Photography Weekend Part 3 - Backup Strategies and Disaster Preparedness

See previous posts:

An Ounce of Prevention...

When you work on a project where every piece of work (in this case, every photograph) needs to be cataloged, backed up, and sent to production as it's created, you have to plan things out pretty well in advance, but also be ready to fix problems and adapt to difficulties as they arise.

During my weekend of photography at Steubenville St. Louis, I was quite prepared for most difficulties that could crop up in photography:

  • I had a second/backup camera body: I always bring two cameras to important events. Some photographers bring three. Even though my backup body was a lowly D40, it's a heck of a lot more effective for low-light images and quality picture making than my iPhone! Plus it will still use my nice lenses without trouble.
  • I had seven extra 8-16 GB SD cards: Plan on at least one failing or having write errors at some point. Get the photos off of it, and ditch that card.
  • I had an external hard drive that I would keep a backup copy of every photo I took in an Aperture vault.
  • I set the camera to store the RAW file on the primary card, and a JPEG on the secondary (Eye-Fi), so if one card failed while shooting, the second was a backup.

Because of this preparation, I always had at least two copies of every photo I took, and I wouldn't erase an SD card and re-use it until a photo was completely processed, and backed up three times (once on main drive, once on backup drive, and once on Flickr). (Also, after the event, I burned three DVDs—one for my archives, and two for the client). worth a pound of Cure

Of course, things can and do go wrong. I had two annoying experiences that I had to deal with—one which was (relatively) minor, the other which could've been quite a disaster!

Eye-Fi Failure (Flaky Connections)

Eye-Fi Pro X2 in D7000 2nd slotI was having some interesting problems with my Eye-Fi Pro X2 SD card during the full Saturday of shooting that were tough to fix; the major problem was a 'write error' bug that seemed to crop up every 200-300 shots. The card would not allow any further writing until I ran back to the computer, dumped off the photos, and formatted it in-camera.

Well, one of the times I formatted the card in my laptop instead of the camera, and I think the card lost some of its proper WiFi settings, because I couldn't get it to connect to the Internet through my iPhone anymore. It took an hour or two of debugging and plugging, unplugging, formatting, etc. before I could get it to work reliably in my D7000.

But, during that time, I switched over to using a second normal SD card while shooting, still with JPEGs, so I could quickly upload them to Flickr (albeit, manually) when I ran back to my laptop.

It was annoying, but after I got the card fixed again, not too much of a bother.

Memory Failure (Formatting woes)

These are the mistakes for which you really need to watch out! I purposely follow a very routine workflow when I dump pictures to my computer, and if I get interrupted, I can easily forget which card is active, which card I can format and re-use, etc.

One time, when I was concentrating on a conversation with someone else while importing, I mistakenly placed the wrong SD card in my camera's number 1 slot and hit the 'Format' button, erasing about 60 RAW pictures from a pretty important event that I hadn't yet imported.

Of course, I still had the JPEGs on the Eye-Fi, but having the RAW files for this particular event was important, because the contrast required post processing and some color balancing (which are a pain on lossy JPEGs).

SD and CF Flash Memory Cards in pile
You never know which one will fail next! (D7000, 17-55mm DX, ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/50)

Luckily, I realized what I did right away, and quickly pulled the card from the camera (after the format), and set it on the desk with a label of 'DO NOT USE'. You see, when you format a memory card, the actual files aren't written over/removed, just the references on the card's file system. So, knowing that I could later come back and restore the files (hopefully—nothing's a given when it comes to file recovery!), I set down the card with the hope of restoring the photos I just formatted later. (If I would've used the card again, the missing files would've been written over, irrecoverable forever).

When I finally had time to restore the photos, I was going to re-purchase an app like PhotoRescue, which I had sucessfully used from time to time to restore photos. But, since I am comfortable working with lower-level tools, and knew there had to be an open source solution to this problem, I dug around and found the excellent tool PhotoRec, which is GPL-licensed, but requires some knowlege of using the command line (tutorial coming soon!). No problem, though, and after scrubbing the SD card, it came up with every missing photo in the .nef/RAW format. Very nice!

Lessons Learned

I wouldn't be a very smart photographer if I didn't try to change my ways to make things better after having these two problems. I've decided to try to (within reason) have enough memory cards so I can shoot an entire event/weekend without needing to format any—and then at the end of the event, after all photos have been processed, I can wipe the cards.

I can't do much about the Eye-Fi troubles I was having, but I can simply hope that Eye-Fi improves its software so it's not quite as fickle, and Nikon and other camera manufacturers work on better solutions for photo storage, transfer, and backup in the camera bodies themselves.

Besides these two problems, I didn't really have a stressful weekend—but much of that was because I came prepared for the worst! Always do the same, and your photography experiences will be more enjoyable.

Photography Weekend Part 2 - Taking Photos

See previous post: Photography Weekend Part 1 - Packing My Gear.

I apologize for not getting this post out sooner; the first weekend of Steubenville St. Louis went by so quickly that I simply didn't have time to write more about my process over the weekend.

In this entry, I'm going to speak a little bit about the gear I use while I'm out getting pictures. Note that this setup is what I'd typically use when doing photojournalism-style event photography—not what I'd necessarily have when doing studio shoots, portraits, etc. (more controlled environments).

Jeff Geerling with Nikon camera gear shooting

Camera Bodies and Lenses: Since the Steubenville conference is primarily held in a few very large venues, where I can't easily get within 10-20' of the people I'm shooting, I typically leave a long zoom on my main camera (in this case, the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR), and have a medium zoom on my secondary camera. For this event, though, since I didn't use wide angles too often, I forewent the second body and strapped my Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 DX lens on my belt with a medium-size Adorama Slinger bag (black bag on the right side of the picture).

Vertical Battery Grip: Almost every time I shoot for more than a few minutes, I put a Neweer Vertical Battery Grip on my D7000, so I can switch between portrait and landscape effortlessly, and not have my arms flailing about, thus drawing attention to myself. I used to use the Nikon grip, but sold it after finding the 5x cheaper Neweer model works just peachy for my needs.

Girls praying at steubenvilleMemory Cards and Image Uploading: This was the first time I've used my new Eye-Fi Pro 8GB card for anything serious, and it was a mixed bag. A full review will be posted to the Reviews section soon, but I'll go over a few quick notes here. The D7000 was in RAW+JPEG Small mode, and I set the camera to write RAW files to my normal 16GB SD card in slot one, and JPEG files to the Eye-Fi in slot two.

I set the Eye-Fi to only upload photos that were 'protected' (if I wanted to upload a photo, I would hit the 'lock' button while previewing the photo, and I set up the Flickr login for stlyouth's account on my computer. I also had to use a private network I set up through my iPhone's MyWi app (my iPhone is jailbroken), and I set up a connection to that network while the card was plugged into my computer.

During shooting, the first 10-20 minutes of uploads usually went pretty quickly, but after that, I often had to cycle the D7000's power, then sometimes also toggle the WiFi network on my phone. With MyWi on my phone, I could see exactly when photos were being uploaded, and it was odd that sometimes the Eye-Fi would wait for a power cycle to start uploading more photos. Eventually, though, all the photos would be uploaded. Not quite real-time, and each 2-4MB file took about 10 seconds to upload, but it was pretty awesome to not have to run back and forth between my computer and the venues to dump off pictures.

Speaker holding guitarShoulder Strap: This was the first major event at which I used a shoulder strap (instead of 1-2 neck straps) to support my camera. I bought the OP/TECH strap-sling to replace the Domke Gripper neck strap I've been using for a few months. It didn't save me from some normal back pain, but my neck and shoulders felt much better at the end of the weekend due to the nice padding on this strap. I like how I can quickly disconnect my camera from the strap, I like how the camera lays against my body (on my right hip) while walking, and I like how the camera slides up and down the strap for shooting. The only downside is that I need to push the clip out of the way when shooting portrait.

Overall: I worked with two new pieces of gear this event: the shoulder strap and the Eye-Fi. Both had some very positive benefits, but both also caused a slight amount of grief. That's the way things are, though. My back is still hurting after the event, but my neck and shoulders feel so much better due to the new shoulder strap. And my stress level this year was much lower, since the Eye-Fi saved frequent trips to my computer to dump pictures off the camera manually.

Photography Weekend Part 1 - Packing My Gear

This weekend I'm heading to Steubenville St. Louis to photograph the weekend's events. There will be a wide variety of photo opportunities, from band shots/stage lighting, to outdoor portraits, to group shots and environmental shots. Thus, I will be needing almost all my gear to make sure I can have the versatility I need to get the pictures people want to see.

I'm going to try to document the whole process—packing up/readying my gear (in this post), getting outfitted with the equipment I need (once on location), processing photos, and then cleaning things up.

Nikon Roadtrip Gear
(Click on the photo to view a TON more detail about all the gear)

As you can see from the picture above, I pack relatively heavy. At least, for a solo photographer who doesn't do much commercial work :)

I'm bringing three bags, one for the bulk of the camera gear (bodies, lenses, flashes and accessories), one to use for lighter walkaround use, and one for other miscellaneous gear. For certain events, I'll bring an additional bag with two light stands, a tripod, and two umbrellas (along with more lighting accessories).

In the past, I used to just take everything everywhere, thinking it's best to have whatever I need at the ready. I've long since learned how much of a pain (literally) this can be, so now I'm a bit more modular. I only bring gear I know I'll be using at the event.

For Steubenville, I almost exclusively walk around with a camera and two lenses, so I don't need any tripods and/or stands. I will need a variety of lenses, though, and I'll frequently need to move at least 5-10 lbs. of gear between locations, thus I'm bringing my large Promaster L500 bag (for mass-gear-transport) as well as a lighter photography backpack for location-hopping (a LowePro Compudaypack).

The day before I leave, I make sure to charge (or top off) all the batteries I'll be bringing: six sets of rechargeable AAs (for the flashes), both camera batteries, and my MacBook Air, iPad and iPhone batteries. Then, I put all the chargers into my 'miscellaneous stuff' bag the night before I head out.

The morning I leave, I will double-check to make sure every lens, lens hood, lens pouch, cap, and SD card is in the proper place, and I'll turn on and off each camera body (to make sure it works, and to make sure it's OFF when I stick it in the bag for the trip!).

Since I'll be working all day tomorrow, I'm going to try having everything in the bag before the end of the day today.

You can follow along all weekend on the OYM Live site, and I'll have photos automatically uploaded to stlyouth's Flickr stream via my new EyeFi Pro card (review coming soon!). You can also follow along via Twitter with the #steubystl hashtag.

Subscribe to Reviews Subscribe to Articles Subscribe to All Content Subscribe to Blog Subscribe to RSS - photo-weekend