Reality Bytes

Recently back from a week long jaunt in Northern Colorado, I was anxious to begin editing new photos and updating stock agencies. Little did I know that my photography world would take a 90 degree turn.

First, let me say, if you are using a computer and don’t have a backup strategy for your image files, you are going to pay the price sooner or later. I have a backup strategy. A series of 1-3 terabyte external USB drives. I’m religious about backing up my business files at least weekly. I thought I was being religious about backing up my image files too.

For the majority of today’s photographers relying on computers is a must. I’ve gone through 4 different computers in my studio over the past 15 years or so. My current configuration in the studio is a PC that I built from scratch. I have roughly 19 Terabytes of hard drive storage attached to an i7 based motherboard with 64 gigs of ram and a dual monitor setup.

With all of those hard drives, a failure is inevitable and those failures will occur when you are not paying attention more often than not. The real question is how well you’ve backed up your images.

My images are kept in directories by subject matter and sub-directories by year. Most of my cataloging is done via Adobe Lightroom so along with my image files are xmp sidecar files that define all the editing I’ve done to each file. All told, I have about 50 different active Lightroom catalogs scattered among multiple hard drives in my computer.

The day after I returned home from Northern Colorado I was anxious to begin editing my latest batch of moose photos. I downloaded the new images to a directory on one of my 3 terabyte hard drives and imported them into Lightroom and started mining the best shots for editing and uploading to my services. On the sixth image, things went south. I could no longer access the hard drive I was working from and that hard drive contained a lot of my wildlife photos. Close to 70,000 images in total.

A quick scan indicated that the computer still recognized the presence of the drive but the drive was corrupted somehow. The utilities built into Windows 10 are not very robust. I couldn’t solve the problem without some type of advanced intervention. The first thing I did was go to Best Buy and purchase a new 4 terabyte hard drive. It installed easily and after a few minutes partitioning and formatting the drive, I was ready to restore my backups.

When I accessed my backup drives what I discovered was deflating. Yes, I had backups but many of them were not very current with most ending in early 2018. Any images stored on the failed drive that were newer than February were not backed up, except to two catalogs that I had recently backed up. Catalogs that I had been working on. Out of sight, out of mind. I had failed to keep all the backups current and in one instance I could not find an entire catalog of Bighorn Sheep in the backups. My heart sank. Over 10,000 photographs gone forever, or so I thought. I restored what I could and began coming to grips with my oversight.

Once I had restored my backup files to the new drive, I began the process of trying to recover the defective hard drive. I was lucky. I found a utility called TestDisk.

TestDisk is a freeware utility written by Christophe Grenier at www.cgsecurity.org. It runs in a DOS window and is a very basic non GUI interface. TestDisk found my hard drive and I was able to scan the contents of the inaccessible disk. I was also able to get a clue as to what happened. It appeared that a recent update to Windows 10 may have spurred this problem on. I found numerous Windows swap files on the hard drive and I had specifically told Windows not to use that hard drive for a paging file. Somehow, Windows began barfing swap files on to the drive and it corrupted the boot sector. The drive light was staying on all the time and disk activity was reporting at 100% on the idle drive.

Using TestDisk, I was able to locate all of my photographs stored on the defective drive and able to copy them to the new drive. Time consuming to say the least, I was able to recover everything I needed from the bad drive, along with the xmp files that contained my Lightroom edits.

What I learned is what I already knew. Keep your backups current. If you aren’t backing up your photos you will eventually lose them. Digital storage is temporary. My slack attitude about staying current with my backup routine almost wiped out years of work. All because I lulled myself into forgetting to do the necessary computer work to insure there were second copies of everything I had.

So, guess what I’m doing today? I’m backing up all of my files, one catalog at a time. It will take several days to accomplish, or should I say nights. I’ll begin a backup in the evening when I’m done working for the day and let the computer groan away copying everything to external hard drives while I sleep.

My advice to you. Back your images up now. You could wake up in the morning with a good backup or you could wake up to a crashed hard drive and lots of missing photos. Windows won’t alert you until it’s too late.

Mooseaholic Monday

moose, wildlife, animal, photography, photographer, nature, water, grass, young, bull
Young bull moose walking through a pond.

Six Hundred photos for the opening of summer in Red Feather Lakes.

My first impression this year is that the moose are there and just waiting for me to find them. The few I found within a mile of my place prove that they are on the move looking for the best food.

Environmentally speaking, the Aspen trees have just greened up above 8,000 feet and most of the willows are sprouting fresh green shoots, which is what attracts these hungry ungulates.

I managed to get a full test in of the new kit. I’m shooting with the Nikon D810 using the 200-500mm VR and the Nikon D750  using the 70-200mm f4/VR. No complaints. I don’t have to swap lenses in the field. If I need wider angle, I have a D7200 the 24-120mm VR and a couple of fast & wide primes. I’ve been shooting in predawn light and both cameras handle it well.

I’ll probably take a few days of down time and edit shots. I’m looking forward to getting back out though. The summer is only starting.

Patience Pays Off

Bull moose wading through a pond in Northern ColoradoFresh moose.

Staking out a position and being patient paid off this morning.

I’ve been working a large pond near the cabin for years. I’ve seen moose poo, tracks and plenty of evidence they were frequenting the place, however, I’ve yet to find a photograph of any quality.

Today, the worm turned.

More Fresh Moose

Photograph of a mooseOne year old Shiras Bull Moose – Red Feather Lakes, CO

Memorial Day weekend and I am enjoying the excellent Spring weather here in Northern Colorado. The typical pattern is clear blue skies in the morning and scattered clouds in the afternoon. If it isn’t raining non-stop. Fortunately, here in Red Feathers we are not suffering from the mild to moderate drought the rest of the state is experiencing. And that means the forest fire situation up here shouldn’t be a major issue, but all it takes is one dumb camper to change that.

A moose calf is technically a baby moose who is still under the supervision of its mother. The Cow moose will keep the calve(s) with them until they birth a new calf. Sometimes yearly, sometimes not. Once a cow births a new calf, the older one is chased off to fend for his/her self.

This calf has just been cut loose by its mother. As moose go, this little guy isn’t very large. Another clue of its youth is the presence of buttons for antlers. More mature bulls will have more growth this time of year.

Still, he’s doing pretty good. He looks healthy and knows where to browse for food. With other bulls in the area, he’ll get his moose training on the job, just like all the others. If he can survive on his own for a year or two, he’ll be fine.

The weekend crowd is out in force today. Campers, hikers, weekenders are all gathered in and around the village to kick off summer in the high country. I tend to not try working on these holiday weekends or any weekend for that matter. I’ll be back out amongst the green trees and mountain lakes once the hub-bub has subsided.

Enjoy your weekend and please, be safe and happy.

May The Moose Be With You

Early season moose action

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The moose are coming out of the high country and looking for food. Fortunately, some of the best moose eats are just up the road from me.

I found this fellow at dawn this morning. Curious at first, he decided to give me a little dance act, charging my SUV from 100 feet away he stopped and hopped around snorting at me and kicking his legs in the air.

The cabin is up and running and the moose are here. Life is good.

Random Act of Photography

The Bell of Louisville
The Bell of Louisville paddle wheeler on the Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky

I thought I’d throw something different out today.

The Bell of Louisville is a staple of the Louisville, Kentucky river front.

I’ve ridden this boat several times over the years. It’s a great day trip for friends and family and a ride you won’t soon forget.

Random Act of Photography

Red Feather Lakes, Colorado
Sunrise on Lake Apache

My most recent outing in Red Feathers was brief but relaxing.

I made the trip to Red Feathers this past Sunday, knowing I would be traveling into bad weather. No worries though, it wasn’t about photography this time as I had to finish some Spring work to the cabin so it would be ready for Summer. When I arrived it was 40 degrees and fog. When I woke up Monday morning, the crud had lifted and I was able to make my usual rounds around the village.

One of my favorite lakes in the village is Lake Apache. This lake is full of trout and bald eagles frequently visit to hunt. So does this photographer. Nothing like the stillness of a mountain lake at sunrise.

Nikon D750, Nikkor 70-200 f/4 VR, 135mm,

The Consumerization of Photography

The best photographs tell a story.

I’ve been working with digital imaging since the early 1980’s. Before digital photography began, newspapers and magazines were the pioneers in the move away from analog (film.) The advancement of radio transmission opened new doors for newspapers. Microwave radio and satellite communications were at the leading edge of this move to new imaging techniques. Newspapers that wished to publish nation wide or world wide found that it was cheaper to transmit their images via radio frequency than it was to produce mass quantities of film and fly or truck that film to their printing operations.

During the early days of digital imaging, there was no mass consumer attraction to gigabytes and megapixels. Photography for the average Joe out there was either amateurs who found the combination of art and technical enticing, a dedicated art form practiced in niches and commercial advertising work or photojournalism for promoting products. By the late 1990’s, digital cameras began appearing on the market as mass produced consumer products and with that came the proliferation of the Internet photography related web sites.

Here we are now in 2018 and photography has moved into the future. Film is still used in many commercial settings but digital image files are the predominant product format. The technology that was in use at the start of digital imaging still exists, but commercial use of satellite and the older microwave links has morphed to the internet over TCP-IP high speed data links. It’s still a matter of costs for those producing photography filled product.

As the Internet grew in popularity, so did the number of websites devoted to the new technology. Today the primary medium for displaying photography is the computer and most of the photographs we see are on the internet. Photography as become a major consumer market and the art aspect has been drowned in a sea of mediocre photographs of common popular scenes and subjects and post processing techniques.

The other side of the coin is the morphing of Internet websites devoted to consumer reviews of equipment and accessories, splattered with fun filled experts cavorting around waving their expensive equipment at us to convince us they are somehow important to the art and article.

So what’s wrong with that? Nothing, if that’s what the masses want to see and what today’s photographer wants to get from their photography. Sharing the experience. It all really boils down to drawing the attention of consumers to sell something.

Where this approach is lacking, in my opinion, is that everything has morphed into consumerism and the attainment of new toys. Consumerism in photography has driven the serious photographers away. It’s driven the story tellers to find something different.

Photography as always been a magnet for the technically inclined. That’s how I got in to the business. I was an engineer and learning the technical aspects of digital imaging was paramount to my doing my job. Cameras and lenses and darkroom equipment were the tools of the craft and have always been attractive to the technical hobbyist.

Now that our thinking has been embedded into the internet photography age, consumerism has taken over. The days of the paying gig are becoming farther and fewer between. So much so, the running joke is “what’s the difference between a photographer and a large pizza? A large pizza can feed a family of four.” There is more truth to that joke than you may imagine.

Newspapers, once a staple profession for photographers, are cutting or have cut their photography staff to the bone. Some have eliminated photojournalists from their ranks completely, preferring to simply have their journalists use their iPhone camera. Television news is a wasteland for professional photographers. Everything is crowd sourced now. Turn on the local news and you’ll see lots of mediocre photographs sent in from viewers substituting for what the photojournalist used to do.

Where does this leave someone who wants to pursue photography as a profession? Disappointment I’m afraid is the most likely destination. It goes back to the old theory of supply and demand. When the supply of photographers goes up, the demand goes down for any one individual photographer. The market is booming for photographic equipment, but the market for good photographs is decreasing. The most skilled photographers have to compete with everyone who owns a camera. The potential client is going to think economics for their wedding or event or art and look for the best bang for the buck. Talented amateurs can compete with professionals by giving their work away. A professional has to charge for their service. The amateur working for free can always find a welcome clientele when the product is given for free. When I hear of a photographer working for “exposure” it’s all I can do to not break out laughing. Getting a lot of “likes” on Facebook isn’t really going to earn you much money. That exposure is roughly the equivalent of being a plastic bottle floating around in a large blob of plastic debris in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. For a working professional, finding a source of income in photography is becoming more and more problematic.

Serious photographers have taken to the Internet to promote themselves. I’ve been doing this for years myself. I’ve written technical and interest stories and published them. Some have been widely successful, other articles have not fared so well.  I have enough material for a couple of books. But who needs another book saying the same thing that’s been said again and again?

The meaningful content hasn’t much changed, just the person writing about it. Today’s Internet photography website has drifted away from the art form and towards consumerism to make money. Photographers looking for income on the Internet have consumerized their websites with advertisements for the consumer photography industry to the point that they really don’t have much of interest to say about the art, it’s more about buying your next camera or lens from their link so they can get a cut of the sale.

Many a photographer has had to change their business model to find a vein of income and that reality has changed the content character of photography related websites. Dwindling are the days of informative articles on technique and subject. Instead, consumerism has taken over as the driving force.

The staple websites on the Internet now feel more like sub-contractors for gear sales. In a manner similar to the heyday of audiophile, appreciation of photography as an art form isn’t what it’s about now. It’s about megapixels, dynamic range, lens sharpness, sensor technology, glazed over technical facts that substitute for information devoted to the creation of compelling art and how to market that art, in much the same way that music reproduction became a consumer study in total harmonic distortion, wow and flutter, noise reduction and high fidelity. People were convinced to spend thousands of dollars on obtaining the ultimate in audio reproduction quality. Never mind the art, it’s about the equipment and selling it. Today’s audiophile is now stuck with digitized mp3 or low quality audio streaming on equipment that has the technical performance of an abandoned car. I would even argue that the quality of music as an art form has suffered as a result of technical burnout. The industry arced and cheap plastic junk is now used to reproduce the same music that the consumer wants to hear over and over again. The innovation peaked and the interest waned until the consumer aspect became what it was all about.

The photography related situation on the internet has almost become comical. I’ll give you a few examples. Now, I don’t know these people and I’m sure they are just trying to make a buck like everyone else, but consider the thought.

Over the years, one of my favorite “online” photography website hosts was Thom Hogan. His primary fixation, was for a long time confined primarily to  Nikon users. Okay, great. If you wanted to know about Nikon gear, he was and still is an expert. As a photographer, he’s above average, but as a source of information concerning photography as it related to Nikon equipment he was informative and accurate. But what happened to Thom? For the past few years he seems to be mailing it in. He’s gone off into the world of camera manufacturing economics and business commentary. I used to work for The Wall Street Journal, so I understand business news and the people targeted by that content. For the last few years, he’s had to change his business model to find better ways to make money. It’s been a subtle change, keeping the same general look and feel but his content is now focused on financial reports and speculations on how one camera manufacturer is competing in a market. He’s broadened his scope to increase his content, now including business speculations on Canon, Sony and other camera brands. What he’s not writing about to any great extent is photography. It’s mostly writing to support marketing and consumerism. Sorry Thom, but that’s my view of the road. I’ve yet to find anything useful in understanding Nikon or Canon’s quarterly results when I’m in the field looking for moose. The man needs to write, that much is certain, but what’s the point? Is this his path or his destination?

Another well known Internet expert is Ken Rockwell. He may be the king of marketing camera equipment, but his published technical and art related subject matter is now hard to find in his current string of published articles. His technical reviews have fallen into a cookie cutter approach, using what looks like form letter reviews where a few facts and images are inserted into some kind of default review article. His articles now are little more than sales pitches and raving about things he’d like you to buy from a link on his website. As a source of knowledge, he looks like he’s “jumped the shark” from my view of the road.

We have the bigger, heavily consumerized websites too. DPReview being the elephant in the room. What began as a nice informational website has now become a marketing blitz and the content is now focused on consumerism. They’ve attempted to keep up with the technical and gear issues, which has a place, but it all feels like they are pointing you towards a purchase. This to me is the reincarnation of consumer audiophile world based on technical specifications of the gear with a spattering of “look at me” stories from their staff and around the web. When you dig deeper, what you’ll find is a very limited set of actual technical reports and reviews on lenses and cameras that seldom identify functional flaws or problems. Heck, they didn’t even publish an in depth review of the Nikon D810 until shortly before the camera was replaced by the Nikon D850. I’m sorry, but technical reviews of obsolete equipment that are aimed at consumers are not that interesting to me.

There are examples of websites that seem to have stuck to their original theme of presenting interesting and informative information on the art of photography. The Luminous Landscape comes to mind and there are still many others. Founded by the now deceased Michael Reichman, his colleagues have continued to present photography articles that are strongly related to the art of photography. They too have to make a buck, so you’ll find advertisements there as well, but they’ve never come across as trying to talk you into making your next purchase based on a veiled product placement in content designed for the consumer. If you want the good stuff though, you’ll have to pay a modest subscription fee. That’s okay, they need to cover their costs. But it’s not obnoxious and doesn’t come across as perfunctory like many of the big sites do.

As for me, I’m content with keeping my photography web sites about photography as it relates to my world. I share my experiences, I share my photos and I’ve found a way to make money doing it without selling out to Amazon or B&H Photo. I don’t have the following that the large consumer websites enjoy and I don’t have to feel like a car salesman when I post something. I’m quite happy telling a story. It doesn’t matter who is listening so long as someone does.

Your mileage may vary.

Sheep Sunday

The rain is still coming down. No worries, I’m still heading out later this afternoon to finish up the cabin work.

I’ll take the camera gear and maybe I’ll find something when the rain stops. If not, I’ll enjoy the quiet of the mountains for a day or two.

I hope everyone is having a great weekend and is staying dry.