Editor's note—In this second part of a two-part series, Josh Anon covers third-party backup tools such as RSyncX, .Mac, and Retrospect, and online options. Then he takes a look at Leopard and Time Machine to see if there's functionality there for hardcore Aperture users.

Third-Party Tools

If you want to, you can backup each project individually to an external drive or export your project and divide it up so that you can burn it to a disc. A better option is to use a third-party program such as .mac Backup, EMC Retrospect for Macintosh, or RSyncX, to backup your Aperture files. Each of these tools does their best to provide intelligent backups, similar to Aperture's vaults, but they are more flexible and allow you to backup specific folders, such as your Aperture library and referenced image folders. They also allow you to set regular backup schedules. Plus, they let you backup other critical files aside from your photos.

.mac Backup is free to .mac members ($99/year for membership), and although Apple has recently increased each member's disk quota to 10GB, that's still too small for most photographers. However, Backup is quite flexible, as it lets you use it to backup to another drive or disc and it will also allow you to schedule automatic, regular backups. It's also smart enough, when backing up to disc, to automatically span your files across multiple CDs and DVDs. Even if you choose not to make regular, scheduled backups with this tool, just having a program like this to create initial backups of your library of projects to another drive or set of discs is quite a time saver!

.mac Backup 3

.mac Backup 3 provides a number of features to help you backup individual projects or your Aperture library.

EMC Retrospect ($99 for Retrospect Desktop, and Retrospect Express is frequently included for free with external hard drives) has been around for a number of years. Although it's somewhat similar to .mac Backup, it is more mature and robust. For instance, in addition to providing scheduled backups to hard drives and discs, it can also backup to tape drives (which I won't cover in this article as drives, discs, and online solutions have mostly replaced tape backup for personal use).

RSyncX is one example of a set of tools for Mac OS X based on the UNIX utility rsync. Rsync is a free utility which lets you pick a source and destination and updates the destination as needed, based on what's changed in the source. RSyncX provides a graphical interface to rsync so that you don't have to type cryptic UNIX commands to create a backup copy of your Aperture library. It is not as robust as either .mac Backup or Retrospect, but it's freely available.


While not as easy to use as .mac Backup and EMC Retrospect, RSyncX is a free, intelligent backup tool.

CDs and DVDs

Keeping in mind good backup practices, where it is smart to have backups of different formats, one great reason to pay for .mac Backup or Retrospect is their ability to burn a set of files across multiple CDs or DVDs automatically. Disco and Toast, two great dedicated disc burning tools, also provide this ability, but because .mac Backup and Retrospect provide other backup-related functions (such as scheduled backups and backups to other formats), it's worth spending the extra money for a true backup program. For disc backup, I would highly recommend burning discs project-by-project, rather than trying to backup your whole library at once. This will help keep your disc collection organized (you'll know which discs have which projects) and will make it easier to keep your backups up-to-date (just burn the new projects instead of re-burning the whole library).

Unfortunately, not all discs are created equally. As a simple example, a music CD that you buy at the store is created by stamping, but a music CD you burn from iTunes is created by lasers in your Mac burning away at the blank CD you inserted. Stamped discs last much longer, but the stamping process is typically too expensive and impractical for creating a backup. Furthermore, as you might expect, discs designed to be burned once (CD-R) tend to last longer than discs designed to be erased and rewritten (CD-RW). Beyond that, archival-grade gold discs (such as the ones Delkin makes) tend to last longer than the cheap discs you might purchase in bulk. Interestingly, CD-R discs tend to have a longer life expectancy than DVD-R discs, such as 300 years for an archival gold CD-R versus 100 years for an archival gold DVD-R. If you're backing up to disc, I recommend burning at least two copies and also checking your backup discs every year or so and re-burning them as needed. This might be a bit overcautious, given the 100+-year life expectancy of most discs, but with backup, it's better to be safe than sorry!

Online Backup

A newer, interesting form of backup is online backup. From a photographer's perspective, these solutions fall into two categories: general backup, where you essentially create an online hard drive, and photo-specific backup, where you can also create galleries and potentially sell images. General backup includes services like Amazon's S3 and Mozy. With both, you pay a certain amount each month ($0.15 per GB plus data transfer fees on S3, and $4.95 for unlimited data storage and transfer with Mozy) for the site to host your data in an encrypted format. If you are transferring a lot of data to and from the service, Mozy will most likely be cheaper. However, the only software client for Mozy is the one they provide. S3 has a number of third-party tools to upload and retrieve data.


Mozy provides unlimited backup for $4.95 a month and an easy-to-use configuration tool.

As you might expect, the clients for these general backup services are similar to other backup programs. You select which files or folders to backup, and the software does the rest. The benefit to these sites are that you can upload your entire library or set of projects, including all metadata and versions, so that if something bad happens to the primary copy, you can easily retrieve everything. Plus, you can backup other general files, such as sales records, with these tools.

With photo-specific online services, including SmugMug, SpitFire, and PhotoShelter, you won't be able to backup specific image adjustments and album hierarchies. However, these sites provide photo business features that might make you want to upload a copy of your images to their servers. In fact, each of the above sites provides an Aperture plug-in that lets you quickly upload images to their sites.


The PhotoShelter Aperture plug-in provides an easy way to upload your images to PhotoShelter.

In PhotoShelter, for example, when you upload your master images into your archive, PhotoShelter automatically generates previews for each supported file so that you can place the images into a gallery and let people see your work. If you choose, PhotoShelter will also apply a watermark (default style or custom) to each image, and with a few simple steps, you can set up your images to be available for sale with customizable FotoQuote-based pricing. Even better is that PhotoShelter will pick up the keywords and metadata that you set on each image in Aperture, display it, and let people search for it. Here is a sample gallery. If that's still not enough, PhotoShelter provides a way to customize your galleries so that you can seamlessly integrate your PhotoShelter archive with your web site. The prices of these services all vary, but most have limited free trial accounts (such as a 25MB PhotoShelter trial) to let customers get a feel for what the service provides.

Be warned that uploading and downloading to these sites can be slow, depending on your Internet connection. If possible, start your uploads right before going to bed!

Until you do choose to subscribe to a service, be it general or photo-specific, make sure to periodically check and see what new features each service provides--they're all constantly improving!

Time Machine

Speaking of constant improvement, Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard provides a great improvement in backup technology called Time Machine. The idea behind Time Machine is that people don't backup their data reliably enough. With Time Machine, you start by connecting an external drive. Then, a few seconds later, when prompted by Mac OS X, you say that you want to store your Time Machine backups on the drive. That's it. Under System Preferences, you can select what disk you store the backup on and set certain files to be excluded from backups.

What's really great about Time Machine is that it's completely automatic—once you turn it on updates just happen behind the scenes. When it comes time to restore a file, Apple's ease-of-use wizardry comes into play. Simply press the Time Machine button to enter a special mode where you can browse a folder or search results through time. When you find the point in time where the desired file exists, you can even confirm that it's the file you want by using Quick Look, press restore, and the file is automatically restored.

There is even already a third-party selling a product called BackJack Continuum that lets you archive your Time Machine data offsite, protecting it more effectively. Between a local backup and this offsite backup, your data will be very well protected!

Unfortunately, at the time of writing, Time Machine and Aperture don't play as nicely together as they could. The issue is that Aperture has a database file within the library, and, if Time Machine's backup is during a running Aperture session and later restores that file, some of the restored data might not be correct. The best option is to exclude the Aperture library from Time Machine (navigate to System Preferences > Time Machine > Options, click the + button in the Do Not Backup window, and select your library). Thankfully, there are plenty of other backup options out there for your images, and hopefully future versions of Aperture will work properly with Time Machine.

Sample Workflow

With all of these different options to choose from, it can be overwhelming to figure out how to setup a workflow that's right for you. Here's a sample workflow, focusing on backup, that I find to be easy and quite reliable!

  1. If I'm out in the field shooting, each day or so, I will export my project to my iPod, giving me a backup in case something happens to my laptop. In an ideal world, I'd also have a device like the Jobo GigaVu Pro where I could download each CF card as soon as it was full, giving me an instant backup.
  2. When I get back to my home office, I immediately export the new project to my external RAID 5 array. On here, I keep an Aperture library that has my entire image library. (It's a large RAID drive!) I'll continue to set keywords and work on the project from my laptop, and once done, I'll re-export it to my RAID array.
  3. Offsite, I keep another external hard drive (it's currently a single G-Technologies drive, but I'm considering switching my main RAID array to a Drobo and making my RAID 5 unit my offsite drive). I'll bring my laptop to that site, connect it to the backup drive, and copy over the new project. I don't use a vault on this hard drive because I want it to contain all my images--since my laptop only has a subset of my library, I'd need to have the backup drive and my RAID array with my full library connected to the same computer to use a vault. I don't want to have the two drives in the same location. Furthermore, I like having the flexibility of attaching this backup drive to another computer and loading the Aperture library. In fact, I had an urgent request for an image recently when I was at my offsite location, and because I set this drive up with my full Aperture library, I was able to find and submit my image quickly.
  4. In an ideal world, which means when I have time, I'll also use .mac Backup (I'm a .mac subscriber and get it for free) to create a set of archival-grade DVDs for this project. These DVDs include the project data so that I can quickly restore the project in Aperture.
  5. When I rate my images, three stars and above mean that I care about the image and want to make sure it's backed up (conveniently, these three star and above images are also the images that I register with the US Copyright Office). In PhotoShelter, via the Aperture plugin, I make a new folder for the project and create a "RAW" folder within it. I then export my master files to the RAW folder.
  6. My four and five star images are typically ones that I consider good enough to try selling. I upload high-quality JPEG files at the original size to a JPEG folder and build my public PhotoShelter gallery using the images in this JPEG folder. I store a version of these images in addition to the master so that I have a file with all of the adjustments that I made in Aperture applied to it. I've found that high-res JPEGs are fine for most uses, and they take far less disk space than uploading high-res TIFF files (especially given that I do upload my master images).

Final Thoughts

Although this workflow isn't as automatic as I might like, I do create redundancy at the appropriate times (while shooting, when partially edited, and when editing is done). Furthermore, I try to make it as convenient as possible so that I'm more likely to want to backup for other reasons, like having my images available offsite or on PhotoShelter.

Hopefully you have an idea now about which backup strategies and workflow will be right for you!

Check out Part One in the series, Backup Strategies with Aperture.

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