There’s an old saying about redundancy: Two is one and one is none. This military axiom about preparedness sums up perfectly the importance of backups for professional photographers. If you’re a working pro you can’t afford not to carry along on every photo shoot duplicates of vital equipment. A bad battery or a dropped drive could be all it takes to turn your job of a lifetime into a world-class horror story; the difference between your big payday and you’re paying for a reshoot.
Sony Artisan Patrick Murphy-Racey says anyone calling themselves a professional should have all the tools necessary to complete the assignment they agreed to.
"Needing to run to Walgreens to get AA batteries or buy a memory card,” he says, “is both embarrassing and a waste of time. It can put doubt in the mind of the client about your ability, experience and for sure your preparation. Doing serious photography at the highest level always involves a couple of hours the night before doing prep when packing for the assignment. This is the moment when you need to consider what you need, 'just in case.’"
“As the camera body itself has typically been the piece of gear with the most moving parts (save for the α9),” Murphy-Racey continues, “it’s essential to have a backup camera on every paying gig. When I go out on a full-frame assignment I always pack either an α6500 or the RX10II, no matter what. When I go out on a crop-sensor job, I always bring an α6300 as a backup, or even the α6000. For pro shooters on a budget the α6000 still represents a killer value as it offers a nice sized file (20 megapixels), 11 frames per second and all the lenses fit.”
Lenses and lighting backups, as well as duplicate accessories, are equally important. Murphy-Racey says that on a job calling for a 24-70mm and a 70-200mm G-Master zoom he will also bring two prime lenses as backup. On a two-light shoot he’s sure to bring three lights, as well as duplicate transmitters for the strobes, too.
“I was just on an assignment 800 miles from home,” he says, “when I accidentally dropped my Dynalite radio transmitter. When I picked it up and tried it, it no longer functioned. I literally tossed it in the nearest garbage can and pulled out my backup and kept shooting.”
Travis Carroll has only been shooting professionally for a few years, but it’s in those earliest stages of a career that most photographers learn their hardest lessons about backups. This is true for Carroll, who was on assignment shooting cars in the desert when he experienced his personal worst-case scenario.
"I only have one backup horror story,” he says, “but it was the only one I ever needed. I have no idea how many images I shot, but there were several that I was very happy with and a few that I intended to use for book builders. I backed everything up to a brand new drive I had bought specifically for the job. But I only bought one. When I returned home I went to open the files and get working, but the drive failed and I lost everything. We had been on location for five days and I shot for roughly eight hours per day, plus the book builder images, plus other client work that had not yet been archived. Losing that drive cost me somewhere between $2,000 and $3,000 and caused me to have to pay for a couple of reshoots. That number might not seem like much, but when you’re starting out those numbers are pretty high.”
“Needless to say,” Carroll adds, “I now have two drives in my bag at all times and I regularly backup to archive drives every few days. And I’m about to transfer everything I have to an unlimited storage server in the cloud. I used to think people who backed up two, three, four times were weird, but after losing every single piece of that trip, I need to make sure it never happens again.”
Two is one and one is none. It’s the only way to fight Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. If you’re going to call yourself a professional photographer you should act like one and get the job done even in the face of broken equipment, bad batteries and corrupt files.