1.12.2020

What Kind of Craziness have I Embarked on Today?



I've been made aware over the years that many of you are very, very organized and that your back-up strategy for your digital files is well nigh flawless. I'm proud of you all and wish I could hand out gold stars personally. I am embarrassed to admit that my back-up strategy has more or less fallen apart and I depend more on endless duplication across an aging brigade of weathered, external hard drives that range from ancient, one terabyte (original) firewire and USB-1 drives, to little bus-powered "pocket" drives, all the way up to nearly modern, USB-3, four Terabyte drives. 

Nearly all of them have names and most of them have swatches of white tape on them to label them both by name and by the year they were first introduced to service on my jangly and jumble-wired desktop. Some of the dates on them are starting to become....embarrassing.

In photographic caveman days my back-up strategy for client photographic files was pretty straightforward; at the beginning of the year I'd head to Office Depot and get a big binder that held a couple hundred CDs or DVDs. When I finished a job I'd make two copies of the material (raw files and finished files X2) on DVD's and put them into that year's binder. The binder would sit on the Metro shelving in the studio, along with last year's binder, and the year previous to that. I would also have a copy of the files on two different hard drives. But, when budgets were tight I'd only splurge on one new hard drive at a time, and only when one of the older ones either crapped out got too full. 

At some point about six or seven years ago camera files got much bigger, I got more indiscriminate in my shooting style (more is better?), and I tossed fewer non-selects (because editing takes time....). Since a job shot with a camera generating 42 or 50 megapixel raw files takes a bunch more space than the old 12 megapixel, steam-powered camera files it became more and more impractical to try sitting around burning multiple multiples of DVDs for each project. And hard drives started filling up quicker as well. 

Now I just keep a DVD drive around for the times when I need or want to access files stored and filed on DVDs. Or to impress children who have only ever known about streaming media. Nothing gets burned anymore because the first hour of shooting, in many projects, would fill up a couple of disks and time is money. Or, at least, billable time is money. 

My current methods are these: Before I shoot a project I let the client know what my workflow is. I tell them that they'll receive final files and that they are responsible for storing, archiving and protecting these files for future use. Not me. I'll let them know that I'll try to keep the files safe but since I don't personally own a hard drive company there's no way I can guarantee with any certainty that the files will always survive and be available a decade later. In the last year I started letting clients know, in advance, that we only agree to try to keep the files safely stored for one calendar year. After that the availability of the files is totally up to them. This isn't a film world anymore. Everything moves faster. Images have a shorter shelf life and I have fewer opportunities to re-sell or re-license images. 

Once I do the job for a client I ingest the images into my system via Lightroom and have Lightroom write the files (pared down keepers) to two different hard drives. I work on the files mostly in Lightroom and output them as highest resolution, full size Jpegs. If something needs work in PhotoShop I do that and then put the resulting files (as Jpegs) in to the Jpeg folder. Then, all of these Jpeg files get uploaded to Smugmug.com and put into individual galleries. The galleries are nested into logically named and sorted folders. 

The clients get access to the galleries, and, if I've contracted to allow them to use the images for a long time, across many media, then they also get a download password that allows them to endlessly pull big, nice, color corrected Jpegs right off their gallery. I could be out of the office for a year and as long as I keep paying Smugmug.com for their service the clients will be able to access their galleries. I currently have about half a million images in folders and galleries on the site and the oldest folder is from 2004. It still works. It's still active and accessible. 

The real reason I adopted this strategy was the dropping price and increasing speed of broadband web access. I can finish a job with 10 or 20 Gb of files, hit the upload screen, go for coffee, and chances are the entire gallery will be up and ready by the time I've finished bullshitting with friends and acquaintances at the coffee shop. It's nice to know that the files are stored off site and, in all probability, a local lightning storm or a random meteor strike that wipes out my desktop system won't wipe out my image inventory of client work. I also keep many galleries of family stuff there as well...

But....but...I still WANT to have those files saved as raws and Jpegs in a local storage device as well. Because....I think that's what we've been led to believe... So, I have a current collection of eight hard drives on the desk and a wide filing cabinet drawer with another dozen or so older drives sitting right next to the desk (don't know how I'm going to access a couple of the oldest SCSI drives....but three or four times a year I take a day to spin everything up). 

When I tallied the active desktop storage selection recently most of them were filling up fast and many of them were getting up there in HD years (which are even quicker than dog years). My oldest current desktop veteran is a 1 TB drive that was put into service one year short of a decade ago. Its demise is inevitable. At least that's what the digi-savants tell me. 

So, when I upgraded to the new iMac Pro I decided to also start the year out fresh by bringing in two, new hard drives; almost the same way in which would go out and buy a new binder each year. Since the files from the two Panasonic Lumix S1R cameras aren't going on a diet any time soon I decided I needed to get bigger drives this time. I bought two 10 terabyte drives which I have earmarked for all 2020 files on the desktop. Each folder of files is duplicated across both hard drives. Seems like a good plan, especially in concert with my ongoing uploads to Smugmug.com. 

I formatted both new drives today and then went in searching for all the quasi mission critical files that sat on the oldest drive. I thought I could copy them over to the new drives, just in case... you know....entropy. When I plowed through the content on the oldest disk I realized how much sheer crap I save on my disks. There were folders filled with raw files of obsolete products from companies that had long since gone bankrupt and exited the market. Those didn't need to be transferred, they needed to be dragged to the trash. When I finally edited down to the "must have" keepers on that drive I ended up transferring less than 50 GBs of work files. 

Now I'm plowing through each additional legacy drive to see just how much absolutely worthless crap I've been paying to keep around on my desktop for all these years. I'm learning that so much of what I've shot over the last decade is filler and exploratory stuff but not much that's valuable and dear. I should have learned this a year and a half ago when I had to clean out my parents' house of 40 years worth of stuff that needed to make the trip to the trash can long ago. 

Obviously, the two new 10 terabyte drives are NOT SSDs. Not even Warren Buffet can justify the cost of multiple 10 terabyte SSD drives used just for storage and occasional access. But they are USB 3 drives and those are much faster and less doggy than the USB-2 drives and the 2's and the 3's run circles around the very old, original USB-1 drive. 

I do have a couple of external 256 GB SSDs and I use them a lot now to load full of folders and work on files in concert with the SSD drive in the new computer. It's like working at hyperspeed compared to my old ways. I guess keeping up with some technology is prudent. It sure is nice to finish projects in one quarter the time we spent just last year. Go 2020!!!

(just above) a mission critical part of our workflow philosophy revolves around the access to and utilization of coffee 3.0. Made fresh with steamed milk and delivered in an enclosure that retards thermal decay. It doesn't make the machines run faster, it only enhances my typing speed and accuracy...

Ben and Studio Dog visiting relatives at Christmas. The uploading of family images to our online storage sure makes it easier to find photos I want to share with family and friends. Can't imagine now having to dig into a cardboard box to find a folder full of black and white negatives and then heading into the darkroom to print up a couple 5x7's for someone. Not for free, at any rate. And, I'd have to build a new darkroom. Never going to happen. Not while these disks keep working. 

Next up, on my agenda, is to revisit printing my own stuff here. Stay tuned? Or largely ignore?

A. Molitor: How's the LED Light search going? 

a caution to readers: Please don't tell me how I can save thousands and thousands of dollars by building my own hard drives or by building my own computers from scratch. I tried that with a Ferrari kit once and it was a f---ing disaster and blew up in the driveway...... YMMV.