Speed is everything & size matters

I’m often asked about my digital slash pixel workflow. What happens after pressing the shutter? What’s the process from moving files to the final archiving?

I’ll be brutally honest here. There’s the plan in a perfect world and then there’s reality, when even the best intentions don’t quite pan out as you hope. I often just get caught out in the moment, find myself with a fuller HD (Hard Drive) than expected, following back to back gigs and not enough time to back up properly. Video takes up a vast amount of storage, old laptops let you down, the memory fails as you forget which HD you hastily used for an intermediate edit… the list goes on and on.

But in a perfect world, when things go according to plan, it looks something like this:


I shoot with SanDisk Extreme Pro cards. With big and reliable CompactFlash (CF) cards, I can generally get away with just one or two card changes. Needless to say, the less card changes the better as changing them just isn’t practical in the heat of the moment. And then of course, you put the full card down somewhere… and wonder where that somewhere was afterwards. Ideally, I hand them over to an assistant. I did once lose a card with valuable content and guess where I found it?

Moving on, I always reformat a fresh card when I load in into my camera. I never store files on CF cards. When it comes to dumping cards (aka transferring data from CF cards onto HD), I’m a bit anal about how it’s done.

I move from left to right. The stack of cards sitting to the left of my laptop need to be transferred whilst those on the right are done. When dragging files on my computer, I always work from the left window to the right too. It’s consistent. It’s clear. A little nerdy perhaps but we all have our own systems, right?

I always copy the memory card to an external Hard Drive before bringing it into Capture or Lightroom. Ideally, a HD with a fast Thunderbolt wire. SPEED IS EVERYTHING at times like this. Throughout the day, I’ll back up everything to a second HD. Two HD’s, same content, stored separately when I’m on the move. Normally one terabyte (TB) of storage (laptop powered) will do, but on bigger expeditions I’ll take more HD’s rather than bigger HD’s that need external power.

When back in the studio, I transfer the full job to my Mothership – a huge kick-ass hard drive because SIZE MATTERS. I use the MyCloud by Western Digital to store all my work. I’ve set it to Raid1 so it duplicates all data within the unit. Basically, it backs-up internally on different internal drives. All my editing and retouching work is done using the Mothership. One Place. One Fast Machine. I’m sure it’s a pretty safe place to keep all my files too but just in case the man from Mars comes to sweep my studio, I also store all my work in another two places.

The work I keep hold of are all the files I’ve handed over to clients, the working TIFF’s and a big selection of RAW files. It all adds up to around 1.5-2 TB per year. I keep a pelicase full of HD’s at my place and a second identical set at a friends place. As you can imagine, these aren’t always 100% updated but the aim is to keep it as accurate as possible.

In the real digital world, there are always risks when it comes to file safety. I’ve had CF cards crash, HD breakdowns and even full shoots containing hundreds of RAW files go corrupt so what works for me is to have a tried and tested, simple workflow and a strong backup system. And I stick to it, even when clients are breathing down my neck pushing for a quicker turnaround in order to hit deadlines. I truly believe it’s better to stick to your own workflow even if it requires a little more work. I’m just not prepared to risk missing or disorganized files.

I probably have close to 40 HD’s, in all different shapes and sizes. By choice and by chance, most of these are Western Digital. The ones I personally stay away from are LaCie (despite their sexy orange design) and Drobo. They work for others but have let me down at times when I really needed them.

This stuff isn’t rocket science and there are, of course, plenty of other ways to do things. Any photographer or videographer just needs to find out what works for them, refine it and then stick to it. Keep it simple. Store it safely.