the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Archive for February, 2013

In Search of the Perfect Backup System

Baby Mountain Goats

Backup copies are essential; don’t be caught without one!

I often encourage photographers to backup their work. And this is one case where I actually followed my own advice. I thought I had the near perfect backup system, until I found out it wasn’t. But then, I didn’t lose anything, so maybe it was.

Normally when I return from a photo shoot, I download the images into my Lightroom catalog while simultaneously backing up the RAW captures onto an external hard drive. Thus at that point, I have three copies of each image – one on my normal hard drive, one on the external backup drive, and the original image on the memory card.

I subscribe to an online backup service called Backblaze. I have it configured to continually back up my hard drives, so within a few hours, the new images get backed up on-line – providing me with an off-site backup of my images. Thus, when I finally use the memory cards again ( btw, I re-format rather than erase when I put the card back in the camera), I again have three copies of the images – the original RAW files on the external drive, the  working copy on the normal hard drive (potentially with Lightroom edits), and one off site at Backblaze (identical to the working copy, including the Lightroom edits – which of course are not really on the image, but stored separately with the Lightroom catalog file which is also backed up on Backblaze). My “normal” hard drives were kept in a small RAID system. So in addition to my off-site backup at Backblaze, if any particular hard drive fails, I have a full local back up (the RAID has 4 TB hard drives, configured to appear as  three drives; the setup provides a full backup if one hard drive fails – how it works, backing up 3 TB of data in the space of 4 TB, I have no idea) . Thus I thought the perfect system – if a particular hard drive crashes, I’m covered; if my computer crashes, I’m covered; if my studio burns down, I’m covered.

So how is this not perfect? Well, instead of a hard drive failing, the partition file for the RAID system went bye-bye, kaupt, see-y0u-later, into the ether – that is, my computer didn’t recognize any of the three drives. So instead of losing one local hard drive, I was without the whole RAID. And, though my studio was still standing and the computer still working, I didn’t have access to any image files. Yes, they were still available on BackBlaze, but when was the last time you tried to download a terabyte-plus of data over the internet.

I had a friend check out the RAID system, and he was able to reconstruct the partition tables. However, he warned me that some files had been corrupted, he just couldn’t say which ones. Further, we don’t know why the partition tables failed in the first place, so the whole thing could happen again. So while I was back in business, I was working with a system that could fail again and held some unknown number of corrupted files.

To solve this situation, I ordered a full backup from Backblaze. For this size backup, rather than downloading the data, they send it on a hard drive. In my case, they sent a 3-TB USB3 hard drive. I didn’t have a USB3 card in the computer, but another friend had one he wasn’t using. I installed it, and plugged the new drive in, and I was totally back in business without any corrupt files and without the possibility of another RAID failure. For now, I’ve turned off the RAID and am planning to use the individual hard drives within it for local backups.

Overall, I guess my backup system did actually work, even when having a type of failure I had not anticipated. The only downside was the time it took to recover from the failure. Without a full local backup, I had to rely on my Backblaze copy. When looking to restore a few files from Backblaze, you can get them downloaded to your computer is a matter of minutes. When ordering a whole hard drive, it ended up taking about 10 days from the point of ordering it to receiving it at my doorstep via UPS. When I get around to dismantling the RAID and work its hard drives into my system, I should, in the future, have a full local backup as well leaving the Backblaze backup for truly bad emergencies (like a fire).

I am happy with BackBlaze; it worked well and is very cost competitive. The service costs $5 a month or less (if you buy one or two years of service) for an unlimited amount of data storage. Downloads of backed up files are free; for them to send a hard drive (as in my case), the cost is $189 – but that included shipping and the cost of the hard drive (the one they sent me lists for $129 on Amazon). My initial upload to Backblaze took about three weeks; but now, it updates daily without taking much time.

So no backup system may be perfect, but mine seems to have worked. If you don’t have a backup system, believe me, you are living on borrowed time.

Note on the featured photo: I wasn’t sure what to illustrate this post with. But when browsing through my Lightroom catalog, I found this shot of two baby mountain goats and thought it was perfect! Actually, had I lost everything, I wouldn’t have lost the original of this shot since it is from my film days. I still have the original slide available if I need to re-scan it. The shot was taken nine years ago at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park located just south of Tacoma near the town of Eatonville. Sure cute little guys, aren’t they?

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Island Time

Bainbridge Ferry

The ferry arriving at Bainbridge Island

Yesterday, Tanya and I decided to take Carson on a day trip to Bainbridge Island. Rather than driving up, we drove to Seattle and took the ferry across. Carson was a huge hit on the ferry – they don’t often see dogs that big. During the day, both on the Island and the two ferry crossings, he had his photo numerous times by people we met (having a huge dog is a great way to meet people, though they only remember the dog). I imagine, Carson has his picture on Facebook more than I do.

The day was cloudy and a bit cold, and so was the ferry since we had to stay outside on the “sun” deck (no dogs allowed inside). When we arrived at Bainbridge Island, we took the Waterfront Trail, and after a light rain for 10 minutes or so, the sun came out. We had a pleasant walk, and while Carson received pets from many strangers, I took photographs. We spent several hours on the walk, and eventually made it back to the ferry, just one minute before it left for Seattle. Of course, they stop loading walk-on passengers two minutes before departure. So we had to wait an hour for the next one – such is life on an island. But even so, it was a fun day – no place special to be and no special time to be there.

The ride back to Seattle was uneventful, but then again not so. The sun had set, and with the gray skies, it was not particularly pretty out. I put the camera away and sat with Tanya on the sheltered part of the sun deck. Yet even as the gray dusk darkened and as we sailed closer to the city, without the camera in my hand, it gave me the chance to truly appreciate the Seattle skyline as the city lights came on. Even on this unspectacular evening, it was beautiful. Sometimes it’s better to just put the camera away and enjoy the now. (There’s a Jimmy Buffett song I particularly like, Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On, with lyrics about a watch that doesn’t have numbers, but just says now. And even though the song is about Hurricane Katrina, it just shows that that man really knows something about island time.) We talked to a couple visiting from New Orleans – they took a photo of Carson of course, several actually – and enjoyed the view and our sailing across Puget Sound, safe in knowing we had no schedule to meet and no particular place to go.

Enjoy these photos from Bainbridge Island; there’s nothing to special here, but then again, they were  taken on island time.

Eagle Harbor Boat Rental

Eagle Harbor Boat Rental – apparently closed on Sundays in February.

Rocking Chain Puller

One of the many rock statues along the Waterfront Trail on Bainbridge Island.

Bainbridge Boat Reflection

I particularly liked the reflection of this small wooden boat in the Bainbridge marina.

Ferry Ferry

Several of the ferries docked on Bainbridge.

Bainbridge Heron

One of the many herons we saw on our walk.

Kayaks and Canoes

Kayaks and canoes


Don’t Trust the Weather Report

Moon over SeattleAs I mentioned in my last post, I drove up to Seattle a week ago Friday on a photo day. I captured some great images; but the trip almost didn’t happen.

First, before the story, a mini-rant – I hate the weather. I, like most photographers who shoot outdoors,  am obsessed with the weather.  The weather is never perfect – it’s either too cloudy, or not enough clouds, or too sunny, or too gray, etc. etc. For my Friday trip, I wasn’t looking for perfect weather. Rather if I was taking a day off from work to go take photos, I didn’t want to waste my time if the weather wasn’t going to be good enough to offer at least a few decent shots. Rant’s over, now on to the story.

On Thursday night, I checked the weather forecast to see what was in store. The forecast for Seattle was cloudy with a 70% chance of rain both in morning and afternoon – yuck! I thought about going to eastern Washington (which often has better weather), and the forecast for Yakima was cloudy with a 30% chance of freezing rain – not much better. I decided to stay home, work on the computer, and if it looked like the clouds might break, to run up to Seattle.

When I got up Friday morning, it was cloudy, but not rainy. As the morning wore on, there were breaks in the clouds, and I could see a bit of blue sky. So at noon, Tanya, Carson and I headed to Seattle. We went to the Great Wheel, Elliot Bay Park, and West Seattle. It was fairly cloudy when we arrived in Seattle, but as the afternoon wore on it got sunny and warm. By late afternoon, there were scattered clouds both to the east and west of the city, the city itself was under blue skies. It was near perfect weather for photography!

One of the shots I wanted was the moonrise over the city. This was the day before the full moon, and using the Photographers Emphemeris I knew the moon would rise about an hour before sunset directly over the city as viewed from West Seattle. This situation only happens a couple of times each year and those are always in winter. We drove to West Seattle, getting there about 1.5 hours before sunset. However, the few clouds that were left east of Seattle looked like they would block the rising moon.

I was able to get some nice, colorful late afternoon shots of the city skyline. Time for the moonrise came and went, and we couldn’t see the moon. Then Tanya helped me shoot a short video for my Kickstarter project (concerning my Seattle ebook I’ve talked about previously). We took a couple takes, when Tanya said “wow, look at that moon!” (my back was toward the city view). I turned around, and wow was right. I quickly grabbed the camera, switch to still photo mode, put on the 70-200 lens and shot away. I think you’ll agree, the results (featured above) were good.

So what I had thought was going to be a bad weather day for photography, turned out being perfect. Goes to show, you can never trust those weather reports.

Downtown Seattle

Downtown Seattle prior to sunset, looking like the moon would not be visible.

Ferry and Needle

Ferry passing the Space Needle at sunset.

Seattle Evening

After sunset, the city and the moon.