest NAS snapshot. This gives me simple human and ransomware fault-tolerance within one hour.
  • Every night the changes made to my images folder is automatically encrypted and uploaded to my Dropbox cloud service. This gives me complete fault tolerance and disaster recovery on all data that makes it through the upload process before disaster strikes. So basically midnight and my upload speed is the limiting time factor towards complete disaster protection.
  • It's all completely automatic and "always on" - no manual steps needed.
  • The solution reports back to me if anything fails in the process via mails and alerting.
  • I don't need to leave my computer on to complete the cloud upload.
  • All my Cloud data is encrypted and thus worthless to any Cloudservice intruder.
  • All my data is accessible from all devices within my house - And If using VPN then also from everywhere outside. 
  • Lightroom still works with local "on computer" images for the fastest speed possible (if there is such a thing in lightroom ;-))
  • Automatic Lightroom database backup at every exit is also stored on the NAS and treated to the above procedures. So i'll never loose any of my non destructive edits either (even though i'm not using sidecar files).

"Within 24 hours my images should be protected from ANY major disaster such as fire, theft, ransomware, human error and so on"

Several arguments can be made for and against my selected solution, so here are some considerations I went through:

  • Within the first hour, any accidental deletes I make could cause dataloss. This is a tradeoff I made since additional copies would include extra space usage and prevent automatic propagation (deletion) of culled images in my backups and copies. I alleviate this by waiting to erase/format my memorycard until the next photoshoot begins.
  • Until Midnight plus the time it takes to upload my images to the cloud, all of the images of that day is at risk to a total disaster (Fire most likely, as theft would require them taking both my camera, my computer and my NAS). But doing continuous or hourly backup to Dropbox would/could also bog down my upload with copies of files i delete minutes later in culling. So I made the midnight tradeoff to prevent erroneous upload of unnecessary files.
  • It is VERY important to choose a cloud service that contains both a "deleted items retention" mechanism and a "file versioning" mechanism. That way you can also recover deleted or ransomware encrypted files not recoverable from your NAS snapshots (if that perished in the same disaster).
  • QNAP's Cloud backup excels in uploading every file individually and in the same file structure as the source (but with every file encrypted). That way you can manually find, download and decrypt every needed file regardless of having a NAS or the backup program available.
  • A NAS with two harddrives and a Cloud storage subscription is probably considered expensive by many. But it should be feasible within an initial budget of ~450$ and a following yearly cloud subscription of about a 150$ (depending on the amount of data). This is a very small price to pay for complete data security.

I hope this little article can inspire you to review your photo workflow an the potential disasters inherently embedded within. Maybe you need a NAS in your home as well? :-)