Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Now let's just back up a bit why don't we?

In the last few posts I've been talking a little about where my creativity has taken me. Whether it's nurturing the garden, building a wall, or getting into photography, I certainly haven't been getting much windsurfing done. Wind and waves have been a bit scarce over the last couple of months, but in the last week that has happily changed and we are now looking forward to a few days of consistent wind and decent waves. I'm hoping for some lovely rides up at Coros with my mates, and soon I'll be the proud owner of my new bumblebee!

Pursuing photography has, for me at least, meant watching some podcasts and reading some books about the subject. One eBook in particular, called The Photographers Workflow, by Gavin Gough, is IMHO a must read for anyone who has struggled with the task of getting order into their filing of all those digital photos they've taken. That sit in multiple files on multiple hard drives that you never really worked out a proper system for, and when you want to find an older image, well it takes a while. Or worse, you can't find it. Or even worse, the hard drive you saved it on has failed!

Over the Xmas/ New Year period, because I wasn't living it up in the sweltering troughed out conditions up the beach at Coros, I spent a week or so at home getting very hot under the collar discovering pretty well every bad news story could, and was, happening to me all at once. I'll start with the ridiculously stupid one first, and let this be a warning to people that if it isn't causing you any headaches, don't change it!

You may remember my love affair with my new Macbook Air which I bought a little over 12 months ago. It's true to say that we're through the giddy heights of infatuation and now settling down into a relationship of mutual love and respect. I've learnt how to navigate my way with him, and he remains one fast operator. He's instantly ready to go, if you know what I mean (nudge nudge wink wink!). But I'd been delving a little deeper, and one day managed to accidentally remove my administrator rights, and with Macs wanting you to use a password for almost any action on your computer - like downloading apps, using your printer, oh lots of things - it was a bit of a disaster. I needed to pay someone to show me how to recover my password - it was actually pretty easy - but when you start playing with the disk utility and recovery files you need to know you are doing the right thing and not deleting anything useful. You know, like all your files and applications. Anyway, what I learnt out of that little exercise is, leave things be in the user groups. But at  least all my passwords work now, PHEW!!

Anyway, back to Gavin's excellent book. He's a professional photographer based in Bangkok and has written this easy to understand eBook that gives you a system for managing your files. Now I've watched quite a few tutorials on managing files - the correct term is Digital Asset Management BTW - and have gone away understanding that it's really important to have a system that is consistent, particularly as regards naming images, that using keyword tagging makes it easy to find your images, and a consistent workflow makes the task of processing all those images more manageable.  Versus insurmountable! 

After learning how important it was  to have one, my next task was to build my own workflow, which of course I didn't do! I downloaded some keyword list presets from a freeware site, I named the folders I used to manage my images within Lightroom and I very inconsistently named some images. I certainly didn't add metadata like location or keywords to images in any more than a handful of cases, which means finding them using metadata searches isn't helpful. And then there was my backup system, we'll discuss that later....

Gavin's book, OTOH, explains what his workflow is, how he creates as many presets as possible for each action required within the workflow and uses smart collections to progress files through the workflow. Bear with me here OK? 

When you import a photo into Lightroom, you can name it, decide what folder you want it in, include copyright information, and decide whether you want to keep another copy of the image in another location. You know, for backup! Then you can decide which images need to be immediately trashed and which ones to keep, add location information, and keyword tags, both items that don't come attached to the file in the metadata from your camera. Then once you've named and tagged the living daylight out of your image, even added a description or caption, you then need to do your magic in the editing suite, then export the image to whatever use you wish. It sounds insurmountable doesn't it?

When you buy Gavin's book, you also get all the presets he uses and his smart collections so you can import them into your catalog (yes he tells you how!) and customise for your own use. There are presets for almost every process of the way through the workflow, which speeds up the time it takes to do all those tasks. And he shows you how to make your own presets too. Instead of having to build a workflow from scratch, you merely have to tinker with his to customise it to your own particular circumstances. I mean I'm not a professional photographer right?

So after a day of reading his book, tinkering with your Lightroom settings, and of course importing his wonderful presets and smart collections, you have a fully working workflow. That works! Beautifully! Dare I say it's a joy..

But Gavin's book isn't just about workflow, it's about protecting those precious files from loss, whether through misadventure, natural disaster, or disk drive failure. Or all of the above. At first I thought Gavin's view was perhaps a little paranoid, but after doing a little more research on the geeky forums I realised he's merely one in a chorus of people chanting "make multiple backups", of EVERYTHING!!

Somebody said: There are two types of hard drives. Ones that have failed, and ones that haven't failed, YET!

Ah there's truth in that...

So it appears that one day my beautiful boy is gonna fail to get it up. I'll try and turn him on and he won't be interested. It'll probably happen out of the blue without any warning, and I'll feel pretty lonely and depressed and yes, DEVASTATED! 

But Gavin and the geek forums have shown me how I can clone my boy, so when he fails to get going I'll have a nice little identical twin who'll be ready to go. He'll be a little slower than the original, but he'll more than satisfy. He certainly won't leave me wanting.

So lets get away from the sexual references and get back to my private disaster, which started as a quite minor (didn't feel like it at the time!) password mistake and slowly morphed into a progressively deepening tragedy. I do like to go on don't I?

Armed with my newfound knowledge I decided to chart where all my image files are, which is mostly on a hard drive on my Windows PC, with some backup images on a second external hard drive. Some, not all, were backed up on the external drive. I decided to copy them onto a couple of external drives I had and then reimport them into my new Lightroom catalog on the MBA (Macbook Air) once I had all the necessary hard drives available to have a fully backed up system. Which, BTW, requires 5 external hard drives. Don't believe me? Then you haven't got your files backed up well enough!
what my fully backed up system should look like!
I've been busy purchasing hard drives, both from local retailers and from Amazon, so I have a little lag time till I can get my system up and running fully, but I have built the clone and backed up my system in Time Machine. That's 2 separate drives BTW! But I still had to retrieve the image files for reimporting when the hard drive on my Windows PC, well, FAILED!! You now see the disaster unfolding??

That PC hasn't actually been used for much except editing of video and pictures. It's not connected to the internet and isn't used at all for day to day stuff. It's plugged in to a surge protector, because we get brownouts around here fairly frequently, which is thought to be the reason why my previous computer's hard drive failed. I now know better....

So did you notice that? Previous hard drive failure. You'd think I'd know better! Admittedly, a good deal of my photos were indeed backed up on the external drive, but not all of them. And I still have some photos on that old PC that I'd quite like to recover. That I only recently discovered I'd lost when I went to make a presentation for a conference detailing our 10 years running a mobile health clinic in the Murchison. And then I  went and dropped yet another external hard drive with all my video from NZ on it, yes, the heli-ski footage! And it stopped working, apparently something not uncommon when you drop a hard drive according to the geek forums. Well at least I wasn't alone, it had happened to thousands of other people besides me. That made me feel so much better, NOT!!

My PC has 2 internal hard drives, there's the old PC with a single hard drive, there's the dropped hard drive, and there's one more rather old hard drive that I'm unsure what data it has on it. All these have failed. What's still working are the backup external hard drives, my MBA, and an old laptop. Now you know why I've been busy on the Amazon website!!

I am lucky to have a geeky friend who will come to the rescue and try and recover the data for me, so all isn't completely lost. In the meantime I set to making the clone and Time Machine, so at least I'm now protected against disk failure on my MBA. My Lightroom catalogs are backed up to my Dropbox account, and I've discovered there's 5Gb of free Cloud storage available from Amazon as well. And when all the hard drives arrive I can start importing images and progress through the workflow. I'm starting to feel better already.

Then I try one more time on the Windows PC and it boots!! I copy every bloody file I can find off both hard drives and studiously ensure that it's all there before I turn it off, on the assumption that it may never boot again. 650Gb of data recovered!! It's waiting on 2 external drives and a flash drive to be reimported as soon as the working hard drive arrives. I'm a little nervous though, because while I'm waiting for the fast hard drive that I'll use for my working files to arrive I've got data backed up on aging external drives that probably need to be pensioned off. Before they fail too! Cross fingers, and toes.

So there you have it, my little tragedy. All avoidable of course, but so easy to see in retrospect. And hopefully there'll be a happy ending. Even if I am now probably a geek too!

Here's something I don't normally do, and is appropriately geeky of me. I'm including a few links if you want to read more. I've done the research so I may as well share:

For info about cloning and Time Machine (for Mac people) start here 

If you want to know about Gavin's book you can find it here, and no conflict of interest BTW,  I'm just recommending it because there's some trash out there and this book is a bloody gem. And there is a 33% discount off the price until end of Jan if you use the code: photowork33Jan
I'm just saying, why pay $30 when you can pay $20?

If you want some Lightroom plugins for exporting files to Picasa, Smugmug, Flickr, Twitter and a few more, try here.

And for a few other Lightroom plugins, try here

You're welcome!

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