Photography and Art

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Reflections on a Disk Crash

Humans have a terrible habit of learning things the hard way. As a seasoned IT professional and serious amateur photographer, you would think that I would have my files backed up to the hilt with both belt and suspenders to ensure recoverability. That would be sensible, but alas not human nature.

In late November, one of my disks crashed. It held about four years' worth of original photographs. I had been backing up my home computer using the Mozy Internet back-up service and got lulled into a false sense of security. Here's what I learned from the experience:

  • Mozy's recovery capabilities do work (thank goodness!), but restoring large amounts of data over the Internet takes time. It is still wise to use a local back-up for quick restores.
  • If you reconfigure your computer after it crashes (e.g. I upgraded my main hard disk to SSD and re-labeled some of my drive letters), you may cause issues with the back-up manifest files over on the Mozy side. This happened to me and it took a while for Mozy's customer service folks to get me fixed up. It caused a long hiatus in getting my back-ups rolling again.
  • When you re-create your new disk volumes prior to restoring your data, make sure Mozy back-up is turned off. If you accidentally run a back-up with no data, then Mozy creates a snap-shot of your file system that looks like you've deleted all your files. If you don't run a back-up for 31 days (see point 2 above), then Mozy starts to free up blocks of storage that you are no longer using. When you start backing up your files, you'll have to transfer the data all over again. For someone like me who has a lot of data, this means months of data transfer before your files are safely backed up again.

Here's what I'm doing now after learning my lesson:
  • I'm using a large external hard drive to run incremental back-ups every week (or more frequently if I do a big shoot).
  • Every time I buy more disk, I put the most recent purchase (i.e. the largest volume) into the external hard drive and move the previous generation into my computer. That way, the external disk is always large enough to back everything up.
  • When I'm not backing up my files, I hide the hard drive away. If someone breaks into my house and steals my computer, the back-up hard drive will still remain behind.
  • I use Mozy as the back-up of last resort to protect against fire, flood or other disaster. I'm not going to lean on Mozy to restore any files that have been lost due to hardware failures.
Are you in a position to recover from a hard drive failure?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Luminous Landscape Video Journal 19

I'm a big fan of Luminous Landscape video journals. These started out as a quarterly CD subscription series and have morphed into a periodic downloadable video product. The journals are a collaboration between photographer/entrepreneur Michael Reichmann and videographer Chris Sanderson and feature video clips that appeal to a wide range of photographers. The usual winning formula is to combine a video journal of a photo workshop in an appealing location (e.g. Antarctica, Namibia) along with interviews with photographers and a feature on new technology.

The current journal (number 19) is particularly appealing. There is a two part series on Namibia with guest photographer Andy Biggs. This follows Michael and Andy on a workshop in several places in Namibia and shows some lovely scenery as well as some nice shots from the air.

There is also a good interview with Seth Resnick, stock photographer deluxe. This interview makes several good points, especially that good meta data can make or break a stock photographer's career. In one segment, Seth explains that he was the first to use the keyword "ecological tourism" on his photos and sold a ton of work as a result. Seth is a very animated subject and peppers his responses with the f-bomb (quacked out in post-production). Highly recommended.

The highlight of the journal for me was the interview with Andrew Collett, a Canadian photographer who works in the Muskoka area north of Toronto. Andrew makes his living selling landscape photographs. He also prints mostly on canvas. Michael's interview was terrific because it explored canvas as a medium without looking down on it. It also showed Andrew's full production process including how to stretch canvas onto a frame and spray it prior to displaying it. The best part of the interview was Andrew's candid explanation on how he makes money as a professional landscape photographer. He sells art retail through his gallery in Port Carling. He sells art at wholesale to decorators and hotel chains via interior decorating shows. He also sells art at various shows around Toronto, including the "One of a Kind" art show. Andrew also supplements his art income with workshops.

The two interviews with working photographers showed just how hard you have to work to make any kind of a living at photography. Unless photography is your life's passion, there's really no point in taking it up as a career. Seth and Michael discussed the market for photographers and it is pretty depressing. There are over 20,000 people graduating each year from college photography programs in North America and there are only 500 new jobs each year for the graduates. That's pretty slim odds! Only those that are willing to persevere and work all the hours that god sends need apply.

The interview with Norman Koren, the founder of Imatest, was much less entertaining than the others. For some reason, Michael kept asking wordy questions and wouldn't let Norman get a word in edgeways to tell his story. I'm not sure what Michael's agenda was, but the interview goes on far too long.

If you haven't seen a video journal, I should set your expectations straight. These are HD videos (720P), but they are not high budget production numbers. Chris Sanderson is a good videographer and the quality of the images is just fine. However, Michael is not a professional interviewer and there is no supporting cast of thousands - you won't mistake this for Art Wolfe's TV show. Non-photographers will find the material excruciatingly boring. But, if you are a photography fan, you'll find Michael's questions very insightful - he is equipped with curiosity and wants to know the same sort of stuff that you want to know.

My only suggestion for Michael is to make the material more relevant to the amateur photography audience. For example, I've seen a couple of segments now that feature some heavy duty equipment that is out of the reach of most non-pros. One example was Andrew Collett's canvas stretching machine. It would have been better to show Andrew using a canvas stretching pliers the way most people would start off. The second example was a segment several journals back where Bill Atkinson demonstrated his computerized matte maker. It would have been better for me personally if someone could have shown how to do good quality mattes using commercially available manual matte cutters.

These are just quibbles and shouldn't take away from my full endorsement for the video journal. Here's the link to download