Avoid Data Loss and Corruption with Good Card Hygiene

As a professional photographer, doing everything in your power to avoid data loss or corruption is part of your job. Many years ago, I sent my film to the lab and waited a day or two on pins and needles while it was being processed, hoping nothing bad would happen to that film. In many local photo labs, complex chemical processes were often overseen by pimply faced kids with little to no experience and shipping film to a extreme pro lab was just as scary because of the transit. Occasionally, the ball got dropped and film got destroyed.  I once had a lab rip a roll of film from end to end, leaving one usable frame out of 36 (I have no idea how). More frequently though, photographers would set their cameras incorrectly, with no way to tell for sure what they had done, until the film came back with  nothing on it. Solution? Reshoot.

If you shoot weddings like I do, you know that is just not an option.

Avoid Data Loss with Good Card Hygiene

Of course, some photographers still shoot film, or have gone back to it (don’t get me started). While more reputable labs, have a professional overseeing the chemistry with very few mistakes, photographers are still waiting on pins and needles for FedEx or UPS to safely deliver their film to those reputable professional labs (and no, there isn’t a reputable lab in every large city, despite their claims). It is hard to argue that we haven’t taken a major step forward with digital technology. Today you can fire the shutter once, get two duplicate images on two separate cards, look at the image on the back of your camera to make sure it’s right, download it to a RAID 1 hard drive (I use the CRU Tough Tech Duo) which makes a fourth duplicate instantaneously, then upload a backup to a cloud service which makes a series of backups across its servers throughout the world.  And all of this can be done before your assistant can drive to the nearest FedEx, or local Film Lab.

Even with these advances, things can go horribly wrong. Only now, instead of losing a roll of film with 36 exposures, there’s the potential to lose hundreds and hundreds on one card. And when you capture tens of thousands of images in a month, it’s only a matter of time before fate catches up with you!  Fortunately there are a few simple steps you can follow to protect yourself from digital catastrophe.

Ten Tips to Avoid Data Loss

  1. MORE CARDS: Always carry more than enough cards for the entire shoot. Downloading and reusing cards at a shoot is just begging for trouble. This is so basic that it is hardly worth mentioning, but if you are guilty of it, you need to stop and seriously re-evaluate your professional practices.
  2. FORMAT UP FRONT: Another simple way to avoid data loss is to format all your cards before you start shooting. I format all of the cards I am using before I leave the studio. That way, if I find a card with no capacity, I know I shot it that day.
  3. INSTITUTE A SHOT SYSTEM: Create and adhere to a system for designating full cards. I use a plastic, hard sided weather resistant card case. When I load it, I put the blank cards in face up and after they are shot, I put them in face down.  And it goes without saying that everyone on your team must follow the same practices, so there are no accidents.
  4. KEEP YOUR CARDS CLOSE: To avoid lost or stolen cards, I keep my case for the day in my front pocket or in a sling bag.  Under no circumstances is it professional to set your cards down, place them loosely in a coat pocket, or leave them in a “safe place” off your your immediate person. Think of that case of cards as being worth – like – your whole professional career.
  5. DO NOT DELETE IN CAMERA: Never delete images in the camera. This is just begging for data corruption. A freshly formatted card makes all of it’s capacity available to the camera for storage. Once you delete a file, the camera starts breaking images up and writing them to the disk in unpredictable ways — a little here, a little there. This can have a negative effect on disk indexes and data trees.
  6. USE QUALITY CARDS: Use quality CF and SD cards. I use Sandisk Extreme Pro 120MBS UDMAZ 16 or 32 GB cards, depending on which camera I am shooting. I like to limit the number of files a card can store to around 250. Sandisk cards have never failed me yet, but if you have a trusted brand, stick with it! Cheep is not worth it.  Don’t go looking for random deals on cheep cards.
  7. SHOOT MULTIPLE COPIES: If you shoot with a camera body that allows for simultaneous SD and CF capture, take advantage and shoot full-size RAW files to both cards. This is probably the best overall system to avoid data loss (I use the Canon EOS 5D Mark III). It takes only an extra few seconds to switch cards, but the first time you lose a card, you will bless the extra time you took for added security.
  8. SEPARATE THE COPIES: Once the shoot is over separate your primary and backup cards and store your backup cards in a different location. When I am traveling, I keep one copy in the card case on my person and the duplicate cards in the hotel safe. When working from my studio, I take my backups home until the shoot is in the can. In the can means, I have copied the files to my workstation, backed them up and confirmed they are free from corruption by reviewing them in Lightroom.
  9. WAIT TO REUSE THE CARDS: Don’t ever reuse cards until you know your data is secure.
  10. NO SECOND CHANCES: My final step to avoid data loss is to immediately dispose of any card that you suspect as unreliable. The minute I suspect a card is having any issues whatsoever, I download backup and confirm the data and put the card out of commission.  This is done by drawing a large black X with a sharpie marker and once the job is completely confirmed, the card is broken in half and thrown away.  If I become suspicious of a card while I am shooting, I pull it out or commission on the shoot, mark it and start fresh with a new card.  Do not continue shooting on or working with a card that even hints at having an problem.

By maintaining complete control over my cards and by following these steps to Good Card Hygiene, I am able to say that I have never lost or misplaced a single client image in my entire career.  This is because I am fanatical about my adherence to these basic rules and my card hygene.  Those who do not follow them are doomed to suffer the consequences of loosing their data and the disappointment that is sure to follow.

If you have additional techniques to avoid data loss to add to this list, or card brand recommendations, post them below for everyone’s benefit. Please post your comments to Facebook as well.

Look out for my next post on how to reduce your image selection time by more than half through the simple technique I call Positive Selection. Additionally, look out for my coming info graphic on The Ultimate Image File Security Workflow — never lose data again!

-Jared

Custom Camera Settings – Don’t Miss a Shot

Using custom camera settings can mean the difference between getting the shot at just the right moment, or missing it entirely. One important distinction between a skilled photographer and a person taking snapshots is the ability to rapidly adjust to changing lighting conditions. Pros also develop a second-nature ability to properly adjust their camera. Being prepared to shoot in all sorts of lighting conditions takes planning and practice. One of the ways to ensure that you are ready to shoot when the action is happening is to make use of custom camera settings.

Weddings are especially challenging because of all of the different environments you shoot in. Take for example a church. Inside the church, you may or may not be allowed to use a flash. The stage might be brightly lit where the audience is only dimly lit. There may be windows or not. Certain events happen very quickly and depending on which direction you are facing to get the action, you might need a different exposure mode ie shutter, or aperture priority or manual; you might need flash compensation, or a different iso. Making all of these changes in the heat of shooting, every time you turn around is distracting and time consuming. the distraction might be enough to cause you to miss the first kiss or the bride and groom coming down the aisle.

Custom Camera Settings Prevent Errors

Custom Camera Settings Make setting your camera a snap

Imagine you are shooting a wedding in a church. One great use of custom camera settings in this scenario is to come to the church early and scout your shots. Turned toward the podium, set your camera to the settings that work best for that environment. Using your camera’s menu, set that as custom setting one. On my camera, a Canon 5D Mark III I choose that custom setting using the c1 position on the top left dial. Now, turn back toward where the audience will be seated and set your camera exposure settings for that direction — set this as custom setting two. For setting three you may choose to set your camera for when the bride and groom exit the church with the dark church entrance behind them.

Custom Camera Settings mean fast accurate exposures

Custom Camera Settings Include Pretty Much Every Setting in your Camera

You can set pretty much anything you want including file size, raw or jpeg, focus mode, drive and silent or high-speed shutter mode. Make sure everything is exactly the way you want it when you set your custom setting. Especially the manual, aperture or shutter speed priority modes. These three modes are really the only thing you can’t change within the custom setting after it has been created. Once you have created a custom setting in one of these modes it remains in that mode. That is a manual custom setting an aperture priority custom setting, or a shutter priority custom setting. Once you switch to a custom setting, however, you can change anything else that you want to, like focus point or exposure compensation. The custom setting acts as a starting point and you can adjust for environmental conditions from there.

As with any camera technique practice brings mastery. Spend time creating custom settings and working with them. You will find that you are better prepared to capture those rapidly changing situations. I like to be ready and never miss a shot so custom settings are an important part of my professional tool bag.

Equipment List:

  1. Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Linking Speed-lights for Dramatic Photography

Linking Speed-lights together is a fantastic way to increase the volume of your shot, dramatically emphasise your subject and tell a better story. When shooting events, frequently you are in a place with poor lighting. It’s your job as a photographer to make your subject look amazing no matter what the available light is like. This video will show you the basics of linking your speedlights to all fire in sync with your camera and how they can be controlled from your master speedlight.

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Shooting receptions and parties can be a lot of fun. There is usually a ton of action not to mention poignant emotions like love, and humor. Lot’s of shots from these events look like snapshots – overly contrasty and lit from a single source. Bouncing light off a wall or ceiling helps, but can only take you so far toward your ultimate goal of rich vibrant images. By placing speedlights at various points around the room you can greatly enhance the drama  of your shots.

Try linking speedlights to create different effects.

Hair-lights separate the subject from the background, cross-lights bring out detail by building contrast; background-lights fill in the background adding it to the story — especially in large open environments; and fill-lights soften the light on subjects, adding to their beauty. You can use a number of tools to place the lights where you want them, including a variety of stands and wall mounts. A photograph taken while linking speedlights properly will emphasize the natural drama of, say, a bride and groom’s first dance.

Link Speedlights for great reception lighting

Start with a master speedlight on your camera rather than a transmitter only. This will provide syncing capability, a backup light in case you have to grab a quick shot away from your setup and equally important the focus assist beam on your speedlight makes it possible for you to focus in very dark environments.

Using the link button, you can slave your disconnected speedlights to your master flash and once you have them linked, from your master flash you can set up your groups, change their mode, or turn them on and off. When shooting an actual event like a wedding reception, plan ahead for your most important moments such as cutting the cake or tossing the  bouquet. Discuss with the bride or DJ where these events will happen and plan your vantage and lighting accordingly.

Link Speedlights for amazing drama in dark locations

The best way to become skilled at linking speedlights is to get ahold of a few speedlights and go out and practice with them. This video shows you how to set up your speedlights to be in sync with each other, but being ready to shoot requires rapid deployment and changes to the settings. So, once your lights are set up, familiarize yourself with rapidly changing the settings on multiple lights. Learn to turn them up or down and on or off light – that way you can adjust or disable any lights that are causing you problems, or turn up lights that are making an effect you want to emphasise. Practice, practice, practice is the key to success with this technique. Pretty soon, making adjustments becomes natural, and you will see a significant increase in the drama and beauty of your photographs. Your audience will ask you again and again “how did you do that?” and “how come my shots don’t look like that?” and that, my friend is what makes you a pro.

Equipment List:

      1. Canon 600RT Speedlite
      2. Yongnuo Wireless Radio Trigger for Speedlights
      3. Tether Tools Rapid Mount SLX Speedlight Wall Mount System
      4. Tether Tools RapidMount Cold Shoe Elbow Mount
      5. Think Tank Urban Disguise 10 Bag

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Album Design Software: Smart Albums vs Fundy

Album Design is Intense

Designing albums and books is a intense chore for photographers and requires time, love and skill… and great tools. Well, you can do it without great tools, but then it takes more time, tests your love and tries your skills. With that in mind, I thought I would share my thoughts with you on the latest releases of what I think are the two best album design programs out today.

Fundy v Smart Albums

 

Keep in mind, there are plenty of album companies (like KISS, Leather Craftsmen and Queensbury) who will design your albums for you, and a few independent designers (Align Album Design), who will take this task off your plate for you, if you are willing to let go of it. For those of you who are not, take a few minutes to watch the following set of videos to get my take on the chief differences between Fundy Designer and Smart Albums. Both album design programs are excellent programs, I have decided on a winner, and if you don’t already know which one I choose to use, you will at the end of this blog post.

FULL DISCLOSURE

I am not being paid or compensated by either of the companies for this review, but I have spoken at Smart Albums booth at trade shows. I am also using my own purchased copy of both programs… no freebies. I wanted to run them through their paces, so I bought both of them. I only plan on using one of them for my production. So this is just my honest and independent take on two impressive album design tools.

Starting with Lightroom

Building Album Spreads

Manipulating Album Spreads

Organizing Spreads

Adding Text

Image Editing

Exporting Spreads

Client Proofing

Ordering the Album

Conclusion

This blog post is meant to provide you with a few things to think about before you start comparing album software for yourself.  You may want to add other album production software in the mix, like several online designers that are available.  Hopefully, the items I have discussed here will get you thinking critically about the programs your are considering.  It really does matter what software you choose!  It needs to work with you and not against you.  Whether you enjoy the process will depend on your choice.  So choose well…

Find and Test the Software

Now here is your assignment: go make an album with both pieces of software, think about the items I have discussed and watch for even more differences. Prioritize the good and bad and decide which tool makes you faster, which gives you the most artistic freedom and which lets you enjoy the process. The one you choose should have a good score on all three of those requirements. Then buy the winner and start making albums and books!

Smart Albums

Fundy Designer

 

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