I saw the Paris Protests today and I’m fine

So, I’m sure folks have heard the news about protests in Paris today. That did happen, and in fact I was right in the middle of it for a good part of the day. How could I miss the opportunity to take my camera into a real live protest? 2018-12-0145.jpg

The very short version is, yes, I was at the protests. Yes, there was tear gas and water cannons and lots of people moving around. There were really only a handful of instigators that were egging the crowds on to do damage, but that was enough.

I primarily stayed outside of the major crowds, but I had my camera with me the whole time. Pictures are here:

2018-12-011.jpg

And yeah, now I know what tear gas feels like. I don’t recommend it.

Going Mirrorless. Switching from Canon to Olympus

The photography community is going through yet another sea change driven by technology. The first big adjustment happened when digital cameras got good enough to replace film. This was primarily driven by DSLR’s becoming price and performance competitive with analog cameras, and the entire industry pivoted to digital.

The next wave is the move from DSLR to mirrorless technology. This is fairly recent – technically the earliest digital cameras were ‘mirrorless’ in that they didn’t have the internal mechanisms that SLR’s have (and thus were considered inferior in many ways). But recently mirrorless cameras with sensor and lens ecosystems as good as professional (and ‘prosumer’) cameras have been gaining popularity, and it’s become pretty apparent that the DSLR’s days are numbered.

I went whole hog into DSLR land after taking pictures for many years with ‘point and shoot’ digital cameras. My first DSLR was a Canon Digital Rebel XTi (nee ‘400D’), and later a Canon 70D. I continued using both through weddings, portrait shoots, event photography, etc, enjoying the quality and ‘feel’ of the platform.

Eventually I realized I was using my camera less because of it’s bulkiness, and the fact that I was already carrying a pretty decent camera in my pocket. My cell phone camera was, to use the well worn phrase, the best camera you can have (ie, “the one you have with you”). I was using my phone camera for snapshots, shooting subjects I was interested in in the moment, etc, but my pictures stopped being ‘art’, and started just being ‘documenting’. I’m not interested in just being another snapshot phone cam photographer. I want to make beautiful images, and while some of that is possible with a cell phone, I wanted better. It was clear I wasn’t using my Canon (though I carry it in my camera-enabling backpack a lot) because it was heavy, bulky, and unwieldy. Hauling out 2 pounds of camera to take a picture of the beautiful sky or a street at night was just becoming a hassle.

Time to look at mirrorless cameras.

Canon had already been working on a mirrorless line, with the M50 and the M6 bodies. They were relatively expensive, and the reviews were okay, if not exciting. If I was going to invest in an entire new camera platform (and lets be clear, when you replace your camera, you’re also replacing all the accessories – lenses, flashes, etc – you’ve gotten for the old platform), I wanted it to be something I was excited about, and had a good ecosystem behind it.


I was attracted to the Micro Four Thirds family of lenses (referred to as ‘m43’ or ‘m4/3’ or ‘MFT’ by the technorati – I just use m43). There seemed to be a lot of support for the platform among many manufacturers, so I started focusing on what platforms were around. My attention was drawn to the Olympus PEN series of cameras – these cameras go back to the late 1950’s, and are easily recognizable in their styling and form factor. Olympus has made digital versions of the PEN cameras for a few years, but only recently have they gone all out and made a high end digital mirrorless version that supports the M43 lens platform, all in the same form factor.

And it looks cool as hell.

After reading many reviews and details online, I took the plunge, and ordered the camera. Because I knew I’d be banging it around a lot, I also added a very nice retro looking leather case for it, as well as a few extra lenses with associated filters, including a 25mm F/1.8 (what is equivalent to the standard 50mm fixed lens on most DSLRs), since much of my style works with shallow depth of field shots.

I received the camera just before a trip to California, so I basically bundled everything into a bag and got on the plane. My first real experience using the camera was during some walkarounds in San Francisco.

First impressions

San Francisco, March, 2018,

It’s small. In some ways, the camera feels a bit like a toy, but only because I’m so used to handling a large bulky device. Once I got past the size issues, the camera is pleasant to use. Fast on the shutter, good autofocus and it makes nice decisions about auto settings. I’m avoiding fiddling the manual modes for a while, because the manual is ENORMOUS, and there’s a lot to get through. I did change the autofocus setting to be a sort of hybrid manual mode. You can set it to autofocus for you, then you can manually adjust the focus off the initial setting via the lens ring. Handy.

I immediately ran into a problem where the camera would lock up after several shots. No amount of on/off, button pushing, closing / opening the display or anything would cause it to come back to life – and it would get HOT, draining the battery very quickly. It was obviously stuck in some software loop. Popping the battery out and back in cause it to reboot, and I could continue shooting, but having to do this every 3-4 shots was frustrating. Turns out it was a known firmware bug that was fixed in version 2.0. Olympus provides a (remarkably well written) download / update tool to upgrade the camera via a USB cable. Once the firmware was updated, no more lockups. Hooray!

The next thing I had to overcome was the viewfinder. Because this camera is not an SLR, which shows you, via the viewfinder, exactly what the camera sensor will see when it takes the picture, The PEN-F has a secondary digital display within the viewfinder that shows you what the sensor will see, but obviously at a much lower resolution. It has the advantage of showing you all the details you’ll need to know about the shot (ISO, aperture, exposure, battery life, storage information, etc), and has a neat presentation style after you take the shot (you half press the shutter button to set focus, then full press to shoot, just like most cameras… On the next press, you get a very fast preview of the last shot taken – about 1/4 second, but it lets you know what the last shot looked like. I found this extremely useful when taking multiple shots in a row, to understand if the last shot was focused right, got what i needed, etc). The digital viewfinder has drawbacks though. It doesn’t come on until the camera senses your face is near the display, so there’s a noticeable delay before the image comes on. This can be disconcerting. The display is a low resolution version of the actual photo you’ll be taking, and because it’s a luminous version of the shot, the colors and values can feel ‘off’ – this isn’t a reflective version of what your lens would see, it’s a replayed version of reality using glowing pixels. It has a very different feel, and takes some getting used to.

The back of the camera has a flip out high resolution touch sensitive display that is great for replays, working through the (VAST) menu system, or doing maintenance on the camera. The display can be folded out, flipped over, and hidden, which is how I prefer to shoot – I don’t like having a sensitive glass display open to being banged about in my bag. The menus and environment were snappy and easy to navigate, but the menu system is quite deep and detailed. I’ve had to refer to the manual and to online forums several times to find things buried in the multilevel menu system.

The PEN-F does have wifi support, and it looks to be much better than the Canon configurations (which I found all but useless). For now I’m using SD cards to move content from the camera to my Mac running Lightroom. I’ll try the wifi process at some point, but or now it’s something that’s not on my hot list.

So, how does it perform?

So far, I’m exceptionally pleased with the quality of shots coming off it. First, working with the fixed 25mm lens has been an experience pretty much dead on with my work with the standard ‘nifty fifty’s. The lens is fast and responsive, and handles light just fine. The focal depth is about what I’d expect for a fixed lens of this size, and the form factor is just right. In my bag, the entire assembly is hardly noticeable compared to my bulky 70D.

Olympus also offers a 150mm (300mm equivelent) ‘long lens’ for an extremely reasonable price (I got mine for $99). I recognized I wanted to do long lens shots, so picked up the 150mm, and let me tell you, I was not disappointed. Motion on the lens is excellent, and I was able to ‘snipe’ profile shots at a big social gathering beautifully. I also took this lens to a soccer practice, and was very pleased with the quality of shots coming out of the system.

925 grams
650 grams

So, lets talk physical comparisons for a bit.

The obvious part is – the Olympus is small. Roughly half the size of the Canon equipment. This makes it much easier to carry around and not have it be a burden. Batteries, camera body, lenses, associated gear, all half the weight, for roughly the same performance.

Weight wise, I compared the Canon 70D with a 1.8mm 50mm lens against the Olympus PEN-F with a 25mm 1.8 lens. The Canon weighed in at 925 grams, and the Olympus was 650 grams, putting the Canon setup about 50% heavier than the Olympus. That’s a pretty significant change.

In short, the Olympus is smaller, lighter, and easier to work with than the Canon, with comparable performance.

What about picture quality?

Easter Egg Hunt

I’m not the worlds greatest photographer. In fact, I’d argue I’m somewhere in the ‘meh’ to ‘okay’ department. Sometimes I luck out, and sometimes something I’m really trying to capture happens as I envisioned it. I love the work I create, and want to get better, but I know I have a lot to learn. Having said that, I don’t think i’ve come anywhere close to pushing the 70D or the PEN-F to their capability limits, so while some may argue the PEN-F has this or that deficiency or advantage over the 70D, that’s not really what is going to impact my work. I got the camera because I felt I needed something more portable, lighter, and easier to work with, which would encourage me to get out and shoot more. I believe in that I’ve succeeded.

San Francisco, March, 2018

I’ve done some street photography (which I enjoy), and have been super happy with the results. I’ve taken it out for your typical day of touristy fun, and I’ve shot portraits. I’ve used it at a soccer game for sports photography. In all these settings, it’s performed well and I’ve been happy with the results.

Wrapping it up – Conclusions and thoughts

After a month with the new camera, I have to say I’m pretty satisfied. The form factor, the picture quality, and the performance has been great. I won’t lie, part of my attraction to the camera was how it looks and feels. It’s got a retro affect that I find attractive and interesting. Very little of the styling is ‘there just for show’ – it’s all functional and useful (okay, maybe the on-camera post-effects set via a dial on the front of the body are a little strange), but overall, the controls are effective, well placed, and functinal.

I’m fully committed to using the PEN-F as my primary shooter. There’s no reason I’d need to bring my 70D with me for 98% of my photowalks or other events. Am I getting rid of my 70D? Probably not – having a second body is very handy for events and paid gigs. I’ll probably work with both cameras for weddings where having two cameras set up with different lenses is needed.

Internet Addiction is Killing Your Photography

There’s a wonderful post over on Petapixel (What? You’re not following them already? Get on that… seriously, they’re awesome, whether you’re a photographer or not)..Un petit coin de paradis...

Wait, what i was saying? Oh, right, the post. The post is about how internet addiction is destroying creativity. The author talks specifically about how it relates to photography, but the general case is true…

What I’m getting at in the headline is that the Internet is most likely the cause of your impotence when it comes to productivity. How many people pick up their smartphones and check something online or in an app in the morning, instead of picking up a camera and capturing a sunrise?

I bet 99% of us look at a smartphone before anything else in the morning. If only your first thought out of bed was “What photo will I capture today?” think about how much more you would achieve.

And he’s absolutely right.

Over the last couple weeks (and through being sick with a head cold the last 5 days), I’ve found myself almost breathlessly refreshing news.google.com and my Feedly page or whatever just to keep up the constant stream of input. And when I felt like doing something, it would have to compete with the information overload I was getting off the net. How can creativity thrive under this kind of mental onslaught?

I’m going to try and change things up. Move politics out of my “must check once an hour” need. Stop refreshing feedly to get the latest DailyWTF. I’m not a big social media wank, so Facebook, Twitter, etc are not my main distractions, so I can’t really put this under “i’m quitting social media for a while”. It’s more “I need to set priorities a little. This is not healthy for me.”

In the past I’ve done little life adjustments like this, and whether they stick long term or not, they do shift the balance a little, and nudging yourself out of a well worn groove isn’t a bad thing, even if it means things are a little shaky until a new smoother path is found.

How To Determine the Size of an S3 Bucket

This one came up while working on my home network / photo management setup. I’ve set my Synology DS216+ NAS to use Cloud Sync to back up my files to an Amazon S3 bucket (see this post for some more information on using S3 for backups). The problem was it was taking a very long time, and I needed to figure out how much had transferred.

Unfortunately, Amazon has no simple mechanism for determining the size of an S3 bucket. I found a couple posts on StackOverflow showing how to do it, but they seemed overly complex.

While you can get a bucket size using several third party GUI tools, the command line approach is quick and easy. It does require the Amazon Command line Tools to be installed, and access keys generated, but once that’s done, you can quickly query Amazon for just about anything.

Here’s the command I used to determine the size of my bucket. This is on a mac:

$ aws s3 ls s3://BUCKETNAME --recursive | awk '{total+=$3} END{print "total =",total/1024/1024," MB"}'

This will give back something like:

total = 245032  MB

Voila! Time for that command can vary depending on the size of the bucket. For me, with around 20,000 photos stored, it takes about 20 seconds.

Lightroom at Home – Managing All the Bytes

When I started doing semi-professional photography a few years ago, I knew that I’d need to step up my game when it comes to photo management, processing, long term archiving, and, of course, the ever neglected marketing. Some of these I had a CLOO about, others were rocky roads of experimentation, research, and late night frustrations.

After a lot of research, blog-reading, chatting, and hard decision making, I think I’ve boiled things down to a workable, relatively elegant, yet flexible environment. I present here the results of two years of “How the HECK am I going to do this???”

The Players

This article is primarily about my infrastructure, e.g. the components I’m using, how they interact with each other, and some of the lessons I’ve learned. A full walkthrough of my actual photo process will come in a later post, so for this installment, lets look at the players…

  • Adobe Lightroom CC
    Love it or hate it, Lightroom is the undisputed champeen in the photo management world. People can argue one way or another about whether Lightroom is One True Photo Tool, but lets face facts. They own the space right now. Sure there are issues with speed, and Adobe isn’t exactly the warmest and fuzziest company on the planet, but Lightroom is the best supported, most actively used, and best known of all the options. Coupled with Photoshop and other toolsets, it’s hard to make an argument against it.
  • Apple Macbook Pro
    I love my Mac. You hear that a lot, and you’ll also hear the detractors going on about Mac Fanbois and
    Macbook Pro 13" Retina (Early 2013)
    Macbook Pro 13″ Retina (Early 2013)
    all that hoohah. When it comes down to brass tacks, you can’t beat a Mac for fostering the kind of creative environment needed for artistic work. And let’s not beat around the bush. Photographers are artists. Our tools should enable us to create and share images we see through our viewfinders and in our minds. You can’t do that when you’re dealing with crapola environments like Windows or spending all your days tinkering with configurations in Linux just to get a youtube video to play. (Full disclosure here – I LOVE linux. I work on it every day. But it can’t hold a candle to a Mac for the fit and polish of it’s desktop environment. Srsly.)
  • Synology DS216+ NAS (Network Attached Storage)
    Now we’re getting down to it. You can’t take take pictures in the digital age without a safe place to
    Synology DS216+ NAS
    Synology DS216+ NAS
    store them. My Mac can only hold so much data, and there’s something very iffy about storing unique, critical files on a device that you frequently toss around your living room, sling on your back, or carry on the bus. One thing I’ve always said is consider your laptop as expendable. No critical information should be on it that you absolutely cannot afford to lose permanently on a moments notice. Cuz every laptop is one “oops!” away from being run over by a car, falling in the sink, or getting stepped on. My NAS is 3 terabytes of mirrored storage (6TB total) that stays on the shelf at home. I don’t carry it on the bus, and it’s unlikely to get run over by a car. It’s fast, easy to work with, and relatively affordable.
  • Amazon S3 Glacier Storage
    Even with a home NAS, you still need backups. And I want to underline something here. “Backups” are not just cloud-based ‘PC backups’. Many services are simply copies of your local hard drives in the cloud. If you mistakenly overwrite a local file with something wrong, or delete a local file, and your backup system runs, congratulations! You now have a backup… OF YOUR MISTAKE. The original file is now gone in both locations! Many services do allow for ‘historical’ archives, where you can retrieve a previous version of a file from the cloud, but be very careful when choosing your offsite storage environment. I use Amazon Glacier, but I understand this may not be for everyone. Glacier is a service built on top of Amazon S3, which is part of AWS. Glacier a simple upload service where files ‘settle’ into long term storage, meaning that once they’re copied to S3, they’re available immediately, but I’ve set it up so that after a month, the files are ‘archived’ into Glacier. They’re still retrievable, but it may take a few hours to get them back. Why do this? Because Glacier storage is 1/10th the price of standard S3. As of this writing, Glacier is $0.007 per GB / month. My entire photo archive is approximately 400GB, so storing this in Glacier costs me $2.80/month. If I were to use S3 in ‘standard’ mode, it would be $0.03 per GB / month, or about $12. (There’s a middle tier called ‘infrequent access’ that is $0.125 per GB / month, which works out to $5.) Regardless, these prices are VERY low, and are easily within reach of a humble photographer. My NAS allows for easy synchronizing of my raw photos directly to S3 and Glacier, so I always have an off-site copy of my photos.
  • Sandisk 128GB USB3 Thumbdrive
    When I first got my Mac (now over 3 years ago), it came with an internal SSD drive with a whopping 250gig of storage. “PLENTY OF ROOM!” – haha. I laugh now. That’s not enough to do all the other things I do on the Mac, and also do my photos. It’s very difficult to upgrade these machines, so I had to look around for options. Initially I was carting around an external 1TB Toshiba USB3 drive, which was… ‘fine’, for a while, but extremely fragile. If the USB cable came out while working, I immediately had to do a rebuild of my Lightroom catalog, and things went pretty squirrely. Since this is, after all, a laptop, that drive was always dangling off the edge of the couch or in other precarious positions. With thumb drives getting larger (storage wise), 128gig in something literally the size of my thumbnail, that could live in the USB slot full time seemed like a good answer. So now my catalog and working photos live on the thumb drive… bye bye 1TB external!

Pulling it all Together

Now, those who have gone down this road, if you’re still reading, have probably already seen problems with how all this is supposed to work. “Nice NAS, Dave, would.. be a shame if.. you couldn’t access it all the time!” – This is, alas, a true problem.

Having oodles of disk storage at home is all fine and dandy, but that doesn’t help when you’re parked at your local Starbucks, jammin to some tunes, and want to get all creative while slurping that double-mocha latte grande moobah moobah drink thing. (Okay, I don’t spend a lot of time at Starbucks. Sue me). But the problem still stands. If you don’t have access to your photos while away from home, how can you get things done when the muse strikes?

My solution was to split my photos into “Things I’m working on now” and “Things I’m pretty much done with”. The latter lives on the NAS, and when I’m home, I plug in an ethernet cable to my Mac, and voila! High speed access to the NAS! (Note for the geeks – Yes, you can access a NAS over wifi, or even remotely over the internet. But this is not a speedy process, in particular when working with Lightroom, really large photo libraries, and photos that are 26meg a pop. Go hardwire or go home).

Initially I was concerned this approach would cause Lightroom to have kittens. It would mean a large portion of my photos would not be available when I was on the road. But I’ll give Adobe credit. They did things right.

Lightroom is essentially a database. It indexes the ‘raw’ photo files, and keeps track of all the changes that have been applied to them. If the raw files are not available, Lightroom basically goes ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and just shows you a low resolution preview of the last time it worked with that photo. You obviously can’t do much with that, but Lightroom doesn’t seem to care that the source file is unavailable. When I get home, plug in the cable and remount the NAS, ding! I have a high resolution image to work with again.

The next good thing is that Lightroom has a decent file manager. Moving files from my Mac (which is where I import raws from SD cards) to the NAS is simply a matter of dragging and dropping the directories in the Navigator. Lightroom updates the local database to keep track of where the files are. Badabing, badaboom, the files get moved, Lightroom updates it’s database, and I’m all done.

The Workflow

So what actually constitutes a workflow? Well, as I said earlier, I’ll detail my post-processing steps in another article, but here’s the steps from a pure photo management perspective:

  1. Shoot using the Canon cameras, storing RAWs on SD cards
  2. When ready to load the photos from the shoot into Lightroom, import the photos from the SD card (using the Mac SD slot) into Lightroom, storing the photos on the 128G thumb drive.
  3. Do whatever post-processing is needed. Photographers know this process can take a while. With the 128gig drive, I can have many sessions stored locally on the mac, and work through whatever is needed without worrying about space.
  4. Eventually, after photos are delivered or published, I don’t need them locally anymore, so I use the Navigator to move the raw import folders over to the NAS. The files are copied over, the local database is updated automatically, and I free up a couple gig for the next shoot
  5. The NAS, sometime in the next few hours, automatically backs up the photos up into Glacier

Does it work?

After all that, how well does it work? Turns out, pretty durned well.

It took me about 2 months to put all this together, involving a bit of trial and error. There were some tricks with network configurations that won’t affect most users, so that complicated things. I tried working with pure wifi service to the NAS, but that was too slow for words. Installing a small dedicated gigabit ethernet switch was the final step that made the whole thing useable.

I find performance with the NAS to be quite good. It’s on a par with working with a local USB3 drive. I don’t feel having my files “over there” has any real impact (other than mobility) on things. Admittedly, there’s a comfort factor knowing my files are stored on a relatively stable, mirrored server, as well as being backed up into the cloud, and the convenience factor of just plugging in my cable at home to gain full access to them really can’t be downplayed. I CAN get to my files remotely over wifi, or, if I do enough juggling, even reach them over the internet. But for sit-down, true post work, this configuration is stable, fast, and useable. I’m a fan.

2016 New England Auto Show

Yesterday Zach and I went to the New England Auto Show at the Boston Convention Center. it was right next door to Arisia, so we thought “what the heck, lets take an hour or two to go look at shiny cars.” He’d never been to a commercial car show before, so we trundled over.

2016-01-1717.jpgOn the way in, we ran the usual gauntlet of free coupons, surveys, and other marketing nitwits. The line to buy tickets was super-fast (literally walked right up to the next person selling), but someone had already stopped me in line “Hey, I bought an extra, want mine?” er…. sure! That was $15 not spent.

Once on the show floor it was acres and acres of carpeting with shiny cars and trucks parked on them. I realized quickly that Zach knew more about modern car lines than I did, so I let him identify some things. I helped out with things like “Yes, that really is a Bentley, and yes, they really do cost a quarter million dollars, and no, I can’t tell you why.”

There were some important wins that made the show worth while. I was able to look at the 2016 Volt, and in particular, whether I could fit in it (spoiler: yup). I also love that Chevy redesigned the Volt’s center console, which was a mess. That plus the new battery layout and longer range (about 53 miles on battery, as opposed to the 41-ish I get with my 2015) makes me want to see about changing my lease over.

Two other high points of the show. Zach has decided that his dream car is the Mazda MX-5 Miata. I’ll admit that when it first came out as the Miata 25 years ago, I was pretty taken with it. No way I could sit in it though. 2016-01-1715.jpgZach had never had the opportunity to ‘try one on for size’, so now was our chance. He fit! The soft top closed comfortably over him, and he was over the moon. If you’re going to be in love with a car, at least he’s picking a stylish, not stupidly over the moon expensive one.

The one other bit of fun we had was Zach was able to climb into a real live Modified-class track racecar. We were gaping at it when the owner said “Want to try it on for size?” “Not me”, I said, “But could he try?” I pointed to Zach and he said “heck yeah!”. So after some wriggling in through the window, he socketed into the drivers seat (which was conveniently sized about right for him), and he got a feel for what real racecars feel like.

All in all, a nice 2 hours spent with my son geeking about cars. For me, it was also a chance to try out my lovely new Canon 11-16mm ultra wide angle lens. Here’s the full gallery. This was my first time doing any decent work with such a short focal length, and I was pleasantly surprised with the results. I like it!

So you wanna be a wedding photographer…

Petapixel is rapidly becoming my favorite blog for articles about photography, both the business and the tech. A recent post entitled ‘You Sure You Want to be a Wedding Photographer?’ hit pretty close to home, as I’ve been shooting more weddings lately, and yes, I’ll admit it, I’ve done the mental exercise of “Can I do this full time?”

If you want to be a wedding photographer, you need to stop and think about your life.

So you want to be a wedding photographer? Want to go pro, go full-time, ditch that desk and take the industry by storm? Stop and think about your life. Do you LOVE to work? Like, truly LOVE working? Not the recognition, not the money and the fame, and least of all the internal accomplishment feedback that comes from achieving small successes that only you can see. Nope, you pretty much need to love doing the work.

I arrived at “Heck no”, long before before I read the article, but Levi’s point by point breakdown of “You really have to love photography – not be in it for the money, fame, glory, or any of that BS…” is, IMHO, spot on. I love taking pictures, I love doing post-processing, and I love hearing customers tell me they’re happy with my work. Is it frustrating sometimes? Sure… it’s a lot of work, and there are aspects that ain’t great. A good example is in Levi’s article:

And somebody’s gray uncle strapped with two DSLRs worth more than your car will waltz in and bogart all your shots while insinuating that you probably shouldn’t have even come. (You’re a real jerk, Uncle Bob.)

Boy ain’t that the truth. I’ve had this happen twice, though not quite with the snooty commentary from Uncle Bob.

So, no, not a full time career for me. In the meantime, I’ll happily take the work as it comes along, throwing myself into each job with all the professionalism, skill, and excitement I can bring. At the end, I’m happy with the product I give my clients, and I can go to sleep knowing I did my best, made someone happy, and be ready for the next days challenges.

Backing up your Photos – A Cautionary Tale

A recent article appeared on Petapixel regarding a Montreal photojournalist having all his photos stolen by burglars:

A photographer’s worst nightmare just happened to a well-known photographer: on Monday, Montreal-based photojournalist Jacques Nadeau returned home to find that burglars had stolen all the photos he has taken during his life and career.

CBC News reports that Nadeau, a photojournalist for the newspaper Le Devoir, walked into his home find that five of his hard drives had been stolen.

They contained an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 photos captured over the course of his 35 year photography career.

This is a terrible story, and absolutely devastating to the photographer.  My heart goes out to him.  But we can take a lesson from this…

Embrace the Paranoia.  Always ask “What if….”

Take a look around you.  At your life, at your belongings, at things you hold dear.  Ask yourself “What would happen if this were lost or destroyed?”  If the answer is “This is irreplaceable”, then move on to the next question “How can I protect these things in a way that makes sure they’re never lost?”

For anyone in the digital world, the answer is simple.  Backups.  There are myriad sites singing the song “Always do your backups!” and “Here’s how to back up your things!”  I won’t go into detail here.  But people should extend that idea to other things of value.  Important documents.  Printed photos.  Artwork.  That doll from your youth.  Look at these things of value and be a little paranoid.  “How could this be destroyed?”  Some china inherited from a relative – is it on a shelf that can be knocked over easily?  A doll you once cuddled as a child, perhaps putting it out of reach of the dog would be a good idea?

Yea yeah, okay.  So how do YOU do it?

I’m glad you asked!  This article happened to appear while I was in the middle of backing up my photo library!

Currently, I do all my photo work in Aperture.  Apple has announced that this product is being end of lifed, so no matter what, I’ll need to do a bunch of work migrating photos.  I keep my photo library on an external 1TB USB3 drive, and I’m acutely aware of how fragile that is.  Hard drives fail constantly, and having all my eggs in one basket is never a good idea.  The challenge is, photo libraries are BIG.  Hundreds of gigabytes of data.  If I were to try to back up my Aperture library onto DVD+R DS (the largest ‘consumer level’ long term storage medium available at 17G per disc),  I’d need 31 some odd discs.  That’s too many, and cumbersome as heck to work with.

I considered Dropbox, Box.net, Google drive, and Amazon Drive, but I feel these are targeted at a desktop user who just wants a drive out in the cloud.  While I use Dropbox extensively for making photos available to customers, it’s sync mechanism is quite tricky if what you’re storing on Dropbox is much larger than what you can store locally.  I’m also not confident these systems will last, unchanged and accessible, for the long term.  Google, in particular, has a dreadful record for keeping products and offerings available for the long run.

In the end I decided to use a pretty technical solution:  Amazon S3 storage.

Backing up to S3 and Glacier

Amazon has a bulk storage system called S3, coupled with a ‘long term storage’ system called Glacier.  S3 is in essence a big storage bucket where you can drop files and retrieve them at will.  Glacier allows you to take S3 elements and put them in, as you might guess from the name, ‘Cold storage’.  The costs for S3 storage is extremely low ($0.0240 per GB per month, or for my 600G of photo data, about $14/mo).  If I move those files into Glacier, it drops to $6/mo.  The difference is that restoring data from Glacier may not be immediate – it may take a few hours for your files to be available.  For this sort of long term storage, that’s fine by me!

This is not as cheap as current offerings from Amazon Prime (Unlimited storage free with Prime and Amazon Drive).  But I’m still very skeptical of the ‘drive’ offerings from the big players.  Everyone is trying to get into the “cloud drive” market with custom clients and apps.  My storage needs are exceedingly simple.  About 300 very large files (copies of each of my photo projects).  S3 is extremely well established, and used widely in the industry.

With S3, to back up my library, I go through these (for me) straightforward steps:

  • In Aperture, I select a project, and say “Export to library”.  I locate that library on my external drive.  This is an exact copy of my original masters / RAW images, as well as all the ‘versions’ I may have created (all in JPG form).  It’s also including metadata and Aperture edit notes.  While I know Aperture is not long for the world, I at least have things backed up.  This results in a directory that contains a mini ‘apilibrary’ containing all my files.
  • From the command line, I make a ‘tgz’ of that directory.  This compresses the directory down into a single file.  If I were so inclined, I could do this on the Mac just by selecting the directory and choosing ‘Compress’ – that will create a .zip file containing the entire library.
  • Next, I copy the file up to S3.  Because I’m a super-geek, I do this right on the command line using my Amazon credentials I created a while back.  If you’re a GUI person, you can use any number of S3 clients for the mac or PC.  For me, I do:
    aws s3 cp 2014-09-23\ CA\ Over\ 15k.aplibrary.tgz s3://daveshevettphotos/ --profile personal

After some time (some of the libraries are quite large.  A 25gig wedding archive took 85 minutes to upload) I have an offsite backup of that photo library!  Hurray!  At any point I can go to the Amazon S3 console and put these files into Glacier for long term storage, or download them as needed.

I realize this process is not for everyone.  I share here to simply raise awareness that in the modern age, many of our most important things are stored in an ephemeral, easily lost way.  Take the time to look around and see what you could lose if something were to happen.  Something as simple as your laptop being stolen,  a broken water pipe, or even a home fire.  Always ask.. “What if…”

Lonesome Lake Hut

Another lovely weekend hiking in the white mountains.  This time we went up to Lonesome Lake Hut, which is located just south and west of Cannon Mountain.  The hike up Cascade Brook Trail on Saturday was magnificent – some of the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve seen in ages (If you hike this, don’t forget to visit the Basin at the beginning of the trail!).


I also decided to take along a small point and shoot camera I had – a GE A1050.  It’s a 10MP, 5x optical zoom, lightweight camera, about 6 years old, but had the win of never needing to be recharged, was small enough to fit in my backpack waist pocket, and was very light.  The shots I got were pretty good.  I wasn’t worried about it getting wet or having to make a huge effort to haul it out to take some pics.  This one’ll stay with me.

(I did have the sticker-shock moment this morning of going “Hmm, what are new modern point and shoots going for?”.  Short answer?  OMG TOO MUCH. $800-ish.  Think I’ll stick with this little guy for a while.)

 

Zealand Falls Hut

pic of zealand pond
Click through to see the entire photo gallery.

Finally made an overnight hike to one of the AMC backcountry huts. These huts are maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club along the Appalachian trail for hikers to visit, either on their way along the trail or as a destination all their own.  The huts are 100% off the grid, and  Zealand Falls has that added benefit of being off any cell phone service at all. I was truly ‘cut off’ from the rest of the world.

The hut crew (or ‘croo’ as they call themselves) was wonderful. They apparently are ‘on’ for 11 days out of 14, preparing meals and helping travellers as they come through. That doesn’t mean it’s a 24hr a day job. A lot of the time for them is spent on the trails themselves. Not much to do between breakfast and dinner!

This hike was the longest one I’ve done so far. 18 miles over 3 days, staying one night at Zealand Falls, and two nights at Highland Lodge. It was also my first ‘backpacking’ trip (in that I was carrying a decent pack. No cooking or overnight gear, but I had all the required bits for backcountry travel).  It’s the next logical progression for me learning how to handle myself camping and backpacking again.  My first trip to Crawford Notch did not involve overnighting away from the lodge.

So, what did I learn?  Well, a couple interesting things.

  • That whole thing about “cotton kills” and “use only synthetics?”  I’m a believer.  I didn’t get actively rained on, but I sweated a bunch and on Saturday morning had to hike through some wet brush.  I was wearing all synthetic fabrics, and never got chilled, even though I was pretty damp.
  • Never. Ever. forget the bugspray.  I brought it, wondering if I’d need it.  2 mosquito bites inside 4 minutes of hitting the trailhead had me hosing myself down with Cutter bugspray.
  • Bring something to relax with.  I didn’t have a book with me, and my cell phone was useless (as well as having poor battery life.  Remember, no power at the huts other than 2-3 hrs of light in the early evening).  I own a solar charger, so I could have worked on charging up the phone, but solar chargers / external batteries are heavy.
  • Gear needs to be good.  In this day and age where you can buy anything ‘on the cheap’ or ‘stupidly expensive because it has some famous persons name on it’, buy things that are high quality and dependable.  My waterbag (which fit into my pack) broke on the second day.  It was a cheapo knockoff.  I fortunately had a spare stainless steel bottle, but that was irritating.
  • Hiking socks are gods gift to feet.
  • When they say ‘bring earplugs’ for sleeping in the huts, they ain’t kidding.  One guy in my area was like the sleep apnea poster child.  *shudder*
  • I continue to be impressed at the quality of AMC’s food and offerings.  Breakfast and dinner were excellent.
  • Chocolate chip Clif bars are the best lunchtime backpacking food ever.
  • Hiking / Trekking poles.  First time I’ve used them for any extended period of time.  I sort of surprised myself finding that carrying them both in one hand during the flat / open trails worked just fine (and I saw several other hikers do this).  But having them for the clambering up and down climbs, as well as crossing water and mud?  Totally worth it.  I also had NONE of the ‘numb / bloated hands’ problems I’ve had in the past.  Worth it.
  • I wrestled hard about whether to bring my Canon camera with me, and in the end decided against it.  If things got super-wet, I couldn’t guarantee I’d keep it dry, and it was just too much weight.  I took photos with my cell phone while on the trail, and then hauled out the SLR when I got back on Saturday.

I’m ready to go back.  There’s a few more hut trips planned with friends through the summer.  I’m really looking forward to it.

 

How not to compliment a photographer

Not too long ago an acquaintance of mine asked if I would do them a favor and come  photograph their event.  No problem, I enjoy shooting, and any chance to work is an opportunity to improve my skill.   I went to the event, spent a few hours taking pictures, and had a great interaction with everyone.  Later on I sat down and did all my post processing, tuning, and polishing – a process that can take hours, depending on the size of the shoot and the complexity of the imagery.  

Zach at arisia
Zach at Arisia
This particular event wasn’t that difficult, and I ended up with several dozen shots I was pretty happy with.   I published the pictures and sent the link out.  Over the next day or two, I got good feedback from the event coordinator and several attendees.

One message I got was simply this…

“These pictures are beautiful!  That sure is a great camera!”

Needless to say, this pushed my buttons.

If you’re a photographer, and  understand why this statement could be irritating, feel free to skip the following rant.

In the modern age of high pixel count cell phones, cheap high resolution point and shoot cameras, and “entry level” DSLRs, even the simplest, auto-everything, “shoot and post” pictures can come out looking great.   But whether you get a good picture or not with these tools alone is, frankly, luck.  Sure, you could get a great picture – but that’s mostly the result of chance.  Please don’t assume that’s what I do.

I am a photographer (among other things).  I spend a lot of time thinking about framing, light, setting, angles, subjects, and timing.  When I take pictures, sure, I take zillions (a typical hour or two shoot can result in 500+ exposures).  But to me a photographers’ art consists of an end to end process that may take days.   The camera is one of the tools in that process, but saying things like “that sure is a great camera!” while it may be true, really diminishes the work that goes into creating really good imagery.

So folks, next time you see a picture by someone you know is a photographer, compliment them on the picture, or better yet, on their skill, not on the camera.

Time Lapse Video at an SF Convention using Linux and a webcam

For quite a while I’ve been interested in using commodity hardware (a webcam, a small linux machine) to take time lapse videos. It didn’t seem like that complex a problem, but there were a lot of logistical and mildly technical obstacles to overcome. After a couple tests and short videos, it was time to set things up to record a four day long video at [Arisia](http://arisia.org/), in particular, a shot of the registration area.
Here’s how I did it.

Continue reading “Time Lapse Video at an SF Convention using Linux and a webcam”

Fall in New England

Around the south endIt’s no secret I’m not a summer person. I don’t like heat and sweatiness and all that goes with it. So as fall rolls around, the weather gets cooler and drier, my satisfaction with being out in the woods goes up accordingly.
Sunday we took a nice 3 mile walk around Gates Pond, a good sized pond (really, IMHO, a lake), about a mile from us.
The weather was glorious. Low sixties, breezy and sunny. Perfect for enjoying the colors and sounds of the woods.
It also gave me an opportunity to haul out my camera, dust it off, and spend some time taking pictures again. I’ve really neglected my photography. I had to learn how to work with iPhoto and CF card adapters, but all in all, it went pretty smoothly.
Click through to see the gallery!

Mac photo editing software?

Mosaic at nightAs I continue my migration to my new Mac, I need to figure out how to fill in the holes for tools I’m used to having under Linux. At the moment, I need a tool to edit pictures.
iPhoto seems to be pretty capable for cataloging and uploading, but I’ll need photo editing. My default tool is Gimp, but I’m wondering what I should be using on the mac. I’m trying to avoid dumping hundreds of bucks into things like Photoshop (particularly when I feel Gimp is as capable as Photoshop). But is there a tool I should be looking at before I install Gimp?
I include the photo above as an example of spiffy pics I’m taking that I need to do minor editing on (this one needs to be rotated about 10 degrees).
Suggestions?

Cohousing Day #10. We have a home.

img_7113.jpgA week and a half now. We’ve been living at Mosaic for a week and a half. Even though only 3 houses are now occupied, the life that is slowly coming to what was once just another construction site is tangible. I see people I’m close to almost every day – if just in passing, or to sit down for a chat. People are coming by to borrow tools, or to say hi, or for no reason at all.
Inside our house, things are starting to look sane and liveable. The living room is turning into a comfortable space, with the boxes receding like a flood tide, leaving furniture and decorations behind.
img_7112.jpgThe site in general? Wet wet wet. Color it mud. But even with the ongoing work, the dirt and rocks, the double parked construction machinery, and the strangers in your house at 7:30 in the morning working on an electrical problem, there’s no other place I’d rather be living.
In the next 2 weeks, I know of 2 definite move-ins, with 1-2 more possible. The neighborhood grows a little more, and a little more dream is realized.
Is is that shimmering utopia we imagined 10 years ago, when we started this project? No. But I’m starting to see glimmers of the thing we’ve been building. Sure, it’s been there, in the community at large, but it hasn’t been tangible and here.
Now. Bit by bit. It’s turning from a dream we all shared, to a place we can all call home.