How I lost Two Weddings At Once

I debated back and forth about writing this story and making it public. I have this fear that I’ll lose existing clients and potential clients with what I’m about to say. This fear also extends to the network connection I’ve made and the wedding planners that continue to refer business my way. Then on the other side of that thought I have an opportunity to hopefully prevent other photographers from going through what I had to go through. So after much internal debate, I’ve decided to share this story in hopes of preventing this nightmare for anyone else.

As you may have guessed from the title… this is a story about how I lost all of the photos from two complete weddings. Before I get into the how, I’m proud to say that by the end of it all I was able to recover and deliver both of the lost weddings. Granted I’m still playing catch up with editing and delivering clients but at the very least nothing was lost.

Also before I dive into the story I want clear up, or at least reduce, the thought of negligence on my side of things. Going into a wedding photography business I was very aware of the need to have a backup of files for that ‘just in case’ moment. I shoot duplicate cards on my camera and always have, then at home I kept one copy of all files on my internal drive and a second copy of the same files on an external drive. All of my equipment was new and less than a year old so I thought I was in good shape. My mistake was thinking that maintaining two copies on separate new drives was a sufficient backup plan for this first year in business.

So here’s the story…

In July I shot two weddings within a few days from each other. I shot them, came home and backed up the files with two copies. then spent the next month editing and preparing them for delivery. Everything was normal at this point. Then in August I had two more weddings in one weekend.  I shot the first, came home and uploaded the files into both drives and set the cards in the card case. When events are that close together I try to use a second set of SD cards instead of writing over the wedding I just shot. I had one day between the two wedding to relax and recharge all of the batteries. I didn’t get on the computer at all for the day and didn’t even venture into my office… I relaxed… all day.

The next day I shot the second August wedding on the two different SD cards. Came home and plugged the cards into my card reader to upload the files and make a backup. I pull up the file manager and see the card I had just plugged in… but my other two hard drives were not in the file menu. They were missing… My internal drive and my backup external drive were not listed in the list of drives on my computer. I’ll admit that I stared at the screen for at least five minutes as I slowly filled with panic and worry. I didn’t know what happened, what changed, or what the hell to do at this point.

At this point I had only been shooting photography for two years. I bought a camera in late 2014 and fell in love, then shot for a few photographers and some hobbyist gigs for extra cash… Then in 2016 I launched Epoch Moment Photography and started chasing this new found love of mine. Along with photography I own another business which I have been building for several years. Tons of research and data went into this second business as it’s a data rich online business to compare thousands of grocery prices at all of the major chains in Colorado. All of the photos from the beginning and all of the files and research from both businesses was on those two drives. Pretty much everything I’ve done for the last six years was stored on those two drives, and now it’s all missing.

I’ve built and owned computers all of my adult life and I’ve never had a hard drive fail or an SD card or flash drive fail ever… Maybe I’ve been lucky over the years but in my mind it was a super uncommon phenomenon to have a drive fail. Now not only am I witnessing a drive failure, I’m having two drives fail at the exact same time.  I’m not sure what the odds are of that happening but I think it’s rare and the odds are crazy against it… and yet here we are.

I’m sitting at my computer and trouble shooting the drives trying desperately to fix the problem and restore the drives. After some work I was able to find the drives but they were reading as RAW drives… Which means that they are basically new and contain no data. They’re technically not even formatted… they’re RAW. This process took a couple days and resulted in a far worse situation than a fried wire or some dumb problem that I hoped was the issue. Now panic starts to set in.

This was any wedding photographers worse nightmare. 

I’m eight months into running a wedding business and I lost two complete weddings. That’s it! It’s over… There’s no way to continue the business and move past this. More importantly… How the hell do I even start the conversation with the two brides to tell them that I don’t have any photos from their wedding? How could I possibly offer them anything to ease the pain I was about to bring to them. The answer is… There’s nothing you can do or say to make that message any more painless.

I spent the next week or so trying to decide on what to do and how to tell the two brides about what happened. I’m not afraid to admit that I cried several times during this first week. I also sat lost in thought and panic for hours on end trying to wrap my brain around what was happening.

I was left with two choices…

One: Tell the brides about it, give them their money back, offer the world in re-shoots and anything else, then hope I don’t get sued. Close the business and go back to a job working for the man.

Or two: Exhaust every recovery option known to man spending any savings I had and burning all profit made in 2016… but, if recovered, I get to keep my business open.

In my contract I have a clause that speaks on the worse case scenario… which this was. It says that in this type of event the most damage that can be sought is the full price of the wedding. So legally speaking it was an option for me to return the money from each bride and say ‘sorry’ and move on. This would’ve been a substantially cheaper option for me… but the brides would be left with only having the images taken by family members at their wedding (generally not great).

There’s no way I could live with myself if I went that route. I love everything about wedding photography… I love my clients… and I want to make them happy and continue business tomorrow. So, for me, there really was only one option… Data recovery.

I shorten the data recovery portion of the story as it was a three month process of ups and downs. Long story short, I went through two different companies and about five times the price of both weddings combined in order to recover the lost files. In the end of it, I had a huge folder of 85,000 unsorted RAW images. Both weddings were in that folder along with a decent selection of the other photos I’ve taken over the years. All of my other business files and research for both companies were gone.

During the three months my drives were being recovered I rebuilt my computer and implemented a new system for back up. Now I maintain two internal copies of everything on a set of mirrored drives. Then keep two additional copies on external drives giving me four local copies on four devices of every photo I take. Then I send a copy of all drives into space (cloud storage) for an additional redundant set of copies on all files. I’m not immune to mistakes… but I try to only make them once.

So here we are in December 2016, four months after the drive failures. I’ve delivered both weddings that were recovered and I’m currently working on all of the clients I shot during the three month down time and the couple months after recovering the files. Going three months without a means to edit or deliver photos has put me way behind in delivery times. I’m doing the best I can and working as much and as fast as I can without sacrificing quality. For those clients who have been patient with me through all of this, I’ve set aside an amount of money and will be purchasing prints and products to deliver shortly after delivering your digital files. I appreciate your patience and understanding and want to acknowledge that as best as I am able to.

In the end of this very hard and long lesson I’ve learned a great deal. I’m ashamed that I didn’t have the foresight to avoid the entire thing but I’m also proud of my actions in resolving the issue. It was a living nightmare and an emotional journey to say the least… but an important one that made me realize just how important photography is to me. I sacrificed my own families financial stability, gave up every bit of profit I made in 2016, and I put everything on the line to make it right with my clients… And I’m proud of that.

Why I shared this story…

I’m hoping that some other photographers will find this, read it, and learn from my mistakes. These three months were some of the worst weeks of my life and if there’s a chance that I can prevent someone else from going through it then I should try. The entire ordeal has been a horrible, stressful, and emotional event that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I’m still resolving the time loss and I was lucky in getting everything recovered… this story could’ve ended way worse.

Invest in a solid back up plan to protect your images. There’s no sense in recording important moments in life and not safe guarding them from being lost. This is especially true for wedding photographers… but it really doesn’t matter what story you’re capturing. It deserves to be preserved and saved forever. At the end of life we only have our story… So each second captured by the camera is priceless no matter how insignificant the moment. It’s all part of your story.

Cloud storage is just $5/month for unlimited storage… something I didn’t realize until recently. Get it. It runs in the background and you never have to think twice about it. When a drive fails, replace it and restore the data with one click and you’re back to normal in a matter of minutes.

I hope in reading this… whether you’re a current client, future client, a wedding planner I work with or anyone else… that you don’t think less of me or stop believing in my ability to capture a story and produce quality work. I’m 1,000% dedicated to photography, especially wedding photography, and I’ll make every effort in proving that with each and every click of the shutter. But no matter what the results of sharing this… I had to put it out there.

Thank you for listening and hopefully learning this lesson the easy way.

Here’s a couple slideshows of the two weddings that were almost lost forever…

Leave a reply...