How I backup my photos

I could go into some of the horror stories about photos I’ve lost or about how a disk crashed just before I copied the files off, but we’ve all been in that situation where we’ve lost important stuff when a disk decided to go belly up.
This might not be of much use to you if you don’t use Linux but bare with me. Some of the ideas might help keep your photos safe.

I use two Iomega 1TB external drives. They’re USB 2.0 drives so not the fastest things in the world but they do. The RAW files from the Canon 40D are noticeably slower loading obviously but not excessively so. Ironically, I bought a laptop because my desktop machine was so noisy, but the fans in those external drives are almost as noisy as my old computer!

Two external drives, earlier today.

Drive one is where I archive my photos for long term storage. Brand new, hot out of the camera photos are copied to the internal disk on my laptop but that only has 60GB free so I move photos manually every few months to Drive one. This drive is also where I store any other files, my music collection, videos I shoot. Anything really.

Drive two is my backup drive. I use Backuppc to do incremental backups every day. It backs up:

  1. All my websites through ssh.
  2. My home directory on my laptop with brand new photos, Thunderbird mail directory, Firefox and everything else.
  3. I used to backup my Macbook but that took too long over the local WiFi connection so I don’t keep anything irreplaceable on that.

What about backing up my photo archive on Drive one? Instead of Backuppc I use rsync to copy the first drive to the second one every night. This command, placed in /etc/cron.daily/backup (and made executable with chmod a+x backup) will do the trick. It copies any new or modified files from disk one to my backup disk.

rsync -a /media/one/ /media/backup/

I use rsync because it’s simpler than Backuppc and I don’t need incremental backups of the data there. Any photos that are modified are copied to new files anyway, rendering increments useless. Rsync is also available on Mac OS X, and there’s also Unison that runs on Linux, Mac OS X and Windows and does the same job.

Backuppc can be installed from rpm or on Debian based systems using apt-get or aptitude. It’s a Unix based backup solution but can backup systems running many other operating systems such as Windows and Mac OS X. It has a simple to use web gui for administering backups. The only downside is configuration which can be daunting as it requires editing of config files and setting up remote hosts if necessary. On the up side, there’s plenty of documenation and it’s well worth trying if you want an automated system you can trust.

Disk capacity is another issue, but as I store all my files in dated folders my photo archive only grows in one area: the folder for the current year. If I run out of disk space I’ll buy another disk or replace an existing drive with a larger one. I could go down the RAID or LVM route but I don’t want to complicate things. If my current drives last that long, I’ll replace both after 2 years. Disks always break sooner or later.

So how do you backup your photos? If you’ve blogged about it, please leave a link to the post. I’m always trying to improve my own system!

Aperture ƒ/5.6
Camera Canon EOS 40D
Focal length 72mm
ISO 400
Shutter speed 1/60s

The Curves Tool

The curves tool is a very basic tool that can be used to improve photos with a few clicks of the mouse. It is used to change the brightness and contrast of an image. It can also modify the separate Red, Green and Blue channels of an image too. The Curves Tool has a histogram to represent the shadow, midtone and highlight detail in the image. In the GIMP, you access it by right clicking on an image and go to Colors->Curves.

This is the second article in my GIMP for Photographers series, but as usual, all of this applies to Photoshop, or any other image application with a Curves Tool. The first tutorial was on The Levels Tool, and worth a read if you missed it!

Here’s an image I shot at the Lord Mayor’s Picnic in Fitzgerald’s Park a few months ago, and the Curve Tool below it. Notice the histogram? The photo is fairly well exposed, but some highlights are “clipped”, as the histogram hits right hand side without sloping off.

Brightening Curve

It’s easy to brighten an image. Just drag points on the line up.

Darkening Curve

Now, let’s darken the image by dragging points down.

Contrast Curve

A classic use of the Curves Tool is to increase contrast in an image. You do this by darkening the shadows, and brightening the highlights. The curve looks sort of like an “S” when you do this. Don’t go overboard on this though, because it’s easy to lose detail in either direction.

If for some reason your image has too much contrast, a quick inverted S curve will solve that problem,

Wacky Colours

You can select any of the Red, Green and Blue channels and do strange things to your photos. Here’s what happens when you play with the Red Channel.

And here’s what happens when you change multiple colour channels in different ways.

Colour Picker

After you have opened the Curves Tool, click anywhere in the image. Notice how a vertical line goes up and down the histogram/line? That vertical line is the colour of the pixel where you clicked. That can be useful if you’re trying to modify a particular part of a photo. This is what you get when you click on the black coat on the left of the image above.

Aperture ƒ/6.3
Camera Canon EOS 20D
Focal length 18mm
ISO 200
Shutter speed 1/250s

What! The Canon EOS 50D announced already?

Yes, yes, boo hoo, oh woe is me, my Canon 40D arrived on the day the new Canon 50D was announced. If only I had waited, my photos would be so much better with the Canon 50D.

Yeah right. I’ve already stated before that the equipment behind the camera is the most important part of image making. Sure, the camera does matter, but DSLRs are getting to the stage PCs got to a few years ago. Upgrading doesn’t significantly change the game. I’ll upgrade again in maybe 3 years. No rush.

The Canon 50D looks sweet though. 15MP sensor, better ISO, better LCD. Nice upgrade. Roland has linked to a few of the sites previewing or discussing the Canon 50D. The Rob Galbraith page is probably the most readable, but the DPReview preview has a neat comparison table to compare the Canon 50D with the Canon 40D.

DIGIC 4 processor Canon’s next-generation, 14-bit DIGIC 4 processor see its debut in the 50D, and it offers both more functionality and about 30% faster processing speed than the DIGIC III processor in the 40D….

The two cameras’ dimensions, body style and control positions are also the same (though the 50D is fractionally lighter). In a nutshell, the 50D appears to be a 40D with a higher-resolution sensor, revamped image processing, faster CompactFlash write speeds, HDMI video out and a crisp new rear LCD.

Love this pic of the motherboard with the DIGIC 4 processor!

GIMP FX Foundary is a massive GIMP plugin archive

I’m surprised I haven’t blogged about The GIMP FX Foundary before. It’s a huge collection of GIMP plugins that have been updated to work with the latest GIMP.

All the plugins were already available in the GIMP Plugin registry or elsewhere but not all of them survived the changes to Scheme in the latest versions of GIMP. I downloaded these plugins ages ago and recently grabbed the updated tarball with over 100 plugins. You’ll see the results of those plugins over the next few weeks as I play around with settings and effects.

I could go on and on about it, but why bother? It’s a small download and free so why not grab the zip file yourself?

Spencer Tunick photoshoot in Blarney Co. Cork, Ireland

As luck would have it, one of the more famous or perhaps notorious photographers of our time, Spencer Tunick, is shooting in Blarney, where I live, tomorrow morning.

Update on Jun 8th, 2009 – I’ve justed posted a small gallery of Spencer Tunick photos as his website is down.

It’s no great secret now, even Ray D’Arcy revealed the location on his radio programme this morning. He’ll be revealing a lot more in a few hours time.. Anyway, it all happens very early in the morning, at a time when most sensible people will be snuggled up in bed and that probably includes me. If I do feel the urge to visit Blarney Castle at dawn I’m sure all I’ll photograph will be groups of dazed and tired volunteers stumbling from buses, full clothed. I have no desire to shoot any naked skin.

Spencer – if you’re reading this, I’d love to go to shoot a portrait of yourself, and perhaps grab an autograph!

There are lots of people looking for Spencer Tunick’s Blarney photoshoot!

The state of street photography in the UK

Scary. I blogged previously about photographer’s rights in Irelnd but it appears that UK Police are ignorant of those rights which are similar to Ireland’s. I have never been stopped by Gardai (the Irish Police Force) taking photos on the street, but in the UK it seems to be a growing problem for photographers. Have you ever been stopped shooting photographs in a public place?

Make sure to read Photographer’s Rights from DIgital Rights Ireland to find out more about your rights as a street photographer in Ireland. If you travel you should always be aware of local laws as they’re liable to change in every jurisdiction. (via

Irish Photographers dot org

Irish Photographers are a busy lot. There are a good few photobloggers in this country publishing photos either daily or almost daily and they’re producing some amazing stuff! Unfortunately it’s sometimes hard to find them because photoblogs don’t always lend themselves well to search engine analysis. That’s where Irish comes in.

Irish will aggregate the content from some of Ireland’s best photoblogs (the others haven’t signed up yet!) and make it easy to discover new talent. I’m quite excited by this project and the enthusiastic reaction from other photobloggers has been great!

So far there are 10 blogs contributing to the site, but that number was limited to my contacts on Twitter and by my own limited spare time to work on this. If you’d like to have your site added, go to the About page, read through the short list of guidelines and fill in the form.

The site isn’t perfect by any means, the theme could do with a bit of tweaking. It needs a favicon and a web 2.0 button would be great. Anyone want to volunteer?

PS. Don’t forget the Doneraile photowalk on June 8th! There will also be a photowalk in Dublin this weekend. If you’re not a member of Facebook, here are the details:

A photomeet at the Dublin Maritime Festival. We can meet at the Harbour Master (link below) at 1pm.
Event: June photomeet. “photomeet greatfunaltogether”
What: Festival
When: Sunday, June 1 at 1:00pm
Where: Dublin Docklands

Redmum is organising this photowalk. Just in case you’re wondering why her blog isn’t included on Irish, it’s for technical reasons; blogger doesn’t offer per-category feeds unfortunately. She’s working on a solution so hopefully she’ll be contributing soon!
PPS. Cork City Marathon is on June 2nd. I hope to be there. Leave a comment if you think you will too!