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Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Digital Storage & Back Up! Back Up! Back Up!

We push ourselves to the limit; reach the highest peak, dodge bullets and land mines, badger PRs and argue with the Police...all because we have one agenda; that of making a great picture and communicating the story.
So, after all this effort, sometimes whilst risking our lives, other times at the risk of damaging relationships with loved ones, we dump the pictures onto a hard drive and forget about it, as the next assignment beckons.
We only remember as the cold sweat builds up when that hard drive goes down...and my friends, I guarantee, it will. Hard drives break; its only a question of when. I've had a hard drive go bad after three months of use and others which have lasted for many years.
What's interesting though is to see how well the new SSD (Solid State Drive) will do. I for one hope that they will realise our need for safe and archival storage.
So, how do I back up? I use two machines in my office; an iMac for office work and writing and a Mac Pro for photo work. The iMac has an external G-Tech 1Tb drive connected to it and is my Time Machine hard disk. For those who may not be familiar, Time Machine is built into Apple's Leopard OS and is a superb backup utility. It just works and has already once saved me when I deleted all of my archived sent emails by accident! On the iMac I also have a second hard drive (soon to be a G-Tech as the Freecom has given up!) which has a second backup (done manually and also with Apple's Backup utility (part of Mobile Me) of my letters, invoices, articles and my iTunes library. Lastly, the documents are also backed up onto my iDisk every few weeks.
The Mac Pro is a bit more complicated! Before I switched back over to the Apple Mac platform a few years ago, I had several years worth of images on my PCs, so with these I decided to keep them on an HP server, where there are 3Tb of images (all stored as a RAID 01 or Mirror RAID onto another 3Tb of disks, so 6Tb altogether). These images are all referenced into my Aperture library on the Mac Pro. This means that I can search for and see images even when the server is off-line and if I need a high res file, then I simply switch on the server and export the file through Aperture.
On the Mac Pro I also have one hard drive which is my Time Machine volume. This is used for everything but picture, sound and video files. Inside the Mac Pro are four drives and attached externally are eight other drives. Two of these external drives are WD MyBook Studio RAID boxes configured as RAID 01 or Mirror. My working files, pictures and video are stored on the internal drives, and backups on these WDs. This means that anything on these drives is actually stored on two drives; this is great as it saves you from mechanical failure in one of the drives. However, it doesn't save you from a file being accidentally deleted, so these drives are backed up onto external Seagate drives. The other drives are older work from previous years. My thought process is to use two different manufacturers, so the WD is backed up on Seagate. This is just in case in the future it becomes apparent that there are issues with a particular batch or make and model of a hard drive.
I do also have a Buffalo Terrastation NAS box on the network.
Lastly, all the important stuff is also backed up onto a virtual drive; a cloud disk. I've decided to go with Amazon's S3 as it seems a secure bet. I use Jungle Disk to access my S3 cloud storage. I did today see something called ExpanDrive which seems quite neat and does a similar job. So, by important stuff I mean; all the jpegs files I have sent to clients for publication (filed per year), all images are enter into competitions (filed by year), RAW files of mega important jobs, and video and audio associated files of importance.
I think that cloud storage is definitely the way to go as a third backup. You could have ten backups in your office, but if disaster strikes, they can all get damaged. You definitely need a form of off site storage. I initially was doing this with DVDs and hard drives, but it just didn't work. The archival qualities of DVDs is not really known and I've already had issues with CDs from a few years ago stop working. The problem of hard drive swapping off site is that its a job you have to keep on top off. With cloud storage (like iDisk and Amazon S3), its just a simple matter of drag and drop! Simples!

Mega Useful!

I remember the days when a desktop computer with a couple of internal hard drives would serve us well for years of storage and backups. Well, with all these huge megapixel cameras and most of our music and some video residing on our computers, gigabytes are no longer enough and terabytes are the order of the day.
The Signum with a mains extender and AC adapters
Once our computers are full, we then start to add external hard drive after external hard drive. At present, I've got nine hard drives connected to my Mac Pro! One thing that becomes very clear, is that the cables become an absolute mess! Even though half of these are daisy chained FireWire 800 and the others are all connected to a FireWire 400 hub, the cables are still a mess and when you add the mains cables, the mess turns into a nightmare! Anyone who has tried to Dyson (I don't have a Hoover!!) under their desk knows what I'm talking about. The same problem arises when you try and remove or add a piece of hardware; gaining access becomes a nightmare.
The other Signum used, just after fitting 
So, to get over this, I came up with the idea of attaching as much of the cables to the desk and also putting a mains surge protector socket expanders onto the desk too. By complete coincidence I found a perfect thing to help tidy up some of the mess of the cables and mains transformers at Ikea; the Signum is absolute genius! I've fitted two of these to one of my desks and it has cleared up so much of the mess. If I need to get to the back of the desk, all I need to do is pull it out as there's no longer a huge pile of cables anchoring the desk to the carpet beneath.
A Belkin Surge Protector attached with sturdy cable ties. You need to be very careful when attaching with cable ties as its not really the most secure way; I'm still looking for a better alternative. use at your own risk.
So, my suggestions would be to try and do a similar thing and see how much tidier and user-friendly your workspace becomes!

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Super Slow - SprintCam v3HD

I-Movix SprintCam v3 NAB 2009 showreel from David Coiffier on Vimeo.

This is astonishing! 1000fps full HD broadcast quality video from the SprintCam v3HD; just check out the detail and surreal quality of looking at things super slow.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Beltra Wins Prince's Rainforests Project Award

Fires burn the Amazon rainforest to clear the ground for cattle or crop farming in Sao Felix Do Xingu municipality in Para State, Brazil, August 13, 2008. Photo: Daniel Beltra/Greenpeace

Congratulations to Daniel Beltra for winning the Prince's Rainforests Project Award. I've had the pleasure of knowing Daniel for over three years now and a nicer and more dedicated photographer you could not find.

Daniel Beltrá, is announced as the winner of The Prince’s Rainforests Project (PRP) Award at this year’s Sony World Photography Awards Gala ceremony in Cannes, France on Thursday 16 April 2009. 


The Spanish photographer, now based in Seattle, beat off stiff competition from some of the world’s finest environmental photographers to win a fully-funded assignment to document three rainforest regions of the world. On behalf of The Prince’s Rainforests Project and Sony Eco, he will travel through the rainforest nations over the course of three months.  

Daniel Beltra on a recent assignment in the Amazon.

The Prince’s Rainforests Project (PRP), founded by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, recognises the global role played by rainforests in climate change and aims to achieve consensus about how the rate of deforestation might be slowed and stopped. There is a growing awareness of the need to urgently protect the world’s rainforests, their people and their resources. The project is working alongside other governmental and non-governmental initiatives to find a solution to deforestation for the rainforests nations, with the aim of making the trees worth more live than they are 

dead. The project is also working to inform and engage public interest on this subject, collecting mass support to make rainforests central to any future climate change strategy.  

In a video message at the awards night, HRH The Prince of Wales, said: “Photographic imagery can tell a compelling story about the truth of the situation and, the truth is, if we lose the fight against tropical deforestation, then we lose the fight against climate change.” 


Daniel Beltrá, on the announcement of his award, commented: ”Winning The Prince's Rainforests Project category at the Sony World Photography Awards is a tremendous honour. It is an incredible opportunity to work as part of a team of the most qualified professionals that are focused in protecting the world's tropical rainforests. Tackling their destruction is one of the most effective ways to combat carbon emissions and global warming. His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales’ leadership in this matter is an example to all of us. I hope the photos I produce will make a strongly persuasive argument for the urgent preservation of the world's tropical rainforests.” 


Well known for his environmental and conservational photography, for the last twenty years, Daniel Beltrá’s images of the rapidly changing planet have appeared in many of the world’s most prestigious magazines and newspapers. His photographic career began with the Spanish news agency, EFE, after which he became Gamma Agency’s correspondent in Spain. In 2001 he moved to the United States where his work is now represented by Reportage by Getty Images. Beltra has also freelanced with Greenpeace since 1990. 


Tom Stoddart, Chair of the PRP Award Judging Committee said: “For over two decades Daniel’s cameras have highlighted man’s devastating impact on the planet by depicting the destruction of ancient forests, peoples, oceans, species and the ozone layer.  His passion and talent to inform in tandem with his artistic eye, makes him the perfect recipient of this most prestigious and important award.” 

Thursday, 16 April 2009

NG Infinite Photograph

National Geographic's infinite photograph which was made from over 300,000 pictures. Neat!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Third-Parties, Take the Mac Platform Seriously

A Nikon LS9000 connected to a Mac Pro.
I've had such a nightmare. It all started out simply enough. All I wanted to do was to connect a Nikon LS9000 medium format scanner to my Mac Pro (Intel cpu running OS 10.5.6) to scan in several hundred 35mm and medium format colour negatives.
I then discovered on the internet that many were having problems using Nikon Scan software on Intel Macs running Leopard. I decided to try it and surely enough failed. The software installed fine but wouldn't recognise the scanner, even though a demo version Vue Scan did, and scanned just fine. I then decided that the only way to go would be to get Parallels and buy a copy of Windows XP OEM, which I did. It all went swimmingly until I discovered that Firewire 400 isn't supported by Parallels or any other virtualisation software! At this stage I was beginning to get rather annoyed.
My next plan was to use Boot Camp and install Windows XP. This went swimmingly too, until Microsoft refused to activate my copy of XP Pro, saying that it was either a pirate copy or it had already been activated on another machine, and that I would have to pay for another license; this was in the period of an hour, using the same machine! I have yet to phone them, but am hopeful they will see sense and let me activate XP (for which I now have no use).
So, I went back to trying to get Nikon Scan working on the Mac OS. After some help from folks on Lightstalkers, I unplugged everything and it all worked! The scanner was seen, the scan window opened and I began to preview the first strip of negs....and then the first scans. Hurrah! (It seems that the scanner was having some sort of conflict with the four FW400 hard drives I had plugged into the Mac!).

The annoying thing is that as far as I can see, that piece of software hasn't been updated on the Mac platform since 2004. For an expensive piece of equipment like the LS9000 which is still in demand and use to this day, that's ridiculous. I'm using Nikon as an example here, but others are to blame too. I had similar issues with a Minolta 35mm scanner before they went bust.

On the whole, Apple Macs account for a smaller percentage of the computer users market compared to PCs. However, in the creative sector, Macs account for a huge chunk of users. I think its extremely short sighted of companies to not realise this and spend time and resources perfecting and supporting their software and drivers on the Mac platform. A survey done by the BPPA in 2005 of their members found that 56% used Apple Macs and given the choice 66% would use Apple. One thing to remember is that staff photographers with AP, Reuters, Getty and PA (almost all) are forced to use Windows machines; I know personally that a great deal of these colleagues would prefer to use Macs.

Come on people, its about time you took the Mac platform seriously; you'll do your business the world of good.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

BeachTek Accessories for 5D MkII

BeachTek have recently announced a couple of video accessories for Canon 5D MkII users. The first is the DXA-5D XLR adapter which has a host of very interesting and useful controls on it. It allows the use of professional quality XLR microphones with the 5D MkII, but it goes a step further by allowing the user to override the camera's built in AGC and set an input volume manually and also to use a headphone to monitor the sound being recorded. Anyone who has shot any video on the camera will appreciate just how crucial these features are.I'm eagerly awaiting a review model, so watch this space!

KELOWNA, CANADA – April 9th, 2009 – BeachTek is happy to announce their new DXA-5D XLR adapter that has been highly anticipated for the Canon 5D Mark II camera. The DXA-5D provides an easy way to connect professional microphones and other audio gear to this popular camera. This adapter brings a whole new functionality to the Canon 5D Mark II that was previously unavailable. It is now possible to capture professional sound with control and monitoring ability. The suggested list price of the DXA-5D is $379.00 in the United States. Expected shipping date is May 26th, 2009.

The DXA-5D features dual transformer-balanced XLR inputs with phantom power and built-in level meters. In addition, the built-in headphone jack allows the user to monitor the audio – a feature missing on this camera. The trim controls allow the user to dial in the proper signal levels for optimum recording quality.

Most importantly, is the unique AGC Disable function which was the most sought after feature by users of this camera. The AGC Disable circuit is activated by a switch which controls the wild swings of the Auto Gain Control in the camera to reduce the hiss generated by the preamplifiers during quiet moments of recording. It works by sending a high frequency inaudible tone to the left channel of the camera. This feature greatly decreases the camera noise which has always been a problem in the past.

The DXA-5D also provides an unbalanced mini-jack input for many wireless receivers that use mini-plug connectors. There is an additional mic level output jack for connecting the adapter to external audio recorders such as the popular Sony PCM-D50 when very high quality recording is required. The LCD display shows the state of the various switches and battery life, as well as a vu meter that shows the audio levels from - 54dBu to -33dBu. This allows the user to verify the proper recording levels and eliminates any guesswork.

BeachTek is the original and most popular maker of XLR adapters for DV camcorders. The company specializes in making unique audio accessories for demanding video professionals.

BeachTek is located in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. For additional information on BeachTek or the products that they offer, including full specifications on the DXA-5D, visit their web site at or call (416) 690-9457.

The second item is a rig called the Multimount 5D which allows several hotshoe accessories to be mounted onto the camera.

Too Much Reliance On Photoshop

I grew up shooting film and got into the profession when we were shooting black and white film for the papers. There was always the art of the darkroom where pictures were brought to life, but for colour, one had to basically reply on getting it right in camera for colour negative and much more so for slide film.
Compared to Photoshop, the level of change one could bring to a black and white image in a darkroom was miniscule. We now live in a digital age and I have for the most part embraced this age of megapixels and terabytes and given up the days of D76 and Multigrade. However, these are just tools and the importance of the photograph is as has always been; there is a purity and a challenge to get it right in camera and I for one will keep this approach to photography. If we're talking of any form of photojournalism, then the viewer has to be able to trust the image and its content.
I've lectured and made presentations in several venues, including Cambridge University, and judged several competitions as far and wide as the Russian Press Awards to the British Regional Press Awards. The one thing that I'm seeing more and more, as each generation of photographer who joins our ranks of professional image maker, is the total reliance of all things digital and binary, and up to a point, a loss in the purity of getting it right; the art of taking a picture.
My comments aren't about the aesthetic of composition, the content nor the timing, but the finished product. Photoshopping, to Photoshop, has become a commonly used verb, and alas has also become a commonly used technique to spruce up a picture. I'm not talking about the extreme crimes of removing or adding elements, but of ridiculous use of contrast, saturation, luminance, dodging, burning and masking. I see this more and more.
Recently, three Danish photographers were asked to submit their RAW files to the Picture of the Year competition in Denmark. The judges felt that they could not trust the images they were looking at and wanted to see the original untouched images. I for one applaud this. Photography is about presentation, but most of it is actually in the picture taking part. Its more challenging and is harder, but trust me, its so satisfying when you get it just right.
Give it a try! Set your camera's to shoot neutrally. Zero adjustment on all things and take the time and care to expose your images properly. Try a hand held incident light meter or learn to use the spot meter properly and choose the manual mode. All digital images, be they scans or digitally taken images need some tweaking; white balance correction (in camera or after the fact), some sharpening and a tweak in luminance using levels or curves. The image should look like what you saw, not what you can imagine!