Cloud Storage for Photographers using Mosaic & Lightroom

A hard drive will fail. It’s all a matter of when it’ll happen and with the tumbling prices of hard drives, there’s no excuse for anyone not to have a solid backup strategy. We photographers have a problem in that we accumulate hundreds and hundreds of gigabytes worth of data that equates to hours of hard work and yet it’s incredibly easy for us to lose it all and so the thought of anything catastrophic happening is scary.

I currently have upwards of 458GB worths of photographs stored on a 1TB hard drive with weekly backups onto a 2TB hard drive using ChronoSync but I have nothing setup offsite to anticipate the possibility of anything happening at home. Do you really need another place other than your home to store your photographs? Perhaps not everyone but if you’re as paranoid as I am then you’ve probably thought about finding a service that could make this scheme work.

I’m not lazy about backups largely because for any backup system to be effective, it has to be seamless which it is in mind case and it should never be a pain to execute or else it becomes as annoying as renting a mailbox at your local postoffice where you would sacrifice picking it up some days because you have to go out of your way to get it.

Backing up onto external hard drives is nothing novel. In fact, most of the photographers who I corresponded with regarding how they store their precious photographs have a very similar system implemented with exception that they use a high-end version of the ever-popular Drobo. But that still address the issue of not only storing your photos in a place other than your home but in the ability to access any of them at any given time without having to depend on another device per say.

Online backups are becoming more common, but I’ve heard mixed reviews at least from a photographer’s perspective about actually retrieving files from popular services like BackBlaze, Crashplan, Mozy and others. But aside from that, the overall downside to uploading GBs worth of photos is the enormous amount of time it would take.

It can take forever and although I characterize myself as a patient photographer, the amount of heavy-lifting involved with using any of these service directly violates the one golden rule I have about any backup strategy which is that “it has to be easy.” Sacrificing image quality could perhaps help achieve my archiving needs but I’m not willing to do that.

What Other Options Have You Found?

Just when I had given up in discovering anything more innovated, out of nowhere I come across Mosaic Storage System - an offsite photo archiving service for professional photographers where they can easily store photographs in a secure online data environment with easy access to any of them via a Lightroom Plugin.

The combination of cloud storage for your photos and the usage of Lightroom to make all of it possible immediately intrigued me to a point where I felt pressed to reach out to the creators of this service to inquire more about it since it’s still in beta testing.

After a few emails back and forth, I had the pleasure to Skype one night with Gerard and Andy, the two co-founders of Mosaic where they graciously walked me through a demo of the Lightroom plugin and the vision they had for creating such a service and how they’ve managed to fill a void with it in the market.

Prior to seeing anything, in an email exchange, Gerard painted this perfect picture for what this service will offer to those photographers who crave the ability to have their photos with them all the time yet not on a computer or any external hard drive:

We are integrated directly with Lightroom so if you are in a coffee shop in Istanbul and want an image from 5 years ago, you can right click on the image from within Lightroom and it will come streaming back to you.

Some Questions on How Everything Works?

Gerard and Andy assured me that the demo I was previewed to will be available online very soon so that you can grasp a more visual understanding on how everything works but they’ve done a great job already in describing the process.

Straight from the website:

Simply mail us your digital images using a provided external hard drive and Mosaic will manage the files in redundant, secure data environments. You can always access and edit the archived files from within Lightroom.

Straight from Gerard via email explaining in detail the process:

Within the Lightroom plugin, you can export the files to the hard drive that Mosaic sends you. After we’ve receive the drive and upload them to our servers, will send you a notification. After this notification you can go back into the plugin and press a “validate” photo button.

This will automatically compare the files they were sent and make sure they are byte for byte the same files that are on your hard drive. This is an important process that makes sure that none of the files were corrupted during the import/export process.

After validation, the files are then automatically moved to the “Archived” smart collection. You can then press another button within the plugin menu to “Reclaim You Hard Drive.” This will remove the images from your hard drive but ensure that the images remain indexed in Lightroom.

The photos will appear “Offline.” With Offline files in Lightroom you can still modify catalog data like keywords, flags, ratings etc. You cannot access the photo in the “Develop” module when it is offline. To modify the file, right click on the image (or series of images) and click “Restore Photo.” The files will then be downloaded to your computer. We will also let Lightroom know that these images are no longer “Offline” and you can edit the photos to your hearts delight. You never have to leave your Lightroom screen. A couple clicks and any photo is at your finger tips.

Screenshot of Mosaic Storage using Lightroom

One of many questions I had was what would happen if I made a few edits to a photo I had downloaded into Lightroom? How would these changes be saved to the files Mosaic has on their servers?

Screenshot of Mosaic Storage using Lightroom

Gerard wrote:

If you edit any of the photos in anyway, the files will show up in the “Reworked” smart collection in Lightroom. If you want to push these changes to Mosaic, within the Plugin menu click “Synchronize Changes.” These changes will automatically be applied to your original images. We only synchronize the changes to the metadata so even making 100s of changes should upload quickly since we already have the RAW images. Once the synchronization process is complete, the images will be moved from the Reworked” smart collection to the “Archived” smart collection.

Aside from the beautiful Lightroom integration, I also asked about how Mosaic compares to all those other cloud storage services.

Gerard wrote:

Mosaic is a different type of service. First we have a different scale. Our smaller clients are the larger Backblaze customers. The other major difference is that we are an archive service as opposed to a backup service.

Backblaze mirrors what is on your computer or external hard drive. If your drive crashes you can get your data back within 30 days. With Mosaic, we are designed to be the permanent home for your data. In this way we are much closer to Amazon’s S3 service than we are to Backblaze, Crashplan, Mozy, etc.

Gerard and Andy did mentioned that one of their beta testers is a travel photographer who’s continuously mailing in his work from the road and once he gets notification that it’s been safely received and loaded into the Mosaic data center, he clears his local backups because he can now access everything he shot without the burden of still having all those images eating up his hard drive. This seamless backup strategy allows him to focus on what he loves doing in the first place - taking photos.

So How Much Does Mosaic Cost?

There’s a one time data upload fee of $0.40 per GB which allows you to safely store your photos. That also includes the two-way shipment of the external hard drive used to send in your images. The rate fee decreases as you store more photos with Mosaic allowing your archive to scale.

The pricing example Mosaic gives on their website is the following:

If a photographer sends 1TB (1,000 GB) of photos to Mosaic, they would be charged a data upload fee of $400. After this one time fee, they would be charged the storage fee of $25 per month.

What if I’ve provided Mosaic with all my photographs and one day I choose to no longer be with the service?

If you choose to leave Mosaic, they will mail you back your data on an external hard drive at no additional expense. So in essence, your photographs will always be yours with the exception that you don’t have to worry about storing all of them on your computer. They archive it all for you and you simply download any specific one you may need to work on.

Dropbox currently keeps my important documents at my fingertips and from what I’ve seen so far from Mosaic, I think they’ve really managed to replicate that same seamlessness by implementing it into a piece of software that I’m already extremely fond of - Lightroom.

Notes: In case you were wondering, I was granted permission by Gerard to share portions of the emails we exchanged so that I could better present on how the service works.