Last September I wrote about the failure of my computer hard drive (See "Disaster", September 26, 2014) that necessitated a total rebuilding of my drive. In that posting I credited redundancy, domiciling my images on external hard drives and backing them up on separate hard drives, as essential for turning what might be a disaster into an inconvenience. But what happens when an external drive fails? Well, I have some practical experience to provide the answer to that question.
In October, just a month after rebuilding my computer and reinstalling all its software, I traveled by RV to the Pacific Northwest to photograph fall color (some of those images appear in "Painterly Gardens" on this site). As is my long standing custom I carried relevant external drives with me so I could edit images while on the road. I carry those drives in a hard shell Pelican case that is well padded against shock on the inside. That procedure is going to change. Apparently the state of highways in this country is so poor that even Pelican cases afford inadequate protection for those delicate drives. After a day of shake, rattle, and roll on California's I-5 I tried to fire up the drive containing my entire California, Canada, and Great Basin portfilios (thousands of images)...and nothing. I assumed I had a poor connection but repeated tries with connection cords that worked with other drives failed to realize positive results. Fortunately the images were backed up (or so I thought) so again I was faced with a restructure exercise but not a disaster. Not so fast! I quickly realized that I had not backed my edits consistently and even some of the backups of original RAW images had failed without my knowledge. Suddenly I was not so smug as both those failures were squarely on me, not flaws in my work flow but negligence in execution. Now I had a problem, no two problems. The lost edits could be recreated, in time, but the lost originals were gone forever, some which I had invested a great deal of time and money to create. THIS WAS A DISASTER! Now I needed not a geek but a genius to hopefully recover data.
If you ever need to recover data the first thing you will learn is that this is a highly specialized process that comes at a price...a very dear price. Computer technicians are expensive, but those who recover data from failed drives...well, let's just say you're in a different world. The first prognosis was very doubtful and way out of range of practibility in terms of cost. It seemed the jarring and jolting from the highway caused deep scoring of my hard drive's disk surface; significant work and a degree of luck would be necessary to recover those images, not to mention the expense that went with it. The only way I could justify such cost was if my images were essential for preservation of my business or for forensic purposes. I am a photographer with a serious hobby and I don't rely on my images for my livelihood. Nor were there any legal implications involved where data was critical to prove a case. Nevertheless I was faced with significant albeit mostly emotional loss.
I won't go into detail, but subsequent negotiation resulted in an arrangement satisfactory to me and the recovery expert and was a win-win situation for us both. He was successful in recovering 100% of my images intact and I have now rebuilt my Lightroom catalogs. The only loss was time which one might argue is significant. Still, I came away with lessons learned: (1) hereafter the external hard drives stay home; I will defer uploading my images until I return, and (2) I need to be more diligent in executing my own work flow, e.g., assuring edits are backed up regularly, and assuring backup images successfully copy to the backup disk. Subsequent backup attempts have taught me that the copy process is not fool proof. In other words take nothing for granted and VERIFY.
I was lucky this time.