Gear & Software

What's in My Bag (And Studio) by Tony Roslund

Not a day goes by that someone doesn't message, tweet, post, or email me about gear. I guess that's because I have quite a bit of it. OK, lots of it. At one time, probably more than most photographers out there. I've started selling off gear like crazy the past year, opting for a smaller, lighter kit. For example, I dumped my big heavy studio packs and switched over to battery powered heads. I've also started using DLSRs more often than my medium format camera. They say that it's not about the gear, which is partially true. Having a great camera doesn't make you a great photographer any more than having a great stove makes you a great chef. On the flip side, knowing limitations of shitty gear and how to use your tools well can yield better results. I've carefully chosen each piece of gear I own through extensive testing and experimentation to decide what works best for me, my workflow, and my style of shooting. Don't ever buy gear just because someone else uses it, ALWAYS try it out and form your own opinions based on the results and functionality. What do I use? Here's a partial list . . .


  • Foba Asaba Studio Stand
  • Gitzo Carbon Fiber G5510SGT Carbon Tripod
  • Really Right Stuff TVC-34L Carbon Tripod
  • Really Right Stuff TVC-23 Carbon Tripod
  • Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ball Head
  • Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ball Head
  • Arca Swiss Cube C1 Head
  • Manfrotto 535 Tripod w/504HD Fluid Head
  • Manfrotto Tripod w/502 Fluid Head
  • DJI Osmo 3-Axis Gimbal
  • DJI Osmo Mobile 3-Axis Gimble
  • GorillaPod Focus with Ballhead
  • SunwayFoto T1A20 Tripod
  • Kessler Stealth Slider
  • Rhino Slider EVO Carbon Motion Slider
  • Really Right Stuff and/or Kirk Arca Swiss style plates


  • Phase One DF+ w/PhaseOne IQ160 Digital Back
  • Arca Swiss RM3Di
  • Cambo Ultima D
  • Canon 1DX
  • Canon 5D Mark IV
  • Canon 80D (x2)
  • DJI Mavic Pro Drone


  • Phase One 120mm f/4 Macro MF
  • Phase One 80mm f/2.8 LS
  • Phase One 45mm f/2.8
  • Schneider Kreuznach 47mm f/5.6
  • Schneider Kreuznach 35mm f/5.6
  • Schneider Kreuznach 120mm f/5.6
  • Schneider Kreuznach 90mm f/5.6
  • Canon 70-200 f/2.8L Mark II
  • Canon 135 f/2L
  • Canon 100 f/2.8L Macro
  • Canon 85 f/1.2L
  • Canon 50 f/1.2L
  • Canon 16-35 f/2.8L Mark II
  • Canon 24 TS-E Mark II
  • Canon 17 TS-E Mark II
  • Canon 1.4x III Extender
  • Canon 18-135 f/3.5-4.5 (x2)


  • Profoto B1 500 AirTTL Battery-Powered Flash (x4)
  • Profoto Air Remote TTL-C
  • Neewer TT850 Speed Light (x3) - These are junk
  • Yongnuo 560 IV Speed Light (x2) - These are also junk
  • Fiilex 360EX LEDs (x3)
  • Profoto StripLight S


  • Profoto Zoom II Reflector (x4)
  • Profoto Grids (5, 10, 20 degree) for Zoom II Reflector
  • Profoto Softlight Reflector (Silver)
  • Profoto 25 degree Grid for Softlight Reflector
  • Profoto 5' Octa Bank
  • Profoto 4' Strip Bank (x3)
  • Profoto SpotLight
  • Profoto XL 60" Deep Umbrella
  • Impact 60" Satin Umbrella
  • Impact 45" Satin Umbrella (x2)
  • Impact 7' Parabolic Umbrella (White)


  • Avenger 40" Century Stands (x4)
  • Avenger 20" Century Stands (x2)
  • Matthews Hi Hi Overhead Roller 21.5' 
  • Matthews Med Overhead Roller 14' (x2)
  • Matthews Low Boy Roller (x2)
  • Red Wing Standard Boom (x2)
  • Manfrotto Alu Master Air-Cushioned Stand 1004BAC (x4)
  • Manfrotto A526B (x3)
  • Manfrotto A615B (x2)


I'm not going to itemize this stuff b/c it changes often. But in general, we like:

  • Apple MacBook Pro Computers
  • LG 27" Ultrafine 5K Display
  • Eizo ColorEdge CX271 Monitor
  • G-Technology Drives
  • Wacom Intuos Pro Tablets (Small)
  • Epson Photo Printers


  • SmallHD 701 Lite Display
  • DigiPlate Pro
  • DigiPlate Lite
  • DigiShade
  • DigiHub
  • DigiCables
  • Black Rapid Straps
  • f-Stop Rolling Bag
  • ONA Prince Street Bag
  • Think Tank Photo Airport Security V 2.0 Rolling Camera Bag
  • Think Tank Photo Airport Essentials Backpack
  • Pocket Wizard Plus II (x4)

I have two pieces of advice I offer to every group I speak to . . .

  1. Don't go into debt over this (at least not when starting out). It's hard to be creative when you're worried about how you're going to pay for your gear.
  2. Buy a good Tripod & Head. Spend the money once and you'll never have to buy another one. For photography, I recommend a large carbon fiber model by Gitzo or Really Right Stuff with either a RRS or Arca Swiss head. Yea, they're expensive . . . buy once, cry once.

I get my gear at B&HCapture Integration, and sometimes Amazon.

Tethered Shooting With The Canon 5D Mark IV And Adobe Lightroom CC by Tony Roslund

*Updated 12/11/2016 - Adobe released Lightroom CC 2015.8 this week which includes support for tethered shooting with the 5DMarkII.

Trying to get your new Canon 5D Mark IV to talk to Lightroom with a USB 3.0 connection? Tried everything? Been Googling the interwebs for the past two hours trying to find a solution? If you're reading this, you are probably so frustrated that you want to punch a baby. Take a deep breath and let's see if we can work through it . . .

My Setup

First off, let me tell you about the system I'm using, I'm on a MacBook Pro (retina) with OS 10.12.1 Sierra using the Canon 5D Mark IV. I have the camera connected via USB 3.0 to Adobe Lightroom CC 2015.7 (the latest version as of the date of this post, and the first version to have camera support for the 5D Mark IV).

The Problem

I can start a new tether session in Lightroom, and Lightroom sees my camera. But when I try and fire the shutter, nothing happens. There's also an icon of a computer on the LCD of the camera (any of this sounding familiar?)

I tested with Capture One Pro 9.3 and everything works as it should . . . and it's fast. Really really fast. I mean the first few frames we were wondering what was taking so long for the images to transfer, only to find out they were transferring so fast we were missing it! 

This is all happening without any tether boosters or powered hubs, it seems Canon may have finally gotten their USB 3.0 under control. Yay! (I hate extra cables and parts dangling from my camera). 

The Solution

This is going to sound nuts, but I spent a bunch of time combing through the Google machine looking for answers. This was the most logical thing I could find, so I gave it a shot. Low and behold, it works! It's still kinda nuts though. The solution I found was split between several sources, so I figured it out and decided to create one tidy little tutorial here to make it easy on you. 

First I had to download the latest version of Canon EOS software. I don't use it, so I didn't have it on my machine. I don't have a CD Rom so the disk that came with the camera is useless. When visiting Canon's website and the support page for the 5D Mark IV, there is no software listed as compatible for that model. WTF? The Canon website was auto detecting my operating system as Mac OS Sierra, which is accurate, but also the problem. I changed that setting on Canon's website to El Capitan, and sure enough there's the Canon EOS software. Download it. Install it. It will work. Even with Sierra.

*For this next process, anytime you see "Contents" you'll need to right click on the file and select Show Package Contents.

Next, you'll want to navigate to the following on your Mac:

Applications/Canon Utilities/EOS Utility/EU3/EOS Utility

Copy the contents of folder A (Cmd+C).

Now navigate to:

Applications/Adobe Lightroom/Adobe

Paste contents of EOS Utility folder A into Lightroom folder A (Cmd+V). It will ask you if you want to overwrite existing files, say yes. Don't delete the contents that already exist in that folder, there's other good bits in there, you just want to overwrite the parts that are more current from the Canon EOS software.

Restart Lightroom. Send thank you gifts to:

421 W. Riverside Ave, Suite 105
Spokane, WA 99201


Our RGG EDU Product Photography Tutorial Has Arrived! by Tony Roslund

The wait is over! RGG EDU launched Tony's tutorial this morning, and it's already selling like hot cakes. This week only, RGG EDU is offering $25 off with promo code 25OFF, making this comprehensive and valuable guide an even better deal. If you need further convincing, take a look at the trailers.

And before you start thinking everything is perfection, nothing ever goes wrong, and we're a serious bunch...

How to Sync All Your Cloud Storage to a Tiny SSD by Tony Roslund

The Backstory

When we finish a project and are ready to deliver files to a client, we used to burn CDs, then DVDs, then thumb drives, and eventually moved everything to the cloud. I've tried just about every solution out there and we always come back to Dropbox. I like that I can easily copy a folder of images from our server, and drop them in a client's folder via the Finder on Dropbox. From there I can right-click on the folder and get a link to the folder which I can email to my client. The client simply clicks the link and is greeted with a clean interface for browsing the files and has only one option . . . download the files (unless they're Dropbox users as well, in which case they also have the option to add to Dropbox). No passwords, no pages to navigate through, just a big button that says DOWNLOAD. That's about as easy as it gets! 

A Few New Features

Recently Dropbox added the ability to set time limits which files are accessible, kind of a nice feature (although not something we really use much) if you want to give your client the opportunity to download the files and then clear the space on your Dropbox account.

Another feature they've added is the ability for WebDAV access. Why do we care? Let me explain (this is where it gets geeky) . . .

The Problem

I have a 1TB Dropbox account. When you install the Dropbox app on your computer, the Dropbox folder on your computer syncs with Dropbox in the cloud. This is what makes it so easy to drag/drop client files from the server to Dropbox in the cloud. The problem is, that some of my computers have small-ish SSD drives (128, 256, or 512GB) and I end up filling the entire disk with Dropbox items that I'd rather just keep in the cloud. Fortunately Dropbox gives users the ability to perform Selective Syncing, which basically allows a user to define which specific files/folders they want to sync between their computer and the cloud. I can easily deselect my Client Downloads folder (the place where I drop all finished files for delivery), but then I lose the ability to drag/drop from my server to the cloud, instead having to resort to the Dropbox web interface for uploading client files. That defeats the whole K.I.S.S. process.

What I'm Looking For

What I've been looking for since I started using Dropbox years ago, is a way to have instant access via the Finder to my Dropbox files, giving me the freedom to drag/drop files between my server and the cloud, while not taking up any space on my hard drive (SSD). Additionally, I'd like the ability to get a link which I can share with my client without having to use the Dropbox web interface.

The Solution (almost)

Enter DropDav. This $5 monthly service harnesses the newly released ability to access Dropbox via WebDAV protocols. I don't even have to install proprietary software to make it work. This means I can use a desktop client like Panic's Transmit which offers the ability to connect to WebDAV services, such as Dropbox. With Transmit, I can automatically mount a WebDAV server to my desktop like any other connected drive, giving me complete access to Dropbox via the Finder, without taking up any room on my internal drive! I even went a step further and created a shortcut to this remote location in my Finder's sidebar, giving me identical functionality that I had with the native Dropbox app . . . almost. With the native Dropbox app, Finder gives you the ability to right click on a file and generate a link which can be shared with clients. This functionality is not part of the DropDAV solution, which still requires me to access the Dropbox web interface in order to fetch that shared link.

A Better Solution

I don't mind paying a small monthly fee for a valuable service, but if at all possible, I'd rather pay for something once and be done. And while DropDav solves my space issues for Dropbox, it does nothing for my other cloud storage services like Google Drive, box, and the many others available. I knew I couldn't be the only one dealing with this issue in this day of SSDs, so I did some searching and found an app called ExpanDrive. This is the solution I was looking for! You can connect multiple accounts, even the same type of accounts . . . for example, I have two Google Drive accounts, and I can connect them both! Backspace, Copy, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, SFTP, FTP, and more can all be connected using ExpanDrive. The software will automatically mount each of these connected cloud storage services, making them instantly available like any other connected drive on your computer. Best of all, there's no monthly fee!


Ultimately, DropDav solves a large part of the problem I've been facing since the migration to cloud based file sharing. While I'm not a fan of monthly fees, it works well and is a solid solution for anyone looking to mount Dropbox to their machine and save the space normally eaten up by syncing. I think the better option is ExpanDrive, with no monthly fees and the ability to connect a plethora of services. Unfortunately neither of these options offer the ability to share links directly from the Finder. In order to avoid using the web interface, I found a little (free) app called App for Dropbox that does only one thing . . . it rides up in the toolbar and allows me to grab the share links for any file/folder in Dropbox. Problem solved!

Tips To Improve Your Beverage Photography: Secrets Of The Craft by Tony Roslund

This week I wanted to  share a few of the tools we commercial photographers use to create our tabletop images. Particularly the items used in photographing beverages. There's a lot of trial and error when it comes to this sort of photography, often times we find ourselves using things in ways far from their originally intended purpose. Having said that, there's a lot of things that have become kind-of standard practice in food/beverage photography, some of those items I'll share with you today. 

I certainly don't claim to know everything, as most of these techniques come from years of experience working with [food] stylists and even other photographers, a learning curve that never ends. I attribute much of what I've learned about food/beverage photography to my mentor Rob Grimm, one of the masters of this genre. Another source for knowledge on prepping food for the camera is a great book called "Food Styling: The Art of Preparing Food for the Camera" by food stylist Delores Custer, that has many more tips and tricks beyond what I've discussed here. If you want to know more, I'd recommend picking up a copy.

Below I've outlined the items mentioned in this video, most of which is available at drug stores and/or grocery stores.

Tacky Putty
Microfiber Cloth
White Cotton Gloves
Tacky Wax
Orthodontic Wax
Canned Air
Krylon Crystal Clear
Goof Off
3M ScotchBright Pad
Acrylic Ice
Rubber Funnel
Kitchen Bouquet
Ice Powder

I look forward to seeing what the viewers do with these tips, and hope you'll share your images on our Fstoppers community. If you have questions, please don't hesitate to hit me up on social media.

RocknRoller MultiCart: The Most Useful Tool In A Location Photographer's Kit by Tony Roslund

Ever since I briefly introduced it in my Photographer's Grip Kit video, people have been emailing and messaging me regarding the utility cart I use to haul gear around a job site. As a result, I figured a video was in order to talk about the cart in more detail, along with the modifications we've made to better adapt it to our workflow.

The RocknRoller MultiCart is a modular utility cart, which is really just a hand truck on four wheels in it's purist form. But the ability to select all-terrain tires, add platforms and shelving, and fold flat for stowing and transport is what makes it a great choice for location photographers. After loading it up with gear at the car, we drag it to the set, and then partially unload it to utilize the top shelf as a computer platform for tethered shooting. The MultiCart sells for $100-$300 (depending on options) at most photo supply houses and Guitar Centers (bands and DJs use them to haul gear too).

Introduction To Off-Camera Flash: Three Main Choices in Strobe Lighting by Tony Roslund

I'm often asked about the best way to get started with off-camera flash. The problem is, there's no single answer for everyone. There's a lot of different ways to accomplish the same end goal of getting that flash off the camera. In this video I'll break down the three main choices when choosing your method of strobe lighting.

Why off-camera flash? Illuminating our subject with strobes give us far more control over how a scene is going to look versus relying on ambient light. Having a flash attached to the camera limits the direction of that light, normally to the same direction our camera is facing. Sure, you can bounce a flash off the ceiling, off a wall, or off a piece of foam core, but you're still limited to some extent. And what if you're outside with no walls or ceilings? This is where strobe lighting really shines (rim shot).

Option 1: Speedlight

Small, portable, versatile battery powered units with a very short flash duration that can be adapted to work with various modifiers such as softboxes, umbrellas, and gels, or even ganged together to create larger light sources. Many of the modern units have integrated Through-The-Lens (TTL) technology allowing the camera and flash to communicate and automatically adjust the output power based on the camera's metering. The minimal power output and lack of a modeling light are the most limiting factors of these small flashes, although with today's high ISO capabilities of digital cameras, this is quickly becoming less of an issue.

Option 2: Monoblock

The big brother to speedlights, monoblocks are self contained, high power flash units which are slightly less portable due to the fact they require AC power to operate. This AC power requirement is also what makes them capable of 300ws-1200ws output. Easily adapted to large modifiers with the use of a speedring, the units have integrated stand mounts, modeling lights, and often times come with integrated radio slaves. Monoblocks are great for traveling/location photographers and can be placed across large sets, limited only by available AC power outlets.

Option 3: Power Pack/Head

The most powerful, but least portable option, is the power pack/flash head combo.  With power output typically in the 1200ws-4800ws range, these are most commonly used by studio photographers who want complete control over the light on set. Like monoblocks, these are easily outfitted with softboxes, umbrellas, and other modifiers. Generators (power packs) typically have 2-4 ports for connecting heads, which divide the power either symmetrically or asymmetrically, depending on the model. A 2400ws pack could be connected to 4 heads, distributing 600ws to each of the four heads. Packs generally have integrated radio triggers, optical triggers, modeling lights, and micro adjustments for power output. If a head it attached overhead or in hard to reach places, the power can still be controlled from the pack, whereas monoblocks typically have to be within reach to adjust its settings. Like monoblocks, the packs operate on AC power, but the most limiting factor is that each head must be tethered to the pack. This makes it more difficult to distribute lighting across a set from a single pack. 

Option 3.5: Battery Powered

Many manufacturers have recently introduced monobocks and generators which operate on battery power. While offering more portability, these rechargeable units provide the features and operational likeness of their AC powered counterparts, but are usually limited to 500ws-1200ws of power.

How To: Photograph Jewelry For Catalogs by Tony Roslund

As a commercial photographer, I specialize in product, food, and architecture. One of the products we've been shooting a lot of lately is jewelry, specifically jewelry for catalog use. In my opinion, jewelry is one of the hardest things to photograph, and many photographers don't know where to start. Whenever we're tasked with photographing shiny,reflective, spherical objects, our studio sounds like a group of sailors on leave with all the profanity flying around (often times strung together to make complete sentences). We push on, moving through a series of techniques that yield the results we're after and we make mental notes for the next time we're presented with a similar challenge. It's how we better ourselves as photographers, and it's that challenge that gets me out of bed in the morning. In this video, I wanted to share some of the techniques we use to photograph those shiny, reflective, spherical objects for catalog use.

We approach catalog photography a bit differently than "hero" or advertising photography. The images are generally going to be much smaller and need to be consistent with work either from the same batch, or previous shoots. When it comes to catalog photography, the goal is to be efficient. We want to present a clean, uniform look that allows the client to use any of the images interchangeably. We also want to show as much of the product as possible to give the viewer a solid idea of what they're potentially buying. With catalog photography, the attention to detail is typically not as critical as advertising imagery, nor is the retouching as refined (efficiency is key), therefore the budgets are typically smaller per image. Another thing that keeps the cost down is the limited usage, typically licensed for just catalog use, whereas a hero image could be licensed for magazine ads, website, billboards, etc.

We don't use light tents, instead we prefer to build our own sets based on the specific characteristics of the pieces we're photographing. I find that by customizing the set, I get a lot more control and can create a better looking image for my client. We generally shoot like-items in series so we don't have to change the set around as often between pieces (efficiency is key). Working with very shallow DOF, we often use a technique called "focus stacking" to blend multiple expsosures into a single image using Helicon Focus, specialized software designed to find the sharpest portions of a group of images and blend them together.

In this video I'll walk you through the gear we use (who doesn't love a good BTS), some of our easiest techniques to capture simple jewelry images for catalog use, and show you how to fashion some of your own props to assist in those captures.

Essential Gear: The Photographer's Grip Kit by Tony Roslund

One of the most overlooked, yet most used items in a photographer's arsenal, is the grip kit. A grip kit isn't something most photographers set out to buy, build, or assemble, it's generally born from necessity. Over the years we find ourselves on jobs needing certain things that we don't have readily available and we end up improvising to get the job done. Usually we make a mental note of how we can be more prepared in the future, which often times leads to adding small "grip" items to our pack list. When we collect enough of these items, they typically make their way into some sort of crate, bag, or box also known as a grip kit.

I've tried lugging around heavy bags of miscellaneous grip equipment over the years (that's what assistants are for) and found that a 6 gallon milk crate works best for my needs. Keeping true to form, my assistant figured out a way to work smarter, not harder, and strapped the crate to a rolling cart. He thought it would be a good idea to share the contents of our precious grip cart with the rest of the world, so we put together this video going through the entire pack. While it's not the most riveting topic in the photography world, hopefully it'll give you guys some ideas on what to include with your kits before you head out on future shoots.

Here's a portion of our grip kit inventory/pack list:

  • Multi-Cart R12 - Collapsible, easily transportable cart that doubles as a tethered workstation on location.
  • Hard Hats - To protect your melon and prevent the transfer of head lice.
  • Diffusion/Black Fabrics - Basic rip-stop nylon from any fabric store used to cut the harshness of light or block it completely.
  • Justin Clamps - Spring clamps with a coldshoe mount, great for clipping speedlights to doors, shelves, etc.
  • Gaff Tape - The photographer's duct tape. Leaves no sticky residue, comes in many colors, and can MacGyver just about any problem.
  • Cinefoil - Black tinfoil. Used to shape or block light at the source. Reusable too!
  • Super Clamps - Add a second light to a stand, or just about anywhere by adding a 5/8 pin. Various accessories can be attached (see Magic Arm)
  • Traffic Cones - Establish a workspace or control traffic flow by placing cones around your perimeter.
  • Glass Cleaner - You'd be surprised how often I show up for an architectural gig and the windows are filthy.
  • Stainless Steel Cleaner - Get those stainless steel appliances nice and tidy!
  • Rags - For use with glass & stainless cleaner. Also good for cleaning up dusty areas, or wiping down equipment after a rain drizzle.
  • Screw Drivers - Sometimes you got to take down a decoration, tighten a light fixture, or do a little surgery on your own equipment in the field.
  • Tape Measure - I use it to measure hyper focal distance on location.
  • Crescent Wrench - Take down a sign, tighten up a stand, or defend yourself from attackers on location.
  • Wedge-It - Prop open doors to transport gear, or during a shoot. Florescent green ensures you never forget it when you leave!
  • Caution Tape - Cordon off an area to keep pedestrians from walking through your shot, or to keep cars from parking in unwanted areas.
  • A-Clamps - Also called Jed Clamps as in "Jed Clamp It", used to suspend diffusion material, modify wardrobe, or hold bounce cards in place.
  • Tri-Grip Reflector - I like the white/silver version for bouncing just a little light into a subject. Designed to be held in one hand, with camera in the other, or attached in place with a clamp.
  • Make-Up Powder/Brush - Get the HD powder found at most high-end makeup stores. The same stuff newscasters use on HDTV. Great for eliminating hot spots and shine on a person.
  • Magic Arm - Fully articulating arm that can be attached to a Super Clamp and place a light in hard-to-reach areas. I like the variable friction version.
  • Shoe Covers (Booties) - Grab these from the Doctor's office during your next physical. They're great for keeping floors clean on location.
  • 2-Way Radios - On-site communications between crew, especially when cell phone service is limited.
  • Puppet - A great ice breaker to get people laughing on set. Guaranteed to loosen up an otherwise rigid subject.
  • Bluetooth Speaker - A shoot just isn't the same without the Spice Girls.
  • Ratchet/Sockets - See Crescent Wrench above.
  • Work Gloves - Sometimes we got to do some heavy lifting or even move dirty equipment to get the shot (if you don't have gloves, an assistant or intern works well too).
  • Paper Towels - The quicker picker upper.
  • Batteries (various) - Pocket Wizards, Bluetooth Speakers, Speedlights, etc. Everything in the field runs on batteries.
  • Allen Wrenches - Some of our heads and stands have set screws that occasionally need adjustment.
  • Shout Stain Remover - Keep this in your kit for that one time when a client spills coffee on his tie just before a shoot.
  • Tampons - You'll be a hero if you're the only one on set who has them, and your model needs one. 

DIY Diffusion Panels For Less Than $30 by Tony Roslund

As a product photographer, I use diffusion panels almost daily. I prefer the flexability and control I get from them over softboxes, and they're easy to store or pack flat for taking on location. Several companies have prefab "blades" intended for holding diffusion materials and fit nicely into grip heads/knuckles, but at nearly $100 a pop, buying several of them may not fit into everyone's budget. A friend showed me an easy way of making my own for a fraction of the cost, so I put together this video to show you the process.

Note: In the video I used a portion of Rosco #3008 diffusion material from a roll I had in the studio. This material is also available in pre-cut sheets for a few dollars each if you don't want to pony up for an entire roll.

Bulletproof Backup Strategies for Digital Photographers by Tony Roslund

As your photography archive grows, so does the need to handle and protect that data. What happens if your computer doesn’t boot, or an image file won’t open? What if your home or studio gets robbed, or worse, catches fire? What if your backup drive fails, or your laptop gets stolen? These are all questions I ask myself when planning my backup strategy.

I’m a photographer, not an IT professional. Everything in this article is from my own experience since I switched to digital in 2001. I use a Mac, so if you’re on a PC you may need to do a little research to find the equivalent to some of the steps I’m going to talk about here.

Bootable Backup

Many people think that if they use Mac OS X’s Time Machine to backup their computer they’re protected if a drive doesn’t boot. But Time Machine doesn’t make bootable backups. For backups to be restored from TM, you need to have a working OS. The solution is to create a bootable drive which would allow you to hold down Option+C during boot, select the external (bootable) drive as your start-up disk, and you’re up and running. There are several pieces of software (both PC & Mac) that will allow you to create bootable backup drives, but my favorite is Carbon Copy Cloner. Trying to resolve technical issues and restore operating systems with a client standing in your studio can be a stressful situation. By creating a bootable backup, you can get back in the game quickly and replace/restore your main drive when time allows.

Copy to second card during capture

Now that we have a solution to our bootable drive backup, we need to start thinking about protecting our images from the moment we create them. Most DSLR cameras these days have two card slots and will allow the user to setup how those slots are configured. While setting your camera to fill one card at a time so you don’t have to change cards as often may seem like a good idea, it doesn’t provide any protection of your data if something goes wrong. If you want to incorporate redundancy into your workflow, this is a good place to start. By setting up your camera to write both cards at the same time, you’re getting two copies of your data in case one card fails.

Shooting Tethered

When shooting tethered, you need to make sure your files are backed up while you’re shooting since you’re probably not writing to the memory cards. Once again, with an application like Carbon Copy Cloner, you can create “tasks” to automatically copy files, folders, or entire drives to a second location. I have modified my MacBook Pro with a DataDoubler from OtherWorldComputing allowing me to replace the internal optical drive with a second hard drive (or in my case a second SSD). I have created a task in CCC which automatically copies my “Tethered” folder from Drive A to Drive B every 30 minutes. This way if my main drive fails, I know I have a second copy on Drive B. Alternatively, if you don’t have the ability to replace your optical drive, you could just plug in an external drive and have CCC do the same thing.

Copy To Second Location on Import

Most cataloging apps, like Adobe Lightroom or Capture One, allow you to define a second location to store images during import. This way when you ingest images from your memory card, or during tethered capture, you can create a backup of your images automatically. Just don’t make the second location on the same drive as the original location.

Where To Store Files?

Although they can be stored on the local drive, storing your image files on a remote drive or networked drive is likely a better option. If you have large catalogs of images, you may need a RAID system in order to create a volume large enough to accommodate all your files. By getting them off the main hard drive of your computer, it will allow your computer run faster and enable you to setup a backup system that’s accessible from any computer and expandable to fit your needs.

Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID)

There are several variations of RAID available, but the four most common are:

  • RAID 0 = No redundancy (max size)
  • RAID 1 = Mirrored (50% total size)
  • RAID 5 = Spanned across multiple drives (60–80% of total capacity), 1 drive can fail
  • RAID 6 = Same as RAID 5 but 2 drives can fail

I won’t dive deep into RAID types in this article, there’s plenty of information around the internet to bring you up to speed on how it all works. I’ll leave that to the IT professionals, but the biggest advantages of RAID systems are their ability to survive limited hardware failure, and their virtually unlimited size.

3–2–1 Strategy

Now that we have our data on a dedicated external drive we need to think about how protected that data is. IT professionals have long promoted a 3–2–1 backup strategy for secure, redundant backup of your data, and it certainly applies here. 3 backups of your data, on 2 types of media, 1 of those off-site.

Putting It All Together

Hang on, this is where it gets complicated. You can probably store all your files on a single external storage device, whether that’s a 2TB drive, 4TB drive, or 24TB RAID system. Look at how much you shot in the last few years on average and figure out how big of a drive you need to store several years worth of data. Maybe you can fit it all on a single drive, maybe you need a massive RAID system. Either-way, that’s the main storage for your files, so this is where you want to spend your money. But remember that RAID systems only protect against hard drive failure. They don’t necessarily protect against file corruption/deletion. In order to do that you need to have a backup of your primary files. If you're thinking RAID 1 accomplishes that, not quite. RAID 1 is an exact mirror between drive A & B. The problem is that information is instantly copied from one drive to the other. If something goes wrong on Drive A, it also goes wrong on Drive B. We need to create an opportunity to restore corrupted data from the uncorrupted copy. This is where a second drive (whether it’s a single disk or a RAID system) comes into play. By using an automated application like Carbon Copy Cloner to make daily backups of your main drive, you’ll have a second drive to restore from in the event something goes nutty on the main drive.

Now we have 2 copies of our data (you still with me?). We need a third to complete the first part of our 3–2–1 backup strategy. We have a couple options here. For our third copy, we need to be on a second type of media (the “2” in our 3–2–1 strategy). In Ancient Greece they used CDs and DVDs for this, but in today’s digital photography world, those methods are slow and small. Not to mention that optical media fades over years. Instead of optical media, we can use “The Cloud”. Companies like Backblaze and Crashplan allow you to store unlimited amounts of data on their servers. It’s a great way to go and covers the "2 types of media" and "1 off-site" parts of our 3-2-1 strategy. There is a downside though, it’s slow to start and slow to recover from. This is where I cheat a little on our 3–2–1 strategy. In addition to creating my third media copy on a second type of media, I also use a third drive to take off-site. Confused? Let me break it down for you:

Drive A copies to Drive B every night at midnight. This gives me a full 24 hours to recover any corrupt or deleted files. Each week I bring in Drive C from off-site and replace Drive B (taking Drive B off-site). Guess what app I use to accomplish this? CarbonCopyCloner automatically runs a task to copy everything on Drive A to Drive B or Drive C when it’s reconnected … so all I have to do is unplug Drive B, plug in Drive C and it starts to copy anything that’s changed since the last backup. Can it get any easier?

Now I have a 4–2–1 backup strategy, even better!

The Gear I Use

I use three G-RAID Thunderbolt drives from G-Technology. I also use a G-Drive Mini as my Time Machine backup (keep in mind TM likes 2x size of your main drive, my main drive is a 240GB SSD). I also have LaCie Rugged drives (various sizes) which come in both HDD and SSD versions to create copies of our tethered folder in the field. Even though we have two copies on the dual internal drives, we want to be protected in case something happens to our laptop on the way back to the studio. This drive is stored/carried separately from the laptop by my assistant. The next piece of gear we purchase, that will make this a truly bulletproof backup, is a Network Attached Storage system that can automatically sync with a duplicate NAS system off-site. This will solve the issue of something happening to the two G-Raid drives in the studio and losing everything from the past week that hasn't been copied to the off-site rotating backup. We're reviewing a few models now and will update once we've made a decision and incorporated into our backup strategy.

A Few Closing Thoughts

Isn’t all this expensive? Sure, but isn’t losing all your data, or even data from one job (a wedding for example) more expensive? Buy good stuff, spend the money once, spend the money now. Don’t buy cheap stuff and have it fail, you might as well not do anything. Don’t establish a backup strategy AFTER you have a problem. I don't expect everyone to run out and buy a few thousand dollars worth of RAID drives, but hopefully I've given you the incentive to start thinking about how your data is protected. Good luck, and let me know in the comments if you have any questions.


Hazel: Automated Organization for your Mac by Tony Roslund

You may be wondering what this has to do with photography, and why it's on my blog? Well, the first thing to understand is that I'm a technophile at heart, I love gadgets, helpful (non-bloated) applications, and beautiful product design. These things all inspire my creative senses and get me out of bed in the morning and into the studio.

One application in particular deserves special attention, mainly because it never requires my attention, yet it does so much to keep me organized. Hazel is almost like having your own personal (computer) assistant. Pretty much any task you can think of, Hazel can do. I'll admit it takes a little thought sometimes to figure out how to get from point-A to point-B, but once you find that path, Hazel performs. Flawlessly.

Courtesy Noodlesoft

Courtesy Noodlesoft

I'll give you three examples:

  1. I have assigned Hazed a task to clean my desktop every night at midnight, moving everything that I don't want permanently on my desktop, into a folder in my Dropbox account. I'm not actually throwing anything out, just putting it away for safe keeping. During the day my desktop gets pretty cluttered with JPG test images, screen shots, documents, invoices, etc, etc. Hazel is like my desktop housekeeper, when I get up in the morning, it's all nice and clean.
  2. Whenever I download a new application (not from the AppStore) it comes in the form of a compressed (zipped) .dmg file. Once I install the application, I no longer need the dmg file and used to throw them in the trash to free up space on my computer (SSD drives fill up fast). The problem was that if I ever had a problem with an app, or whenever I got a new computer, I'd have to run around the web and find all these handily little apps that I'd accumulated over time, and re-download them all. PITA. Instead, I have Hazel move any dmg (or other executable file) from my downloads folder that is older than 1-day to a folder on my Dropbox. [You see where I'm going with this]
  3. Whenever I prepare a client invoice using my invoicing application (BlinkBid), I send the client a PDF of the invoice and save a copy for my own records. I could just save these invoices to Dropbox, which I used to do, but I've found Evernote more useful for storing all these invoices in a Notebook which I can easily search, tag, etc. When an invoice lands in the Invoices folder, it hangs out for a day so I can forward to clients or print it, but at midnight Hazel automatically uploads it to my Invoices notebook in Evernote, and deletes it from the Invoices folder freeing up space in my Dropbox account.

This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg. Hazel automatically uninstalls all those preference and companion files that linger from applications when you drag them to the trash, and can even empty your trash when it reaches a certain threshold. Hazel is WAY more powerful than what I've explained above, but so far, these small tasks have made my life more organized, and when I'm organized, I'm more creative.

Pro Tip: Photoshop Scratch Disk by Tony Roslund

Many photographers, especially those newer to Photoshop, aren’t familiar with scratch disks. By setting up an external drive (or second internal drive) as a dedicated scratch disk, Photoshop can show significant improvements in performance. Below are the steps outlined by Adobe for setting up a scratch disk. By default the system hard drive is assigned as a scratch disk, but because it’s running the operating system and reading/writing the images (if you’re working from the local drive) it’s not the best option. A dedicated scratch disk is definitely the way to go, and it doesn’t even have to be a large capacity disk.

Assigning scratch disks

When your system does not have enough RAM to perform an operation, Photoshop uses a proprietary virtual memory technology, also called scratch disks. A scratch disk is any drive or drive partition with free memory. By default, Photoshop uses the hard drive on which the operating system is installed as the primary scratch disk.

Photoshop detects and displays all available internal disks in the Preferences panel. Using the Preferences panel, you can enable other scratch disks to be used when the primary disk is full. Your primary scratch disk should be your fastest hard disk; make sure it has plenty of defragmented space available.

The following guidelines can help you assign scratch disks:

  • For best performance, scratch disks should be on a different drive than any large files you are editing.

  • Scratch disks should be on a different drive than the one your operating system uses for virtual memory.

  • RAID disks/disk arrays are good choices for dedicated scratch disk volumes.

  • Drives with scratch disks should be defragmented regularly.

    Change the scratch disk assignment

    1. Do any of the following in the Scratch Disks area of Performance preferences:
      • To change the scratch disk order, click the arrow buttons.

      • To enable or disable a scratch disk, select or deselect the Active checkbox.

      To ensure optimal performance, networked drives are not available as scratch disks.

    2. Click OK.
    3. To apply the changes, restart Photoshop.

Pro Tip: File Naming Conventions by Tony Roslund

With all the software updates, new software, and various hardware storage solutions entering the market these days, it’s important to have a strategy for naming files so that you can import, move, and find them as you migrate or upgrade within these platforms. What happens if a file gets separated from the parent folder for whatever reason (accidental drag & drop for example)? Finding that file if you don’t remember the exact name could be a royal pain.

One thing that any system is going to be able to do is sort files and folders by name/title. Having a naming convention that is the same format for every job will make it easy to sort and find files/folders.

After years of trial and error, the convention I’ve settled on is as follows:

YRJOB_Subject_SEQ where YR = two digit year, JOB = three digit sequential job number, the subject is whatever I’m shooting, and finally a three digit sequential number for images within that job. For example 13001_McDonalds_001.NEF would be the first job in 2013, with the subject of McDonalds, and the first image in the shoot. 

Now if I need to, I can sort in ascending order, all the files in a folder or on a drive and they will automatically go in order first by year, then by subject title, and finally by shot number. If I need to find a particular image quickly, a client can either give me the job number (13001), the subject (McDonalds), or at the very least the year it was photographed. My sorted list of images would look something like this (with a lot more image numbers in each job):


As a commercial photographer, I don’t do enough jobs to use up all 999 job numbers (13001-13999) in a year, but if you were a portrait and wedding photographer for example, you could just simply use a four digit job number, and four digit image numbers (130001-139999 and 0001-9999). Finding an image for the McDonalds wedding from 2013 would be pretty easy.

The subject portion of the name can be as detailed as you want, often times I will include the agency-client-model all within the subject.

Backup . . . or else. by Tony Roslund

I use several layers of redundancy. Basically, I capture tethred to the local SSD drive (via CaptureOne) which is mirrored up via Carbon Copy Cloner to a second internal SSD drive. When I'm in the studio, those drives are backed up via Time Machine (along with all my system files). Once I’m done shooting a job, I copy the entire CaptureOne session folder to an external drive called “STUDIO1”. This “STUDIO1” drive is now the master drive for all my images, so naturally I want to back it up.

I have another external drive called “STUDIO 2” which is the exact make, model, and size of “STUDIO1”. This does a mirror back up of “STUDIO1” every evening at midnight.

Each week I bring in a third external hard drive called “STUDIO 3” and swap it for “STUDIO 2” and take it home. This way if the studio is firebombed I only lose 7 days worth of work [at most]. At midnight the system will mirror copy STUDIO 1 to STUDIO 3 just like it had been doing all week for STUDIO 2.

Why not use RAID systems you ask? Well, they’re expensive first of all. Second, they only give protection against a drive failure, which I already have with my mirrored backups. What happens if you accidentally delete or corrupt a file on the RAID system? There’s no way to get it back! With my setup, I can just pull a file from STUDIO 2 and restore the file to STUDIO 1, never missing a beat. And since the automatic mirror backup doesn’t happen until midnight, I have all day to do it! (Even RAID 1 system won’t prevent this problem since drive 1 is mirrored to drive 2 instantly. If you screw something up on drive 1, you’ve just screwed it up on drive 2 as well.) Even if my main drive were to fail completely, all I have to do is start using the secondary drive like nothing happened. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for RAID systems, I have a Synology RAID server, but only it for archiving.

When I’m working on location, I carry a portable LaCie Rugged hard drive with me that we backup the laptop to whenever there’s downtime. We also make sure to backup the entire job on the ride home, just in case.

Not a Drobo fan. They write their drives with a proprietary file system. When/if the unit dies, you can’t just pull the drives and pop them in something else. You actually have to use a Drobo to access the data! Ouch!

Time Machine has saved my butt more than once. Last year we came back from a shoot and I connected to the network and “moved” files from the laptop to the server. Big mistake, I usually “copy” files and never move them, but I was tired and stupid. They got corrupted while moving across the network and ended up unreadable! Fortunately, Time Machine had done it’s thing as soon as I connected to the network and we were able to pull the original files back to the laptop and “copy” them to the server the right way.

I use Carbon Copy Cloner for my nightly backups.

I like G-Technology drives. I use both the G-Drive and G-Drive Mini units and I’ve never had one fail. Synology makes an outstanding RAID system.