Tag Team Backup – Digital Photography Workflow

Years ago I wrote a post on my file workflow. That is, what I do with my files once I pull them off the card to make sure that they don’t disappear. Since then I’ve made some changes to my workflow so I thought I’d write a little update to that old post.

One of the major problems with modern digital photography is that we tend to take a lot of pictures and need somewhere to put them. Strangely enough, I don’t shoot that much in comparison to most photographers, even many amateurs. For instance, my typical editorial shoot is 150 images on average. I have some event shooting friends who take more pictures in a day than I shoot in a month. So all together once I do all the math, almost everything I’ve ever shot can fit on a little over 3TB. Nothing for most photographers, I know. I still need to work on those files and backup my data however, so here’s what I’ve come up with that works for me.

The Jump to a RAID Array

I found myself waiting for 2GB heavily layered PSD files to be read and written to disk and so started looking for ways to speed up the process. The thing is that I’m a real stickler for noise and so moving to 7200RPM drives, which I find much more noticeable, was a no go. I’m also not made of money so the idea of swapping out all of my photo drives for SSD is not yet a reasonable solution (though it may be soon, more on that below). So the answer I came up with was to bond two of my WD 2TB Green drives together in an OS X software RAID-0. This doubled my throughput to around 180MB/s which is pretty good. Reducing my save/load times by almost half. Of course the big problem with RAID-0 is that if either of those drives died, all of the data on both drives dies. So when you play with RAID-0 make sure you have an extra special backup strategy in place.

Off Site First

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 12.16.51 PMThe most important part of backup is to get data off site. So if your house burns down or gets pulled down a river, you’ve still got your data. Now for me with a 5Mbps upstream connection, having a true one to one backup of my data drives up on the cloud just isn’t a reasonable thing to do, it would take months and months to upload. And honestly, if my house burns down, do I really need the RAW files for outtakes that didn’t make the cut in the first place?

So a while back I instituted a system of exporting my final images as full-res jpegs at 85/100 quality and uploading them to Dropbox.  This both gets them out of the house AND allows me to access final print-ready copies of my work when I’m out and about or on vacation. I can send email links to any of the files right from my phone. So it’s convenience AND backup for which I pay $100/year.

Plus, instead of 3.2TB of data, my entire ‘Finished Images’ folder, everything I’ve ever shot that I care to keep, totals a whopping 20.5GB  I could keep a copy local on my phone if I really wanted to. Or on a keychain USB drive I guess, that’s not a bad idea actually…

Tag Team Backup

The proliferation of inexpensive USB 3.0 drives has been a great boon to backup users everywhere. For one thing they’re cheap. Often cheaper than the bare drive that’s enclosed within goes for, and they’re seemingly always on sale somewhere. I’ve bought two 4TB Seagate drives in the past few months for about $150 each. That’s just nuts. Here’s one on Amazon right now for instance:

Seagate Backup Plus 4 TB USB 3.0 Desktop External Hard Drive on Amazon.com

The trick to my backup solution is to have two drives to backup to, but only backup to one of them at a time. One drive is on my desktop, the other is in my closet. Once a month (I switch them when I write my rent check) I swap the two drives so that the one in the closet becomes the one on my desk and vice versa.  You may ask ‘Why?’, but I assure you there is a good reason for this.

Once you have a backup system working, the nightmare scenario is that data on your main library drive becomes corrupt or something gets accidentally deleted and an automated backup goes and clones those mistakes to your backup drive before you realize it. So now you’re left with not one but two drives which don’t have your data on them. By having two backups that you swap in an out, you always have a backup that’s not going to be automatically overwritten which is no greater than a month old (or a week old if you swapped them weekly, or a day old if you swapped them daily, etc). Another ancillary benefit is that the drive in your closet is not connected to power, so that if that random power surge or lightning strike kills your electronics, your data is covered.

Image Library on SDD

I mentioned above that the idea of putting all of my images on fast SSDs had occurred to me. The prices of the drives has fallen A LOT in the past year or so. To the point where you can currently buy a 960GB drive for $500. Still a little too rich for my blood, but if I archived the old stuff to a couple of external drives and kept my library tidy, I could probably get it to fit within 2TB or so. And that would only cost about a grand. A lot of money? Sure, but not completely astronomical like it would have been a couple of years ago.

It’s certainly to the point that the next time I build myself a new computer, I’ll probably make the switch. Hopefully by then the price will be down to $250/TB.  Imagine two or three of those drives as your RAID-0 array. Loading images at 1.6GB/s would be pretty nice. Necessary? Nah. But pretty nice.

On Eleanor

I got some terrible news last night. My good friend and muse Eleanor had died suddenly while visiting family for the holiday. No warning, no sickness, no time to say goodbye. She was one of the outliers the entire time I knew her. I would often use her as an example in conversations when I needed an example of someone who confounded the world’s expectations. Sassy to the nines and always so incredibly full of life that I can hardly believe that she could possibly be gone.

If you needed another reason why you should never wait to do that thing you’ve been meaning to do, or tell someone that you love them, here it is.

Below are a few of the photographs I made with Eleanor over the years.







Family Photo Restoration


My partner brought a little present home for me from her mother’s house. Less a present really, more of an assignment. Her mother had found this picture of HER mother and sister and grandmother in some drawer or other. It had been battered and beaten and probably put through the wash a few times, but they wanted to see what I could do with it.

Step one was to scan it in order to get as much information as possible out of the original. Pulled my old Epson flatbed out of the closet and plugged it in, fired right up. Scanned it to a TIFF file at 1200dpi. Not that there was anything near that much information in the print, but I find that when doing restorations like this, the higher resolution let’s you more easily discern between the image and any physical flaws that have befallen the print. If you don’t have a scanner, you can also take a well exposed picture with your camera and start with that. Just make sure you light it from the side so you don’t get reflections in the image.

Most of this kind of work can be done in Photoshop using things like the spot-healing brush and stamp tools. Certainly when it comes to creases across a largely white sky those techniques work pretty flawlessly. The problems come when you need to invent information. The places on the print where the image has been torn away for example, that’s information I have no way of getting back. For things like the pattern in their dresses, you can use the healing tools to mimic or clone in the pattern from elsewhere to good effect. Other areas like the swing set to the right of the central girl, I can’t accurately recreate that. Best I can do, within reason, is to use the surrounding image to guess, and that’s just what I did.


Overall not bad considering I only spent an hour or so on it. Is there room for more work? Sure, but you’re quickly approaching the limits of your return on time invested. We want to save and perhaps restore the memory a bit, no need to go all Ken Burns.

I also could have increased the contrast even more and desaturated the whole thing entirely. That would probably deliver an image that was much closer to how the print looked in the 1930’s, but also kind of loses some of the Age that the print has imbued on the memory. So in the end I pulled back the contrast and desaturation layers to let it feel a bit more like the original.

Either way it’s a good ‘waiting for the snowstorm’ project, and a great way to get your feet wet in PhotoShop. You’ll learn how to use layers and healing/clone tools, as well as adjustment layers and color. I highly recommend you get a tablet to do work like this. Trying to do this with just a mouse would be like doing a fine pencil drawing while wearing ski gloves. The less expensive Wacom tablets are a great deal, and a good place to dip your toe in the water.

So go rummage through some drawers and give it a shot. Your children and your children’s children will thank you some day.

It’s Not The Umbrella’s Fault – Einstein / Speedlight Modifier Shoot-off

I mentioned last week on the show how I felt like a speedlight and an Alien Bee looked very different through the same umbrella at the same subject. So I thought I would put it to the test.

Conrad sat in for me while I shot her from approximately two feet with:

A Paul Buff Einstein w/
– 7″ reflector
– 32″ shoot-through umbrella
– 32″ silver umbrella
– 22″ beauty dish
– 22″ beauty dish with 30 degree grid
– 22″ beauty dish with sock
– 24×36″ softbox
– 24×36″ softbox with grid

A Lumopro 120 Speedlight w/
– bare
– 32″ shoot-through umbrella
– 32″ silver umbrella
– 16″ softbox

The images were color corrected in Lightroom using the color chart on the wall.

And you know what? At least for the soft sources, they all don’t look THAT different from one another. So maybe I’m wrong. What do you think?

So I’ve taken a look at them after a short night’s sleep and I wanted to point out a few things. While the light from the umbrellas and softboxes and such look pretty similar from a couple of feet away, you will notice that there is a huge difference in their spill into the rest of the scene. So if you need control over your lighting, some options are definitely better than others.

Also even though I was using strobes that ‘should’ more or less be about daylight balanced, there was a wide variation of white balance settings in post to get them in line with each other. The light from the Einstein for instance had color temp of 6000º, 5950º, 5250º, 5100º, 5500º, and 5000º depending on the modifier being used. The speedlight was even worse, 6600º, 6900º, 7500º. Remember that next time you use a strobe and think you can just set your WB to Daylight or Flash and call it a day. Nope. When in doubt, shoot a grey card at the beginning of your session so that you have a reference in post.

For me, it comes down to convenience to a large extent. If I have to carry my gear to a shoot I want to get the most bang I can get for the size/weight buck. For me lately that has been a couple of 36″ Softlighters from Photek. They fit criss-cross in my Pelican rolling case and can be used as white umbrellas, shoot-through umbrellas, and as designed with the front diffuser. Three tools in one. (Plus they’re cheap!) That said, yesterday I was shooting some corporate headshots and brought along an Alien Bee with a 46″ Softlighter and the light from that much larger source (remember, the area of a circle is π times the radius squared so it’s about 50% more area than the 36″) was lovely. Wrapped around so nice that I didn’t even need a reflector.

In the end though, soft light is soft light. How you make it and how ‘soft’ it is largely academic. If what you’ve got is an umbrella, it’ll be fine. If you’ve got a softbox, use the softbox. Stop worrying about the 5% difference in the quality of light and start worrying about making better photographs. Let me put is this way to wrap up: If you’re pictures aren’t good enough, it’s not the umbrella’s fault.

On Taking Pictures #82: Going ‘All In’ On Yourself


This week, should exceptional talent be a gift or a chore? Does what you do have to feed your soul to be important, or is just doing the work enough? Also, when are too many options not a good thing? Plus, we discuss the new documentary “Everybody Street” and Tim Flach is our Photographer of the Week.

Show Notes

Bruce Springsteen – Wings For Wheels – The Making of Born To Run
Are We Happier When We Have More Options? : NPR
Katy Perry ‘Prism’ Good Example How Albums Don’t Work Anymore | Variety
Writing Wednesdays: Resistance and Self-Loathing
French newspaper removes all images in support of photographers – British Journal of Photography
Analogue Forever: Film Talk with Lars Fielder of Kodak Alaris – Lomography

This Week’s Sponsor
Squarespace Use the coupon code PUSHTHETRAIN at checkout to save 10% on your order.

Photographer of the Week
Tim Flach

Books We Recommend
More than Human