File Backups – Checking for Copy Errors

One of my “safer at home” projects is updating my file storage system. The drive I put new camera captures on was getting close to filling up, so I needed to expand my system by purchasing a 8TB Seagate external drive that could hold the contents of a partially full 6TB drive, along with the contents of a partially full 2TB drive.

It took me many hours of copying with CarbonCopyCloner to transfer the files from both drives to the new 8TB drive, which always tests my patience, and my tendency to want to watch the pot to see if it’s boiled.

With the copy complete, the next to do is a major reorganization of my folder structure to better fit my current needs and to work with my backup scheme. As part of this, I’m going to erase and reuse some older backup drives, but before I erase those drives, found myself with a nagging question. Did my computer actually copy all my files correctly to the new drive?

Most file copy operations, including what I did with CarbonCopyCloner, are optimized for speed. They read the file from one location and write it to another without verifying that the file was written correctly. Verifying a copy would take re-reading each file and comparing them, which would take a lot more time. In the case of my 5.5TB of data, it would have to read 11TB total of data. 5.5TB on the original drives, and 5.5TB on the copies.

Since my copies weren’t verified, it’s entirely possible that when I copied my files to this new drive, files that hold decades of work, valuable drum scans, irreplaceable originals and memories, that some did not copy correctly, and I could be losing some data. I used to accept that risk in the past, but experience has made me less willing accept it going forward. So what to do then?

CarbonCopyCloner has an option to compare your backup with your original, but for the size of my archive, it was going to be a very time consuming project, and difficult to organize. Fortunately I remembered Lloyd Chamber’s IntegrityChecker software that was designed to do just what I wanted.

First a couple lines about Lloyd and why I’m trusting his software to check my files. Many years ago I met Lloyd when he attended one of my workshops. He was using 8×10 film at the time and trying to push the bounds of what it could achieve…no minor feat. His film was of fantastic quality, but he was still not satisfied. He’s the type of person who obsesses over details in a way I greatly appreciate. But he’s not just a photographer. He has a couple patents to his name for compression technology he used in his very popular DiskDoubler and RAMDoubler software. He has the knowledge and experience to get very deep in the weeds of some interesting computer and digital imaging problems, and he blogs about lens and camera testing at diglloyd.com.

IntegrityChecker validates files in a very unique way. It creates a cryptological hash for every file on a storage volume that can be used to check if the file has been changed in any way. This lets you check the integrity of files and backups in the most efficient way I know how.

So now I’m in the process of creating hash files for my “original” disks. Once all the hash files are created, I’ll use those to validate that my multiple backups are faithful copies of the “original.” That will let me have peace of mind that I have good copies of all my files, and let me decide which copies are redundant so I can re-use those drive.

This kind of integrity checking is something we should all do, but since it’s not built into the operating software we use, it doesn’t happen unless we seek it out. If this is something you’re interested in, check out IntegrityChecker on Lloyd’s website.

I think it’s important to note that this is more of a “expert” level tool. It’s offered in both GUI and command line versions, and it’s going to take some understanding of the underlying principles of what it’s doing if you want to apply it correctly. Because of that, it’s not a tool for everyone, but it’s one I wish I had started using a lot sooner. For now it’s the easiest way I know to ensure my files copy correctly and don’t change once they are copied. Check it out and see if it belongs in your toolbox.

Counting In Full Stops

Do you know how to count in full shutter speed stops?

Even with all the auto settings available on our camera, this basic photo knowledge still can help us solve many exposure problems.

If you don’t have this chart memorized, take some time to learn it, and understand how cutting the amount of time in half cuts the amount light in half, and how doubling the time doubles the amount of light.

It seems so basic but understanding it gives you so many more ways to apply it to your photographs. 

What should you buy with your stimulus check?

My advice, hold off on equipment and take a good photo trip instead. #makememories

For nature photographers, photos happen by being in the field. In general, You should probably be spending more “being out there” than you do on equipment. So bank that check for when we can travel again and start plotting out the trip that will cure your cabin fever.

How bright should a calibrated monitor be?

Reader question:

 I use a SpiderMunki to calibrate my monitors. The software recommends that the luminescence value be 120.  I watched a video on printing and the presenter stated that the monitor should be no brighter than 80.  I wanted to get your thoughts about the appropriate settings.

Great question! Here are my thoughts:

First let’s answer why we are turning the brightens on our monitor down so far. These standards are driven by creating a good screen to print match. There are industry standard viewing lights  for printed materials that cost about $1,000, and are used in the prepress and lab industry to match color to professional standards. A accurate screen to print match requires a similar illumination of both screen and print. 

Dynamic range also has to be considered. Anytime you can make the highlights “brighter” you increase dynamic range and contrast. Normally we want that, but in the case of screen to print matching, it hinders matching the transmissive light monitor to the reflective light print. Lowering the brightness of the monitor makes a better match, and also makes it easier to see subtle tones and detail in the monitor that would be hidden with higher dynamic range/contrast. 

So now that we’ve explored a little of the why, let’s answer is 80, 120 or some other number correct. Traditionally 100 c/m2 has been the accepted value. I’ve been on calibrated monitors since the ~1994 and that was the value recommended with my first x-rite calibrator. It’s the brightness I’ve used for countless files, prints, and CMYK book/press reproductions for pro photographers. It’s also what my team of printermakers and scanning masters used at West Coast Imaging, so it is a rock solid, tested, proven number. 

The reality is there is a range of numbers that can work. The difference between 80 and 120 c/m2 is not that large. About a 20% variance from the 100 value I consider standard. In my early years I would work with CRT monitors, and as these aged, they dimmed, so that you could no longer achieve 100 c/m2, so I’ve worked with lower ranges too. It worked to a point, but for my taste once you get around 80, things start to get a little murky. 

At some point IIRC,  x-rite started recommending 120 c/m2 in their software. No idea why, they just did. So people started using that. I tried 120 it and decided I still liked 100 cd/m2 better. 

You also have to take into account that there is some mental translation in screen to print match. So some people may feel they get a better match with their lights and their monitor at one setting over another. 
So which value is right? I think you could make it work with a range of values from 80-120, but I know 100 c/m2 works so I stick with that if my monitor can achieve it. 

Photo Projects – Update Your Backup!

When is the last time you did a proper backup? You know, three total copies of your photos?

If you are stuck at home because of the Corona crisis, now is the perfect time to finally get your backup up to date. If you already know how to backup, then just do it.

If you don’t know how to backup, then now’s the time to learn. Figure out what software you want to use (Carbon Copy Cloner is my favorite for mac) and take the time to read the manual and figure out how to use it.

Looking for a simple plan you can follow? Then send me your email address and I’ll give you access to my members only Simple Backup Plan article. It explains many of the ints and outs of backing up your photos, how to structure your backups, and much more.

Backup doesn’t get solve by itself. Only you can protect your photos, so what are you waiting for?

Inspiration to Photograph During COVID-19

Even if you are stuck at home, there are so many ways to grow your photography and stay inspired. I made this vlog to share with you some ideas to keep making great work with what you have on hand, and I talk about how Edward Weston made one of the most famous photos ever during a time of great hardship and limited resources. At ~5:50 I talk about the effect photography has on my wellbeing and why I I think it’s important to keep photographing.

When you’re done watching the video, here’s some links to things discussed in the video:

Links Pepper #30
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Weston#/media/File:Weston-pepper30.jpg

Auction listing
http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2014/photographs-n09129/lot.24.html

Edward Weston
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Weston

Robert Glenn Ketchum exhibit at Booth Museum https://boothmuseum.org/exhibitions/
https://www.robertglennketchum.com/

(This video was recorded March 17. The Robert Glenn Ketchum opening I referred to was on April 7. Yeah, it took me a while to edit and post it. 😉

My Foundational Experiences In Photography

How we approach photography is shaped by our experiences. This episode of my vlog shares some of my foundational experiences, how they shaped my vision and my expectations for quality, and gives some of the backstory behind what I teach.

What are some experiences that have shaped your photography?

Don’t upgrade your software during Corona Virus!

Right now as we’re all on some sort of lockdown for Corona Virus and many stores and services are limited, I’m recommending you don’t update your software, particularly system software.

Updates don’t always go right, and sometimes they can take down your system. If that happens you might be stuck without the use of your computer, phone, or favorite software for an indeterminate amount of time.

I learned this the hard way many times over in my years of managing the servers and IT at West Coast Imaging. So much so that I set up rules for when I would never start a upgrade or major IT project. Here’s a few I can remember off the top of my head:

  1. No upgrades in the week before a trip. Having your system down when you are trying to focus on a trip is a real drag.
  2. No upgrades before a major project. My workflow is carefully validated to produce the results I expect. Software updates can throw kinks into that workflow, and that’s the last think I want when working on a deadline project.
  3. No upgrades going in to the weekend. I spent too many weekends at work over the years. Don’t set yourself up for a problem that will take your days off to fix.
  4. No updates when a major storm is predicted. (Winter storms could shut down our small mountain town entirely!)

A quick look at these tells me that now is not the time to upgrade. Basically, remember that Murphy’s law is always in effect, and don’t start a mess you can’t get yourself out of. I’ve been bit more times than I care to remember on what I though would be simple, quick upgrades. Fortunately I know how to get myself out of most of the messes, but there is still a cost in time and frustration. If you don’t know how to fix it yourself, don’t do it till this health crisis is over.

I’d recommend that you go through your devices and software and turn off the “Auto-Update” features so that you can be sure nothing updates without your permission. Auto updates are ok for email and web only users who don’t rely on their computers. I work on mine and down time hurts me and is frustrating. In my case, I want every update to be something I plan and initiate.

Before major updates, like system software or critical software, I always do three fresh clones of my boot drive so I can quickly “roll back” to a previous state if the update fails or is wonky. And the times I’ve need those backups, I’ve REALLY needed them.

And while I’m on the subject, don’t be the first to install new updates or new versions of software. With system software, give new versions about six months for the bugs to be worked out, and a couple months for the incremental security updates. For software like Photoshop, I give it a month or two, and I usually keep the old version installed so that I can still use it if Adobe mucks something up.

And if you’ve had an upgrade disaster happen like I have, share it in the comments so I can commiserate with you!

Stuck inside? Keep Learning, Keep Photographing!

As the current Corona Virus situation unfolds, many of us are going to be spending more time at home, and more time in some sort of semi-isolation.  I don’t know about you, but being closed off from my normal day-to-day is going to have me climbing the walls soon, so I want to suggest to you that this extra time is an opportunity to keep growing in your photography. 

The good news is that we can keep photographing wherever we are, with whatever we have. Even inside our homes there are whole worlds to explore. The 20th century photographer Edward Weston https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Weston made his famous “pepper” photos during a time when he was so poor he had to ration himself to one sheet of film a day, and the peppers he used as subjects became his meals. Out of those challenging circumstances, he made enduring images, and his photograph “Pepper #30” sets records at art auctions.

Don’t let equipment be a barrier either. When I was studying photography in college, one of my classmates did an amazing series on shoes for our product photography class, using just a desk-lamp and long exposures to light paint.  The result was something that equaled the best photos produced in a NYC studio.  Cost and equipment isn’t a barrier.  Weston’s Pepper #30 was made putting a pepper into a steel funnel as a “background.”

Even if we are avoiding social settings, nature remains open. From our yard, to green spaces and parks, there is a whole world we can explore while still keeping ourselves safe. Spring is upon us and every day gives new possibilities as flowers bloom and trees leaf out. Get down on your hands and knees with a macro lens and see what’s growing and photograph it!

The learning can also continue at the processing stage. I don’t know about you, but I have a whole host of “to learns” from new software packages, to techniques, to photos I’ve been meaning to get back to. Pick one of those and take advantage of the chance to dive in as deep as you can go.  If you’ve been putting off learning Photoshop, now is a perfect time to learn!

Those are my ideas, and I’d love to hear yours! Tell me what projects you’re planning on pursuing.

Robert Glenn Ketchum Exhibit

Next weekend I’ll be in Cartersville Georgia to attend the the opening reception for Robert Glenn Ketchum’s latest show. This will be the second largest exhibit of Ketchum’s career and he’s done a very nice writeup describing the show for people who can’t attend:

https://myemail.constantcontact.com/On-Seeing-Color.html?soid=1102168754940&aid=ClqlfCKAROE

I’m honored that five of the 48″x66″ Fuji Crystal Archive prints my team at West Coast Imaging made will be featured in the show. Seeing them hanging in this setting is going to be spectacular.

I’ll also be participating in the gallery walk to talk about the process and answer any questions.

Ketchums long time Cibachrome printer Michael Wilder will also be in attendance and I’m looking forward to meeting this master of the craft. Wilder’s client list is a who’s who of modern photography, and I anticipate he will have many valuable insights into the craft.

It’s going to be a great celebration of Ketchum’s vision and the legacy he has worked so hard to create by preserving our wild places.